After a shaky first quarter where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers controlled the ball offensively and kept Tom Brady off the field by forcing the Patriots into three consecutive ‘three-and-outs’ on their first three possessions, the Patriots played an outstanding game and dominated the Buccaneers the rest of the way.
The performance wasn’t where they need to be in December, but for week three, coming off two previous sub-par efforts, the Patriots stepped up their execution across the board and turned in a 23-3 ‘W’.
Josh Freeman went 19/41 for 236 yards with 1 Aqib Talib interception. He will be ridiculed and the media story line about his demise will continue. However, in large part, his receivers were the problem on this day. Vincent Jackson injured his ribs early. He had three catches for 34 yards in the first quarter, and it appeared that the Patriots might be in for a dog fight. But Jackson, as he did at times in San Diego, dropped some easy ones, slowing the Buccaneers momentum and failing to do what he’s paid to do. This fragile but talented team needs veterans like Jackson to show the way, and he did. He showed them the way to lose.
There were several more drops. Some were tough catches, but Freeman made big-time throws giving his receivers the chance to make plays, and they simply didn’t come through. In the second quarter, Brady gained some rhythm and never looked back. Aaron Dobson had 7 catches, including a couple on third down. It was great to see Dobson run the crisp routes, great to see Brady go to him in key situations, and great to see them execute to keep drives going.
Kenbrell Thomkins caught his first ever, and second, touch down passes in his young NFL career. He had 3 receptions for 41 yards and 2 touchdowns. His first touchdown catch was a short throw and he weaved his way through defenders for another dozen yards to get into the end zone to put the Patriots in the lead early, and for good.
The team played well in all phases of the game. Aqib Talib out performed his replacement, Darrelle Revis, and came up with an interception late in the first half. He made a nice break on an out route and intercepted a poor throw by Freeman. This mistake was on him, and not his receiver. Talib simply had him blanketed. After an audible call by Brady to run a quarter back sneak which gained 4.5 yards, Stephen Gostkowski was set up for a 53 yard field goal with seconds left in the half. He nailed it to put the Patriots up 17 – 3 heading into the locker room.
The spark plug today was Brandon Bolden. He filled Shane Vereens shoes very nicely on this day. He had some timely runs and screens. He had 3 rushes for 51 yards, and 5 catches for 49 yards. Stephan Ridley had a sound but unspectacular day, and Lagarette Blount had the bulk of the carries, rushing 14 times for 65 yards to punish his former team.
All the consternation about Brady being in sync with his receivers appeared to exacerbated early as they went three and out, unable to convert on third downs. However, the last three-quarters of this game should have answered a lot of those questions. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s obvious that come November and December, the Patriots will be lighting it up in the passing game. Dobson and Thompkins get open, and as the season progresses, the people who questioned the Patriots decision to go with these rookies will look foolish.
“In Bill We Trust”… All should have learned this by now. The stubborn, Patriot bashing Marshall Faulk finally did use his brain and not his heart, and picked the Patriots to win this game.
This game was a great win and confidence builder and it came at the perfect time. The Patriots have a tough 3-week stretch against the Falcons, Bengals, and Saints. With the progress they made today, it’s clear all three of those games will be competitive and the Patriots will have a great chance to win all three, even if Rob Gronkowski is inactive.
Tampa Bay is reeling, and it will be a long season for this group. They have a lot of talent, and they have a solid coaching staff. Yet they are in disarray and are not improving. It will be interesting to see if the players rally around Coach Schiano, buy into his system, and improve, or if this loss will be the beginning of the end of their season and Freeman’s tenure as the quarter back of this franchise.