Sundays 34 – 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns was just plain ugly. No other way to really describe the game. Patriots were brutally beat in every facet of the game, and the loss has left coaches, players, fans, and media members alike scrambling for answers.

After a week of praise for this Patriots squad being such a strong unit, the tide has quickly turned. The beat down handed to them by the Browns sent the Patriots spiraling down to earth. The team was outcoached, outplayed, and essentially out willed throughout the game. Sunday’s loss certainly leaves everyone with more questions than answers.

There are not many positives that can be taken out of this game. However, these are the types of games that can happen with a young team. As fans we have seen this team grow and learn on the fly, today was one of the days they seemed to regress.  I have said in the past that there will be days like this; I just figured they would come to a more formidable opponent.

One number people need to keep in mind is eight. That is the number of games left in a very long NFL season. In the next two months, the fate of this team will be decided. Many make the argument that this was the type of gut-check this team needed to stay level headed. I disagree with that line of thinking.

Confidence is such an important attribute for players and teams to have in the National Football League. A loss to a subpar team like the Cleveland Browns can frustrate a contender such as the Patriots. Not only that, the Patriots now travel to see the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road next week in primetime. If the Patriots lose, which many speculate is a good possibility, what happens to the team’s confidence then?  Of all the negatives that come from this loss, this is the aspect that worries me most.

The Patriots have faced a very tough schedule so far in this 2010 season and unfortunately it does not get any easier. In the next few weeks they face the Steelers, Colts, Lions, and Jets. Coming out of that stretch at .500 or better should be able to help them along in their playoff aspirations.  This next gauntlet in the Patriots schedule should tell us what we need to know about this roster.

Now is not the time to lose hope in this team. They are 6 – 2 at the half way mark and still considered an upper echelon team. A club with what many would describe as an abundance of youth and in a reloading year, has shown they can compete with anyone. Yes, they have had their struggles, but one loss does not ruin a season, especially in a year like this in the NFL.

Even though this loss is concerning, there is still time to make corrections. That window however, is closing in the coming weeks. The Patriots need to make improvements in all three phases of the game including coaching. I expect a much better effort from the team next week in Pittsburgh. That will be a tough game to win, but it is certainly not out of the question. As spectators we have to sit back, relax, and see what this team is made of.

This team has shown resiliency during the first 8 weeks of the season. They proved they could be a serious contender. Winning in just about every way imaginable: at home, on the road, blowouts, overtime, come from behind, rally stopping defensive stands, special teams outbursts, and everything in between.

The Patriots face another tough test next week and now have everything to prove once again. With the tough stretch coming up, we’ll see if the Patriots can once again prove they belong.