New England aims for its third straight victory this preseason when it travels to Tampa Bay for Saturday night's contest.
As they did against Carolina, the Patriots will look to play the regulars more against the Buccaneers, treating the contest more like a regular season game. With just four preseason games and a host of new faces expected to make big contributions, the team needs to get as many players on the same page as possible.
"I think this is a good test for us this week going on the road, playing against a good football team, in hostile territory," Head Coach Bill Belichick. "We played Tampa in the third preseason game last year and it was a little different because we opened with them two weeks later. But I think it will be a good test for our team to see how we deal with this team and this situation. We've looked back at those last two games from last year, the opener and the third preseason game, and hopefully we'll be able to see some improvement from the way we played them last time. I know they've made a few changes, but essentially it is a good team. It's a playoff team."
New England actually looked decent in a 31-21 loss to Tampa Bay last preseason. The first units for both teams played the first half, and the Patriots went into the break with a 14-10 lead. Kevin Faulk scored a touchdown on a 58-yard draw play on which he went untouched down the middle of the field. The other score came on a 20-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Ty Law on a Mike Alstott.
The defense was victimized by a couple fluke plays in the game. Wide receiver Jacquez had a 55-yard touchdown catch on a ball that was tipped up by Law, and Green also had a 58-yard reception on a ball that deflected off the hands of tight end Dave Moore.
Thus far such plays have not burned the defense. In two outings against the New York Giants and the Panthers, New England has allowed just eight points and 128.5 yards of offense per game. The Patriots have also forced four turnovers in two games.
However, the offense will get a tough test from the Buccaneers defense. Belichick would like to see better production in red zone opportunities. There is also plenty of competition to sort through, considering 18 different players have caught passes.
Many of the fringe players contributing on either offense or defense need to show up in special teams play. In the last game against Carolina, the Panthers averaged 25.5 yards on six returns, including long plays of 40 and 31 yards. The punt coverage has been solid, with the Patriots allowing just three returns for a combined 1 yard. In the return area, the team returned two punts for a total of 2 yards, though overall the average is 7 yards on 10 returns.
"I'd like to see us get our punt return going a little bit and based on the Carolina game I think our kickoff coverage needs some work," Belichick said. "One thing that we really need to start improving on as a team is just our consistency. We have some good plays and some plays that aren't so good. We need to level that off a little bit and be acceptable to good rather than kind of bouncing around, because those mistakes, whether they show up in preseason or not, will eventually start showing up sooner or later."
Saturday's kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.