The New England Patriots' loss Monday night to the Miami Dolphins wasn't nearly as close as the 27-20 score indicated. Bill Belichick's team got thoroughly outplayed by Jay Cutler, Xavien Howard, Ndamukong Suh, et al. from the first whistle.
It was almost like the Patriots didn't show up in primetime. Almost like players were looking forward to next week's pivotal showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a potential No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line. Almost.
A predictably gruff Belichick took issue with the suggestion his team overlooked the Dolphins.
Below is a sampling of the coach's brief postgame press conference:
Do you think any of the guys might have been looking ahead next week, looking past Miami?
Belichick: "No. Give me a break. Any questions about the game or not?"
Third down you struggled. 0-for-11.
Belichick: "Not good enough."
Can you put your hand on any particular reason why there seems to be continuous struggles every year you come down here? That's four out of five years now you've lost down here. Can you put your hand on anything why here is such a struggle?
Belichick: "Were you here last year?"
Won last year. You lost the previous three.
Belichick: "Every game is its own game, okay? I don't think what happened five years ago has anything to do with tonight."
Can you explain the onside kick? What happened there with that kick?
Belichick: "They recovered it."
How different was their defensive approach in this game compared to November 26? Was there significant change in the way they approached that?
Belichick: "No, I wouldn't say it was dramatic."
For a coach who prides himself on approaching each individual game as its own chapter in a season-long story, suggesting his team didn't show up because they were looking ahead is tantamount to urinating on his lawn.
Just because the coach prepared with normal vigor, however, doesn't mean there weren't some in the locker room thinking about Pittsburgh. It's human nature. Even if Belichick is working toward creating a team of cliché-chattering cyborgs, he doesn't control the minds of the 53 men in his locker room -- yet.
The other option to explain Monday's bomb -- if the Patriots were not looking forward to next week -- was they merely stunk. Tom Brady had a rare off day and looked every bit of 40 years old. Brandin Cooks was completely blanked by Xavien Howard. The offense went a pathetic 0-for-11 on third down. The defense never disrupted Jay Cutler, let Kenyan Drake gallop all over, and didn't slow a crossing route all night.
Even with the flop, New England can still regain control of the AFC with a win in Pittsburgh on a short week, whether that's what they were thinking about Monday night or not.