In a critical showdown with playoff implications, the New England Patriots couldn’t get out of their own way against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On to Buffalo? Well, yes… but with a caveat.
Bill Belichick’s infamous “We’re on to Cincinnati” refrain after the Patriots’ embarrassing 2014 primetime loss to the Chiefs became more than just an effective rallying cry for the team that season. It also was adopted into a New England mantra of sorts, right there with “do your job,” “next man up,” and “mental toughness.”
These slogans and catchphrases are all part of the mystique of ‘The Patriot Way,’ a culture built on winning and moving on quickly after defeats.
But the motto only works if the team rebounds after an ugly loss with a resounding win to right the ship. And for the second time this season, these Patriots have followed up a poor performance with an even poorer one.
It happened in Weeks 2 and 3 against the Jaguars and the Lions, two teams that have combined for just nine wins on the season. New England dropped their game in Jacksonville, a rematch of last season’s AFC championship, and promised a better outing the following week in primetime against the lowly Lions.
It didn’t happen – the Patriots instead mustered up just 10 points in a lopsided defeat to former assistant Matt Patricia.
Last week, the Patriots squandered a golden opportunity to win the AFC East against the Dolphins by allowing the Miami Miracle to happen. In the wake of catastrophe, the team shook off that freak ending and vowed a more complete, wire-to-wire showing against the Steelers.
Again, it didn’t happen, with the high-powered Patriots offense squeaking out just 10 points and the defense allowing rookie Steelers halfback Jaylen Samuels to run roughshod over them for 142 yards.
The last time New England lost back-to-back games twice in the same season was in 2015. That team still managed to make it to the AFC Championship Game before bowing out Peyton Manning’s Broncos, so it’s not like this team is doomed after yesterday’s result.
Still, it’s fair to question this Patriots team’s ceiling.
On paper, they have all the right pieces – particularly on offense – to make another deep postseason run and compete for the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy. In reality, it’s becoming less and less of a sure thing that Brady and Belichick will find their way to a ninth Super Bowl appearance together – at least this season.