Coming off Sunday's loss to Indianapolis, the New England Patriots are facing their most crucial stretch of the season as they prepare to play division rivals Buffalo, New York and Miami in the next three weeks.
The Bills, Jets and Patriots are tied for first place in the AFC East at 5-3 while the last-place Dolphins are 4-4. The first opponent is Buffalo, which lost to New York this past weekend to force the tie.
"Now is really when we start zeroing in on them," head coach Bill Belichicktold the Boston Globe.
The one shred of good news from Sunday's loss is the continuous development of quarterback Matt Cassel, who played outside of a critical interception in the fourth quarter.
"It doesn't surprise me. He works hard, he is a very attentive, smart kid who has talent, and every opportunity he gets a chance to practice, take reps and play I think he improves," Belichick told the Boston Herald.
There are still other problems, however, such as the team's ability to defend or score in the red zone.
"We just have to do a better job of getting it in and we have to do a better job of keeping them out. That is execution all the way across the board with whatever plays we are calling," Belichick told the Providence Journal.
The Patriots scored only touchdown in four trips inside the 20-yard line Sunday while allowing Indianapolis to convert on two key possessions when Peyton Manning threw touchdown passes to Anthony Gonzalez.
"I just wish we could have gotten it into the end zone a little bit more," Belichick told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
The Bills travel to Foxboro this weekend for a pivotal division showdown against the Patriots. They might have to win without defensive end Aaron Schobel and safety Donte Whitner, who are both in danger of missing the game with injuries.
"It's not the best news we got," Bills head coach Dick Jauron told the Buffalo News.
Offensively, the Bills are having a hard time protecting quarterback Trent Edwards. He took a beating in Sunday's loss to the Jets and got sacked five times.
"If one guy breaks down, then the play doesn't work. Everybody is accountable," left tackle Jason Peters told the News.
Sports Illustratedtakes a look at what we learned from Sunday's game while praising New England's offense and criticizing some of Belichick's decision-making down the stretch.