Steven Taylor likened Newcastle's astonishing surrender to Liverpool to a death in the family as they were plunged deep into relegation trouble.
The Magpies' 6-0 humiliation at the hands of the Reds was their heaviest home defeat since 1925 and left them just five points clear of the Barclays Premier League drop zone with three games to play. They head for West Ham next Saturday knowing another pointless afternoon could leave them in genuine peril as the prospect of a second relegation in five seasons looms large.
Central defender Taylor said: "It's a sick feeling. At this moment in time, it feels like a family member has died, if I am being honest with you."
He added: "In the dressing room, looking around everyone was devastated and realised the situation we are in.
"We have got to accept what's coming our way, and that's going to be the criticism this weekend leading up to the West Ham game.
"We have just got to put that to bed and focus on ourselves. Everybody is going to be criticising the team, the manager, everybody, but we have to stick together.
"We have heard those words a lot in the past six months, but that's vital now. The last three games are going to be like cup finals for us.
"We have to apologise, first and foremost, to the fans, for everybody who came here and watched the lads, and hold our hands up because we know we let them down."
Realistically, one more win should be enough to preserve the club's top-flight status with perennial strugglers, but seasoned survivors, Wigan facing a tough run-in after seeing their hopes of a precious victory over Tottenham dashed by a late equaliser.
But a Magpies side which has won only once in the league away from St James' Park this season will need to increase that tally at either Upton Park on Saturday or QPR the following weekend if they are to spare themselves a fraught final-day clash with Arsenal on Tyneside.