It’s been 20 years since the New England Patriots faced this type of late-season situation.
Last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins officially eliminated the Patriots from playoff contention, the first time that’s happened with games still to play since 2000, head coach Bill Belichick’s first season with the team.
In 2002 and 2008 — the only other years New England missed the postseason under Belichick — it entered Week 17 with its playoff hopes still intact before losing out on tiebreakers.
Given these circumstances, Belichick was asked Wednesday whether the Patriots’ goals for their final two games have changed.
“No, they haven’t changed,” Belichick said. “They never change.”
So the Patriots are approaching these games — Monday night against the Buffalo Bills and next Sunday against the New York Jets — as if they were still in the playoff hunt?
“Pretty much,” Belichick replied.
Patriots players have preached a similar message. Veteran safety and co-captain Devin McCourty said after Sunday’s loss that the team’s only goal moving forward is “to win.”
“That’s all we’ve got left,” McCourty said. “Last two weeks, we’ll get a chance next week to play a team that’s riding high and is going to have a postseason future. Buffalo wrapped up and won the division, so it’s, ‘How can we spoil their season and spoil what they have going?’ And then the next week, it’ll be trying to get another win against the Jets.
“There’s nothing else. There’s no moral victories or hoping for this or that. It’s, ‘How can we win the last two games?’ … However we want to be remembered for the rest of this year comes down to these last two weeks.”
Despite those goals, the Patriots also will have an opportunity to take a look at some of their younger players in Weeks 16 and 17 — most notably backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who could get his first chance to start over Cam Newton.
Belichick has yet to reveal which QB will start against Buffalo, angrily shutting down a series of questions about the subject Wednesday.
“How about if I let you know if we’re going to make a change?” the coach said.
At 6-8, the Patriots are assured of their worst finish since 2000, snapping a streak of 19 consecutive winning seasons.
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