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.
"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.
"We are devastated with it, it wasn't acceptable and we all hold our hands up. It wasn't good enough.
"But we have to stick together and get on with it, and make sure next week we put this to bed and get the three points that we need. It's vital."
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.
Worryingly for manager Alan Pardew, whose tenure does not appear to be under any immediate threat despite the criticism aimed in his direction since the 3-0 derby defeat by Sunderland a fortnight ago, the players in whom he has placed his faith have wilted alarmingly.
Men who have performed admirably in the past have gone missing in action - France full-back Mathieu Debuchy capped an awful day by picking up a second yellow card, while Cheick Tiote looks a shadow of the midfield enforcer who burst on to the scene three seasons ago, Yohan Cabaye cannot pick out a pass and Moussa Sissoko, who won rave reviews for his rampaging powerhouse performances during his first few weeks in English football, finds himself becalmed.
There are mitigating factors - injuries have hit a small squad hard for much of the campaign and the demands of the Europa League proved too much for some - but many of the club's problems have been self-inflicted.
Demba Ba's contractual situation was an accident waiting to happen, while the board's failure to significantly strengthen the squad which finished in fifth place last season during the summer rather than in January has come home to roost in spectacular style.
On Saturday, Pardew's men were beaten within 17 jaw-dropping minutes as Liverpool, fuelled by the sumptuous passing of Philippe Coutinho, ran riot.
Daniel Agger headed the visitors into a fifth-minute lead and when Sunderland old boy Jordan Henderson doubled their advantage, the alarm bells were ringing.
Pardew attempted to inject life into his side by introducing Hatem Ben Arfa at half-time, but his error allowed Coutinho to set up Daniel Sturridge for a third, and the striker, in the side as a result of Luis Suarez's suspension, helped himself to a fourth on the hour before substitute Fabio Borini and Henderson completed the rout.
Taylor said: "It's hurt the players, it's hurt the manager and the staff, and you could see that after the game. We were just feeling sorry for ourselves afterwards, but we have just got to pull ourselves together now."
For Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, a resounding victory proved the perfect preparation for Sunday's Merseyside derby.
He said: "The players have been outstanding since I came in. It's only small margins now with us.
"But we need to keep pushing and keep progressing. There were still elements of the game where I thought we could have been better, so that's the mark of the players.
"They really want to improve, they want to learn and that bodes well for us."