It was a bury-the-football type of game. The Patriots were outplayed on offense, defense and special teams, Bill Belichick was outcoached by his former player Mike Vrabel, and they had multiple players leave the game with injuries. And it might have buried their bigger-picture hopes of earning home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
Having entered on a six-game winning streak, the Patriots fall to 7-3, while the team they have been keeping pace with -- the Kansas City Chiefs -- improved to 9-1. The Patriots have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chiefs, so they would need to win out, and hope the Chiefs lose at least two games, to earn the top spot.
The odds of that happening aren’t favorable.
The Chiefs play the Rams next weekend in Mexico, followed by their bye. Then they finish against the Raiders (away), Ravens (home), Chargers (home), Seahawks (road) and Raiders (home).
Meanwhile, the Patriots limp into their bye next weekend, and then face the Jets (road), Vikings (home), Dolphins (road), Steelers (road), Bills (home) and Jets (home).
Of course, after what unfolded Sunday when the Titans whipped the Patriots for a thorough 60 minutes, the top seed is the least of the Patriots’ worries. When Belichick pulls quarterback Tom Brady with 7:06 remaining in the fourth quarter in favor of Brian Hoyer, it’s the classic tell that the poop emoji has truly hit the fan.
“Winning football takes a lot of things, takes a lot of good performance by a lot of people, and losing football is the exact opposite of that,” Brady said. “Not that we do this, but in the NFL it’s hard to win and you can’t expect just to show up and win. That doesn’t give the other team enough credit. Today we just played a bad game, and you see what happens.
“Hopefully there’s more urgency as we go forward. Our whole season’s ahead of us, and we’ll see what we do with it.”
The game was a slap in the face to the Patriots, a reminder that if they don’t play with energy from the outset, get off blocks more consistently, tackle better, coach better, protect Brady more consistently and -- fill in the blank of any part of the game, really -- they are capable of losing to anyone.
“You'd better learn from a game like this, because the weeks get harder and harder,” receiver Julian Edelman said. “You tip your hat to them, but we’ve got to fix it because this is when you start separating or you start falling behind.”
It is also when injuries can start piling up.
The bye week comes at a good time for the team, as starting left tackle Trent Brown (back), tight end Dwayne Allen (knee) and Edelman (ankle) all left the game in the second half and didn’t return. Brown and Edelman don’t appear to be long-range concerns, but the run of ailments probably contributed to pulling Brady.
Entering the game, Brady said the hope was that the Patriots would empty the tank and go into their bye on a high note.
Instead, they turned in a forgettable performance, a battered team that looked tired and in need of a break.