Searching For Answers

New England holds a tenuous lead in the AFC East division. The loss to Miami has them wondering what's wrong. With plenty of blame to go around the Patriots have a lot on their plate. Facing a surging Panthers team might be good, or it could be... dare we say it... 3rd loss in a row?

As the 7-5 Patriots work through the team's first losing streak since 2006, the presumptive preseason Super Bowl favorite is embroiled in a search for answers.
Both sides of the ball can take portions of the blame for consecutive losses to the Saints and Dolphins. New England is now 0-5 on opponents' fields this year, its only win away from Gillette Stadium a neutral-site blowout of the Bucs in London.

No longer considered a favorite to play in Miami in February, now the Patriots are just one game ahead of the Dolphins and Jets in the AFC East, both teams New England lost to on the road this season.

"We're searching for answers too," Tom Brady said after yet another poor second-half performance on Sunday against the Dolphins that led to the 22-21 defeat at Land Shark Stadium. "There is plenty of stuff we need to play harder on. The feeling when you lose, it's an awful feeling. Coach always says you get what you deserve and you don't deserve to win when you make as many mistakes as we do."

Among New England's many mistakes is poor pass defense that's been lacking both in terms of coverage and rush, too great a reliance on the big pass play on offense and a lack of consistent play on either side of the ball.

"We've got to find a way to play better football for 60 minutes," Brady said. "Everyone has to focus on what they need to do better. That's the challenge for all of us. Being mentally tough enough to overcome adversity and when things don't go your way you have to fight back. There are times we fight very hard. We've had leads in the second half and in the fourth quarter and we're not closing games out."

Now, the team needs to close the season out on a winning streak. This year's Brady-led Patriots have as many losses at this point as the Matt Cassel-led team did through all of last season. That 2008 squad was the first in New England to fail to reach the postseason since 2002. With four games to play, as surprising as it may seem with Brady back under center, the Patriots' playoff lives could be on the line each and every week through the end of the season.

"It's really been frustrating," receiver Wes Welker said. "We've been a team that's been able to come through in situations and play through things and we haven't been able to do that. We all need to look in the mirror, including myself, and in those situations we have to capitalize.

"We've got to make sure we come to play on a weekly basis."

If they can't, amid a bunched-up AFC playoff race, New England could very well find its season hanging in the balance.

"We've got to learn from this and win the next four," special-teams captain and No. 3 receiver Sam Aiken said following the latest loss. "We're running out of time."

NOTES
--QB Tom Brady became the 31st player in league history to surpass 30,000 passing yards with his 352-yard performance in a losing effort in Miami. He also surpassed 300 yards for the seventh time this season, second most in team history (Brady, eight in 2007).
--RB Kevin Faulk had just three carries for 15 yards in the loss to the Dolphins but did score his first rushing touchdown of the season while moving into fifth place on the Patriots' all-time rushing list with 3,399 yards.
--WR Randy Moss surpassed 1,000 yards for the third straight season in New England and the 10th time in his career to join Jerry Rice (14) as the only players in NFL history with 10 1,000-yard seasons.
--WR Wes Welker went over 100 yards receiving in the first half against the Dolphins, the third time he reached the plateau before halftime this season. Welker finished with 10 catches for 167 yards and leads New England with 95 catches.
--TE Chris Baker caught one pass for 6 yards in Miami, the only pass to a Patriots tight end in the game. New England's tight ends have caught just 33 passes this season as Baker has 11 while Benjamin Watson has 22.
--OLB/DE Tully Banta-Cain registered a half sack of Chad Henne, giving him a team-best 5 1/2 sacks. The mark ties a career best for Banta-Cain, who had 5 1/2 sacks for the Patriots in the final season of his first tour of duty in New England in 2006.
--LB Jerod Mayo had a game-high 12 tackles, nine solo, and a half sack in the loss to Miami. Mayo now leads New England with 73 tackles.
--S Brandon Meriweather recorded his team-leading and career-high fourth interception of the season on an overthrown Chad Henne pass in the second quarter of Sunday's loss to the Dolphins.
--RB Laurence Maroney led New England with 13 rushes for 41 yards (3.2 avg.) in Miami. For the season he paces the Patriots' rushing attack with 144 attempts for 560 yards (3.9 avg.) and eight touchdowns.
--WR Sam Aiken's 81-yard touchdown against Miami was just the second of his career and the longest play from scrimmage for the Patriots this season.

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