In what was a quick-moving game from start to finish, the Patriots were slow getting point on the board offensively. But so were the Buccaneers, whose own foibles on offense greatly assisted New England's defense in nearly pitching a shutout.
The Patriots held Tampa Bay to just 3 points, while taking advantage of just enough opportunities to put 23 points up themselves.
1st Quarter – Offense
...Josh McDaniels, the Patriots' offensive coordinator, didn't feel like running the ball much in the early going. Each New England tailback carried the ball just once in the first quarter, a total of three carries for 13 yards.
...Second-year man Brandon Bolden got the start in what looked to be the Shane Vereen role of pass-catching back. Bolden mostly lined up wide as a receiver, occasionally taking up position in the backfield beside Brady.
...The offensive line did a fairly decent job of blocking, particularly on two screen passes the team ran. They also got a good push against Tampa's d-line when running between the tackles.
](http://www.pjtra.com/t/R0BKSkdIREBKSElGRUBISEtERw)...Where the o-line wasn't so hot in the first quarter was in protecting Tom Brady. The QB was sacked twice, the first a result of Bolden being unable to pick up a blitzer up the middle sufficiently. That forced Brady to tuck the ball and leave the pocket, which broke down the entire play and allowed the rest of the Bucs' front seven to collapse on him.
...The second sack was simply a nice tactical move by Bucs d-lineman Adrian Clayborn, who was engaged initially with right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Clayborn lulled Vollmer with a slow, seemingly-half-hearted rush, which was just the set-up for his quick stunt up the middle through an opening in the o-line. There was no one there to block Clayborn, who easily took Brady down.
...New England's running game got a good early boost from James Develin. The first-year fullback is quickly becoming a valuable asset as a blocker, which is even more pronounced with the continued absence of tight end Rob Gronkowski, a fierce run-blocker.
...For the first time I've seen this season, McDaniels used an identical formation/personnel grouping two plays in a row. It came at the end of the quarter, with rookies Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins lined up to the right, with Julian Edelman in the slot to that side. Aaron Dobson was slot left with Bolden the left flanker. The plays the Patriots ran from this set were different, however. Brady threw over the middle on the first play after scanning the field from the pocket; the second was a designed wide receiver screen to Bolden which gained decent yardage, but not enough for a needed first-down.
1st Quarter – Defense
](http://www.pjtra.com/t/R0BKSkdIREBKSElGRUBISEtERw)...Patriots started on defense in their traditional base defense, the first time this season they've come out in this look. The previous two games, it's been nickel to start and mostly throughout. They were able to show more base looks than usual because of the Bucs formations, which often employed just two receivers.
...Kyle Arrington was the starting right corner in base situations, regaining a spot he appeared to concede to Alfonzo Dennard as the Week 2 Jets game unfolded.
...The nickel made an appearance on the second play, however. Dennard came in at right corner and was immediately beaten by Mike Williams on a long throw.
...Aqib Talib, the left corner, was moving around a lot to stay on his man, Vincent Jackson. Wherever Jackson lined up – left, slot, right – Talib followed. Jackson caught two of the three throws that went his way in the first quarter. His one miscue was a bad drop that hit him square in the hands. Should've been a reception.
](http://www.pjtra.com/t/R0BKSkdIREBKSElGRUBISEtERw)...Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia used a different nickel to start the second series of the first quarter. Instead of replacing a linebacker with an extra corner, he removed a safety. The lone safety played deep while the other 10 defenders loaded the line of scrimmage. The ploy led to a collapsed pocket and eventual sack of Bucs QB Josh Freeman by Chandler Jones on the first play it was used.
...The Bucs tried to take advantage of New England's base personnel by motioning running back Doug Martin out of the backfield to line up wide, causing a mismatch with a Patriots linebacker, but the QB and back couldn't complete the throw. Nice tactic, though, by Tampa.
...Tampa Bay didn't have a ton of success rushing the football in the early-going. New England's front seven did a nice job of plugging any available running lanes at the line of scrimmage.
...Arrington's pass interference penalty against receiver Mike Williams was the correct call. He had his left hand firmly on Williams' left shoulder to lift himself up so he could swat the ball away. ...The Bucs should have had a touchdown on their second drive when tight end Tim Wright got open in the back left corner of the end zone. Safety Steve Gregory did a poor job of covering Wright (he nearly tripped himself trying to keep up with the bigger Wright) but the ball went through Wright's hands.
...Jerod Mayo's sack of Freeman on the last play of the first quarter came as a result of good coverage by the secondary. This forced Freeman to hold onto the ball longer than he wanted and gave the right side of the d-line a chance to collapse the pocket. Freeman was forced to scoot and Mayo, rushing from the right, pounced from behind to bring Freeman down. Good team effort overall on that play.
2nd Quarter – Defense
...Like last week, once the second quarter started, Dennard began replacing Arrington as the right corner in base defense looks.
...Rookie Jamie Collins also got a few second-quarter reps, as he did last week against the Jets. He mostly dropped back into pass coverage.
](http://www.pjtra.com/t/R0BKSkdIREBKSElGRUBISEtERw) ...Dennard may have gotten away with, if not a full pass interference, at least a holding or illegal contact infraction on the Bucs' 4th down attempt on the first drive of the second quarter. He grabbed hold of Williams' jersey before the two made incidental contact with one another's feet, causing them both to fall to the ground. The official must not have seen the jersey tug by Dennard, which should have been called and given the Bucs an automatic 1st down.
...Talib tightened his coverage of Jackson, but the receiver was still able to get just enough separation to be in position to catch what would have been a long gain inside the 10, but he couldn't hold onto the ball again. Had he, Talib still might have been able to knock it down.
...On Tampa's next series, they again went for it on 4th down. This time, they tried running up the middle with Martin, but linebacker Brandon Spikes read the play perfectly and fought off a block to knife inside and stuff the runner short of the sticks.
...We didn't see as much substituting and rotating along the interior d-line as we did in the previous contest. But we did see the return of Chandler Jones moving inside to rush the passer. Rookie Michael Buchanan would come in and take Jones' spot at right end with Jones sliding over to right tackle. The first time this happened against the Bucs, it resulted in Talib's interception (his third of the season), which led to Stephen Gostkowski's 53-yard field goal to close out the half. The rush, though, had nothing to do with the INT. Freeman had plenty of time to set his feet and throw. He just was outsmarted by Talib, who covered Jackson and read the throw the way a defender is coached to do so.
2nd Quarter – Offense
...Brady was far from perfect in this game. One example was a sure touchdown he failed to throw early in the second quarter. After executing a textbook play-action fake to Stevan Ridley, both Tampa safeties bit and moved up toward the line of scrimmage, allowing Edelman and Thompkins to run unmolested into the Tampa red zone. Both receivers raised their arms to indicate that they were open – wide open, in fact. There wasn't a Bucs defender within 20 yards of them. But for some reason, Brady never looked their way. Instead, he focused on rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld, who also had some space along the Patriots sideline, but also two Buccaneers hanging very close to him. Brady overshot Sudfeld, but the crime was that he failed to give either Thompkins or Edelman a quick look. Had he, the play would have easily scored.
...The run blocking wasn't as proficient in the second quarter, but Ridley managed to compensate for it somewhat with some nifty moves. The interior line, in particular, did not acquit themselves very well in the second quarter from a rushing standpoint. The o-line did, to their credit, improve their pass protection from the first quarter.
...Rookie receiver Josh Boyce continues to see his reps increase, although he still isn't a factor in the passing game. One one pass was thrown his way against the Bucs and he failed to secure it.
](http://www.pjtra.com/t/R0BKSkdIREBKSElGRUBISEtERw) ...Thompkins' first TD catch from Brady was a combination of superb route-running and great shiftiness in the open field by the rookie – traits he displayed often in preseason, but had been lacking in the first two regular season games. The play was a simple crossing route which Thompkins turned up-field after the catch. Tampa's defense showed some poor tackling on the play as well, which helped New England. His second scoring catch was a nicely run route, as well. He faked an out pattern at the back of the end zone before turning in toward the post. A Bucs defender was on him, but Thompkins managed to get about a yard of separation, just enough for Brady to fit the ball in to him without a problem.
...The Patriots had just two sustained drives in the second quarter, the second of which milked significant clock (nearly 7 minutes) to bring the first half almost to a close. The third possession came with just second to go after Talib made the aforementioned INT of Freeman. That second drive, however, was a classic example of balanced offense, with a good combination of running and passing plays. The runs weren't anything to write home about, but they did the job of moving the ball forward and draining the clock.
...Dobson showed some signs of progress in his ability to get open, but he still struggled to make the tough catches, and some of the easy ones he made look difficult. This showed on that second drive of the quarter when he couldn't hold on to a deep pass down the sideline with a defender in his face and a diving effort in the end zone that could have (probably should have) been a touchdown in most cases. The talent is certainly there, he just needs to polish his game.
...McDaniels continued making good use of all his running backs. Ridley, Blount, and Bolden were used as a committee in both the running and passing attacks.
3rd and 4th Quarters – Offense and Defense
...Thompkins showed again why he's still a rookie, dropping an easy Brady pass on a crossing route that would have gone for a big gain. No excuses for him here. Just a flat-out drop. Same thing later, when Brady tried to hit him on a bubble screen. The ball was a bit high and behind Thompkins, but should still have been caught.
...Marcus Cannon had to come in and play right tackle for the entire second half, as starter Sebastian Vollmer injured a foot at the end of the first half. Cannon was called for a false start penalty early in the third. He also may have been partially responsible for Brady missing a wide open Dobson in the end zone. Brady rushed his throw because a Bucs defender was bearing down on him – a defender who should've been blocked by Cannon. Instead, Cannon blocked down on another player toward the interior, allowed the edge rusher to get in Brady's face and disrupt the play. Brady's pass fell short.
...Brady's third and final sack of the day was a result of very poor blocking by his center, Ryan Wendell, who allowed a rookie d-lineman to get leverage on him and easily force his way into the backfield to bring Brady down.
...Bolden had a nice gain on a screen pass in the 4th which gained 17 yards, but it should have been much, much more than that. He did a terrible job reading his blockers and ran right into two Buccaneers defenders along the sideline. Had he turned inside, he would have had a convoy of o-linemen to take him perhaps the whole way for a touchdown.
...It's really fun to watch a Josh McDaniels offense, with all its multiple alignments and personnel groupings. This makes it very difficult for a defense to get a read on what the offense is going to do, even with the same players on the field for several plays at a time. He also used his running backs almost exactly equally throughout the game, in terms of reps on the field, keeping fresh legs in the huddle for the entire 60 minutes.
...The defense softened up a bit in the second half, preferring to let the Buccaneers have the underneath routes in the passing game and not providing much resistance up the middle against the run. This may have been designed to ensure that Tampa didn't get back in the game quickly with a big pass play. The strategy seemed to work. Neither team possessed the ball a great deal in the final two quarters as the clock continued to tick down rapidly.
...Rookie corner Logan Ryan got a few reps at slot corner in place of Arrington during the 4th quarter. He was flagged for pass interference, which was declined because he'd allowed receiver Kevin Ogletree to come down with a 20-yard catch. It was a legitimate call, as Ryan had his hands on Ogletree's shoulder pads and didn't look back for the ball until it was too late.
...Collins saw more action in the second half, too. He was also given an opportunity to rush the QB, something he hadn't done in two previous games. New England had the luxury of giving these two rookies some extra time on defense because of the comfortable lead the Patriots enjoyed.
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