Not since last Nov. 30's loss in Green Bay has Bill Belichick's team had to deal with a meaningful loss. But that's exactly what Tom Brady and his teammates are doing this week after failing in overtime last Sunday night in Denver.
The Patriots (10-1) host an Eagles (4-7) team that's a little more familiar with dealing with losing in this dismal year for Chip Kelly's squad.
Philadelphia heads to Gillette Stadium having lost three games in a row, including allowing 45 points and five touchdowns passes each of the last two times out.
Still, Belichick did his best to rattle off the Eagles potential and strengths this week, focusing on the team's supposedly deep corps of players on offense that, as Belichick described, "can literally score from anywhere on the field with probably any one of a dozen guys."
How much truth lies in that scouting report may be up for debate considering the Eagles have been held below 20 points in four of their last five games and rank 20th in the league in points.
Philly does bring a few examples of clear talent to the field on both sides of the ball and certainly has some aggressive tempo and schemes under Kelly. Is that enough for the heavy underdog to pull off the upset in Foxborough against an admittedly undermanned and banged up New England squad? Probably not.
But there is no question the Patriots are at a bit of a transition point in the season. Not only is New England coming off its first loss as it looks to clinch its seventh straight AFC East crown with a win and a Jets loss, but the team is dealing with a lot of turnover in personnel, especially in the passing game.
Patriots Football Weekly's Andy Hart shares his players to watch during the Patriots Week 13 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Of course the Patriots bounce back from a loss under Belichick as well as any team. New England is 38-4 in regular season games following a loss since 2003, while Brady is 40-8 in such situations over his career.
"I think we all want to get back out there because it's been a long time since we've lost a meaningful game," Brady said of avoiding back-to-back losses. "It just sucks, so I'm glad we're not in a position where ... It is always hard to win, especially going on the road against good teams and you've got to play really well. And when that game ends, you've got to, as fast as you can, turn the page and move on. So we've got to move on with obviously some different challenges, whether that's personnel-related, whether that's scheme-related. Every week presents different challenges, and I think as a player, you just have to start every week with a fresh slate and try to go out and give ... You really put everything you can into it, 100 percent of your energy and emotion, and then you go out and you try to do it again."
Here are a key few factors to keep an eye on as Brady and Co. prepare to get back on the winning track in the friendly confines of Foxborough against a Philly squad whose once-promising season is circling the drain in the NFC East:
Fall in line - The word makeshift has been used to describe the Patriots offensive line for much of the 2015 season. But the current reality is that other than losing left tackle Nate Solder to IR, the current group is healthy and falling into line as was probably planned. The problem is that the results have not been very good. A week ago, Brady was hit 13 times by the Broncos. He was beat up just as much a week earlier against the Bills. That's come with Bryan Stork back at center and Sebastian Vollmer (LT) and Marcus Cannon (RT) returning to the roles they are expected to play well in. Maybe there is still room for some movement at guard - Josh Kline really struggled with Derek Wolfe last Sunday night - but really this is the offensive line the Patriots have to work with and they simply need to do a better job. The Eagles aren't a dominant front, but they do have the talent to make life tough on New England and Brady. Fletcher Cox is, according to Belichick, one of the best defensive linemen in football. He leads the Eagles in sacks, QB hurries, tackles for a loss and forced fumbles. Beyond Cox, the line needs to deal with the likes of Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. Brady needs more protection than ever to get his job done and the line could do a better job of opening things up on the ground. Time for the group to fall in line and produce.
Tackle talk - The key on defense is always to tackle well. That's even more important this week against a lackluster Eagles offense that wants to run the ball and uses a lot of short passes. The zone read runs don't really involve the quarterback keeping the ball, especially if Sam Bradford gets the return call to action. It's really about setting the edge, playing fundamentally sound up front and tackling DeMarco Murray, who is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry on the season. The passing game is also primarily of the short variety, most throws going to running backs or tight ends. Leading receiver Jordan Matthews does most of his damage in the short zones as well. This all puts a premium on tackling, especially for the defensive linemen and linebackers. The group got gashed a bit last week in Denver. The front should get Jamie Collins back after a month lost to illness, but Dont'a Hightower's status is up in the air with a knee injury. Keep things bottled up in the run game and short passing game and the Eagles don't have a lot of options to make big plays. They just don't.
Turnovers a plenty - Philadelphia's games have included 42 turnovers this year - 21 by the Eagles and 21 by their opponents. New England has given the ball away at least once in four straight games, but has also notched at least one takeaway in all but one game this season. Bradford has four multi-pick games in his nine games played this season, so he'll certainly give the Patriots back end a chance to make some plays. Turnovers are always the great equalizer and the Eagles certainly have forced plenty, with only three teams tallying more takeaways on the year. But only two teams have more giveaways. If the Patriots play up to their resume of overall impressive ball security it will go a long way toward taking care of business on Sunday evening.
Time to be Blount - Given all the injuries in the passing game it would be nice if the Patriots could balance out the offense and run the ball more. LeGarrette Blount has been given chances to do that over the last month and really hasn't done much with those opportunities. He's averaged 3.5 yards or worse in each of the last three games. He hasn't had a run longer than 17 yards in a month. Some of the lack of production can be passed off onto the line, but Blount just hasn't run well. He's danced too much in the backfield and hasn't gotten to the next level to break tackles and make plays like he does when he's producing at his highest level. Blount needs to do a better job on the ground starting this week against an Eagles front that's allowing 4.4 yards per carry on the season. Usually the ground game is a second thought in New England, but right now Blount and the line need to prove it can be more of a primary option for Brady to turn to.
Complements all around - Speaking of options for Brady to turn to, those are becoming a bit slim. The good news is Danny Amendola is expected to return to action after missing a week to his knee injury. That will give Brady a quick, experienced, trusted option to throw to. But other pass catchers need to step up with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski still out of action. That means Scott Chandler - who popped up late in the week with a knee injury of his own - and Brandon LaFell need to be more consistent options and not just long-shot hopes on deep balls. Maybe Keshawn Martin can also build on his early-season rapport with Brady. It would also be nice if James White finally became a more consistent threat as the passing back, assuming he's ever given the chance to do that. The particular names don't matter, but one or two guys need to step up to make plays for Brady and make the quarterback comfortable throwing in their direction with some consistency. That hasn't happened in recent weeks and is now more important for ever with Gronkowksi out of action.
Prediction - The Patriots, even with all the injuries, are clearly the better team in this matchup. The Eagles are not only less talented, but they have the look of a team that has quit after consecutive games allowing 45 points in blowout losses. New England is fighting to possibly clinch the division and to stay in the driver's seat for the top seed in the AFC. Belichick's team just doesn't lose consecutive games, especially when the second is against an inferior opponent. This is a bounce back week even with all the personnel turnover. Look for Blount to run better than he has and Brady to get something going often enough in the passing game. The guess here is that Amendola is the top target but that LaFell makes plays too. Defensively the Patriots will get back to success in run defense and then get after Bradford. I could easily see three turnovers for the Eagles and that will completely eliminate the visitor's chances of pulling off the upset. It won't be a cruise, but 29-13 will be a solid win for Brady and Co. as they find new ways to get the job done late in the season. New England after a loss and after Thanksgiving is about as sure a bet as you can come across, especially against a team that may not be putting all on the line for Kelly any longer.
What other things will you be watching for in this Sunday evening affair in which the Patriots look to clinch the AFC East title and get back on the winning track? Let us know with a comment below!