When the Patriots ran:
The numbers weren't overly gaudy – 23 carries for 113 yards (solid 4.9-per carry) and no touchdowns – but the Patriots ground game showed signs of life. Mike Gillislee was effective at times, picking up healthy gains ranging between 5 and 9 yards on a consistent basis during the middle portions of the game. He finished with 52 yards on 12 carries for a 4.3-yard average. But he did record his share of unproductive runs, too often being stymied in the backfield for little to no gain. So consistency remains an issue. Dion Lewis ripped off an electric 31-yard run in the first half to help set up the Patriots only touchdown, but he too was limited otherwise. He finished with 53 yards on seven attempts, meaning he managed just 22 yards on his other six attempts for a paltry 3.6-yards per carry. But the ground game did enough to back off the pass rush, which was an issue at times. The production was just enough to keep things balanced and help the offense stay out of too many unfavorable third down situations, and Lewis' big play was a welcome addition to the attack.
When the Patriots passed:
Looking at the stat sheet it would be hard to say the Patriots didn't get the edge. Tom Brady completed 30 of 40 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown, although he did throw his first interception of the season as well. That type of production would be enough on many nights, but on Thursday that translated to just one touchdown as pass protection issues continued to plague the attack and helped defuse some drives in the red zone. Brady riddled the backups playing in the Bucs zones (Tampa was without two starting linebackers and two starting safeties) with quick throws underneath all night. Danny Amendola (eight catches, 77 yards), Chris Hogan (eight catches, 74 yards, 1 TD) did the bulk of the damage, but Brandin Cooks had a couple of big plays among his five grabs for 85 yards as well. The problem was the inability to finish drives, and that was on the passing game. The Bucs had just one sack all season coming into the game but dropped Brady three times. In the red zone they forced TB12 to tuck and run twice on third downs that led to field goals. The Patriots also had favorable field position at times and still came away with just 3. Brady was a bit erratic early in the game and that seemed to set the tone. Not a terrible day through the air but in the end you're judged by the point total and 19 won't get it done often.
When the Buccaneers ran:
Tampa welcomed the return of Doug Martin, who played in his first game after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He ran with speed and power, racking up 74 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries for a solid 5.7-yard average. His longest carry was 17 yards, so his production wasn't the result of one bad play up front. The Bucs certainly would have liked to run him more in the second half but trailed by two scores midway through the third quarter and ran just five times after the break. The Patriots struggled with their run fits, especially up the gut where Martin did most of his damage. Aside from a couple of solid stuffs on Jacquizz Rodgers (three carries, 2 yards), the front seven was once again on its heels. Fortunately the situation didn't allow Tampa to continue pounding the rock, otherwise the outcome may have been different despite the modest numbers (90 yards on 20 carries, 4.5-yard average).
When the Buccaneers passed:
This is basically the same situation as when the Patriots passed. Jameis Winston made it 5-for-5 in terms of opposing quarterbacks topping the 300-yard mark, but that doesn't tell the whole story. The secondary was much more competitive Thursday night than it had been throughout the season with Stephon Gilmore (Mike Evans) and Malcolm Butler (DeSean Jackson) locking up man to man and looking much more comfortable. Patrick Chung handles tight end Cameron Brate as well, and the Patriots pass defenses contested most everything the Bucs earned on the night. Winston was consistently high and wild with his throws, completing 26 of 46 for 324 yards and a touchdown. He missed some receivers, most notably Jackson, who got behind Butler for a would-be touchdown only to have the throw sail by. Gilmore showed dramatic improvement, limiting the dangerous Evans to five catches for 49 yards. There was some good fortune involved (wild throws, three missed FGs) but overall the defense will take an effort that resulted in just 14 points allowed any time.
When all was said and done this is what ultimately decided the game. Bucs kicker Nick Folk missed a PAT and a pair of field goals in Tampa's previous game against the Giants, and he was worse against the Patriots. He went 0-for-3 on field goals, including a 31-yarder that had no chance. His misfires allowed the Patriots to maintain a two-score lead throughout the fourth quarter, and considering the game ended with the Bucs at the Patriots 19 those misses were beyond crucial. Meanwhile Stephen Gostkowski continued his hot start by making all four of his kicks and is now 12-for-12 on the season. Amendola ripped off a 40-yard punt return as well, setting up one of the field goals. Captain and inspirational leader Matthew Slater returned to the lineup and downed one of Ryan Allen's four punts at the Bucs 3. The lone blemish on the special teams report card was penalties, specifically from Brandon Bolden. He was called twice for holding and jumped offside on a Bucs punt, giving Tampa a first down near midfield. Tampa couldn't capitalize, but in a tight, low-scoring game that is the type of gaffe that can be costly.