The Patriots and Buccaneers delivered a classic back-and-forth battle on Sunday night, a game that somehow lived up to the pregame hype that built up all week. Despite prognostications of a blowout, the Patriots defense slowed the high-powered Tom Brady-led offense for much of the night as the two teams traded blows all game long.
Mac Jones and the Patriots offense got a chance to win the game on a final drive but were stopped short just past midfield and Nick Folk's attempted field goal was no good, delivering the 19-17 win for Tampa.
Here's everything that stood out from a hard-fought loss.
Sloppy Play Catches Up
The Patriots continued some of their sloppy play with penalties and turnovers in the contest and once again they played a significant role in the outcome. On the second possession, they narrowly avoided an early mistake when a catch and fumble by Jakobi Meyers was overturned, preventing the Bucs from taking over the ball inside Patriots territory. They wouldn't be so lucky on the next possession as Mac Jones' pass went through the hands of Nelson Agholor and was picked off by Antoine Winfield, Jr. A 12 men penalty on the defense then turned a 3rd-and-seven into a 3rd-and-two which the Bucs would convert.
The problems would continue into the second quarter with two holding penalties on one drive by Michael Onwenu. The offense overcame both of the calls thanks in large part to Kendrick Bourne, who showed up to play in this one, as he had two catches, each going 16 yards, following the penalties. The Patriots would eventually score a touchdown on the drive, but they didn't make it easy on themselves, as it lasted 11 plays and over six minutes of game time.
In the second half, the ball security issues would continue as J.J. Taylor coughed up the ball with the Patriots moving into Bucs territory and then a Matthew Slater special teams penalty would wipe out a potential fumble recovery. Tampa would take the lead on the ensuing drive.
In the second half, the Patriots would limit their mistakes and it allowed them to keep pace with Tampa.
This was the Patriots best overall effort of the young season, but they must eliminate the bad football if they want to reach their potential.
Defense Shows Up
The Buccaneers had some early success moving the ball but it was the Patriots defense that stiffened inside the red zone, holding the Bucs to a field goal on their second possession of the game, then seeing Ryan Succop miss a 36-yard field goal on the next. The defense would step up again on the final drive of the first half, with Brady moving his offense down the field looking to take the lead. But the D would hold strong at their own 26 and the Bucs were forced to take their second field goal of the game to make it 7-6 Patriots at the half.
The strong red zone performance also fed into an overall strong start on third down for the Patriots defense, including a particularly impressive stop after the Patriots took the 7-3 lead. A sack by Matt Judon, followed by a third-and-long tackle by Jalen Mills had the defense fired up.
They'd carry that momentum into the second half, with two third-down stops by the defense to start things off after the break, including one that came after the Taylor fumble.
The biggest third down of the game came with the Patriots up 14-13 at 8:09 left in the fourth quarter. Kyle Van Noy's pressure forced Brady outside the pocket and he fired incomplete, forcing the Bucs to settle for a field goal that made it 16-14 Tampa. The defense continued to keep the door to victory open with improved run defense and clutch third-down stops in the red zone.
Holding a one-point lead, the defense had to face Tom Brady in an end-of-game situation that is nightmare fuel for most teams. Again, the Pats defense got the stop and held the Bucs to a field goal.
The Pats defense came to play on Sunday night and did their part against an excellent offense.
Few expected the Patriots to have a lot of success running the ball against a stout Bucs run defense, but New England struggled to get anything at all going on the ground in the game. In the first half they'd rush for negatives-six yards in the first half, a problem nearly compounded by an injury to Damien Harris late in the first half, but Harris would return.
For the game, New England would finish with a single negative rushing yard.
After losing James White last week, the Patriots running back group is being rapidly depleted, as veteran Brandon Bolden and second-year player J.J. Taylor were the only other available backs dressed. With injuries mounting, reinforcements could be in order, or getting rookie Rhamondre Stevenson back on the field after sitting three-straight games.
What's clear is that through four games the rushing attack is on fumes and hasn't been the crutch that many hoped it would be for the rookie quarterback. They need to get the ground game going.
Offense Makes Strides
With a non-existent ground game, the pressure was on Mac Jones and the Patriots passing game and they had mixed results throughout the game but continued to fight. For the game, Jones finished 31-of-40 for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception while taking four sacks.
Jones was clearly most comfortable operating at hurry-up pace, putting together his most impressive drives from the no huddle. He was at his best after the Bucs took their first lead, producing a seven-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that gave the Patriots back the lead.
Again, the Bucs re-took the lead and the Pats offense responded, breaking out their second Jakobi Meyers pass, this time to Nelson Agholor to get them inside the 10-yard line. But they couldn't punch it in the end zone and would settle for a field goal that gave New England back the lead, 17-16.
Down 19-17 and with 1:57 left, Jones and the Patriots offense took the field with a chance to win the game and the rookie moved the team past midfield but Nick Folk would miss the 56-yard attempt as the drive stalled out.
The defense gave the team the opportunity to win throughout the game, but the offense was unable to put together enough points to pull out the win. They were better in the red zone this week, but it still was not quite enough.
Patriots are now 1-3
It was an impressive effort in a close, hard-fought defeat to the Super Bowl champs, but the cold, hard truth is the Patriots are 1-3 on the season. With Houston on tap, they'll have a chance to face a lesser-powered team, but there are several areas New England needs to make strides in if they're to truly turn things around after the slow start. They showed some positive strides against Tampa Bay and there are things to build off of, but their backs are now firmly against the wall.
The New England Patriots take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4 at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 3, 2021.