FOXBORO Josh Barrett looked in the direction of his locker and saw nothing but humans. The backs of humans, actually, as their fronts were all turned in the direction of Barretts teammate Sergio Brown.
Brown was hidden from view in the middle of the scrum. It was there that Brown tried to explain how and why he trucked Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz in the end zone on a throw from Eli Manning with 35 seconds left.
The play set up the Giants game-winning touchdown and sent the Patriots to their second consecutive loss. It also pushed the Patriots to a precarious place.
After a narrow win over the Cowboys, a depressing loss to the Steelers and Sundays flat loss to the Giants, the Patriots are 5-3 and springing leaks. Next week, they play the Jets who are sure to have a blood-in-the-water mentality.
The Patriots are under siege. Failed draft picks and swings and misses on free agents are coming home to roost. The video game offense suddenly looks like Pong.
From the outside, fingers point and blame is being doled out.
How will the team itself respond?
This is the worst, Barrett muttered as he picked his shoulder pads off the floor and shoved them up into his locker.
What exactly was the worst, I asked Barrett.
Especially as a defense you want to take pride in closing out a game, he said, his voice barely above a whisper. You want to be out there in situations like that, with the lead and under two minutes to play. Thats the situation you want to be in. We didnt make the right plays. I dont feel like they out-executed us but they got the win so they must have been doing something right.
This was a Giants team that was without its leading rusher (Ahmad Bradshaw) and leading receiver (Hakeem Nicks). They were missing their starting center, David Baas.
Yet at the end of the game, Eli Manning was able to direct an eight-play, 80-yard drive. Browns PI was the killer play. And while the ball may have been uncatchable, rolling over the intended receiver before the ball arrives is going to draw a flag more often that that. Brown, a backup, was on the field because Barrett had limped off. And Tracy White, primarily a special teamer was in coverage on the game-winning pass because Brandon Spikes had gone off, according to Bill Belichick.
Brown and White arent really fit for those situations. They are over their heads. The fact the Patriots released James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather opened the Patriots up to having White and Brown on the field, though. And its hard to look at these personnel losses and misfires or the Patriots defensive stats or declining offensive output and ask, Whats going on down there?
For every savvy free agent pickup Brian Waters there seem to be two personnel gaffes to trump them (drafting Brandon Meriweather, spending a boatload on Shaun Ellis).
The Patriots have reason to not believe in themselves right now.
They say that a crisis of faith wont happen.
Not with the character of the guys that are out there; thats why theyre on this team, said Tom Brady when asked if he could see the team splintering. Therere a lot of guys who battled back and fought through adversity. Look, everyone hates losing man, it sucks. You put a lot into it each week and it sucks when you lose. But look, no one feels sorry for you. Were going to come back and were going to fight just as hard next week and hopefully the outcome is a little bit better. Were going to keep battling and we have half the season to go. Well see what our team is made of this week.
In 2009, an immature and easily discouraged Patriots team tanked.
This team doesnt hurt for professionalism and, as Brady pointed out, the character runs deep, even while the talent pool seems shallow.
Theres no reason for us to lack confidence, said Waters. This is a good football team. Ive been on some losing football teams, some really bad ones. This isnt one of them. This is a good football team. Were going to fight it out all 16 games and see where it lays after that.
Bleak as the recent performances have been, the Patriots are not gasping for air. The Bills, Jets and Patriots are all 5-3. The division is up for grabs.
We still got a lot of games to go, a lot of games at home, a lot of important games, a lot of conference games, said Barrett. We just got to be ready and mentally prepared for those and remember how this feels. Our main concern is whats in here. You face whatever you face but well stick together and be a cohesive unit. We got each others backs.
There was a lot of talk about battling and resiliency on Sunday night. There were several reminders that these Patriots are a good football team.
Over the next six days, the resiliency will be needed because the claim that they are truly good seems a bold one at this point. A sea change is needed on both sides of the ball because this good football team doesnt seem quite good enough to scare anybody.