Dawn was breaking as the Patriots arrived back at Gillette Stadium Monday, following 10 days in California.
Once they got settled, New England's coaching staff began breaking down the tape of their 30-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers. And as they did, head coach Bill Belichicksaw some things that gave him reason for hope.
"From what I have seen of the game, which is a good part it," Belichick told reporters Monday afternoon via telephone conference call, "it is not much different than we saw last night. There were a handful of plays that caused us a lot of trouble and unfortunately, it very much overrode the other plays, which we were competitive on. That is really the story of the game."
New England's failure to convert a 1st-and-goal opportunity at the Chargers' one-yard line at the start of the second half, coupled with San Diego's 98-yard ensuing touchdown drive, was a pivotal moment in the contest. Had the Pats punched it in, the Chargers' lead would have been cut to 17-10; instead, San Diego took a 24-3 advantage. Belichick acknowledged the morning after.
"It was a key point in the game, there is no doubt about that," Belichick acknowledged the morning after.
He also lamented the kicking game, which didn't provide the Pats the type of positive field position that it had in other games this season. He did, however, laud his team's effort in effectively shutting down All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
But the head coach stressed that it was San Diego's few big plays (mostly in the passing game) and his own team's lack of them (on either side of the ball) that turned the game in the Chargers' favor.
"I think that on the big plays, those handful of plays, they gained a lot more yards than they gained on the other 50 [plays]. I thought we played competitively on third down. I thought we played competitively in the running game. I don't think we were competitive for the most part on the short and intermediate routes. Tomlinson got out there on a wide route late in the game and got a few yards on that.
"Overall I think it was a pretty competitive game defensively other than the big plays, but you can't dismiss those. I think there were a lot of positives in terms of the overall way we defended them but not on those handful of plays."
Belichick was asked if San Diego's success throwing the ball was a direct result of the lack of pressure from New England's front seven or simply from breakdowns in coverage in the secondary. Ultimately, he decided, the responsibility rests with the defensive backfield.
"You are always looking for more pass rush and tighter coverage, but you have to defend the deep ball first. We didn't do a good job of that last night."
Offensively, Belichick seemed pleased with the production he got from his rushing attack. The passing attack, led by quarterback Matt Cassel, made some plays as well, he noted, but not enough big ones to match the Chargers.
"We threw the ball down the field and we were close on a couple, but we just couldn't quite connect on them. There were a lot of times when they played pretty soft and gave us a lot of space underneath and we were able, a good part of the time, to throw the ball successfully there."
The problem, for New England, was that it wasn't consistent enough in connecting on its big-play opportunities on offense, like the four chances in a row it had to put seven points on the board down at the Chargers goal line at the start of the third quarter. Nor were the Pats up to the challenge of defending San Diego's high-powered offense from making plays of their own.
That, it seemed, was Belichick's biggest regret from Sunday.
"We weren't able to put enough points on the board and weren't able to make enough key plays in the game when we needed to; that's why the score was the way it was. I don't think the competitiveness of the game was reflected in the score. We did a lot of good things but we offset it with missing some opportunities and not being able to make a few plays at the right time.
"I think the big thing," Belichick concluded, "is to hit the ones that we have an opportunity to hit. We just have to try to hit a few more of them when we get that opportunity."