The New England Patriots brought the NFL’s longest winning streak this season to Green Bay.
They continued their cross-country road trip without it.
Their 26-21 loss to the Packers in the matchup of top title contenders Sunday makes it more important to avoid a losing streak on the final leg of their journey.
After the game, the Patriots flew to San Diego for Sunday night’s meeting with the surging Chargers.
“If we see them again, you know where it’s at,” Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said of a possible Super Bowl against the Packers, “so, obviously, that would be cool. Not really thinking about that. … Now we have to look forward, put it behind us and move on to San Diego.”
The Patriots and Broncos are both 9-3, but New England has the tiebreaker because it beat Denver. They’re followed in the AFC by Cincinnati (8-3-1) and Indianapolis and San Diego (both 8-4).
Keeping the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs before the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, is critical for the Patriots. They’re 6-0 this season at home and 3-3 on the road after Green Bay ended their seven-game winning streak.
Right after the loss, the two most senior Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork sat in front of Brady’s locker and talked for a few minutes.
It was a tougher loss to handle than their other two — 33-20 to Miami in the opener and 41-14 to Kansas City in their fourth game.
This was a test against a team that had won six of its previous seven games and the Patriots came up short.
The defense stopped the Packers inside the red zone four times, holding them to short field goals. But they let Green Bay keep the ball for 36 minutes, 35 seconds as the Packers converted 10 of their 17 third-down plays.
That limited Brady’s chances with an offense that kept the ball for just 23:25.
“We had a lot of opportunities to move the ball,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday in a conference call from San Diego. “We missed a third-and-1 early in the game. We came up on a fourth-and-1 just short of the first down early in the game. We had a penalty to start the third quarter, so we ended up with some short drives which limited the number of plays that we ran.”
They would have had more if they had been able to get a first down on a third-and-9 from the Green Bay 20 with 3:25 left. But Brady was sacked for a 9-yard loss and Stephen Gostkowski missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt.
They could have gotten the ball back after Green Bay had a third-and-4 at its 43 with 2:28 remaining. But Aaron Rodgers completed a 7-yard pass to a closely guarded Randall Cobb and the Packers ran out the clock.
“That’s where that saying comes in, `It’s a game of inches.’ It really is,” Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “When you’re playing against another great team, you have to be on point at all times, because any error can cost you. We probably had some errors today, and I’m sure we’ll get them corrected, but like I said, there’s no room for errors.”
The Patriots were playing their third straight game against a division leader and had beaten each of the others by at least 22 points.
Now the schedule gets easier with the remaining games against San Diego, Miami, the New York Jets and Buffalo.
But the margin for error is smaller after the loss in Green Bay.
“This was a test for us. It was a big test,” Revis said, “and I’m sure it was a big test for them, too. It’s two great teams playing. So for it to go down to the wire like this, it was expected when you’ve got two great quarterbacks and two great teams going at it.”