X

Despite 2nd Straight Loss, No Need for New England Patriots to Panic

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IDecember 7, 2015

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sits on the turf during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The New England Patriots were 10-0 and marching toward an undefeated season.

What happened?

Well, two straight losses happened. So did a slew of injuries: Wide receiver Julian Edelman, tight end Rob Gronkowski and linebacker Dont'a Hightower have all been bitten by the injury bug.

The Patriots were without all three of those players in their 35-28 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday evening. They were also without all three players in their 30-24 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 12. That's why these two losses are no cause for panic.

Think about it: The Patriots lost both games by one possession. With all three of those players at full health, the outcome might have been different. Of course, you won't get any New England players to admit that those injuries are taking their toll.

"We've just got to do more to win the game," said safety Devin McCourty. "We welcome guys as they can get healthy and continue to try and come back, but I'm not ready to put blame on injuries as the reason why we lost the last two games."

McCourty and the rest of the Patriots locker room might be the only ones in the Northeast who are not ready to make that claim. The Patriots' injuries are on par with some of the most significant any team has suffered this year. It's had an impact on everything from play-calling to personnel. 

Mike Loyko @NEPD_Loyko

Yes, the #Patriots playcalling has been suspect. Can't really blame McDaniels, the injuries have really shrunk the playbook.

But as those players come back to the lineup, the Patriots will look less like the team we've seen over the past two games and more like the team we saw in the first 10.

Of course, they can't hang their hat on that, as there's still the small matter of locking up the division, the conference's No. 1 overall seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. That being said, the Patriots are still in good position to capture their goals.

At 10-2, they are still one game away from clinching the AFC East. All they need is to win next week against the Texans and have the New York Jets lose to the Tennessee Titans

If the playoffs began today, the Patriots would be the third seed behind the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos, both also 10-2. 

Fortunately for the Patriots, the playoffs do not begin today. They begin in four weeks. Yes, those four weeks include three road games, but they have plenty of time to get healthy before the postseason begins.

Jeff Howe @jeffphowe

34 Patriots have combined to miss 166 games due to injuries this season.

New England also has a trump card in its back pocket: The Broncos and Bengals face off in Week 16 at Sports Authority Field in Denver. That means that one of those two teams will finish with at least three losses.

New England's remaining opponents are Houston, Tennessee, the Jets and Miami. Although the Texans and Jets are both playing well of late and three of those games are on the road, the combined record of that slate is 21-27. 

So, if the Patriots run the table from here on out, they will finish with—at worst—the conference's No. 2 seed, which will still grant them a bye in the playoffs and a home game. If the Patriots can win one game more than the Bengals and Broncos in the final four weeks of the season, New England can still come away with the No. 1 seed. 

These are still very plausible scenarios that could potentially unfold, but ultimately, the only thing that matters is how the Patriots are playing when the postseason arrives. 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.