It was a somber scene in the Patriots' locker room late Thursday night and early Friday morning as a group of players accustomed to winning had to digest a loss that they already knew might cost them the division title -- and maybe even a playoff berth.
Guard Logan Mankins, already in his street clothes and with his trademark Red Sox hat on his head, couldn't get up from the chair next to his locker; he sat there, his hands on his thighs, starting at his locker but not really seeing anything. Linebacker Jerod Mayo, who looks more and more like a perennial Pro Bowl player, waved off interview requests as he limped across the room.
He wasn't the only one. Cornerback Deltha O'Neal declined to receive questions; linebacker Mike Vrabel, who was called for a questionable but costly holding penalty at his own goal line, did the same. When the locker room was open, Vrabel was seated in Larry Izzo's chair, next to Tedy Bruschi, neither saying all that much to each other. They knew the implications of the game.
And after Vrabel got up to go take a shower, Bruschi turned around to speak to the assembled media.
How tough is it to come back like that and then fall short?
“We dug ourselves in a little bit of a hole, and we fought ourselves out of it. But in overtime, I think, defensively, we couldn’t make plays to get off the field. On third down, they made some crucial third-down conversions and they made the kick.”
What does the comeback say about the heart of this team?
“I don’t know how many victories we will take away from this. You can spin it any way you want, but it is still a divisional loss to the Jets. I don’t think we'll find any positives out of this one, just looking at it as a divisional loss and just trying to get ready for our next game.”
How tough was it to play without Ty (Warren) and Adalius (Thomas)?
“That's the way it has been. That's the way it's been out there starting with Tom (Brady) at the beginning of the year. You've got to deal with things. You have to deal with things even as the season rolls and rolls. Guys are going to get hurt. Guys are going to get aches and pains. Whoever is asked to go out there and play has got to get the job done. We don’t look at it as who's not out there. We look at it as: How did the guys play that are out there? That is the way we see things.”
What went through your mind when you saw Randy Moss make that catch to tie the game?
"Phew. Well, obviously, we started going out there for the extra point. Initially, you think, do you go for one or do you go for two? We decided to go for one as a team. And then you go out there for the captains' toss, and you watch the coin. We saw we'd have to be on defense first, and we accepted that challenge, but like I said, a couple of third-down conversions -- that third-and-15, not stopping them on that, that's clearly advantageous to the defense, and not being able to close that out on that third down, that was a huge conversion for them."
How good was Matt Cassel tonight, throwing for 400 yards like he did?
"I didn't know his numbers until you told me right there, but all we've asked of him is to continue to improve, and he's done that. He's shown the league what kind of quarterback he is and that we can win with him. It's, 'Great game, Matt,' and now let's move on. Let's try to get another victory. That's the way he's going to see it, and that's the way we all see it."
How tough was it to see that holding call down at the goal line?
"That was third down, too, right? I didn't see it -- I don't know what happened. Washington crossed my face and ended up in the coverage on the right side of the defense. I didn't see if it was holding or not, but you react to the situation that's given. That was an automatic first down, so we tried to make a couple of tough goal-line stops, but another goal-line penalty inches them a little bit closer. We've been a good team in terms of penalties lately, not giving teams much, but tonight, we had a couple in crucial situations that really put them in good situations."
With 10 days off, what do you guys do now?
"We just went Sunday-Thursday, so that's a quick turnaround, but we'll come in tomorrow and I think we'll finish up with this game. I don't know if we'll watch a little Miami tomorrow; you'd have to ask Coach that. But having a little time to heal up, that's two games in five days or whatever it is, and it's still football. You need to have a little recovery time, and it's nice to have a little bit of a break before our next one."