FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There were no crutches in sight, only ex-champs in a somber locker room.
The Patriots were just about the healthiest they'd been the whole season. In the locker room, they didn't blame their mistake-filled flop on questionable calls by officials.
There was befuddlement, though, at how a disciplined group that thrived under the pressure of three Super Bowls victories could come unglued with a chance for a fourth. Five turnovers plus an opportunistic opponent equaled a 27-13 divisional playoff win for the Denver Broncos on Saturday night.
Coach Bill Belichick said Sunday there were "very questionable calls" and that he was "surprised that was the playoff crew" of officials, but didn't blame the loss on those calls.
"They played better than we did," Belichick said on a conference call.
Now comes a long offseason of soul-searching about how a budding dynasty ended with a dud.
"When you lose, you want to go down fighting, you want to go down playing your best," New England quarterback Tom Brady said, "and we didn't do that."
The Patriots didn't do that for most of the regular season.
Still, they had a chance to become the first team to win three consecutive Super Bowls, something seven other teams who won two straight - including Joe Montana's 49ers and Terry Bradshaw's Steelers - failed to do. And, like the Patriots, none of those seven made it back to the title game the next year, either.
"You can't win 'em all," said linebacker Willie McGinest, although Brady had done just that in his other 10 playoff games. "It's not going to stop us from doing what we normally do, fighting hard in the offseason, getting guys back to the way we used to be and make another run."
The runs the Patriots made in the first 10 games of the season looked more like limps.
Rodney Harrison was the strong safety, the emotional and tactical heart of the defense. Matt Light was the veteran left tackle who protected Brady. Both had their seasons ended by injuries - Harrison's knee and Light's broken leg - in the third game.
The Patriots played two games without both of their top two running backs, Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk. Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour missed four games and linebacker Tedy Bruschi missed the first six before returning from a mild stroke.