ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — One win. Two losses.
It has been more than a decade since the Patriots have been in the position they find themselves in today — the unfamiliar spot of having more losses than wins.
Losing stinks no matter when it happens, no matter how many times it happens, over the course of a season or in back-to-back weeks — or longer.
But the foul odor of defeat has not often wafted toward Foxborough during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady partnership, certainly not at this early point in a season. This team has become known for fast starts, for dashing out of the blocks and staying ahead of the pack.
The last time New England was 1-2 was 2001. Drew Bledsoe started the first two games that season, both losses, though Brady finished the second. Brady started the third, the Patriots got in the win column, and a most unlikely season unfolded.
Since then there have been a few losing couplets, and but one actual losing streak, of four games, in 2002. It’s remarkable, really.
New England lost back-to-back games last season, but that was in Weeks 8 and 9, when it had already won five games, had already shown that it had the grit to win games despite a troubling defense.
In the locker room this past week, there was no talk of panic, and it wasn’t expected that there would be. The Patriots’ motto, first and foremost, is “do your job,” but among the secondary maxims is “never let them see you sweat,” certainly not in front of reporters.
What there was talk of, however, was an urgency. An urgency to clear the air, to bring the sweet smell of victory back to Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots take every week as a solitary event, doing their best to move past wins and losses quickly. As if to underscore the need for short-term memory loss, Vince Wilfork said he has forgotten what it feels like to win.
In some ways, the season-opening 34-13 win over the Titans does seem as though it happened more than 21 days ago. On that day, the highly touted rookies played a big role, the run game returned to the offense, and it seemed like just another win, like so many others the Patriots have strung together.
But as they wake up in Buffalo, their preparations for the Bills in place, things seem different.
Players talked about doing a little extra all week, fixing the mistakes that have cost them, finding consistency. Offensive players said they’ve done some things well but others need improving; defensive players said much the same.
There is a fine line between urgency and panic, and team leaders have been mindful to make sure no one crosses it.
“The urgency is going to increase whenever you lose a game because the competitive nature of this league, as many good teams as there are out there, you never want to come out on the wrong side of a game,” said cocaptain Matthew Slater.
“Our urgency and attention to detail has to be turned up, because we don’t want to continue to put ourselves in a hole. There’s no panic, nothing like that, we’re just going out and continue to try to do our job.
“We realize it’s a big game playing against Buffalo in the division, at their place, it’s going to be tough and hopefully we can go out and find a way to win on Sunday.”
Slater does what he can to make sure no player gets down on himself because of his performance, trying to turn the focus to improvement for each individual, which in turn will strengthen the team.
Devin McCourty said there are many players on the team who understand what is needed to come away from Buffalo with the second win of the season.
But there are also some who don’t know.
“I think just by keeping that sense of urgency, as individuals, as captains, I think it really gets the message across,” McCourty said. “If the team sees all the guys urgent, ready to go, I think we all have the understanding. I don’t think we have to do anything too extra, I think the knowledge of how urgent the situation is is already there.”
Wilfork stressed that there is still a good chunk of the schedule left to play.
“The season’s not over by a long shot,” he said. “We’ve seen teams that start off slow and then pick it up; that’s just how it goes. Now, if we had a five-game season, then we’d be in trouble. But luckily we don’t have that.
“We don’t have everything figured out. I don’t think we’ll ever have everything perfect, but we have to get as close as possible to having things figured out, and that’s where we’re at now — we have to figure things out on the run now. But that’s what it’s all about, that’s the NFL.”
As he talked, Wilfork more than once said that the Patriots are backed into a corner. It is an unfamiliar position, being on the defensive, having to fight their way out of a difficult situation. Being the aggressor has its advantages.
When your back is against the wall, there is only one way to respond: fight.
“How do we get out of that corner?” said Slater. “Win the game. Simple as that.
“We have to start putting some numbers in the win column and hopefully we can do that this weekend. It’s going to be tough, but hopefully we do enough to get a win.
“That’s the only way to get back going.”
Losing stinks. After two weeks of it, the Patriots have focused on eliminating it at the expense of the Bills. Buffalo would like nothing more than to duplicate its result from 12 months ago, and send its division rivals home wrapped in the essence of defeat.