Four days after an ugly loss to the Panthers at Gillette Stadium, New England bounced back for an ugly win on Thursday Night Football in Tampa.
With two top passing attacks going at it against two of the worst pass defenses in the game, the short week brought about a low-scoring affair filled with penalties and missed field goals.
In the end, though, Bill Belichick's team grinded it out and held on for the 19-14 victory with Jameis Winston taking a shot at the end zone from 19 yards out.
A win is a win. Move on and improve. Build to where you want to be by the time you need to be there. But there remain plenty of concerns about the now 3-2 Patriots as they work through early-season struggles.
Tom Brady completed 30 of his 40 passes for 303 yards with one touchdown and one ugly interception on the game's opening possession. The defense was a bit better, even if Winston still eventually piled up 334 yards.
Bend-but-don't-break was back to some degree, thanks mostly to a trio of missed field goals by Bucs kicker Nick Folk. Still, New England forced the field goal tries, holding Tampa to just four of 13 on third down and without a conversion well into the second half.
"I hope we can score more points than we did tonight, but we found a way to win," Brady said. "You have to find a way to win and we did that today."
Before moving on to the 10-day break leading to a trip to New York to take on the Jets a week from Sunday, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from a good-enough win in Tampa.
Pass defense –Things have been pretty ugly for the Patriots pass defense this season and may have bottomed out in last Sunday's lost to Carolina. Off the short week the unit bounced back in Tampa Bay and established itself more competitive early on. Much-maligned cornerback Stephon Gilmore had tight coverage on Mike Evans to force opening punt after a turnover. Patrick Chung had a nice pass defense to force another first-half punt. New England threw a few more man looks at Winston and it worked. The NFL's 32nd-ranked pass defense will probably stay at or near the bottom of the league statistically after allowing Winston to throw for 334 yards of the 400-plus yards the Bucs put up. It wasn't perfect. Winston missed a few wide-open throws, including a would-be 68-yard touchdown behind Malcolm Butler on the first drive of the second half. But it was a small step forward for the pass defense and was, in the end, enough to get the win.
James White –The passing back entered the game leading the Patriots with 22 receptions on the season and was a key cog in the passing attack yet again. White had catches of 18 and 24 yards to set up Chris Hogan's 5-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give New England a 10-7 lead, the only touchdown of the night. White finished with seven catches for 57 yards and continues to lead New England with 29 catches for the season.
Stephen Gostkowski – On a night when the other team's kicker was missing every attempt he got, Gostkowski kept his perfect season of field goals going with four more successful attempts. He hit from 27, 23, 45 and 48 yards on a night when a miss at any point could have really changed the complexion of the game. Gostkowski has now hit all 12 of his field goal attempts through five games this season. He also put five of six kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks and the one return picked up just 16 yards. Gostkowski is money these days and the Patriots need him to be just that in these tight games.
Danny Amendola/Chris Hogan –With Rob Gronkowski inactive it seemed that New England might lean on Amendola a bit more against a banged-up Bucs defense. He answered the call as he has all season when Brady and the offense needed him. Amendola caught all eight passes thrown his way for 77 yards. He also had a 40-yard punt return to set up a field goal late in the first half. In addition to the one-and-only touchdown for the Patriots that gives him a new career high of five on the season, Hogan tied with Amendola for a game high with eight catches for 74 yards. Julian Edelman is on IR and Gronkowski was on the bench, but Amendola and Hogan helped pick up the slack in his one.
Run defense –* *Alan Branch was left back in New England and the remaining run defense got gashed by the Bucs. Fresh off his suspension and without a padded practice to even knock off the rust Doug Martin had 13 carries for 74 yards (5.7 avg.) and the only touchdown for Tampa Bay. The Bucs ran it 20 times as a team for 90 yards. They aren't huge numbers, but when they focused on the ground attack in the second quarter they found room to work. The run defense has been covered up by the porous pass defense early in the year, but it's been a problem as well.
Penalties – Consecutive roughing-the-passer calls on Deatrich Wise/Cassius Marsh to give the Bucs a 56-yard field goal try to close out the first half were the most glaring penalties, but New England was sloppy throughout the night on both sides of the ball. Overall the Patriots were flagged 12 times 108 yards a week after penalties were a big part of the loss to the Panthers. Belichick's team is uncharacteristically undisciplined right now. Nate Solder had a couple flags for the offense. Brandon Bolden had three penalties, including offsides on a punt to give Tampa Bay a first down in the third quarter. Wise and Marsh had multiple flags. It's an area that needs to be cleaned up or it will cost them moving forward.
Offensive line – Between penalties, struggles in short-yardage runs again and Brady getting hit too many times, the line had its issues in Tampa Bay. The Bucs had just one sack coming in and recorded three on the night, including a forced fumble for Brady's second turnover of the game. Brady was hit six times according to the official stats and will likely be a bit sore after this one. The line has had its times in recent weeks creating room for Mike Gillislee and the backs, but it hasn't been consistent enough. And the problems in the pass protection have to be cleaned up or the hits on Brady will take their toll at some point.
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