Coming off their bye week and entering a key matchup against the New York Jets, the Patriots seem acutely aware of where they are and what they must do in the coming weeks to secure themselves a spot in the postseason. It all starts this week against a tough Jets team, a game no player would look beyond despite an upcoming slate of three games in 12 days.
"We're all over .500 [in the AFC East]," said Matthew Judon during his press availability on Thursday. "We're the lowest team right now in our division but we've got some big division games coming up. We're 1-1 right now [in the division] and we're playing a team that definitely knows us and we know them. These are the ones you've got to get, especially at home. The Jets are a good road team this year, they're undefeated on the road. It's going to be a hard-fought game."
Two glaring issues are hanging over the Patriots at this point in the season. At the top of the list is an offense that has yet to find its stride, but memories of a post-bye meltdown last season still linger, at least for those on the outside.
"We need to have a great sense of urgency," said Matthew Slater, addressing what happened down the stretch in 2021 when the Patriots fell from the top seed in the AFC to a wild card spot before being promptly knocked out in a lopsided playoff loss in Buffalo. "We can't take anything for granted and we just need to stay in the moment. What happened last year is obviously not going to have any bearing on this team and what happens this year. A lot of new players and coaches. Last year it was what it was, if anything the guys that are here need to realize the urgency with which we need to approach each day."
A big difference is that during last year's late bye week the Patriots were the toast of the league, riding high on a seven-game win streak. This year they're on a two-game win streak, but no one is sweeping any of their significant issues under the rug, especially when it comes to the offensive side of the ball.
"I think we're excited for the things we are able to address and improve on," said Hunter Henry of the team's bye week work focus. "We just need to go out there and execute and play good clean football. Move the football, control the football and score points and that's really the biggest thing. Stay out of longer yardage, stop beating ourselves, stop turning the ball over and just score and finish drives."
That will be easier said than done against a tough Jets defense that gave Mac Jones and the offense everything they could handle just three short weeks ago. With both teams coming off their bye week and having extra time to scout themselves and their opponent, the rematch should feature some new twists from both teams.
"They're going to come out with different wrinkles on offense that we've got to stop, that we probably haven't seen or that we have struggled with in the past this season," said Judon. "They're watching their games and they're watching our problem plays and they've had some time to do a little more scouting because they've had a bye and we did as well. I think the team that plays the cleaner game as far as penalty-wise, execution-wise will come out on top."
"I think you've got a come in with the mindset that you've got to work even harder than the first time. It's not going to be the same, they're going to play us differently, we might play them differently, things like that," said Rhamondre Stevenson. "It's going to be a physical game every time. Just bring your pads, bring your mouthpiece, it's going to be a physical one."
All week the Patriots sounded as if they were under no illusion about how big of a game this will be and the important corrections that they need to make, starting with not beating themselves. From playing three different quarterbacks to the integration of a new offensive scheme, the time to lock in on an identity and play their best, clean football is now.
"There's a lot at stake here," said Slater, setting the tone early in the week. "You look at these next coming games in the back half of the season, everybody's playing for something, especially in our division. That rivalry is certainly renewed, not that it ever died. Stakes are high, emotions will be high, it will be highly competitive and there's a lot on the line."