By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots improved to 3-0 on Sunday with a 23-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who fell to 0-3 as the teams clashed in Foxboro.
The game highlighted the difference between the two teams, Tampa with a talented roster, had the opportunity to wrest control of the game early as they had a wide advantage in play, but failed to do so.
The Patriots missing three of their most talented players on offense, started slowly but took control of the game by halftime and showed why they are always tough to beat, most especially at home.
Tom Brady and Kenbrell Thompkins celebrate a first half touchdown.
(USA TODAY Images)
The Patriots will travel to Atlanta, to take on the Falcons (1-2) in the Georgia Dome next Sunday against a team that will suddenly be desperate.
But first some observations on the game:
–Defense Steps Up Again: The Patriots defense stepped up again and held the Bucs to just 3 points and they were very good on third downs limiting the Bucs to just 5-14 and 0-4 on fourth down attempts.
But more importantly they held when they needed to until the Patriots offense was able to get untracked and put some points on the board.
The game plan was to neutralize Doug Martin and they did that to a large extent. Martin did have 88 yards rushing, but he was never a big factor at any time in the game. By taking away Martin they forced the game into Josh Freemanâ€™s hands and the results speak for themselves.
Freeman completed only 19 of 41 passes for 236 yards and 1 INT. But 71 of those yards came at garbage time on the final drive. Freeman finished with a QBR of 54.5 and wasnâ€™t able to mount anything effective at all in the second half.
–Stephen Gostkowski Is Sharp: Gostkowski was spot on with his kicks on Sunday and made field goals of 53, 46, and 33 yards plus boomed all of his kickoffs out of the end zone.
On a day when the offense was once again struggling to get going, it was imperative for the team to cash in on opportunities and Gostkowski had an outstanding afternoon for the Patriots special teams.
–Rookie Wide Receivers Make Progress: After the debacle of last Thursday nightâ€™s game against the Jets where the rookie wide receivers struggled badly, Sundayâ€™s game against a tough Tampa Bay defense was a step in the right direction.
Last week QB Tom Brady was 5-17 when throwing to Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, this week he was 10-17 and both of his touchdown passes went to Thompkins. The young WRs game was still far from perfect but they improved and were able to make plays.
Thompkins finished with 3 receptions for 41 yards and 2 touchdowns while Dobson had 7 catches for 52 yards on 10 targets. Hardly earth shattering numbers but, theyâ€™re learning and making progress. And once Gronkowski, Amendola and Vereen return the young players will be better for it.
–Brady Has A So-So Game: Brady still wasnâ€™t his normal sharp self in this one, and although his numbers were much better, he made a few poor decisions and a few bad throws to boot. While the offensive line had its issues with a very good Tampa pass rush, Brady had the chance to make more plays.
On a pass down the left sideline to TE Zach Sudfeld between two defenders, Brady had Thompkins or Julian Edelman wide open down each seam for an easy touchdown.
Later Brady forced another pass to Sudfeld in the endzone resulting in an interception by Mark Barron. Brady ended up going 25-36 for 225 yards, 2 TDs.
–Brandon Bolden Has Big 1st Game: After missing the first two games of the season, Patriots running back Brandon Bolden made a big splash in his first action of the season producing 100 total combined yards rushing and receiving.
Bolden had 51 yards rushing and added 49 more receiving providing a big boost out of the New England backfield that for the third consecutive week had a different leading rusher (LaGarrette Blount 65 yards).
With Shane Vereen and Leon Washington on the shelf with injuries, it speaks well of the Patriots depth that they can still hit teams with three capable running backs, Bolden, Blount and Stevan Ridley. Overall the Patriots ran for 156 yards on 33 carries against a very capable Tampa front seven.
–Game Balls Awarded To: Some of the players who stood out today include:
Aqib Talib– The Pats cornerback is getting better and better each week and the confidence the rest of the secondary has when he is on the field is palpable. Talib held the dangerous Vincent Jackson to 3 catches for 39 yards and came up with a huge interception right before halftime that puts the team in the driverâ€™s seat.
Stephen Gostkowski– See above
Brandon Spikes– Playing more in this game than in any other thus far, the Pats physical run stuffer has a big game and helps put a damper on the running of Doug Martin. Spikes came up with a huge run stuff on 4th down that turned the ball back over to the offense.
Kenbrell Thompkins/Aaron Dobson– See above, while it wasnâ€™t perfect, the rookie duo showed a lot of progress and this week Tom Bradyâ€™s screaming on the sidelines wasnâ€™t one of frustration but of congratulation. A big step for the duo, who will have more obstacles to climb as the season progresses.