Carter played 45 snaps and had one sack. Sopoaga was on the field for 27 snaps with no tackles.
“There are a lot of things they can do better,” Belichick said. “They showed up, made a few plays for us. Andre had a couple good pass rushes, hit the quarterback. Isaac was a factor on those short-yardage plays, short-yardage stops, knocked down a screen pass. But overall, there’s still, I think, a lot of work and improvement they can have.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction but, of course, they’re not at the point they’d be at if they’d been here all year. So we’ll have to try to close that gap.”
The secondary had a subpar game, allowing Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns. But that was an anomaly in a strong season in which Patriots defensive backs have 11 interceptions and have provided tight coverage that has helped produce sacks.
The Patriots had two interceptions against Roethlisberger by Devin McCourty and rookie Duron Harmon, who replaced Gregory.
“We were able to make some key plays in the game that were big for us defensively,” McCourty said, “and the offense took care of their part.”
The Patriots were just 18th in yards gained entering the game after leading the NFL last year. And Brady was having his worst statistical season as a starter.
But the 55 points tied for the fifth-highest scoring game in Patriots history. The 610 total yards and Brady’s 432 yards passing were both the third most by the team. And the 197 yards rushing were the most by the Patriots in 22 games, including the postseason.
Stevan Ridley rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns. He even stayed in the game after losing a fumble, a problem that led to his benching several times in his career. But Belichick blamed this one on a good play by safety Troy Polamalu.
There also were plus-100-yard receiving performances by Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola. And Brady threw a season-high four touchdown passes.
“We definitely went in with the mindset to allow all of our guys, our skill players, the opportunity to contribute in the game,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “I think that played out pretty well.”