Wow. That is my initial reaction to the New England Patriots’ 31-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the teams’ second preseason game. The first units on both sides of the ball dominated the Bucs, and it wasn’t until the very end of the first half and into the second half that we saw some life from Tampa Bay. I had to rub my eyes a few times to make sure that it was actually the Patriots defense that was on the field.
Here are a few quick tidbits that jumped out at me:
- “Under pressure…” Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson likely were humming this tune the entire first half. The Patriots’ defense was swarming, attacking, and any other such verb you can throw in there. Jerod Mayo looks to be shaping up into more than just a solid linebacker and into a playmaker. He was constantly bringing the pressure when called upon and did so with control, not allowing Freeman to escape. He finished with two sacks. Another player who jumped out in the pressure department was free agent pick-up Andre Carter. Carter doesn’t show up on the stats sheet, but his consistent pressure off the edge allowed everyone else, Mayo included, to converge on the Buccaneer quarterbacks. I know it’s only preseason, but if this is a sign of things to come…
- What lockout? The first offense was on the field for the entire first half, and Tom Brady operated the O like a surgeon. He looked like he didn’t miss a beat and finished the game going 11-of-19 for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns, one to Aaron Hernandez and one to Chad Ochocinco. I think Brady’s completion percentage would have been even better had he not try and force to Ocho in a few instances to get him involved in the game. The running backs also played their parts, with Danny Woodhead darting around for 63 yards on 5 carries (12.6 avg) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis powering through for 51 yards on 11 carries (4.6 avg) and 2 touchdowns.
- Kickoff coverage…paging kickoff coverage. It’s a good thing that most of the kickoffs from Chris Koepplin were touchbacks, because the coverage was somewhat porous once again. The two returns the Bucs had went for 30 and 25 yards, and went right through several Patriots. This is still an area that needs work.
- Nice job Matt Light…err, Nate Solder. Aside from the announcers pointing him out almost every replay, you wouldn’t have known that Nate Solder was playing left tackle for the entire first half and for two series of the second half. He did a good job protecting Brady’s blindside. It wasn’t perfect, and he did give up a sack, but it was a good overall job. I’m anxious to see what the kid can do with more bulk on him, because he’s doing a pretty good job so far being a little on the lite side for his position.
- To hell with the depth chart. It will do you no good looking at a depth chart for the Patriot defense this season. Even for a preseason game, players were moving to different positions along the line and in the linebacking corps with some regularity.You can’t point to Jerod Mayo, for example, and say, “He plays the Will.” He will some plays, while on others he could be at Mike or maybe even Sam. Moving guys around has always been a Belichick hallmark, but that looks to be the case even more so this season.
The second half wasn’t quite as crisp with the back-ups, but I’m not going to let that overshadow my excitement from the first half (at least not right now). There’ll be more on that later, but for now, I’m going to bask in this 31-14 glow.