A loss at home in a title game is so rare in New England, and so abrupt, it leaves players nearly speechless.
In the Patriots locker room after the game, blank stares and shaking heads were to be found in abundance. Less so, answers to the most pressing question: How do you deal with a loss in a game of this magnitude?
“It’s the worst feeling,” co-captain
“Yeah, it always comes to a screeching halt. That’s just the way it is,” quarterback/co-captain
“Tonight is a hard pill to swallow,” remarked cornerback
Long pauses between sentences were common Sunday night. They were indicative of players in a state of shock, struggling to find the right words – the most diplomatic words – to express how they were feeling in that instant.
“Right now, it’s hard. After a loss like this, it’s hard,” safety
“You never come into this expecting to lose. We expect to win this game and to move on. When it does happen like this, there is a sense of shock, but we’ll just have to deal with it for now.”
The raw emotion was evident not only on the players’ faces, but also in their voices, at times barely audible even to those standing directly in front of them.
“It’s always hard,” wide receiver
“The sun will come up tomorrow and we’ll just try and move on.”
If you followed both teams closely this past week, you might have gotten the sense that the Ravens were the more confident team, from their head coach on down. That was reflective in their comments to reporters, like receiver Anquan Boldin bold assertion that this year would be different than last year’s AFC title loss here in Foxborough. When asked why, he responded, “Because we’ll make it different… we’re going to win.”
It was that belief in themselves that seemed to carry over onto the field. Even the Patriots had to admit it afterward.
“They came to play and we didn’t,” tight end
They were gracious in defeat, praising their opponents. Gregory told reporters that Ravens QB Joe Flacco deserves respect for the great game he played, that he deserves to be talked about as an "elite" quarterback.
Sure, McCourty acknowledged, the loss in the first quarter of starting corner
It also didn’t help that the Patriots defense couldn’t pressure Flacco much. He had plenty of time to throw most of the night. Or that offensively, the Patriots couldn’t make plays in critical situations – such as a Welker drop on third-and-eight with the team clinging to a lead in the third quarter.
Little things like that add up, and the players are left to wonder what might have been, and where they go from here.
“We expect to win every game… They out-played us, out-coached us,” Hernandez bluntly stated. “We have to come back next year and hopefully make it further. Obviously, we’re down, but there’s nothing really you can do but get prepared for next year and hopefully have a different result.”
“Very disappointing. When you work so hard to get to this point… somebody has to win and lose," defensive tackle/co-captain
“We’ll be back here,” he promised.
But right now, that’s the farthest thing from any of their minds.