FOXBOROUGH -- A somber Patriots squad returned to Gillette Stadium this evening, their playoff fate sealed while flying back from Buffalo following a season-ending 13-0 triumph over the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The team's four yellow Yankee buses were greeted by a handful of fans near the East entrance to Gillette Stadium shortly after 8 p.m. Players quietly filed off the buses, collected their gear, and retreated to the locker room knowing that -- with the Dolphins and Ravens victorious in afternoon games -- the Patriots would be missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
"As disappointed as we are that the season is over, I remain very proud of this team," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a statement released by the team.
Running backs Heath Evans and Sammy Morris talked with media members about the return trip and the roller coaster of emotions the team endured watching the Jets and Jaguars provide no assistance after the Patriots emerged with a crucial win in Buffalo.
Here's some of the Q&A with Evans and Morris, along with quotes from fellow running back LaMont Jordan:
(On going 11-5 and missing the playoffs)
It's definitely a little different, coming off four straight games in December where we won, and won in decisive fashion, but you look at all the good things that came out of the season, everything we overcame from Week 1 to losing Rodney [Harrison], to losing Adalius [Thomas], and losing Laurence [Maroney], I'm proud of this team, proud of this coaching staff. We'd love to keep playing, but you just have to hang your head high and just keep going."
(On watching from the plane)
We were all watching. The plane has those little TV screens on it, so we saw our lovely Jets not helping us out.
(On how it played out on the plane)
Over the course of the game, you see the ticker roll by every 5-10 minutes, it seemed like it started to downhill. The Baltimore game got out of hand real quick. That's the game we play. Hopefully we get better from this, somehow, someway.
(On whether the playoff system is fair)
The way the system is set up, you know, people complained about the BCS for years. I don't think there's going to be a cure. You have different division winners with different records. The AFC East was a tough division this year with good teams. You can't say enough about what the Dolphins accomplished, coming so far in a year. Hopefully they represent the conference well, the division well, and go far.
(On if you can compare last season to this season)
No. Definitely not. I think Week 1 we lose Tom [Brady] and Bill [Belichick] said we were going to ride Matt Cassel this far. Obviously, you never expect to be 11-5 and sitting home in January, but thatís the case. Every season is so different and you try to compare an 18-1 season to an 11-5 season, thatís not a good comparison.
(On being proud to be a member of the Patriots)
Always. Always. I am glad to put that helmet on week in and week out. I am glad to be under this particular coaching staff from Bill all the way down. We played a way down the stretch that I think every Patriot player could be proud of and we did what we could do and thatís all you really can do. 11-5 is a great year in the NFL. It is hard enough to win one game much less 11.
(On missing the playoffs despite an 11-5 record)
It's difficult because the last part of the season we did our part. We were undefeated in December and that's when playoff teams make their push. We did our part towards the end, but we had to rely on other teams.
(On if 11-5 is a successful year)
At the start of the year, everyone's goal is to win the Super Bowl. I don't think we said we wanted to be 11-5... We wanted to win the Super Bowl. So 11-5 on paper is a good record, but it's not good enough.
(On watching the Jets-Dolphins and Jaguars-Ravens)
It was kind of a roller coaster of emotion, winning that game, getting on the plane, and waiting to see what happened in the Jets game. It was the highs and lows in a matter of hours.
(On disappointment that the season is over)
Itís just that, itís a disappointment. Toward the end of the season, we did our part. I wish we could have won some [more] games earlier in the year, but it is what it is.
(On being 11-5)
Guys fought hard all year. We had tons of injuries and we were pretty much able to overcome those, but, again, itís not quite enough.
(On the amount of injuries the Patriots suffered this season)
Obviously injuries are a part of the game. I donít remember this many to that many people over the course of the season, but regardless of what it is, we understand that itís part of the game and thatís something we have to overcome.
(On the teamís performance down the stretch and how the running game came together)
I am definitely happy with how we finished down the stretch. The biggest disappointment is looking back on the games that we lost and me being injured so much. I kind of feel like I let the team down, looking back on it. Thatís just me being a competitor. We finished strong. After our last lost, we knew that we needed to win the rest of our games to even have a shot. We knew if we lost one more game we would be finished. I think it showed the focus of the team. I think it showed how committed we were to wining.
(On the offense)
The offensive line did a great job all year long. I think you have to give Josh [McDaniels] a lot of credit as well, just the way we mixed up so many different runs and the way we kept teams off balance. Things didnít end the way we wanted, but we finished strong.
(On his first season with the Patriots)
Before I came here, I began to grow a great deal of respect for the organization and just how the guys were so consistent in how they played. Now, wearing this uniform, sitting in meetings and being part of this organization, I know why they have the Super Bowl rings that they have. I know why they went undefeated last [regular] season. As a guy whoís been in the league for eight seasons, this organization is one that I have a great deal of respect for.