At the time, such self-loathing can bring people to the lowly, humiliating depths that they never want to experience again. Like a 20-point loss to the Cleveland Browns, for instance.
The Patriots were embarrassed to see their five-game winning streak end the way it did, with a flurry of mental lapses that turned into the aberration of their season. It forced them to take a brand-new attitude during last Monday's team meetings, when they sort of broke themselves down, looked themselves square in the eyes and promised to not let that happen again.
The result came in the form of a 39-26 victory against the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field. The Patriots (7-2) couldn’t wait to get back onto the field to wipe out the nasty memories of that abomination in Cleveland, and they put that loss to good use. Without reservation, the Patriots found out how good they can be when they show up and handle business in an appropriate order.
"I thought all of the guys played really hard, stayed focus, and it was an exciting win for all of us, everybody in this locker room. We haven’t been this happy in a long time," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who completed 30 of 43 passes for 350 yards and had four total touchdowns. "We're pretty good when we play and we execute the right way, do the right thing, and when everyone is doing their job."
The Patriots ran for 103 yards against a defense that had been impenetrable on the ground, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 87 rushing yards were more than the Steelers had allowed to any team all year. And New England's defense notched five sacks on Ben Roethlisberger after recording just 13 quarterback takedowns in its first eight games. The defense also smothered the Steelers, holding them to three points through three quarters before things got a little crazy in the fourth — the lesson this week will be one about finishing.
There were bright spots and big plays that helped punctuate such a strong week of work. It was a rewarding feeling for a team to see such results after putting in six days of effort.
"We just wanted this game to hurry up and get here," Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said. "But at the same time, we had to take care of what we needed to take care of in practice, preparation, game planning and all that stuff. I think everybody did a good job of coming to work."
Whatever that was in Cleveland — a team that got too high on itself, or one that had too many mental lapses or just didn’t execute well enough, or a combination of it all — the Patriots found a way to make it count in the aftermath.
The record keepers and statisticians won't delete that Week 9 defeat, but the Patriots erased the tendencies that put themselves in that predicament. At the end of the day, it made them a better football team, at least for a week. If the lesson serves as a springboard for the remainder of the season, all the better, they'll believe.
"Everything does happen for a reason," cornerback Kyle Arrington said. "Last week, it's been a young team, won five in a row at that point. It was definitely a wakeup call. It paid dividends at the end of the day."