FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- If there was any question about New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick being upset with his defense's performance in the first two games of the regular season, all doubt was erased at the start of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.
Belichick made it clear he was looking for a new direction on defense, replacing cornerback Darius Butler with Kyle Arrington and replacing outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain with rookie Jermaine Cunningham in the starting lineup.
It was the first career start for Arrington, a second-year player out of Hofstra.
"Kyle has been practicing well, so we thought we'd give him an opportunity there," Belichick said. "Early in the game he made a couple of plays so we kind of stayed with it."
Arrington, whose primary contributions have come on special teams to this point, said those early plays helped him relax. So, too, did some behind-the-scenes coaching from injured cornerback Leigh Bodden about what to expect.
"He told me the most important thing I could do is relax, let the game come to me. He told me I've been doing this since little league," Arrington said.
While the lineup change gave Arrington an opportunity to prove himself, it also seemed that Belichick was sending a message to his defense.
Still, the unit struggled for big chunks of Sunday's game, with the Bills totaling 247 passing yards and 134 rushing yards as they scored on four of their five first-half drives. Chalk it up to some more growing pains for the Patriots' revamped defense.
"We're young, but these guys are hungry and they're willing to learn," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "We have a great coach in Coach Belichick, and he's putting us in positions. We just have to execute better and make plays."
The damage would have been worse if the defense hadn't come up with some big third-down stops, and safeties Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather added interceptions on overthrows by Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Perhaps the lowlight for the defense came late in the first quarter when the Bills were backed into a third-and-18 situation deep in their own territory. They converted on the play, beginning a series of miscues for the Patriots' D.
"We definitely had a bend but don't break mentality," Arrington said. "But it can only go so far. The more we get acclimated to playing with each other, we'll get better."
The Patriots continued to shuffle personnel in their secondary throughout the game. Safety Jarrad Page got his first significant action of the season, while Butler came in for Arrington on the Bills' fourth drive.
"It's a team sport," Arrington said of the coaches' decision to replace him with Butler. "As players, we can only do what we're asked to."
In the coming weeks, the defense will face bigger challenges than trying to stop the bottom-dwelling Bills offense. The defense allowing 23 points at home to the winless Bills, who also scored on C.J. Spiller's 95-yard kickoff return, could be an ominous sign.
"No, it's not a good average at all for us," Arrington said. "We definitely have to play better going into Miami.
"Our offense can't bail us out and score 38 or 40 points a game."