The New England Patriots play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the week three match up at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. This game will in many ways determine the fate of both of these teams for the rest of the season. This sounds absurd since it is only week 3.
Yet for Tampa Bay, it is a must win. The team has lost its first two games. Both were ugly performances by their offense, full of mistakes and penalties. They should have and could have won both games, but found a way to lose them both. The first game against the New York Jets was all but over. With 15 seconds left, New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith scrambled towards the sideline and was pushed after going out-of-bounds with 10 seconds left. That push was flagged and that 15 yard penalty enabled the Jets to make a field goal attempt which was good, and the game was over. In week two, after doing a great job defensively against the New Orleans Saints, several missed opportunities to ice the game came back to haunt the Buccaneers as Drew Brees took the Saints on a game winning drive with 53 seconds left in the game.
There are rumblings of dissent in the locker room and there is speculation coach Schiano is ‘losing the team’. I don’t buy this, but with their franchise quarter back stripped of his captaincy, the team misfiring on offense, and with the team finding ways to lose, there is clearly a lot of stress in that locker room.
The Buccaneers this week need to come up with a win on the road against the best team of this millennium, the New England Patriots. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, the Patriots are not the offensive juggernaut they typically are due to losses of key talents in the off-season and many injuries early in this season.
The losses of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, and Danny Woodhead this off-season have been well documented. During the pre-season, in spite of the massive change and uncertain status of injured superstar Rob Gronkowski, it appeared that Bill Belichick had done the impossible. It appeared that the number one passing offense from the year before, having lost all its weapons, had retooled and was going to continue to rack up 30+ points per game.
This stunning optimism came in large part from the week of practices that the New England Patriots shared with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During that week, much was written about how the rookie wide outs for the Patriots, Kenbrell Thomkins, Aaron Dobson, and Josh Boyce, along with rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld and new starter Julian Edelman and free agent starter Danny Amendola were absolutely shredding the Bucs defense. The news coming out of those practices was how Tom Brady and his brand new receiving corps were surgically carving up the helpless Buccaneer secondary. The actual game played that weekend was won by the Patriots, and they dominated when the starters were on the field.
Of course, Darrelle Revis wasn’t suited up as he was recovering from off-season ACL surgery. So this week three match up pits two struggling offenses against two solid defenses.
The story line will come down to whether the strong Tampa Bay secondary headed by Darrelle Revis and Dashan Goldson can bottle up the Patriots receiving corps. If the Buccaneers can frustrate Tom Brady by shutting down the passing game, and the Tampa Bay offense can get out of its own way, then the Buccaneers have a very good chance of salvaging their season and getting to 1 – 2.
However, the Buccaneers won’t be able to win this week at Gillette. That joint practice during the pre-season will pay huge dividends this week. The problem with the Patriots passing game is not lack of talent, it’s simply lack of practice time. In fact, the Patriots current corp of receivers, once Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, and Shane Vereen get back on the field, could be the best group of receiving talent Brady has ever had as a professional!
This week, Darrelle Revis may shadow Julian Edelman. Edelman caught 13 passes last week and is the only receiver Brady has familiarity enough with to throw option routes consistently. So it makes sense to shut down Edelman by sticking him on Revis Island. However, this strategy could back fire for the Buccaneers. Rookie receivers Thompkins and Dobson should have solid games this week. After a Thursday night game a week and a half ago, the Patriots have had extra practices in shells and in full pads to put the work in to establish the timing needed.
That vital practice time, along with the confidence these rookies can bring from their preseason work against this team, should be enough to up the execution level to where they Patriots can approach the 30 point mark in this game. Rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld will also be playing in this game, and that is a huge factor. The Patriots have had to play without a tight end receiving threat so far this year due to injuries. That has put even more pressure on the wide outs as the defenses can cover them tighter.
So in spite of the desperate nature of this game for the Buccaneers, and in spite of the outstanding Buccaneers defensive secondary, this game could be a bit of a break out game for the Patriots passing attack. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like a logical conclusion, yet the problem with the Patriots is not lack of talent, but simply lack practice time and injuries. With Sudfeld back to establish a receiving threat at tight end, Edelman able to run the underneath routes, and the rookie wide outs having had some practice time this week, we might be in store of some efficient and productive scoring drives.
Also, the Patriots should be helped by the continued gaffes by the Buccaneers Josh Freeman and offense overall.