FOXBOROUGH - They left the locker room one by one, heads down, disappointed and unsure what today would bring when coach Bill Belichick unveils their schedule for the bye week.
All the Patriots could do after yesterday’s dismal 28-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium, was regurgitate the message Belichick pounded into them after the game and to the media, “We have to start over.”
That probably doesn’t mean returning to Bryant College for two-a-days, but likely something close to it.
“Anything [Belichick] throws at us, what can we do? We know we [stunk]. We know we have to change things and we have two weeks to do it. He could make us run all day and what could we say? He told us how disappointed he was that we have to start over. That was the big theme. And he’s right. That’s the only way we can approach this,” said one defensive player as he walked out to his car.
The 3-3 Patriots may have played their worst game of the Belichick regime. The defending world champions now have lost three straight.
They were also 3-3 last season. In fact, the Patriots were 5-5 before embarking on a six-game winning streak toward the playoffs and the Super Bowl.
Even though the 5-1 Packers are very good, they were decimated by injuries to their defense, missing defensive ends Joe Johnson and Vonnie Holliday, cornerback Mike McKenzie, and safety Darren Sharper.
“I’m angry every week when we lose, but right now, I’m a very angry person,” said Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. “Bill [Belichick] says we have to start over, let’s do it. Let’s start tomorrow.”
Tom Brady, who should have had a field day against Green Bay’s patchwork defense, had arguably his worst game, tossing three interceptions and generating just 10 points, 7 during garbage time.
The Patriots achieved their goal of stuffing ex-teammate Terry Glenn (3 catches, 19 yards), but they could not stuff Brett Favre (three touchdowns), Ahman Green (31 carries, 136 yards) or the rest of the Packer offense.
The loss left the Patriots tied for second in the AFC East after another ex-teammate, Drew Bledsoe, led Buffalo to a come-from-behind win over Houston.
“Hopefully, those deals will look better for them down the road,” said Glenn, who was heartily booed.
The Patriots didn’t look like a well-coached team.
They committed 12 penalties for 126 yards.
They stood around on an incomplete backward pass to Kevin Faulk in the second quarter as Green Bay’s Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila pounced on the loose ball at the Patriots 8-yard line when the Patriots and several Packers failed to play until the whistle blew.
Belichick challenged the call, but it was upheld. Favre passed to Ahman Green - his 300th career touchdown pass - on the next play - giving the Packers a 14-3 lead.
“They made crucial mistakes in crucial situations,” said Favre. “And we capitalized. We didn’t make any mistakes, and regardless of who you’re playing, that’s the key. We made the most of their mistakes.”
Faulk took blame on the lateral, but Brady overthrew him. Faulk was guilty of failing to run after the loose ball.
“At the time I didn’t think about it,” said Faulk. “But when you look at the replay, it could have been [a lateral], it couldn’t have been [a lateral]. It was a bone head play by me. We weren’t thinking at the time . . . it happens.”
The Patriots had taken a 3-0 lead on Adam Vinatieri’s 32-yard field goal in the second quarter. The Packers went up for good when Favre directed a 12-play, 76-yard drive, capped when the Pro Bowl QB hit fullback William Henderson on a 3-yard score.
The Patriots had stopped the Packers on the drive and forced a successful 44-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell. However, New England was called for two penalties on the kick (encroachment on Ben Kelly and illegal use of hands on Richard Seymour after the play), giving Green Bay a first down.
Brady, who had thrown an interception on the first series of the game, threw his second on the drive following Green’s touchdown. He was trying to lay it in to Deion Branch about 12 yards down the field, but safety Matt Bowen grabbed it and the deficit remained 11 at the half.
Despite another rah-rah session in the locker room at the half, the spirit left the Patriots in the second half.
Some of the problems were mistakes. Others were just a matter of will.
In the third quarter, Tebucky Jones drilled punt returner Darrien Gordon, forcing a fumble. Larry Izzo had the angle on the loose ball rolling toward the sideline and actually had it in his hands before it became loose again. Torrance Marshall recovered, allowing the Packers to keep possession at their 6.
“I made the decision to go and recover the ball rather than scoop it,” said Izzo. “Give him credit. I had the ball for a split second. He took it.”
Even worse, the Packers drove 94 yards on seven plays. Favre, a master tactician faking, bobbing, and weaving throughout the game, took full advantage of Ty Law being out after getting “the wind knocked out of him” according to the team. Favre went right at Law’s replacement, Kelly. He got a 34-yard interference call on Kelly, who battled Javon Walker down the sideline to the Patriots 37.
Two plays later, Favre went at Kelly again, hitting Donald Driver on a nice sideline catch for 29 yards. From there, Favre hit Bubba Franks for a 2-yard pass in the end zone for a 21-3 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Brady moved the offense to the Packer 25, only to have a Matt Light holding penalty shove them back 10 yards. Brady then threw a pass over the middle intended for David Patten, but Marques Anderson stepped in and returned it to the Packers 35.
Favre could smell the win.
Green broke a run 38 yards to the Patriots 24 as the third quarter ended. Favre kept it on the ground, except for another interference call on Kelly good for a first down at the 4. Green went in from the 1-yard line to produce a 28-3 lead.
Patriots rookie receiver David Givens scored on a 4-yard touchdown from Brady, but it was garbage time.
And for the Patriots, the emphasis was on garbage.
“Right now we are where we are, and, obviously, we need a pretty good overhaul on everything because there is not much good going on out there in any phase of the game,” said Belichick. “We just need to start all over again.”