The season is lost, the team is reeling and certain changes are now only a week away. It would have been easy for the New England Patriots to fold Sunday. Instead, they showed some pride.
Just seven days after seeing their playoff hopes go down the drain in a humiliating defeat in Philadelphia, the Pats rebounded and took the Bills down to the wire at Foxboro Stadium. They lost in overtime, 13-10, but to coach Pete Carroll it was the effort that counted.
"It was a prideful effort in every way you could look at it," said Carroll, who could be out of a job by this time next week. "It was extremely important to me that this team came out and played like that. I'm really pleased with that, because of all the garbage and all the talk about these guys going home or whatever.
"These guys fought their butts off the whole time. They were digging it, they were having fun playing football. I really liked it a lot in that sense."
Most of Carroll's players agreed with that assessment, and for good reason. If Adam Vinatieri had made a 33-yard chip-shot field goal in the closing seconds, the Pats would have had the upset. Their performance ran in the face of the prevailing wisdom surrounding the team that the players have quit on Carroll.
"I always knew we had a lot of fighters on this team," said receiver Troy Brown. "Sometimes it doesn't show, but we do have fighters."
Added safety Larry Whigham: "I think guys have showed great effort all year long, since Pete's been here. I don't think anyone has quit on Pete Carroll's coaching staff."
Defensive end Willie McGinest, however, was not so impressed. The veteran sees a losing mentality taking hold on the Pats, and he's not happy about it.
"We've got to remember this feeling. If guys take this and make it feel like it's OK, then they don't need to be here," said McGinest. "They need to weed those guys out and get them the hell out of here. . . . For the guys that are hurting, that still want to win, that are going to keep fighting no matter what -- then those are the guys I want to play with."
McGinest even sent some shots Vinatieri's way. He was asked if he felt sorry for the kicker because of the strong wind he was forced to kick into.
"What elements? That's his job, man," said McGinest. "When we mess up, when we miss plays or get beat, it's our job. That's Adam's job. I wish he would have made them, but it's his job. It's everybody's job to do what they're supposed to do. We all play in the same elements. You've got to go out there and play."
In many ways, Patriots fans should be glad for the loss. Remember, the Pats (7-8) are out of the playoff picture. The worse they finish, the better their draft position will be in April, the easier their schedule will be next season. A loss to Baltimore next week will give them their first losing record since 1995.
It's a place McGinest doesn't want to go to.
"We're not going to go out losers. I promise you that," he said. "I don't think we're surrounded by losers. I think guys care enough. And if they don't they don't need to be here.
"We know it's going to be hard. We got all the elements around us. We got the media, we got guys having certain off-the-field problems, we've got a lot of things going on. Sometimes you've just got to separate yourself and isolate yourself and say what's really important to you."