For the New England Patriots, it is a maddening situation that is growing old, but one that coach Bill Belichick is being forced to confront again.
Only three games into the season and, as has been the case in each of the past two campaigns, the Patriots are again decimated by injuries in the secondary. The latest to join the already burgeoning list of infirm are two starters, free safety Eugene Wilson and left cornerback Ellis Hobbs, both of whom have been ruled out for Sunday's 4:15 p.m. ET game at Cincinnati.
Hobbs has been bothered by a wrist injury that kept him off the practice field for much of the preparation in advance of the matchup with the Bengals' high-octane passing game, and which did not show improvement at all during the week. Wilson did not finish last week's loss to Denver because of a balky hamstring and, while he did get in some practice time, he remains too gimpy to play.
So the Patriots, who have used more than a dozen different starting combinations in the secondary since the outset of the 2004 season -- employing eight starting safeties in that stretch -- will once again be forced to scramble.
"You do what you've got to do, and I guess the good part is we've been through this before, but it would be great to line up from one week to the next with the same guys," said cornerback Asante Samuel.
It is likely that 10th-year veteran Chad Scott, whose career has been in decline the past three seasons, will start at left cornerback. The original plan had been to move Wilson, who played cornerback in college and received considerable work there in training camp this summer, into Hobbs' position. Artrell Hawkins, a ninth-year veteran and former Bengals starter who had never played safety before being forced into the position in 2005, will start at free safety.
Scott and Hawkins will be joined by strong safety Rodney Harrison and right cornerback Samuel, the regular starters at those positions.
New England this week was forced to place its top backup corner, Randall Gay, on injured reserve. The club signed journeyman Hank Poteat, who had previously been released, to replace him on the roster. The Patriots also have three safeties -- Tebucky Jones, Mel Mitchell and Ray Ventrone -- on injured reserve.
In addition to the obvious impact on the secondary, where the Patriots have experienced little continuity since 2004, the injuries have posed a problem on special teams. But the biggest concern on Sunday will be containing a Bengals' passing game with quarterback Carson Palmer as the triggerman and with explosive wide receivers. Palmer is coming off a four-touchdown pass performance at Pittsburgh last week.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.