MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- As the New England Patriots left Hard Rock Stadium early Tuesday morning, they did so with a mix of good news and bad news.
The good: Despite a disappointing loss to the Miami Dolphins that dropped them to 10-3, they are still in position to earn the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed if they win their remaining three games -- at the Steelers (11-2) and at home against the Bills (7-6) and Jets (5-8).
The bad: Almost everything about their performance against Miami on Monday night.
So as they quickly turn the page and focus on this Sunday’s top-of-the-AFC showdown against the Steelers, they do so with an unsatisfying feeling of having put forth a subpar effort in a rare December loss.
“It’s a short week and we have a lot to catch up on. We can’t go up there and play as poorly as we did [against Miami],” quarterback Tom Brady said. “We have to do a lot of things better. I have to do a lot of things better and that’s where my focus is going to be this week. I have to throw the ball better.”
Special-teams captain Matthew Slater, who is one of the team’s emotional leaders, said players don’t think about the big-picture possibility of putting themselves in the driver’s seat for the AFC’s No. 1 seed, even as a win in Pittsburgh would give the Patriots a head-to-head tiebreaker edge over the Steelers.
Instead, Slater said the players’ focus needs to be on the finer details.
“We need urgency. Everybody has to be dialed in. Everybody has to be on top of what they’re doing -- assignment-wise, communication-wise, alignment-wise, the basics,” Slater relayed. “This time of year, the margin for error is very small.
“It starts next week. These are the types of games we’re going to find out what we are as a football team. I believe that we’re going to respond the right way, but we’ll see.”
While the mood in the locker room was somber late Monday night, players also spoke with resolve.
“There’s no time for us to feel sorry for ourselves. We have an opportunity next week to go out and play a good football team and compete, and those opportunities can’t be taken for granted,” Slater said. “Hopefully we can refocus ourselves on the task at hand and come out next week with a better effort than what we showed tonight.”
Added guard Shaq Mason: “Definitely a bad feeling for tonight, but we have a quick turnaround and have to flush it, prepare, and try to get things going.”
Mason said the Steelers’ rabid fan base will be a factor on Sunday, but that the Patriots’ attention currently needs to be on things they didn’t capitalize on against the Dolphins, which the Steelers also figure to try to exploit.
Said receiver Chris Hogan: “We still have a lot of football left to be played, so we’re not going to dwell on [it]. We’ve got to move on. We got a big game coming up. We’re in a short week, so we’re going to have to make the corrections quickly and turn our focus to the Steelers.”