FOXBORO -- In hindsight, it might've been a bit of a psychological catch-22.
The Patriots approached their regular-season finale with the Dolphins with an all-or-nothing attitude in the week leading up to the game. They called it a playoff game. They acknowledged how critical the bye week would be for them.
But after losing to the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, 27-24, the Patriots now have to bounce back -- physically, of course, but emotionally as well -- and look ahead to a true win-or-go-home game in a week.
In the locker room as they prepared to head home, the bye week evaporated, Patriots players attempted to maintain optimism despite not having a week off to begin the postseason for the first time since 2009.
"Certainly it's a different situation, but it's important for us to have the proper perspective," Matthew Slater said. "We've been very blessed to have the type of season that we've had and to be in the playoffs. A lot of teams don't have that opportunity.
"Look, would it have been nice to have a bye? Yes. But now we don't have one. I think we need to do everything in our power to recover and prepare and to be excited about our opportunity. Let's not be moping around, feeling sorry for ourselves. We're in the playoffs in the National Football League. This is an exciting time. And our team has worked hard. We should be appreciative of where we are and try to make the best of it."
New England Patriots
That was a sentiment echoed by veterans sprinkled throughout the room.
"We're in the playoffs," said Joe Thuney. "That's huge. We have a great opportunity ahead of us. It's just one extra week now. We still have what we want to accomplish in front of us. Feel fortunate to be in the playoffs. It's a good feeling to be in there but obviously you gotta keep working . . .
"Everyone approaches it with a ton of seriousness and detail. Take it a game at a time. This one didn't go the way we wanted, but there's only 12 teams playing. Fortunate to be one of the 12."
And yet the disappearance of the bye makes things exponentially more difficult for a veteran team that has veteran players dealing with injury. There's a reason Tom Brady looked dejected walking through the locker room and out to the podium for his postgame presser. His expression hadn't brightened much by the time he got to the podium.
"Well, it was a great chance for us to not play next week," Brady said. "So, we didn’t take advantage of it. We just didn’t play good enough, and we all wish we would have done a better job. Certainly I do."
Brady has dealt with an elbow injury that has limited his practice time (though he said after Sunday's loss that he was OK). Julian Edelman has dealt with rib, shoulder and knee issues throughout the course of the year. Defensive starters Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones are dealing with groin injuries.
Marcus Cannon came into the game with an ankle issue and admitted Sunday afternoon that the bye, of course, would've been beneficial.
"Everybody understands how important the bye is," Cannon said. "If any team in the NFL doesn't get a bye in the regular season, doesn't feel good. But everybody loves a bye. Everybody knows (during) a bye, you can fix bumps and bruises, work on other things.
"But we're done talking about that. We don't have it. We're going to figure out tonight who we're playing against, and all that other stuff of wishing and hoping and, 'What about this?' All that's gone. It's all about one game now."
Veterans on the roster said they felt as though the preparation for that game next week -- the team's first Wild Card game since losing to the Ravens in 2009 -- would be handled with aplomb.
"We've got a veteran team," said John Simon. "Guys are able to turn the page pretty quick here. We know what's ahead of us. We know what's at stake. Playoffs start next week. We'll do whatever we can to get ready."
"When we leave here today, this game is over with, we'll put it behind us and focus on the next challenge," Slater said. "You can't allow something like this to stick with you. You never like to lose a game. It is what it is. But I think we need to look forward, embrace our opportunity, and make sure we do everything in our power to demand that we seize the opportunity that we have and make the most of it . . .
"Here in New England we've been a little bit spoiled with having byes yearly. But, look, as I said, we're blessed to be in the playoffs. We should be excited about that. We should look forward to our opportunity and try to seize our opportunity because, look, the reality is there are guys on this team that may never see the playoffs again over the rest of their career. So we need to make this opportunity count, and it starts by having a good day tomorrow and trying to stack them together. The next time we play, we need to play our best football."