Freeman is also dangerous with his feet, and the Patriots must again look to contain him in the pocket and “be very disciplined with your rush lanes,” Belichick said. The Patriots didn’t blitz Smith or EJ Manuel much to keep them contained in the pocket, and could take a similar tack with Freeman.
The Bucs also have better weapons around Freeman than the Bills and Jets have around their quarterbacks.
Receiver Vincent Jackson poses major problems for a secondary. A three-time Pro Bowler who stands 6 feet 5 inches and 230 pounds, Jackson dominated the Patriots’ smaller cornerbacks for three days of practice during the preseason and has 12 catches for 231 yards this year.
Martin, meanwhile, had 1,926 total yards and 12 touchdowns in his rookie season, and is off to another good start this year with 209 yards in two games.
“Really, I think he’s a complete back that can play all three downs effectively,” Belichick said. “Tough kid. He’ll stick it up in there and block in blitz pickup.”
Defensively, the Bucs are formidable on all three levels. They are tied for the league lead with nine sacks behind stout defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy, and Akeem Spence. They have two excellent young linebackers in Mason Foster and David, who each have two sacks and an interception this year, and added Darrelle Revis to a talented young secondary with safety Mark Barron and cornerback Johnthan Banks.
The Patriots struggled to score points against the Bills and Jets, and should continue to struggle against the Bucs, even if tight end Rob Gronkowski comes back.
“They have a good mixture of pressure, coverage, movement up front, they’re very fast and athletic,” Belichick said. “They’re very fast and explosive, no matter who they have on the field.”
If the Bucs can cut down on the penalties and mental errors, this could be a dangerous game for the hobbling Patriots.
“The unforced errors we have to get our arms around, because just eliminating those, we are 2-0 instead of 0-2,” Schiano said. “It will get fixed. We have a good football team and we’ll win.”
Buccaneers by the numbers
2: Games lost by Tampa Bay on field goals in the final five seconds. The Bucs are the first team to start season with two such losses.
9: Sacks for the Buccaneers defense, tied for first in NFL. It ranks eighth with 34 points allowed.
45.3: Completion percentage for QB Josh Freeman (335 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions).
53: Carries for RB Doug Martin, most in the NFL. He averages 3.9 yards per carry.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.