The Patriots fell short against the Commanders on Sunday, as another late comeback attempt was short-circuited by an interception that sealed New England's fate just as they were driving for a potential game-tying field goal. For as familiar as the loss felt, the Patriots have now won the turnover battle in each of their last three games and they've even held leads in each of those game's first halves, taking two of those leads into the locker room at half time.
However, they've been outscored in all three of the second halves and that's resulted in a 1-2 record despite some signs of improvement. Against the Commanders, the Patriots opened the second half with one of just three drives that lasted more than five plays on the day, settling for a field goal that extended their halftime lead. From there New England had four-straight punts before one final drive that ended in the aforementioned interception.
It's been a game of whack-a-mole, as even the protection issues have settled in recent weeks, with another line combination, this one featuring Conor McDermott at left tackle, coming up strong against Washington and not allowing a sack on the day (a suspect roughing the passer penalty wiped the only potential sack of the day of the board).
The mistakes might've stayed a bit more hidden than those in the early losses of the season, however, the problems reared their heads at the worst possible times. The one sack should've taken a field goal off the board if not for the marginal call, their six plays allowed of 20-plus yards was a season-high, while the Pats only turnover of the game was enough to put the final nail in their coffin.
"It's on us," said David Andrews of the loss. "We had opportunities; not just in the two-minute, but opportunities to make a play, make an impact, whatever, and we just didn't really do that. You've got to look in the mirror and go back to work. It's not going to break my spirit. It's not going to break our spirit. We're going to come back, take tonight, come back to work tomorrow, see what we can do to correct it and get ready to go to Germany to play Indy [Indianapolis]."
Now the Patriots must quickly turn the page to face an Indianapolis Colts coming off a win over the Carolina Panthers. The 3-5 Colts are a suitable matchup for the Patriots, who currently find themselves alone in last place in the AFC. But what makes this matchup even more special is that it will take place in Frankfurt, Germany. This will be New England's first game in their international home market and it will be an interesting curve ball for the team as it comes just before the bye week.
The Patriots will depart Thursday night and arrive in Germany on Friday for one practice and a walkthrough before the game. Often trips like this are a time for teams to bond, but at 2-7, it's hard to predict what this trip will mean for the Patriots. On one hand, a new venue and an invigorated international fan base could have a cleansing effect on the team. On the other, a somewhat arduous travel schedule and break from routine could prove challenging for a squad looking for any kind of a foothold that they can find.
What seems clear is this is a game the Patriots have a chance to win. Behind backup quarterback Gardner Minshew the Colts have been mercurial in their performances. Minshew is 2-3 as a starter since taking over for Anthony Richardson, but this is still a team that knocked off the Ravens and put up 38 points on Cleveland, while their defense, led by former Patriots undrafted rookie Kenny Moore's two pick-sixes against the Panthers on Sunday, has some game-changing ability.
"It's a great opportunity for a lot of us," said Matthew Slater in the locker room following the loss of the team's trip to Frankfurt. "Again, nobody should be feeling sorry for us. We're blessed to be playing this game. We're blessed to have an opportunity to go there. We should enjoy it, and we should go out there and play to win."
A win in Germany could provide some inspiration for the Patriots' post-bye plans. The remaining seven games feature an array of AFC contenders like Buffalo and Kansas City, playoff bubble battlers like the Chargers, Steelers and Jets, and two of the league's lower-echelon teams in the Giants and Broncos.
When it's all said and done the Patriots will end up where they deserve to be, but this week's international game comes at an interesting inflection point in the 2023 season and could have a lasting effect on how the team fares down the stretch.