It's no surprise that critics are writing the New England Patriots' eulogy after back-to-back December losses.
But what do former Patriots think of the team's surprising struggles?
Rob Ninkovich was in New England's locker room during its rocky 2009 season, in which head coach Bill Belichick famously complained his team lacked mental toughness. So, does Ninkovich believe this 2018 Patriots squad has similar shortcomings -- and if so, can they fix those issues?
The former Pats linebacker gave a fiery answer to NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry on the latest edition of "The Ex-Pats Podcast."
"You can't just get it in a week. It's an attitude. It's a demeanor," Ninkovich said. "When you are kind of backed up into that corner, are you just going to kind of accept the fact that you're there or are you going to jump out and try to claw someone's face?"
Ninkovich then wondered aloud if anyone in the Patriots' locker room was holding their teammates accountable after Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, which dropped the team to 9-5.
"Are you going to just sit there and let it happen to you or are you going to do something about it? I don't know," Ninkovich said. "There might need to be somebody in that locker room on that team that gets in people's faces. I don't know. Is there somebody in there that's saying, like, 'What are we doing?' "
Quarterback Tom Brady obviously serves in a leadership role, but Ninkovich was most concerned about New England's defense, which allowed 142 rushing yards to backup Jaylen Samuels on Sunday after surrendering 34 points to the Miami Dolphins in Week 14.
On that front, Ninkovich noted actions sometimes speak louder than words.
"Talk is cheap. Prove it to me. Show me," he said. "Nothing got me more aggravated when I would tell somebody, 'Hey, do this.' Or, 'Be here. Run this stunt. Run it this way.' and they didn't do it.
" ... And then you're just like, 'Man, get the hell off the field. Don't even be next to me if I can't trust you, if I can't rely on you to stay in your gap or to be there when we're going to run a stunt, give me the next guy. Give me another guy that's hungry and just does the right thing.' "
The Patriots have home games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets to right the ship before the playoffs. Perhaps they'll bring Ninkovich in for a guest pep talk to rally the troops.
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