Bill Belichick was guarded after the Patriots' blowout victory against the Buccaneers, cautioning that the positive things probably weren't as good as they looked and the negative things likely weren't as bad.
Belichick has to hope the same was true during Saturday's ugly, 34-10 loss to the Lions.
Going forward, the head coach will need to test his team as they prepare for Thursday's preseason finale against the Giants. And in a twisted way, Saturday's humbling experience might have been a good thing after the Patriots weren't tested against the Jaguars or Buccaneers.
Quarterback Tom Brady didn't buy into that concept, though he recognized there was a glaring need for improvement after the team's collective face plant.
"I don't necessarily think losing games and playing poorly ever helps," Brady said in his postgame news conference. "I think we have to understand, like every week, when you play well that there are things you need to do better. When you lose, there's things you need to do better. You don't want to ride the wave of emotions of, 'Oh, we're great, and we suck, and we're great and we suck.' We're confident as a team. We've just got to go play better."
Brady was dead on about the emotional rollercoaster that can capture a team over the course of the season, and it's even truer in August when the wins and losses aren't worth squat. However, the road that leads to the final score is a lot more important than the destination in the preseason. And that road caved in Saturday night.
Brady threw, what he called, a "careless interception" that was intended for Chad Ochocinco, who had another drop later in the game. Brady also had three other ugly underthrown passes, including one that could have gone for a long touchdown to Wes Welker. The offensive line got manhandled, with left tackle Nate Solder, center Dan Koppen, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer also missing blocks that led to pressure on Brady.
There were plenty of missed tackles, misplayed passes and blown coverages by the New England defense. Cornerbacks Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington had rough nights, and safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Darius Butler appeared to get crossed up in coverage on a touchdown pass to running back Aaron Brown before the half. It could have been even worse, too, if the Lions didn't drop a pair of touchdown passes.
The Patriots also committed 10 penalties, and Welker, Connolly and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite all suffered injuries. Bottom line, the Patriots flat-out stunk against a Detroit team that was fired up to measure itself against one of the league's best.
"We didn't really do anything very well in any phase of the game, certainly not good enough to win," Belichick said at his postgame news conference. "[The Lions] played a hell of a lot better than our team did, so I don't feel very good about the job I did, don't feel very good really about anything we did [Saturday] tonight, really weren't competitive. We obviously have a lot of work to do."
It will probably change the way the Patriots prepare for Thursday's preseason finale against the Giants, and the dud in Detroit should serve as a wakeup call.
The Pats have played poorly in the preseason before — not that it's breaking news or anything — and last year's performance against the Rams caused a lot more panic than anything that just happened in Detroit.
As Belichick has already said this month, nothing is ever as extreme as it seems in the exhibition season. It will just lay the groundwork for the next week of meetings and practices.
"It was just a bad night all around," Brady said. "We don't make excuses for it. It just wasn't a good night."