ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — As the visitors' locker room at Ralph Wilson Stadium emptied out Sunday night, Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo weaved through the bags and benches to find Tom Brady, who was still hunched over in a chair collecting his belongings.
Mayo just wanted to see how his quarterback and fellow captain was holding up. After all, the Patriots took the loss hard, as they were in a somber mood after the 34-31 defeat to the Bills, who erased a 21-point deficit to grab sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
It might take a full night to shake this one off, but the Patriots preached the importance of bouncing back from the collapse. After all, it's only Week 3, and it only counts as one.
"I think the main thing, mentally, is just getting back to work," said cornerback Devin McCourty, who struggled in man coverage and gave up a touchdown pass to Steve Johnson. "We don't really have time to be frustrated, to be disappointed. The first three games of the season, we have to keep playing, keep going at it because it's a long season. If we kind of stick on what's been happening the first three games and don't get better, we'll really be in trouble."
The Patriots started out hot by scoring touchdowns on three of their first five possessions. Meanwhile, they had two interceptions on their first pair of defensive series and only surrendered one total first down on the next two.
After that, they found the toilet.
Brady matched a career high with four interceptions, including one that was returned for Buffalo's go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. They committed eight penalties for 93 yards, including two on the Bills' game-tying touchdown drive — one that negated an interception in the end zone. And wide receiver Chad Ochocinco dropped a certain touchdown pass that changed the entire direction of the fourth quarter.
There were mistakes all over the place. Two missed tackles keyed Fred Jackson's 38-yard scamper that set up the game-winning field goal, and Vince Wilfork's personal foul on that final series eliminated any opportunity for the Patriots to get the ball back in the final 15-30 seconds.
"This is game three of the season, and teams are going to have their ups and downs," linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. "Things aren't going to go right. Things aren't always going to be perfect. You've just got to make sure when things happen like they happened [Sunday], we go back and we get better and we keep working. Watch the tape, learn from the mistakes and improve the things we didn't do right."
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick harps on overcoming mistakes and making sure that one bad play doesn't turn into two and so forth. They were victimized by that Sunday, but the message has to have more of an all-encompassing feel this week. One bad week can't turn into two, especially with a cross-country trip coming up to play an Oakland team that just knocked off the Jets.
The message will be delivered during Monday's team meeting, and Belichick will convey it without any reservation. From there, it will be everyone's job to take it to heart in the face of their first week of adversity this season.
"It's going to be a long week," cornerback Kyle Arrington said. "But I'm pretty sure we'll come back out better for it."