FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots gathered this week to officially turn the page toward Sunday's home game against the Arizona Cardinals, cornerback Jonathan Jones relayed that not all is lost, despite the team's 4-6 record.
"Playoffs is still possible. Anything is still possible, as far as our goals," he said. "It just starts with this week. Understanding our record, is what it is right now, we just have to move forward."
At the same time, players acknowledged the margin for error is dangerously thin. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, this will mark the first time the Patriots will have a losing record through 11 games since starting 3-8 in 2000, which was Bill Belichick's first season as coach.
So if the Patriots are serious about making a charge to the playoffs, they likely have to run the table over their final six games -- versus Arizona (6-4); on the road against the Los Angeles Rams (7-3), Los Angeles Chargers (3-7) and Miami Dolphins (6-4); and finishing with back-to-back home games against the Buffalo Bills (7-3) and New York Jets (0-10).
"We can’t lose another one. We felt like that when we had five losses, but it's even more now," veteran safety Adrian Phillips said. "We know our back is against the wall."
If there's a silver lining for the Patriots, perhaps it is this: While there are six AFC teams at least three games ahead of them (7-3 or better), the three teams at 6-4 fighting for a seventh and final spot (the Dolphins, Raiders and Ravens) have all lost to New England.
That seventh playoff spot is new in 2020, and it adds a wrinkle to long odds to qualify.
Consider that since the start of 2020, just six teams 4-6 or worse through 10 games made the postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. They were Washington (2012, 2015), the Chargers (2013), Carolina Panthers (2014), Green Bay Packers (2016) and Philadelphia Eagles (2018).
All except the Panthers (3-6-1), who were led by quarterback Cam Newton, were 4-6 through 10 games.
To make a charge to the playoffs, better play in the clutch will be a must, as the Patriots are 1-4 in games in which they had a chance to come back from a seven-point deficit or less in the fourth quarter.
"We have a good football team here. Unfortunately for us, we just haven't been able to make those handful of plays that we need to make to get over the hump and win games," captain Matthew Slater said.
"That's how thin the margin is in the National Football League. There's a lot of good coaches and great players. In those critical moments, you have to be able to execute, and unfortunately, we haven't been able to do that consistently. ... We have to be able to take advantage of our opportunities moving forward in hopes of turning our season around here."
Slater believes that's still possible.
"If there ever comes a point in time when you lose faith in that, then the season's over," he said. "If you lose belief, you might as well throw in the towel, and I don't think we're anywhere near that right now. I think there is still a great deal of belief in who we are and what we're capable of moving forward, but at some point in time, we have to turn that belief into action and results."