The Patriots (3-0) came away with a pretty 23-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3). I admit I was wildly pessimistic coming into this one, but if anyone predicted what was essentially a best-case-scenario for New England, I commend you. Here are some things of note:
- Confidence, the name of the game
When Pats fans received the definite news that Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola would be absent from Sunday’s game, I’m sure we all had similar reactions. I spent 30 minutes researching how to start a Kickstarter campaign to bring back Jabar Gaffney. From Matty: “(Dashon) Goldon’s gonna spend the entire game trying to decapitate Edelman in the slot.” From Pops, only a solitary “Great.” Yes, not a lot of confidence in our rookie wideouts, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins.
Oh but how we were wrong. All wrong. No, Dobson and Thompkins aren’t exactly primed to be Holt/Bruce 2.0 (But we can dream…), but today absolutely, 100% a step in the right direction. Thompkins pulled in 2 TDs in the red zone, with 3 receptions on 7 targets, with only one iffy drop. Dobson suddenly became Tom Brady’s favorite target, hauling in 7 catches on 10 targets, converting some nifty 3rd and 4th downs. Was it a perfect outing? No. Was I beaming like a proud papa during every Pats’ series? Yes. Was that mostly the beer? Maybe.
But what was the best part of their performance? During last week’s game in New York, Brady was half petulant schoolboy, reacting each time Dobson and Thompkins didn’t emulate Moss/Welker with a whiny “It’s not fair”, but also half Ares, glorious god of war, who eats lightning like breakfast cereal, with hellfire as his milk. This week, Brady turned to them time and time again. After Thompkins’ first touchdown, Brady sprinted to his rookie teammate, pounding his helmet and shouting joyously. Brady had confidence in his young receivers, and that is the best thing Pats fans could have hoped for.
2. Defense wasn’t maybe as pretty as the score implied
To be sure, this was overall a nice game from the New England Patriots defense, stopping Dougie Martin from seeing the end zone, and holding the Buccaneers to a 3-point outing. Aqib Talib pulled in an interception, and Chandler Jones, Tommy Kelly, and Rob Ninkovich all put some hits on Josh Freeman, even with Carl Nicks back on the Bucs’ offensive line.
But there were some definite iffy moments in this game, and some freak occurrences that definitely helped them out. Rian Lindell missed a first quarter field goal. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams were both hobbled, Jackson (the Bucs’ most potent offensive player) pulled from the game entirely. The Bucs also failed to convert on fourth down four times, which isn’t going to happen a lot. On the whole, the Pats secondary still gave up some big plays in the air. Their bend-don’t-break mentality has worked in these three wins. But those are three wins against EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, and Josh Freeman. This was a good game, but it makes me uneasy for Week 4 against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.
3. Running game has a big game
After some not-so-great performances against the Jets and Bills, the running game was a definite positive against Tampa Bay’s super-stout defense. LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, and Brandon Bolden combined for 151 yards on 28 carries. Bolden especially impressed greatly, ripping off a 46-yard run in his season debut. Perhaps an even more exciting development was Bolden’s contributions in the passing game, with 5 catches for 49 yards, including some nifty plays bailing out Brady. With Shane Vereen out for a few more weeks, this is definitely a big win for the Pats offense.
- Julian Edelman continues to show off his superhero abilities, hauling in 7 catches on 7 targets. If I’m any other team in the AFC, I’m freaking out about what Brady can do with Amendola, Gronkowski, and Vereen back on the field.
- The Patriots had an uncharacteristic 6 penalties, including a tough pass interference call against Kyle Arrington. The Patriots will live and die by their discipline, and against tougher opponents, this definitely can’t happen.
- The Pats O-Line performed quite admirably, only allowing 3 sacks. Play after play, they gave Brady an incredible amount of time in the pocket, allowing him to throw strikes at his receivers, while standing up to two of the best pass-rushers in the game in Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy.
- Zach Sudfeld still hasn’t had a catch. I’m very upset.
- Stephen Gostkowski had a nice game, hitting a career-long 53-yarder at the end of the first half. I’m getting considerably less nauseous when he takes the field.
- Can we please find someone else to do kick returns? LeGarrette Blount did have one for 24 yards, but he’s not exactly electric. I wonder why the Patriots aren’t considering Josh Boyce, who seems to have the quickness to be a difference maker. Something to monitor.
- Also, it should be mentioned, a really nice game from Brandon Spikes, who had some huge stops on Doug Martin. He, Mayo, and Hightower are looking to be a formidable linebacking core, and should be a strength for the Patriots going forward.