KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- New England hoped consecutive wins the past two weeks against New Orleans and Miami, teams that have combined to win seven games this season, were signs that a level of consistency had been attained.
Yesterday's visit to the Midwest, which ended with a 26-16 loss to the Chiefs, was further proof of consistency.
Play bad teams, win; play good teams, lose.
Welcome to NFL mediocrity.
As has been the case most of the season when the Patriots have faced a playoff-caliber squad, they were handled with ease by Kansas City before 78,025 on a cool, overcast afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs (7-4) ran out to a 26-3 lead and were on pace to post 500 yards of offense before being slowed in the fourth quarter, perhaps as much by the rain as the Patriots' defense.
New England (6-5) dropped to 2-5 this season against teams with winning records, having lost three straight against playoff contenders. A far cry from the teams that lost a total of four games the past two years in winning back-to-back Super Bowls.
With their struggles, the Patriots should find themselves in a battle for the AFC East crown, but division foes are doing their best not to make a run at them. With six wins, New England is two games behind every division leader but the Giants, yet two games ahead of second-place Buffalo in the East.
''I just think we're not playing up to the way we're expected to play," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. ''When you're 6-5, it's like you're going out there thinking you're going to win every game just showing up.
''We didn't play very well today and that's why we lost the way we did. Too many turnovers. Too many missed opportunities out there. It's frustrating as a team. It's frustrating when we sit there and we realize we had a chance to go 7-4 and put together a three-game win streak and the way we played today, it just wasn't going to happen."
The initial inclination to attribute the Patriots' lackluster play to a trying week for coach Bill Belichick, a week in which he missed two days of practice to bury his father, is supplanted by the fact that this is the way the Patriots have performed for much of the 2005 season.
In fact, it took the near-perfect execution -- if defeat were indeed the intent -- of a checklist of wrongs that have been elements of almost every defeat this season to go down to the Chiefs.
Poor pass defense? Check. (Trent Green passed for 323 yards.)
Poor run defense. Check. (Larry Johnson rushed for 119 yards.)
Inconsistent offense. Check. (The Chiefs forced four Tom Brady interceptions, and subtracting a scramble and two end arounds, the Patriots managed just 42 yards rushing.)
''We didn't play well enough," Belichick said. ''I think that goes across the board. We didn't play well enough on offense, and we didn't play well enough on defense, and we didn't play well enough on special teams.
''We need to do a better job coaching, so I think that [the problems are] across the board."
The ''start at the top" dissection of the team's problems takes on new meaning this week, as Brady had one of the worst games of his career. He completed 22 of 40 passes for 248 yards, with much of the success coming as the Patriots tried desperately to get back into the game.
The four picks he threw -- three of them to safety Greg Wesley -- matched his career worst, which he has done four times. Three of the turnovers were the result of tipped passes, though none was off a particularly good throw.
The Patriots, playing without tailback Corey Dillon and receiver David Givens, finished with a deceptive total of 306 yards, as Kansas City loosened up its defense in the second half.
''It was bad, it was bad," Patriots receiver Deion Branch said. ''You go out, spot those guys 20 points, then try to come back in the third and fourth quarters? It just won't happen. It just won't happen."
It certainly did not happen on this day, though the Patriots scored the game's final 13 points. Similarly, they closed a loss at Denver Oct. 16 with 17 points after falling behind the Broncos, 28-3.
The Chiefs should have put the game away early on, but settled for four second-quarter field goals by Lawrence Tynes, as the Patriots managed to tighten up in the red zone, surrendering just one touchdown in three first-and-goal situations.
''We were pretty solid in the red zone, but at the same time, we have to do that same job that we did in the red zone out in the field," defensive end Ty Warren said. ''That didn't take place today. We waited too long to start playing."
Warren was in on six tackles, including a sack, and recovered a fumble, which stopped a Chiefs drive at the New England 22-yard line on the first play of the fourth period with the Patriots trailing, 26-10.
Brady went to work, completing six straight passes in a 78-yard march, culminated by a 1-yard toss to tight end Christian Fauria.
A 2-point try was unsuccessful, however, as Brady bought time in the pocket but couldn't find an open receiver, leaving the Patriots in a 10-point hole.
After the fumble, the lone turnover caused by the Patriots, New England forced Kansas City to punt on its next two possessions, but Brady threw interceptions the last two times the Patriots had the ball to cap a horrible day. The Chiefs had just 11 yards in the final period, after posting 411 in the first three quarters, to become the seventh team in the last eight games to top the 400-yard mark against New England.
''You get down, 26-3, or whatever it was, that's just too late to get it going," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. ''You can't wait that long to get going. You can't not make them punt in the first half.
''Right now we don't have any time to sit back and worry about what happened. You want to make the corrections, but we have to move forward. We have division games coming up that we have to win."
Jerome Solomon can be reached at email@example.com