FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The defense must get better if the New England Patriots want to stop Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.
A lot better.
With one preseason game to go before their season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Patriots have plenty to work on after Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams held the ball for long stretches Thursday night, gained chunks of yardage and exploited weaknesses from the defensive line to the secondary.
His defense couldn't get off the field quickly, and his offense couldn't stay on it when it eventually had the ball.
It was a preseason game, but Belichick knows it could be an indication of how the defense will play during the regular season.
"I think that the way your team develops its fundamentals and its foundation in the early part of training camp and the preseason definitely is important in the big picture," the coach said. "If it wasn't, then we wouldn't do it. But, that being said, there's certainly a lot of unknowns going into the season."
Some involve health issues.
Starting safety Brandon Meriweather left the game after hurting his knee. Cornerback Terrence Wheatley and defensive lineman Ron Brace departed with undisclosed injuries.
Ron Brace's agent told the Boston Herald that his client injured his ankle and underwent an MRI exam to determine its severity.
Belichick, famously reticent when it comes to discussing injuries, said he couldn't rule out that any of his players might be in the same category.
"I don't think I can ever say that, no," the coach said. "Sometimes some things look big, and they turn out to be not that significant. And then other times you see things that look like they're not that significant, and they turn out to be more than that. So I wouldn't want to try to speculate on what a medical diagnosis will or won't be."
All three Rams quarterbacks -- from No. 1 draft pick Sam Bradford to undrafted Thaddeus Lewis to 2009 sixth-rounder Keith Null -- led scoring drives in this week's game. St. Louis scored on seven of 11 possessions and converted 11 of 17 third-down plays.
Second-year cornerback Darius Butler, competing for a starting job in New England, had a rough game.
On the opening series of the third quarter, Lewis led a 15-play drive lasting 9:19. On third-and-9 at the Rams' 48, an illegal-contact penalty against Butler kept the drive moving. Then, on second-and-7 at the Patriots' 20, Lewis completed a pass on the left side to Brandon Gibson, who faked Butler and ran in for the score.
"I know we've got to get better," Butler said. "I know I've got to get better."
Getting better will give the Patriots' offense more chances to move the ball.
The Patriots threw just 25 passes, ran 11 times and had two sacks Thursday. Quarterback Tom Brady had an outstanding game, completing 18 of 22 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns, two on acrobatic catches by rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"Even (on) some plays that weren't that good, there were positive things," Belichick said.
Running back Laurence Maroney didn't play for the second consecutive game, sparking rumblings that he might be out of favor. However, Belichick shot down that notion.
"Oh, absolutely. I sure do," the coach said when asked if Maroney can help the team. "We anticipated playing all the players in the game, (but) we had so few plays on offense. ... We never had the ball. There were no plays to run."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press