FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — During Bill Belichick’s coaching tenure, the Patriots have grown accustomed to being the front-runner in the AFC East.
After losing their fourth straight game on Sunday to Buffalo, New England suddenly finds itself in a very unfamiliar place.
At 2-5, the Patriots trail both the Bills (6-2) and Dolphins (4-3) in the division standings, leaving their hopes of winning a 12th consecutive AFC East title in serious jeopardy.
Qualifying for the playoffs isn’t even assured at this point.
Since 2010 only four teams — the Ravens (2011), Texans (2015), Chiefs (2015) and Colts (2018) — have started 2-5 and still made it to the postseason. The previous time New England failed to make the playoffs was 2008, when Tom Brady suffered a knee injury in the season opener.
But at this point, just finding a way to get a win is the only thing on the Patriots’ minds.
Quarterback Cam Newton, whose fumble in the closing seconds Sunday cost New England a chance to potentially pull off the win in their final drive, said the only thing they can do is move on.
“This is a production-based league. Coach preaches each and every day to protect the football, to play smart football,” he said. “I think that’s what makes it so frustrating, being that we’re trying extremely hard. But at the end of the day, you don’t get the results that you want, then what do you do? We just have to focus in on practice and just have our best week yet and keep building from what we have.”
During their four-game losing streak the Patriots are tied for last in the league in turnovers (12) and are second to last in the NFL averaging 12.3 points per game. Only the 0-8 Jets are worse at 7.25 points per game.
The good news is the Jets are up next on the schedule.
“We’re in in tough spot and we’ve dug a hole. But it doesn’t mean we can’t dig ourselves out. It doesn’t mean our season’s over,” running back Damien Harris said. “If we don’t believe in each other, then we don’t have a chance.”
If there is anything to build on, it’s that the offense had some of its best rhythm in weeks in the second half.
The 22-yard touchdown run by Harris late in the third quarter and the 2-yard TD run by Newton early in the fourth marked the first time the Patriots have had back-to-back touchdown drives this season. New England punted on three of its five possessions in the first half.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offensive line has been dealing with injuries for most of the season, and the constant shuffling of bodies may be beginning to take its toll on the unit’s chemistry. Newton was sacked twice and hit a season-high five times Sunday, a week after being sacked just once against the 49ers. The offense also committed a season-high four penalties in Sunday’s loss.
Harris carried 16 times for 102 yards, his second 100-yard rushing game of the season to go along with his first career touchdown. His season debut was delayed by a stint on injured reserve because of a hand issue. But he said his production is hard to celebrate right now.
“I can’t say I’m happy about anything right now,” Harris said. “It’s great, I guess. But ultimately it didn’t really contribute to our team winning. You’ve just got to find ways to win. That’s the bottom line.”
Joe Thuney. The left guard was whistled for a holding penalty for the second straight week. While it’s just the second penalty on Thuney this season, it sticks out for a player who was called for no penalties last season and has just 14 in five seasons.
Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley exited in the fourth with a groin injury.
416 — The number of days Newton had gone without a lost fumble in a regular-season game. Before Sunday, Newton’s last lost fumble was in Carolina’s 20-14 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 2 last season.
Beginning with Monday’s trip to face the Jets, New England is on the road for three of its next five games. That stretch includes home matchups with Baltimore (5-2) and Arizona (5-2).
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