The Patriots may very well have gotten a wakeup call a week before the team's toughest game of the year.
Riding high a week earlier thanks to a victory over the Vikings that gave New England the best record in football and a seemingly undisputed spot atop everyone's NFL power rankings, Bill Belichick's team was unexpectedly undressed and dismissed last weekend at the hands of Eric Mangini's Browns.
Belichick's former pupil became the teacher as Cleveland beat up the Patriots in all three phases of the game. From getting pats on the back to getting roundly criticized, a young New England team now has the task of traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the tough, physical Steelers.
Cleveland's 34-14 victory may have been a trap game for an inexperienced team feeling a bit too good about itself after a five-game winning streak. But getting ready for Pittsburgh and then a meeting in Foxborough with Peyton Manning's Colts, should have the Patriots refocused.
At least that's what Belichick and his MVP quarterback are hoping for in the coming weeks - effort and improvement.
"Obviously we have a lot of work to do," Belichick said. "I think we are a better team than we showed (against Cleveland), but we weren't today. Clearly they were the better team."
"We've got a bunch of talented players and I'd like to think that we have guys who can make plays," quarterback Tom Brady said. "We certainly make a lot of plays out there but we just didn't do it consistently (against Cleveland). That's the frustrating part. You do it right once, the next time, you just don't do it right. That's something that leads to three-and-outs and to not being able to sustain drives.
"It is Week 9 and we've got a lot of work ahead. I don't think that we are a finished product right now. We have to do things better in all areas, including the quarterback."
Defensive captain Jerod Mayo was most worried about allowing Peyton Hillis to run for 184 yards a week before the team's matchup with the physical Steelers and running back Rashard Mendenhall.
"It was an awakening," Mayo said. "(Sunday) was disappointing, but at the same time, if we can learn something from this, then it was worth it."
In the end, Belichick's message to his team in the locker room following the embarrassing loss in Cleveland and for the week ahead was pretty simple.
"We have a lot of work to do," Belichick said.
LINEUP WATCH: The Patriots have used eight different starting lineups along the defensive line in the first eight games this season. Vince Wilfork has keyed the versatility along the front, seeing action at his usual nose tackle (four starts) and both defensive end spots (four starts) in the 3-4. Six different defensive linemen have started for the Patriots this season based on the weekly matchups.
BY THE NUMBERS: Brady has yet to pass for 300 yards in a game this season. Brady's season-high passing effort came with 292 yards in an overtime win over the Ravens in Week 6. Aside from 2008, when Brady played less than a quarter of action after an opening-day knee injury, his lowest number of 300-yard games came in his first season as a starter in 2001 when he reached the plateau just once. He had seven 300-yard games last season.
--LG Logan Mankins was activated to the Patriots' 53-man roster on Nov. 6 in advance of the team's trip to Cleveland. The Pro Bowler returned to the team and signed his reduced restricted free-agent tender on Nov. 2 after missing the first eight weeks of the season in a contract dispute. Mankins started at left guard against Cleveland, although he did rotate reps at times during the game.
--CB Terrence Wheatley, a second-round pick in 2008, was released by New England Nov. 6. The oft-injured third-year player had not played a single snap this season and saw action in just 11 games in his two-plus seasons in New England.
--RB Fred Taylor (toe) missed his fifth-straight game when he was listed as out on the Friday injury report prior to the meeting with the Browns.
--S Jarrad Page (calf) was also listed as out prior to taking on the Browns, missing his third-straight week.
--S Patrick Chung (knee) missed his second straight game, as he was downgraded to out prior to Sunday's game in Cleveland. The second-year starter had been a game-time decision a week earlier against the Vikings.
--WR Taylor Price, OL Ryan Wendell, OL Rich Ohrnberger, T Mark LeVoir and DL Kyle Love rounded out New England's inactive list against the Vikings.
--PK Stephen Gostkowski was limited against the Browns with a thigh injury. He handled the Patriots' early kickoffs and extra points, but couldn't do so in the second half.
--WR Wes Welker filled in for Stephen Gostkowski on a fourth-quarter kickoff and extra point against the Browns, a feat of versatility with his feet that Welker once also completed against New England early in his career as a member of the Dolphins.