The fall weather arrived in Foxborough this week and with it, the feel of football is in the air and what a perfect time for it, as the Patriots get ready to face the Buccaneers in one of the most-hyped games of the 2021 season.
"Of course, they won a Super Bowl last year," said Davon Godchaux of the Bucs. "They have a lot of great players on their offense. We just have to come out prepared. I think we've been doing a great job the last three days, starting Wednesday at practice, preparing for those guys and just getting ready to rock 'n' roll on Sunday. Like I said it's going to be a good one and we look forward to it."
After a 1-2 start, the Patriots are still searching for their identity in 2021, something that shouldn't be all that surprising given the number of new faces and young players who have been incorporated into the attack.
Yes, every year the faces change, sometimes more than other, but the expectations remain the same.
"We know what the standard is here," said running back Damien Harris. "We know what it takes to be a New England Patriot. We know what this organization demands. All the guys that are here, we try to live up to that standard the best we can. Every day we show up to work and we know what's expected of us.
"It's been a good week for us, we've got a tough team a tough challenge coming up this Sunday, everybody's been coming in this week with the mindset to live up to that standard. That way this Sunday we'll be ready to play our best football."
Five Points of Emphasis vs. Bucs
- Get Brady Off the Spot: Patriots fans are familiar with how things look in those rare games where Tom Brady isn't on fire from stop to finish. Most often it involves having an interior pass rush that wins up the middle throughout the game (See Tuck, Justin; Super Bowls 42, 46). Christian Barmore is an intriguing piece of this potential approach. He's already shown what a handful he can be for just one blocker. Usually the Patriots like their two-gappers up front to hold the line or "build the wall", but if there was ever a week where employing a more attacking approach makes sense, this is it. Only it can't really be done with more than four rushers and those coming off the edge really don't have much chance. Overloading the interior, whether it's with two inside linebackers in the A gaps, or moving Matt Judon inside on passing downs, the Patriots defense must try to keep Brady uncomfortable. Obviously, it's a huge task and one that's hard enough to do for a single possession much less an entire game.
- Attack the Perimeter: Statistically, the Bucs defense has some areas to potentially target, mainly in their secondary against the pass. Despite being 27th in points and 29th on third down, it's hard to believe the fledgling Patriots offense is ready at this point to exploit them, but going right after them seems like a must. Dallas made a concerted effort to get the ball out quick and attack horizontally in Week 1 and had success. That helps take the strength of the Bucs defense, the front seven, out of the equation somewhat. Getting the ball out quickly and into the hands of the playmakers in space makes a lot of sense.
- Play Loose, Fast and Aggressive: What do the Patriots really have to lose this weekend? Despite the hype, this is still a Week 4 matchup against an NFC South team, albeit the defending Super Bowl champs. Those picking New England to win are few and far between and that's why the Patriots need to fully embrace the underdog role and play with reckless abandon. Go for it on fourth down. Fake punts. Trick plays. Anything that puts pressure on the Bucs coaching staff and communication should be part of the gameplan. Play loose, play fast and let the chips fall where they may.
- Switch It Up: What could the Patriots throw at the Bucs that they haven't seen yet? Replacing James White will force some kind of change, whether it's Rhamondre Stevenson or J.J. Taylor getting more involved. But what about N'Keal Harry, could he be activated? Or perhaps bringing up a practice squad defensive back like Myles Bryant to help as they stack the secondary? Brady's seen it all, but the Patriots need to make the most of their personnel this week, perhaps employing them in new ways.
- 60 minutes down to the millisecond: Everyone's seen enough Tom Brady comebacks to know that no lead is safe and that's why if the Patriots are to pull off the upset, they're going to need an entire game's-worth of solid play. They must come with energy and then sustain it throughout the game, despite the ups and downs. That kind of consistency has been missing through three weeks, but this is a great week to finally discover it.
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots moved inside of Gillette Stadium for their final practice of the week with all except James White once again accounted for. J.C. Jackson was a new addition to the injury report as the Patriots have eight players listed as questionable. Meanwhile, the Bucs listed Rob Gronkowski as Doubtful and Jason Pierre-Paul as Questionable.
Quotes of Note
Damien Harris on James White, who was moved to IR on Friday:
"James is a special guy. We all know it. It's that simple, he's a special player, special teammate, special leader. I think that James has been so impactful to this organization obviously he's been a cornerstone for this organization and what this program has done for most of the time he's been here. He's a tough guy, you hate to see what happened to him but at the end of the day everybody's gotta step up."