FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The date was Sept. 7, 2017, and the sky was falling.


The Kansas City Chiefs scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to defeat the New England Patriots 42-27 in the season opener, and the defending Super Bowl champs were in trouble.


The defense was exposed, and the offense was too predictable without slot receiver Julian Edelman, out for the year because of a knee injury.

Then it got worse. The defense was historically bad for four games, and New England was 2-2 after a 33-30 home loss to Carolina. And the injuries mounted: Dont’a Hightower, Derek Rivers, Shea McClellin, Marcus Cannon, Nate Ebner, Malcolm Mitchell.

Even after eight consecutive wins, a 27-20 loss on the road in Miami sent fans into a tizzy. The Steelers were now the team to beat.

And yet the Patriots hold the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. New England defeated the woeful New York Jets 26-6 on Sunday at frigid Gillette Stadium to finish 13-3.

That means the road to the Super Bowl in Minnesota in February again goes through New England.

As running back Dion Lewis noted afterward in a warm and cozy locker room, all that means is that the Patriots are guaranteed one more home game. They have to earn everything beyond that.

But if these Patriots have earned anything this year, it’s respect.

This is a team that could have folded. Other franchises do. Whole seasons are drowned in injuries or bad luck or bad losses.

Not here. For an NFL-record eight consecutive seasons, the Patriots have won at least 12 games. Think about that.

In this salary cap era, that shouldn’t happen. There should be a season or two when things just don’t go right. But not here.

It’s all about “Doing Your Job,” or “Next Man Up.” There are no excuses. Injuries happen, bad plays occur, games are lost, but the final record always is among the league’s best.

“That’s what an NFL season is all about,” said left tackle Nate Solder. “You know what, we all go through tough circumstances, but somehow God provides and you just keep going with what you’ve got. You put one foot in front of the other, don’t make excuses, and just keep improving and having the confidence that you’re doing the best you can.

“That’s all you can do. That’s how we get through.”

Yes, the Patriots are led by perhaps the greatest head coach in NFL history in Bill Belichick. He leaves nothing to chance and, said fullback James Develin, has the team prepared for every possibility every week.

But there’s more to the Patriots, and this team in particular.

“I think it speaks to our mental toughness, the way that we can respond and move on from things,” said Develin.

Yes, this team has faults. But it’s also one of the most resilient teams that Belichick has coached, able to overcome devastating injuries (Edelman and Hightower are two of the NFL’s top players at their positions; Ebner is one of the best special teams players) and difficult losses.

“Those things we went through, when you wrap up the 2017 season, molded us, shaped us, made us a team, put pressure on us individually and as a team,” said safety Devin McCourty. “You look back at that now and reflect, we needed all of that. We needed to go through certain things. Obviously we would like all the guys that are hurt to be healthy. I think every team that has injuries would like that, but I think going through those things, going through that adversity, losing (Hightower), losing (Edelman), that builds your character, and I think this team needed all of those steps.”

Matthew Slater, the team’s special teams ace and spiritual leader, said the sky was never as dark as it looked at times.

“I think a little bit of adversity is a good thing; certainly it’s going to reveal who you are at your core,” he said. “And we’ve seen that this year. We’ve seen some adversity and we just continue to believe in one another. And that says a lot about who we are.”

They’re the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs for the seventh time since the current playoff format started in 1990.

They’ll have a week to rest, then will get back to work to fix the things that need fixing and to prepare for what should be a run at another Super Bowl championship.

“It’s good to have 13 wins,” said Belichick. “It’s not easy. But these guys accomplished it. We’ll look forward to starting the second season.”