All sides of the ball were substandard in their worse-than-the-box-score-looks 28-22 loss to the Houston Texans.
The defense, which had given up four passing touchdowns through its first 11 games, surrendered four to Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins and gave up more than 14 points for just the second time this season. The offense could muster but a field goal for the first 44 minutes and Tom Brady completed less than 50 percent of his passes. On top of it all, kicker Kai Forbath missed an extra point in his first game with the team.
"It just wasn't good enough in any area, and they were the better team," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Pretty much sums it up."
Safety Devin McCourty added, "It comes down to that week, you come to play Sunday, come to execute and play well. We didn't do that tonight, and when we don't do that, we're like average at best.
"I think that's any team. Any team could beat any team in this league. And when you don't come and execute at the best of your ability and play at a high level, you'll fall victim to getting killed or not playing well and losing."
New England outgained Houston by 172 yards, tallied 13 more first downs and three more third-down conversions and averaged more yards per play. But the Patriots lost the turnover battle (one to none) and their statistical accumulation was too little, too late. New England was down 21-3 and 28-9 before the Patriots strung together quick, efficient scoring drives in the fourth quarter.
"Tough to get behind and come back," Brady said after the game. "Put ourselves in a pretty deep hole, and you can't do that on the road."
That hole came courtesy of a Brady interception in the first quarter on which rookie receiver N'Keal Harry was beat on a slant by Texans corner Bradley Roby. Given the short field, Houston scored against New England's supposed Boogeyman defense on the ensuing drive. The Patriots wouldn't score on any of their next five drives, reaching only as far as Houston's 39-yard line.
After the loss, Brady did not put the blame for the passing offense's woes (24-of-47 in total, 7-of-19 at the half) on the talent of his unproven receiving corps, rather the team's overall "execution."
"I think we're all trying to do a good job out there," Brady said. "I'll give them credit, they played well. We didn't make enough plays."
The QB added, "We're battling. We're trying as hard as we can. Hopefully we can make enough plays and be the best we can be. All remains to be seen. ... Guys made some plays tonight. We'll see if we can build on it and do better next week."
In Mahomes, New England is likely to face another such test, though the Patriots, at 10-2 and with their grip on the AFC and the division loosening by the week, can't afford to focus on their opponents. Salvation lies within.
"Let's see if we can get to a good place and put ourselves in a good position," Brady said of his attitude toward the coming week. "We've got a tough one this week. It's a long flight home. We'll try to get ready and get back at it."