FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Several large cardboard boxes stood in the center of the New England Patriots locker room on Monday morning, as players filed in and packed away their belongings, their season having ended short of a trip to Super Bowl XLVII.
There was a slightly different feel to this season's morning-after than last February, when just three players appeared in the locker room after the Patriots returned from their loss in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
At his news conference earlier in the morning, coach Bill Belichick seemed at peace with his team's loss in the AFC Championship hours earlier, speaking for nearly 15 minutes. That mood extended to the locker room, where country music played from linebacker Tracy White's locker, while several players chatted in one corner of the room.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich was among those players who spoke to reporters. He called losing Sunday's game a "terrible feeling," but then turned his focus forward.
"It is definitely abrupt. You're expecting to go into a game and come out with a win," Ninkovich said. "But you have to move on. You can't really dwell on everything that happened to us."
Since joining the Patriots four seasons ago, Ninkovich has now experienced defeat in all four rounds of the playoffs, losing in the wild card round (January 2010), divisional round (January 2011), AFC Championship Game (January 2013), and the Super Bowl (February 2012).
"It's hard to think about your season being over," Ninkovich said. "But it's the NFL. It's football. That's how it works."
Players will go their separate ways in the coming days, some returning for next season, while others may not. The bulk of the team won't be back together until the offseason program begins, likely in April.
"I'm going to take a little time off, to get my body right," Ninkovich said. "I'll take a couple weeks to start to feel normal again and start working out, and get back to it."