The mood in New England's locker room following Sunday's nail-biting, 37-31 win over Buffalo was somewhat mixed, depending on who you asked.
In some circles, there was pride in the way the Patriots grinded out a win against a team that pressed the issue right up until the end, while others were disappointed by the fact it even got that close.
The Patriots had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead, but, as has been the case all year with the defense, the lead dwindled fast. The Bills had the ball on New England's 15-yard line, needing a mere touchdown and an extra point to win before Devin McCourty picked off an ill-advised pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick in the end zone.
"I always think we are going to find a way to pull it out," quarterback Tom Brady said. "I've thought that since the day I got here. I practice against those guys in practice daily, and they've come up with a lot of big plays at the end. They did it against the Jets this year, they did it this game, they did it plenty of other times this season -- twice in the Jets game, at the end of the fourth quarter and overtime.
"I have a lot of confidence that they're going to be able to shut the other team down when they need to."
Brady appears to be one of the few to express that sentiment. The Patriots' defense has taken its share of shots from critics this season, and rightfully so. Sunday's near-meltdown even left some players feeling somewhat embarrassed in the aftermath, including Deion Branch, who said "it's not a good feeling" despite the fact they won the game.
"Buffalo is a great team," Branch said, "but, at the same time, we didn't put our best game on the field."
The 2001, 2003 and 2004 championship teams set the bar high -- perhaps unreasonably high at times -- and these days anything less than a walk in the park each Sunday and a Super Bowl title at the end of the year is perceived as a failure in New England.
The veterans such as Brady, Branch, etc., know how hard it is to win on a weekly basis. Earlier this season, Brady hinted that some fans might have been "spoiled" by all the success he and his teammates had during the beginning of the Bill Belichick era.
At the same time, this team's inability to finish games that seem out of reach is puzzling and frustrating. One has to figure that in a playoff game -- or a playoff-like atmosphere during the regular season -- against an elite team, the outcome might be different in the end. That's what the Patriots are working toward fixing before January rolls around.
"We have a lot of work to do if we want to be the team that we know we can," Branch said.