…QB Tom Brady's first interception of the season could be blamed on nothing more than a horrible throw on his part. WR Chris Hogan was streaking wide open across the field from right to left, but Brady's throw was high and behind him. Tampa Bay safety Justin Evans then made an athletic play to stop on a dime and readjust his body to come down with the football. We've seen Brady get away with numerous poor throws this season, thanks to impressive catches by his receivers, but this ball was far too off-target for Hogan to have any chance of making a play.
…New England's defense, on the ensuing Tampa opening possession, used a nice mixture of personnel groupings, formations, and man-coverage to try to stifle the Buccaneers' offense. It worked fairly effectively on the first couple of Tampa drives.
…As bad as Brady's throw was on the INT, WR Brandin Cooks' drop on 3rd-and-5 on the second Patriots drive was equally poor. New England's offense wasn't its sharpest on this night, and these two costly miscues were early examples of what the rest of the game would bring.
…The Bucs were just as bad offensively most of the night. QB Jameis Winston saw a couple of his drive-extending passes sail right through the hands of his open receivers during the first two outings. Again, this would come back to haunt Tampa later in the game.
…Hogan saved Brady on the third Patriots drive when he reached back across his body to finger-tip catch another off-the-mark throw on 3rd-and-5 to help New England maintain possession on what would be their first scoring drive of the night. Brady wouldn't have as many yards and completions so far this season were it not for wonderful grabs like this one from Hogan.
…It appeared that a miscommunication between center/co-captain David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason contributed to Brady's first of three sacks on the night. The Patriots were attempting to fake a screen and a Bucs defender sliced between the two o-linemen. Mason might have thought the player was Andrews' responsibility, and Andrews seemed late to react for similar reasons. Whoever was to blame, DT Clinton McDonald came through virtually unmolested to take Brady down with ease.
…This game was easily the Patriots' sloppiest in terms of penalties – 13 total incurred by various players. The first one, a hold against LT Nate Solder, was another example of the big lineman getting beaten to his inside off the snap, something we've seen all too frequently from him in the first month of the season.
…Brady gets taken down a second time when Andrews allows his man to penetrate into the backfield, forcing Brady to run forward to avoid the pressure. At the same time, Mason's poor technique allows DT Gerald McCoy to spin away from him and be in the perfect position to swallow up Brady as he steps forward in the pocket. A general collapse of the pocket overall.
…It was this kind of night or New England, so sloppy that even long snapper Joe Cardona got flagged for false starting.
…Both penalties incurred on the same play by DE Cassius Marsh and rookie DE Deatrich Wise were deserving ones. Marsh was clearly lined up with his hand on the line of scrimmage and his head leaning over it, which drew his offside flag, while Wise noticeably shoved his right hand into the facemask of Tampa's right tackle as he tried to rush Winston. Those two infractions – on 3rd-and-20 – negated what ended up being an incomplete pass downfield and a certain field goal attempt by the shaky Nick Folk. Instead, the Bucs continued marching for their first touchdown.
…In his first game back from a four-game suspension, Bucs RB Doug Martin ran roughshod over New England's porous front, as illustrated by easy runs of 11, 17, and 10 following the two Patriots penalties. These helped Tampa get down to just outside the Patriots' goal line. On the night, Martin averaged 5.7 yards per carry, which is about normal for New England to allow this season, unfortunately for them.
…Solder was flagged again for a peel back block. You don't hear these called too often, but it was warranted, as Solder lunged at a Bucs defender from the side and below the waist. The rules state that this is unacceptable, and referee Carl Cheffers' crew spotted Solder attempting it and rightly flagged him for it.
…Nice awareness of the Tampa Bay defense by Hogan on his touchdown catch shortly before halftime. On 2nd-and-goal from the 5, Hogan had one defender on him, playing a relatively soft cushion. Hogan simply ran a 6-yard curl route into the end zone. Brady fired the ball and Hogan made the jumping catch in the paint before the cornerback could shove him back into the field of play before Hogan's feet hit the ground. Hogan had possession of the ball in the air while hovering over the end zone, so, he'd broken the plane with control of the ball.
…The Patriots finally got some legitimate pressure on Winston near the end of the half. DE Trey Flowers, playing from a tackle position, initially got stuffed by a Bucs lineman, but that player overcommitted on the follow-through block, which allowed Flowers to regain his balance and skirt by him en route to Winston deep in the pocket. Meanwhile, LB Kyle Van Noy, also rushing from the inside, used his speed advantage to beat his man and arrive at Winston at the same time as Flowers. Both players shared credit for the sack in the stat sheet.
…Wise might have been pushed from behind when he ran into Winston after a throw, which earned the rookie a roughing-the-passer flag, but Marsh, on the very next play, does a terrible job of avoiding the QB long after he'd released the football. Those back-to-back 15-yard penalties gave the Bucs a chance to put points on the board, which theyo otherwise wouldn't have had due to their negative field position.
3rd & 4th Quarters
…The Bucs nearly had a game-changing play on 3rd-and-3 at the start of the second half. Winston had WR DeSean Jackson deep down the right sideline after Jackson ran past CB Malcolm Butler, but Winston's pass sailed long and out of Jackson's reach. Safety Devin McCourty was in the area, but might not have been able to track Jackson down in time had he come down with the football. Had Tampa completed this play, the contest might have unfolded differently down the stretch.
…On the other side of the ball, Evans, the safety who picked off Brady earlier, nearly came up with another INT on another bad Brady toss. Had Brady's sideline throw been a bit higher, Evans might have taken it the distance in the other direction. Instead, the ball hit the turf when Evans, diving for it, couldn't secure it. New England wound up padding their lead with a field goal.
…Safety Patrick Chung made a couple of important 3rd-down pass breakups Thursday night, including a 3rd-and-6 from the Patriots' 42 that would have set the Bucs up with a 1st down around the NE 30. He made another one at the end of the 1st quarter that forced a Tampa Bay punt, just as this one did. This was one of Chung's better games played this season, although he was far from perfect, with a couple of poor tackles and a late touchdown allowed.
…I didn't think WR Danny Amendola deserved his offensive pass interference penalty that negated his wonderful one-handed grab on the ensuing possession. Didn't appear that he did much to obstruct his defender on that play.
…Cooks, who had some key catches in this game, also had a pair of poor drops, the second of which came shortly after the Amendola penalty. He's shown his brilliant potential in the first five games, but also his inconsistency.
…Brady's third and final sack of the night was the combination of an excellent blitz from the right side that no Patriot picked up and a terrible job of blocking from the left by TE Dwayne Allen, who let his man get through to Brady with relative ease. The hit from Brady's blindside blitzer jarred the football free and Tampa recovered near midfield.
…Chung's fellow safety, McCourty, also had a great game against Tampa Bay. He made a number of good reads and well-timed tackles, like the screen pass to Jackson that he snuffed out at the line of scrimmage.
…Another good game, the second in a row, for RB Dion Lewis, who made several big plays on the ground and as a receiver. It's interesting to note that he's had these productive outputs since going on the record with NBC Sports Boston about his limited rule heretofore this season.
…McCourty's next big play potentially saved a touchdown by Jackson, who'd broken away from Butler on a shallow crossing pattern. Jackson appeared to have a clear path through the secondary, but McCourty turned on his jets and caught up to him from behind to haul him down near midfield.
A short time later on the same drive, McCourty batted down a pass to an intended Bucs receiver in the end zone. The co-captain came up big in the 4th quarter when Tampa Bay was mounting a comeback attempt.
…Give credit to kicker Stephen Gostkowski again. A few days after drilling a franchise record 58-yard field goal versus Carolina, he nailed all four of his 3-pointers in Tampa Bay to help boost his team to victory. He's now made all 12 of his field goal tries in 2017. Contrast that to the Bucs' Nick Folk, whose 0-for-3 performance probably cost his team a chance to win at the very end. Had he even connected on one of those boots (say, the 31-yarder), perhaps his offense doesn't have to throw a desperation pass into the end zone on the final play. Folk might have had a chance to kick the game-winner in that situation. Instead, New England escaped with a narrow victory.