FOXBORO -- The Patriots were back to work today after a 24-20 loss to Miami on Sunday. A win would have clinched New England's 11th AFC East title in the last 14 years. It also would have pushed the team toward a No. 1 playoff seed.
Monday's locker room mood was sober, businesslike.
"It's very disappointing," said special teams captain Matthew Slater. "We had a chance to wrap the division up. We all knew what was at stake and we didn't get it done.
"But the season's not over with; there's a lot to play for," he continued. "All our goals are on the still attainable so we just have to take it one day at a time."
The game was yet another photo finish for the Patriots, only, for the first time in four weeks, they couldn't pull out a victory.
Inefficiency in the red zone was a serious issue; the team scored a touchdown just once on four opportunities. The stat screams for injured tight end Rob Gronkowski, as New England struggled mightily to score (just nine touchdowns in 22 chances) in the other six weeks of the season he was sidelined.
And Gronkowski represents only one fallen soldier of many; four Patriots Week 1 starters have been relegated to season-ending injured reserve, and at least five others have missed two or more games for injury.
But when offered the crutch, the players won't take it.
"You can't make excuses for who's here and who's not," Rob Ninkovich said. "You've got to play with who's on the field, who's playing at that time.
"In the NFL, the margin of error is small to begin with. Any time you play a good team, and Miami was a good team, you've got to give them credit for the things they're able to do. It's always a battle out there."
The Patriots truly fought, scraped and clawed, for their last three wins. They were outscored in the first half 47-7 in that span, yet somehow found their way to victory in each case.
Not this time.
Of course, it's easy to say New England would eventually fall if it kept tripping out of the gate. The way Slater sees it? That only tells part of the story.
"Let's give some credit to Miami. They're a good team, they're well coached, they've been playing well here down the stretch. It's not easy to win in this league. It doesn't matter who you're playing or what their record is; it's the National Football League. Any given Sunday, any team can beat another team."
Rebounding against a resurgent Baltimore team -- on the road -- is probably not ideal. And you can imagine failing to wrap up the division adds more pressure to weekly preparations.
"We feel pressure every time we take the field, whether it's Week 1 or Week 15, and that pressure increases every week," Slater noted. "It is what it is."
Ninkovich emitted a similar resolve.
"There's definitely no quit in us. We're going to play as hard as we can until the end."