No matter how many yards and points Tom Brady manages to generate, his New England Patriots are not going to go very far this season if they can't get their defense straightened out.

Coach Bill Belichick's reigning Super Bowl champions looked surprisingly vulnerable on that side of the ball yet again in a 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

New England has allowed 33 points or more in three of its four games so far, giving up an average of 32 points that ranks 31st in the 32-team NFL. Only the Indianapolis Colts are worse. New England has permitted each of the four starting QBs it's faced to throw for at least 300 yards.

And get this: The Patriots are 2-2, tied in the AFC East with the New York Jets, of all teams, and trailing the Buffalo Bills, of all teams.

Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore were supposed to give New England a terrific secondary. Instead, it's been a sieve, and those two players acknowledged communication problems are plaguing their play."

"We're beating ourselves," Butler said.

They even made Carolina QB Cam Newton look like a star again. He hadn't managed to top 200 yards passing in a game this season until racking up 316 plus three TDs while going 22 for 29 against New England.

"We didn't do a good job," Belichick said.

Might not get much easier now, because — as Belichick likes to say — it's on to Tampa Bay. With a short week, to boot, so very little time to try to make adjustments or find easy fixes.

The Patriots play next on Thursday night against the Buccaneers, whose offense features Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and other playmakers.

In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL season's fourth Sunday:

ANTHEMS, ETC.

Running back Marshawn Lynch showed up for his Oakland Raiders' 16-10 loss at the Denver Broncos wearing a T-shirt reading "Everybody vs. Trump," his own personal statement in the ongoing sparring between President Donald Trump and NFL players who choose to sit or kneel during the national anthem. Lynch then sat during "The Star-Spangled Banner," the only player on either team at that game who didn't stand. In general, players' protests diminished during the pregame song from a week earlier, when more than 200 players knelt or sat.

SAVAGE!

Kind of hard to understand how Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien went with Tom Savage as his Week 1 starter at quarterback, considering what rookie Deshaun Watson has been doing. In a 57-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Watson became the first rookie since Fran Tarkenton in 1961 — that's 56 years ago! — to throw for four TD passes and run for another score. The 12th overall pick in this year's NFL draft after leading Clemson to the national title, Watson's "swagger and that demeanor to want to win" have impressed teammate Lamar Miller. "I know me," the running back said, "and it makes me want to play even harder to get the win."

WAITING FOR ONE WIN

The Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers went a combined 3-29 last season, so it should come as little surprise to anyone that each of those teams is off to an 0-4 start. But the third team that has yet to win a single game is more of a shock: Eli Manning's New York Giants , who went 11-5 and made the playoffs a year ago. "I would've never thought we would go 0-4," wideout Odell Beckham Jr. said. No one did, OBJ. No one did.

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