TAMPA – The Patriots suffered its first preseason loss and got a taste of their own defensive medicine as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat up New England to the tune of 20-3.
It took a few series but when the Tampa Bay's defense got rolling, they spent most of the game in the Patriots backfield, sacking Drew Bledsoe three times and pressuring him constantly, while also doing damage to Damon Huard with their second and third squads.
For his time in the game, Bledsoe was 10 for 21 for a dismal 82 yards. Even when he had time, which wasn't often, the Patriots starter did not look particularly sharp.
Tampa Bay opened the second half going 66 yards in 10 plays and scored their second touchdown of the game on a Brad Johnson to Jacquez Green 17-yard pass to go up 13-3 (the extra point was missed). In the series, the Bucs elected to go for it on a fourth and 1 and completed a 19-yard pass to tight end Jameel Cook.
The Bucs put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter on a Shaun King to Karl Williams pass for six from 19 yards out. The big play on the drive was a Reidel Anthony 35-yard catch.
Going into the game, the winless Bucs main concern was getting their offense kick-started. Number one receiver Keyshawn Johnson had not caught a pass in two games and newly-acquired quarterback Brad Johnson was not looking effective.
Nothing changed in the first quarter except that Johnson caught a pass – for a loss of 2 yards – as New England and Tampa Bay ended the first 15 minutes with the scoreboard empty. One bright note for the Patriots was that fullback Marc Edwards had two runs for 18 yards.
It looked like Tampa Bay's offensive misfortunes were changing for the better in the second quarter when Johnson hooked up with the other Johnson for 18 yards. On the next play, Warrick Dunn broke off a 56-yard run (giving him 100 yards on 5 carries at the time; he finished with 115) to put Tampa Bay on the Patriots 6-yard line. Two plays later, however, Johnson threw a pass in the right flat into the arms of New England's Richard Seymour. The Patriots No. 1 draft pick held on and the Patriots escaped unscathed.
Not for long. A Simeon Rice sack of Drew Bledsoe on third and 3 and then a 27-yard return by Robert Kilow on the ensuing punt put the Buccaneers back in prime field position at the New England 24. Aaron Stecker ran for 3 yards and then Johnson looked Stecker's way on a right sideline pattern covered by Tedy Bruschi. The pass was complete for an apparent touchdown. The play was challenged by the Patriots thinking Stecker's foot may have come down out of bounds but the touchdown stood for the game's first score and a 7-0 Tampa Bay lead with the extra point.
For most of the first half, it was the Patriots offense that looked helpless against the tough Tampa Bay defense. Antowain Smith, who had looked impressive in the first two preseason games, had 4 carries for no yards; J.R. Redmond didn't do much better with 3 carries for 5 yards. For the game, New England converted only one third down in 14 tries. Held scoreless through seven series, the Patriots finally got on the scoreboard in the final two minutes, but not without Bledsoe taking a beating.
A 19-yard pass to David Patten put New England on the Bucs 12-yard line. Prior to that, Warren Sapp had sacked Bledsoe for a loss of 7 and was starting to make No. 11's life miserable. Sapp hit Bledsoe two more times after the Patten catch, one time forcing Bledsoe to throw up a duck that was nearly intercepted. The Patriots settled for a 40-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal and headed to the locker room down 7-3.
The Patriots will close out the preseason against the Washington Redskins this Thursday at Foxboro Stadium.
Notes: Ty Law did not play due to a foot injury … Tedy Bruschi had an acrobatic sack as he literally flipped over Warrick Dunn trying to pick up the blitz, hit the ground and then got up to send Brad Johnson to the ground … Willie McGinest suited up for the first time in preseason but did not play.