FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Ready to turn the page to next Sunday's 1 p.m. ET road game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Bill Belichick doesn't seem discouraged despite his New England Patriots being in the midst of a two-game losing streak. In fact, he was highlighting silver linings not long after leaving the field following Sunday's 23-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"We lost a close game to a good football team. If we could play a little better, I think we could win," he said.
This isn't the Belichick that many are used to hearing after a loss, as he highlighted his "number one thing" being how his players competed for 60 minutes. He said it would "serve us well going forward."
And where might they be going?
In 2018, the Patriots showed that a two-game skid late in the season doesn't mean Super Bowl hopes can't be fulfilled, so maybe history repeats itself in 2019 and they'll play their best football when it counts the most. Then again, there are some troubling signs, particularly offensively, that threaten to derail that possibility.
Why this could be a déjà vu
Still in good position for first-round bye: With a 10-3 record, and sure to be favored in each of the remaining three games -- at the Bengals (1-12) and home against the Bills (9-4) and Dolphins (3-10) -- the Patriots would lock down a first-round playoff bye if they win out. Considering that every team that has played in the Super Bowl over the past six years has had a first-round bye, that's significant.
Second look at Lamar Jackson: If the Patriots have to travel to face likely No. 1 seed Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game, similar to how they visited Kansas City last season, they will benefit from having faced the Ravens during the season. The Patriots had to experience the Chiefs' uncommon speed during the 2018 regular season to get a better feel for what they were up against, and the same is true with the dynamic Jackson and the Ravens' different-from-the-norm running game. The Patriots were hit with a couple scheme runs in the regular-season matchup against Baltimore that they would presumably be more prepared for a second time around.
Healthy on defense: While there has been constant turnover at various positions on offense, the D has mostly remained intact. And this defense is better than the 2018 unit that ultimately paved the way to victory in Super Bowl LIII. Oh, and defense wins championships.
Belichick/Brady factor: In a one-game playoff situation, what better coach to have leading the way than Belichick? And what better quarterback than Tom Brady?
Coverage units as a weapon: The Patriots on Sunday blocked a punt for the fourth time this season, which set a franchise record. No other team in the NFL has more than one this year. The Patriots' ability to make game-changing plays in the kicking game will serve them well, especially as challenging weather conditions could become more of a factor. Special teams, defense, situational football and resilience are some of the best things the team has going to this point.
Why this season could be different
Clark: Losing isn't something Brady is used to
Ryan Clark and Tim Hasselbeck weigh in on a second consecutive loss for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Offensive line isn't the same: One of the underrated keys to the Patriots' success last season was basically having the offensive line intact throughout. The group played well together, with multiple linemen having career years (left tackle Trent Brown, right guard Shaq Mason). They aren't close to the same level this season, which has contributed to them not being able to turn to the running game like they did at the end of 2018.
There's only one Gronk: Although he wasn't the same dominant player as he had been earlier in his career, tight end Rob Gronkowski came through with clutch plays when it counted. When the Patriots needed a clutch catch on third-and-10 in overtime in Kansas City last season, who did they go to? And the lone touchdown drive in the Super Bowl? While the Patriots knew they couldn't replace Gronkowski one-for-one, the tight end production they have received in the passing game has been minimal.
Easier to defend: There are not enough playmakers on offense, or pass-catchers who can consistently win one-on-one matchups, to keep up in a high-scoring game. Opponents have been devoting more resources to receiver Julian Edelman and stopping the run, and the Patriots have struggled to find a consistent counterpunch. This brings back memories of the 2009 documentary in which Belichick noted how the Patriots were easy to defend if opponents put a safety over the top of Randy Moss and doubled Wes Welker.
Kicker spot in transition: If the Patriots need a clutch kick, where is the confidence meter with veteran Nick Folk and a protection unit that surrendered an easy blocked field goal on Sunday? It's certainly not as high as when Adam Vinatieri was kicking in the early Super Bowl years, or more recently with Stephen Gostkowski, who was often a punching bag for fans but whose contributions might be more appreciated now in light of everything that has unfolded. Folk's limited range is also a factor working against the Patriots, compared to last season with Gostkowski.
Better competition in the NFC: The Patriots benefited last season from facing a Rams team that seemed a bit wowed by the Super Bowl environment. The chances that happens in the NFC this year seems less likely, with top teams such as the 49ers, Saints, Packers and Seahawks, whose leaders have experienced the buildup to the big game. So even if the Patriots get through the AFC, a tougher Super Bowl matchup would likely await.