FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The New England Patriots have the second worst defense in the NFL. Their star quarterback just threw four interceptions. They’ve beaten two teams with winning records.

And they’re in first place and making no apologies.

“That’s just the way it is,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi said Monday. “We’re on top of the division so we want to stay there.”

They should be able to, considering that four of their remaining five games are against teams in their own inferior division, the AFC East.

That soft stretch begins at home Sunday against the New York Jets before a road game at Buffalo. The Patriots do play Tampa Bay but will be home for that game. They finish up at the Jets and at home on New Year’s Day against Miami.

New England is 6-5, the worst record of any division leader. But Miami and Buffalo are 4-7 and New York is 2-9. It would be a surprise if the two-time defending Super Bowl champions don’t win the division and play at home in the first round of the playoffs.

“I don’t know if we’re fortunate,” wide receiver Tim Dwight said. “We’ve worked hard for those six (wins). We’re not where we want to be, but we’ve still got a shot to get in” the playoffs.

In the other 35 seasons since the NFL-AFL merger, only three teams that won their division were outscored – Seattle by 2 points last season, Cleveland by 7 in 1985 and Minnesota by 12 in 1978.

The Patriots have been outscored by 36 points.

They’ve won one game by more than 7 points and lost none by fewer than 8. Their last two wins, by 7 points each over Miami and New Orleans, weren’t decided until the last minute.

It wasn’t that close Sunday when the Patriots were dominated in Kansas City, losing 26-16 They trailed 26-3 with five minutes left in the third quarter and their last two possessions ended in interceptions.

Tom Brady threw a career-high four interceptions for only the fourth time in his career and frequently overthrew receivers, although they got their hands on some high throws.

“Any time it hits our hands we expect to catch it,” said Dwight, who had a season-high five catches with two Patriots receivers sidelined for the game. “That’s all you can ask of your quarterback, put the ball within reach and you’ve got to make the play. You can’t lay all of this on Tom.”

The Patriots especially need the offense to be successful because the defense has had trouble stopping opponents.

They’ve allowed 400 yards or more to seven of their last eight opponents. The other, Buffalo, gained 394. That stretch coincides with the loss of strong safety Rodney Harrison for the season with a knee injury. In the three games in which he played, New England allowed 338, 250 and 269 yards and were 2-1.

Not even the return of Bruschi has shut down opponents. The Patriots are 3-2 since he came back after having a mild stroke in February.

“The only thing that I’m looking at now, and especially when I first came back is, are we winning?” he said. “This year’s turned into a year where we must win anyway we can. Just win a game.”

But 14 of the 32 NFL teams have better records. And the Patriots continue to be plagued by injuries to key starters. Artrell Hawkins, in just his second game since signing with the Patriots, became the sixth player to start in Harrison’s spot on Sunday.

The Jets lost their sixth straight game last Sunday, 21-19 to New Orleans, one week after the Patriots beat New Orleans 24-17.

“Every week there’s a sense of urgency regardless of who we’re playing,” linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. “I don’t think you’re going to put any more relevance on this week than last week.”

He’s not focusing on the standings either.

“If you sit here and look at the division, you’ll find yourself looking up (at a team ahead of you) before you know it,” Colvin said.

AP-ES-11-28-05 1834EST


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