But in beating the Cardinals and Chargers in back-to-back weeks 20-17 and 45-0 on Sunday, the Patriots' have suddenly shown life on defense.
"Early in the season, it was frustrating because we knew what we had and we felt like if we just eliminated a few mistakes, that we were going to start rolling," safety Adrian Phillips said after the game. "We're starting to do that now and you can see it. ... Defensively, we played good ... We're clicking at the right time."
What's been the difference? And the bigger question: can they sustain this improvement against more well-round offenses coming up on the schedule in the Rams (Thursday), Dolphins and Bills? It will determine whether or not the Patriots stay in the playoff hunt.
Some observations and video analysis of five of the first six Chargers drives: