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Preseason game 1 analysis: It's a start

TAMPA, FL -- Wasn't great, wasn't terrible.

Those are the exact words head coach Bill Belichick chose when asked to assess the New England Patriots' punting performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Friday night.

But he may as well have been describing his team's overall play.

Like any first preseason game, there were some encouraging signs during the 13-10 loss, plenty of areas in need of improvement, and a few surprising developments.

Let's start with the last category and work our way back.

Surprises:

Woods a no-show
Up until game time, LB Pierre Woods appeared to be making a serious run at earning significant playing time. But he didn't even make the trip to Tampa. It's unclear why, but his situation will be closely monitored when the Patriots return to the practice field this coming week.

No kicks for Miller
P Josh Miller sat this game out, a coach's decision. Belichick said afterward that he hadn't seen his two first-year punters, Danny Baugher and Tom Malone, in a professional game and wanted to give them plenty of opportunities to showcase themselves.

Cassel's early exit
The number two QB took over for Tom Brady midway through the first quarter, but only played till halftime. Given the amount of snaps he received in practice the past few days, it appeared he'd last at least into the second half.

Issues to address:

Defensive Inconsistency
The first unit played just a quarter and a half, surrendering only a field goal. They looked good, forcing Tampa's starting offense into a pair of three-and-outs to begin the game. When the reserves checked in on defense for the Pats, they allowed the Bucs to move the ball at will up and down the field. Yet, one touchdown was all they yielded until the game's final play.

Low offensive output
Brady played sparingly, as expected, giving the backup Matts (Cassel and Gutierrez) plenty of time to run the offense. Despite being able to move the ball into Bucs territory on several occasions, New England couldn't come away with enough points to deem their drives successful. There's certainly a need to give Baugher and Malone some reps, but we saw way too much of them on Friday.

Healing the wounded
The Patriots were without 16 players versus Tampa, including several starters. Getting them back on the field will go a long way toward correcting the mistakes that took place against the Bucs.

Bright spots:

Few flags, no turnovers, no casualties
For the first preseason encounter, it was a relatively clean contest. New England committed a mere three penalties all evening, and the reserves on defense forced the game's only turnover (a fumble recovered by rookie LB Justin Rogers). Keep that level of focus will be crucial in the coming weeks. They may have lost the game, but the team appeared to have escaped the preseason opener without losing any players to injury.

Brandon Meriweather
He saw lots of action, both on defense and special teams. Playing corner nearly the entire night, the first-round pick covered the slot in the nickel and dime packages with the first unit, and served as the left corner with the reserves. He didn't make any spectacular plays, but didn't give up any, either. On special teams, he contributed on the kickoff and punt teams. All in all, a busy night for Meriweather, and he looked like he belonged on the field.

Matt Gutierrez
The rookie free agent looked confident under center and in the pocket. He completed several tough passes and just missed connecting on a few others that would have resulted in long gains or scores.

"I made some mistakes," Gutierrez admitted in the Pats' post-game locker room. "Things that I need to learn from and correct. But there are also some good things I can build on. It was a great experience for me just to be out there. There's nothing like a game atmosphere…it's fun to be out there."

Belichick agreed that there were some things his rookie QB could have done better.

But he summed up not only Gutierrez's play, but also his entire team's performance, best when he said, "[Gutierrez] did some things OK, some things not OK. I'm sure you can say that about everyone who played tonight…and coached."

That's about all you can expect from the first game of the preseason.

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