FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The New Orleans Saints lost their home. The New England Patriots lost key players. And both have won fewer games than expected.

Forced from the damaged Louisiana Superdome by Hurricane Katrina, the Saints played home games in three cities. They’re 2-7.

“The whole situation has been hard, not just on us but on the people down in the Gulf Coast,” Saints coach Jim Haslett said. “In the long run, it will make us better people for it.”

In the short run, they go into Foxborough today with a five-game losing streak, a defense that has allowed the fourth-most points in the league and an offense that has scored more than 20 points just twice.

The Patriots are 5-4, good enough to lead the weak AFC East, but hardly what was expected of a team that won the last two Super Bowls. Those expectations plummeted when players kept getting hurt; six defensive backs are on injured reserve and out for the season and two offensive starters will miss Sunday’s game, while another five are questionable.

At least Tom Brady, the player the Patriots can least afford to lose, is healthy despite taking more hits than usual behind a rebuilt offensive line.

“We’re dealing with the adversity that we face, and every team deals with it. So we just need to deal with it a little bit more than some other teams,” said the two-time Super Bowl MVP who leads the NFL in yards passing.

Sunday’s game – and two later in the season against the New York Jets – loom as the easiest for the Patriots in a second-half schedule that is less challenging than the first half. They might even win consecutive games for the first time this season.

“You can’t just say, “Hey, we’ve got momentum,’ ” linebacker Mike Vrabel said. “We’ve had momentum four other times and lost. There’s no carry-over.”

The Patriots came out of Miami last Sunday with a 23-16 win. Heath Evans, signed Nov. 1, rushed for 84 yards in place of three sidelined running backs: Corey Dillon, Patrick Pass and Kevin Faulk. The defense, beaten up in the secondary but with linebacker Tedy Bruschi making key plays in his third game back after having a stroke last February, gave up 437 yards – 77 on the ground – and has allowed more yards than every team except San Francisco.

This Sunday, the Patriots face a team that lost its top running back, Deuce McAllister, for the season. Former Patriot Antowain Smith is among those filling in, and Anthony Thomas was signed as a free agent after their last game, a 20-17 loss to Chicago before last weekend’s bye. Smith rushed for 110 yards in the game, but the Saints had four turnovers.

“We are just too inconsistent right now. We have to play through whatever adversities come our way. Of course, the hurricane took us all out of our element,” Smith said, “but you still have a job to go out there and do on Sunday.”

Quarterback Aaron Brooks hasn’t been doing that very well. He threw for only 170 yards against the Bears, the sixth time in nine games that he’s gained less than 200.

“We’re getting ourselves in situations that aren’t really conducive to winning and are not good for a quarterback,” Haslett said. “I mean, third-and-longs and second-and-longs. We’re not protecting as well as we would like. We have had a lot of dropped balls.”

Brooks should have a chance to move the ball against the second-worst pass defense in the league with a secondary that includes just two active players who were on the team during the 2004 regular season.

“Everybody goes through it nowadays because that’s the way the NFL is,” Haslett said. “There are a lot of injuries. We’ve done it the last couple of weeks.”

The Patriots lost an important part of their offense last Sunday when center Dan Koppen suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. He was replaced by Russ Hochstein, who will play with two rookies to his left.

“Russ is going to play well for us,” Brady said. “We just can’t afford any more injuries. We can’t afford any more on offense. We hardly have enough guys to get out there and suit up.”

At least they have a home.

The Saints have played home games in Baton Rouge, La., San Antonio and East Rutherford, N.J. But they also have a coach who has the best road record in team history.

So Bruschi had no interest in talking about how the Saints have dealt with the hurricane.

“I want to talk about football,” he said. “They’re coming into our home. They’re a good team on the road. That’s what I’m looking at.”

AP-ES-11-17-05 2200EST

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