The New England Patriots that showed up at Lucas Oil Stadium to play the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night looked nothing like the team that came into Week 15 with a seven-game win streak.
After playing at a very high level in all three phases for over a month, the Patriots made way too many uncharacteristic and foolish mistakes versus the Colts, and they paid for it with a 27-17 loss that knocks them out of the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff race.
Eight penalties, two turnovers and a blocked punt that resulted in a Colts touchdown were among the mistakes that cost the Patriots.
How should we view this game -- is it merely an aberration or a cause for concern?
"I hope that's not us. I don't believe that's us. I think we've shown we can be much better than we were tonight," Patriots captain Matthew Slater told reporters in his postgame press conference.
"I think, as you begin to have success there's a tendency sometimes to start reading your own press clippings. Not to say we did that, but I think human nature -- you can kind of say, 'Hey, we got this thing figured out.' I think this is a good wakeup call for us. Those guys -- we gotta keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is us having success, and winning games and playing well.
"It doesn't matter what (reporters) write about us or what people say and think about us. It doesn't matter what people say about individuals on our team, it's about our team playing well when our best is needed. I certainly hope we respond the right way moving forward."
The Patriots don't have much margin for error right now. If the Buffalo Bills beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday as expected, they will enter next week's game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium with first place in the AFC East on the line.
What's needed for the Patriots to make the necessary improvements and finish the season strong?
"It starts with preparation," McCourty said. "If we hope to be better the next time we take the field, we're going to have to have a better week of practice, better focus, better energy, better everything, because if we come out and play like this we won't win many games the rest of the season.
"For us, let's learn from it. It's going to be hard to look at the film because there was a lot of bad football out there, but there's a lot for us to learn from and get better moving forward."