After allowing 293.3 passing yards per game a year ago — to rank 31st in the 32-team NFL — the Patriots are now allowing 288.8 passing yards per game to rank 28th.

Improvement? Barely.

Too often the defensive backs aren’t in position to make a play, or are called for pass interference when they try to make a play. Opposing receivers seem to run freely through the secondary without fear of a big hit.

The Patriots don’t have a lockdown cornerback — as much as they’d like Devin McCourty to be that guy he’s just too inconsistent — and their safeties are seemingly a second-late on every big play.

Sunday against the Seahawks, an offense that no one will ever mistake for the 2007 Patriots, New England gave up pass plays of 51, 50, 46, 29, 24 and 22 yards.

Asked Monday if that’s the result of mental lapses or bad techniques, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said it was probably some of both: “So you need to improve on both because it just wasn’t good enough.”

It didn’t help Sunday that the starting safeties weren’t in the game when it mattered most. Steve Gregory, acquired as a free agent from San Diego, didn’t dress because of an injury. Patrick Chung was out with a shoulder injury.

So the Patriots were left with rookies Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson at safety. They were mere spectators as rookie Russell Wilson spliced the secondary down the middle for a 46-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice with 1:18 remaining for the winning touchdown.

The good news is that the Patriots awoke Monday morning with a 3-3 record, in a four-way tie for first in the AFC Least, eh, East.

Their three losses are by a total of four points — two to Arizona (20-18) when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal with one second left; one to Baltimore (31-30) when the Ravens drove the field in the final 1:51, aided by a pass interference call on McCourty, and won on a last-play 27-yard field goal by Justin Tucker; one to Seattle (24-23) on Sunday — so they’re thisclose to being in control of the division.

But someone’s got to step up and become a leader in the secondary. Without one, this could turn into a very cold fall and winter.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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