Following Monday night's devastating loss at the hands of the Titans, New England still maintains control over its own postseason future. With wins in the upcoming weeks at Gillette Stadium against the Jets and the Dolphins, the Patriots can reestablish themselves as Super Bowl contenders.
Although the team was left wondering what went wrong in the 24-7 loss in Tennessee and the defeat ended realistic hopes of possible home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Patriots are still as alive as many other AFC teams. The difference now is that the loss took away any room for error in the next two weeks. With a 5-5 conference record and losses to Tennessee, Oakland, Denver and San Diego, it is unlikely the team will make the playoffs as a wild card. Realistically there is just one road to the playoffs now for New England and that is through two straight home wins and an AFC East title.
The fans know it. The coaches know it. The players know it. For the Patriots the playoffs essentially start this Sunday night against the Jets. All the cliches apply; this is a must win situation.
"If you don't have urgency about this game then it is time to get out of football," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said on Wednesday as the team began preparations for the Jets. "For me, the players, the coaches and everybody else, this is a game that we need to win."
And while most point to the fact that the Patriots have the final two crucial games at home as a strong advantage, Belichick downplayed the angle. The biggest advantage will come from the team playing well and putting together a solid effort on the field, a better performance than Monday night's in Tennessee.
"I think the most important thing is to play well," Belichick said. "That's really what is important at this time of year, is playing well. That's where our focus is and that is what we can do. It's always nice to be at home, but we had home games earlier in the year and we lost them. We had other home games that we won. We've won games on the road and we've lost games on the road. So I think what is important is to play well."
The players feel the strong sense of urgency in the air and are ready to take on the Jets, a team that is a very different one from the one New England dominated 44-7 in week two. At 7-7 the Jets still have outside chances at the playoffs after last week's tough loss to the Bears and would love to take it to their bitter rival.
"Last week is over with and we just have to put our focus into this week," Patriots special teams captain Larry Izzo said. "We know that we are in a do or die situation and basically this is going to be a playoff game for us. Forget about what has happened the last 14 weeks, we have to put all our emphasis on this week. It's basically win or go home for the last couple of weeks here. That's the way we are looking at it."
"Our backs are up against the wall here and the Jets are in the same situation. So neither team can afford to waste time about what happened last week."
"It's the playoffs and if you take any less of an attitude about it then we are not giving it the perspective that it deserves," defensive tackle Steve Martin said. "Our lives depend on every game and that's how it is in the playoffs, you don't get a next week. The only thing we have is these next two games. The only thing we have to worry about right now is the Jets. That's it. We can't dwell over what happened Monday night. We have to put it behind us and focus our attention 100 percent on the Jets."
It will take a much stronger performance than the one the team put forth two days ago, but this team has been in must-win situations before. The players are saying all the right things as they prepare for the Jets, but when the discussion of urgency is done the only thing that matters the action on the field. The Patriots must win. The Jets must win. Sunday night one of these two will walk off the field wondering what could have been.
The Patriots issued a longer injury report than usual on Wednesday. Monday's game in Tennessee was a very physical battle with the Titans and the eight players on the report reflects that fact. Guard Joe Andruzzi (knee), wide receiver Deion Branch (leg), linebacker Tedy Bruschi (knee), tight end Cam Cleeland (groin), tight end Daniel Graham (ribs), tackle Kenyatta Jones (knee), defensive end Rick Lyle (back) and cornerback Otis Smith (shoulder) are all listed as Questionable for Sunday night's game against the Jets.
The Jets list a number of key player on the injury report, although all are Probable for the game. Defensive end John Abraham (ankle), wide receiver Wayne Chrebet (neck), running back Lamont Jordan (ankle), running back Curtis Martin (ankle) and guard Dave Szott (knee) all have a 75-percent chance to play.
12th Player Award
Shaw's Supermarkets and the Kimberly-Clark Corporation presented Adam Vinatieri with the Patriots 12th Player Award today. In its eighth year, fans selected Vinatieri by casting votes in Shaw's stores and voting online. It was Vinatieri's second time winning the award that is presented annually to the Patriots player who personifies the team spirit and is recognized for his contributions to the team and the community.
Vinatieri has converted 22-of-25 field goals this season and all 33 PATs to lead the team with 99 points