FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The team that won two straight Super Bowls can’t even win two straight games.

Depleted by injuries and dominated by Peyton Manning, the New England Patriots reached the midpoint of their season knowing they have little time to make a big improvement.

“We are back on that roller coaster,” linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. “Up and down, up and down. We have to get off of it if we expect to move forward any time soon.”

The Patriots lost 40-21 to the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night and have alternated wins and losses this season. They are 4-4 after going 34-4 the last two seasons. Still, they lead the weak AFC East by one game and, if they finish first, would qualify for at least a wild-card game at home.

Advancing beyond that? Not the way they’ve played.

When it comes to personnel and performance, the Patriots are much different than they were last season when they beat Philadelphia for the championship and put themselves in position to become the first team to win three consecutive Super Bowls.

How things have changed:

• On defense, the Patriots allowed the ninth fewest yards in the NFL last year but the second most this year. They’ve already given up 220 points after allowing 260 last season. And they have only six turnovers and 10 sacks.

• On offense, the running game has slowed to a crawl. Corey Dillon, playing with an ankle injury, has rushed for 441 yards in the first eight games, less than half his total of 900 in the same span last year.

• On the sideline, the Patriots are loaded with injured key contributors. Intimidating safety Rodney Harrison was lost for the season in the third game with a knee injury and two Pro Bowl players from last season missed considerable time – linebacker Tedy Bruschi for the first six games after having a mild stroke and defensive end Richard Seymour for the last four with a knee injury. Offensive tackle Matt Light and third-down running back Kevin Faulk also have missed most of the season and are still out.

The only bright side: two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady has been outstanding. He had to be, considering the running problems.

But the usually media-friendly quarterback showed some quick scrambling moves after Monday night’s game when he made a brief statement to reporters then left the podium without taking questions.

“We need to play better and we’ve got to fight harder,” Brady said. “And give a lot of credit to the Colts. They played really well. I think we just made too many mistakes. And there’s a lot of football left.”

The second half of the season starts Sunday in Miami, where the Patriots play the first of their five remaining division games. The Dolphins are tied with Buffalo at 3-5, one game ahead of the New York Jets, but gave Atlanta (6-2) a tough game before losing 17-10 last week at home.

The Patriots nearly lost to Buffalo at home Oct. 30 when they overcame a 16-7 lead with 14 fourth-quarter points for a 21-16 win. The teams meet again in Buffalo on Dec. 11.

New England has two games left against the Jets and one each at Kansas City and at home against New Orleans and Tampa Bay.

At least they don’t have to face Manning again in the regular season after he got his first win in eight career games against New England with three touchdown passes and 321 yards passing.

“We thought we were prepared coming in, but what they did out there was impressive,” Bruschi said.

Brady, known for pulling out games in the fourth quarter, may need to lead a strong finish for the Patriots simply to make the playoffs.

“We’ve got a lot of division games and, hopefully, we can turn it around,” he said. “But the Colts certainly outplayed us. They were the better team. And that’s it. Thank you.”

With that – and a downcast look – he walked away toward the rest of the season.

AP-ES-11-08-05 1737EST


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