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Despite late-season swoon, there's still hope for Patriots

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Since the New England Patriots capped off their 2015 regular season with an uninspiring performance in a 20-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, a topical question to ask is: How much does momentum matter entering the playoffs?

It's timely to ask because the Patriots have lost two in a row, and three of their last five. They've played some very poor football at times over that stretch.

One can't simply sweep that under the locker-room rug, especially when quarterback Tom Brady often says that the real football season begins after Thanksgiving and that's when teams want to be playing their best.

The banged-up Patriots haven't done that. In fact, they've played some of their worst football of the season over that stretch, and the offensive line looks like a real concern.

This could be a sign of trouble ahead.

Then again, it could mean nothing.

A quick Google search in which the words "momentum entering the playoffs" were punched on the keyboard produced the following:

1. Former Ravens coach and current Fox analyst Brian Billick detailed some recent history and called momentum a myth.

2. In the 2012 season, the Ravens proved that losses in December could actually be helpful toward the goal of winning the Super Bowl.

3. In 2012, the Patriots had won nine of their last 10 entering the playoffs, and what did that get them?

4. The Saints were viewed to be regressing at the end of the 2009 season, when they went from 13-0 to 13-3, but went on to win the Super Bowl.

I didn't have these things on my mind when Patriots safety Devin McCourty talked about the need to "hit the reset button" after the loss to the Dolphins, which seemed like wishful thinking as attrition has been catching up to the Patriots in key areas.

Then defensive end Rob Ninkovich tweeted the following shortly after the game:

At first, that also seemed like wishful thinking of sorts to me, but when one considers that injured players such as receiver Julian Edelman, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones should be back for the playoffs, maybe it isn't.

"We just have to play well two weeks from now; that's all that really matters," Brady said of the team's playoff opener, which will be at home Saturday, Jan. 16 at 4:35 p.m. ET against either the Bengals, Texans or Chiefs.

"That is what our whole season will come down to. Nothing over the last six weeks is going to matter. Nothing over the last 16 weeks is going to matter. What's going to matter is how well we play in two weeks."

Maybe Brady will be proven right.

Perhaps this is like the 2009 Saints, who lost their final three games of the season ... or the 2011 Giants, who lost four in a row at one point in November/December ... or the 2012 Ravens, who lost four of their last five games.

All those teams went on to win the Super Bowl.

As bad as it looked Sunday for the Patriots, recent history reminds us that there is still hope. One doesn't have to look too far into the past to find it.