FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Losing Tom Brady was just the first of the Patriots' problems. Now they're wondering just how good, or bad, they really are.
Are they a playoff contender or a long shot, a team whose coach is smart enough to overcome major misfortune or just another sideline boss at the mercy of his players' ability?
"You don't really know what to expect," cornerback Ellis Hobbs said Wednesday. "We just have to go out there and find some type of consistency."
New England (3-2) already has lost more games than it did all last season -- both by blowout margins. The defense has been vulnerable to big plays, the offense has made very few and the players are searching for answers.
They're not nearly as good as the Patriots teams that won three, and very nearly four, of the last seven Super Bowls. But can they at least play well enough to pick up enough wins to get to the playoffs?
"I know there are questions out there as far as, `Can we do it? What's going on?' " Hobbs said. It's "human nature in here, guys looking for some type of stability and just trying to come together, where it's been kind of like a roller coaster right now."
The offensive problems were predictable after 2007 NFL MVP Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the first game. He was replaced by fourth-year pro Matt Cassel, who hadn't started since his senior year in high school.
The Patriots did win their first two games, 17-10 over Kansas City and 19-10 at the New York Jets.
But then the defense, so stingy last season when it allowed the fourth-fewest points in the NFL, sprung leaks in losses of 38-13 to Miami and 30-10 last Sunday to San Diego - separated by a 30-21 win at San Francisco.
The Patriots miss cornerback Asante Samuel, who signed as a free agent with Philadelphia, especially after his replacement, Deltha O'Neal, was beaten for completions of 48 and 49 yards by the Chargers.
"I felt embarrassed. I felt down," O'Neal said. "I sat there and thought about it these past couple of days, the whole flight home. I'm over it now."
"It's easy to sit back from a media standpoint or even a team standpoint and try to point fingers," safety Rodney Harrison said, "but we're sticking together. We've been through it before, tough times, and there's a lot of football left.