The Patriots ran their record to (3-0), with a workman-like 23-3 win over the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Foxborough. With this win comes an end to the preliminary matches during the 2013 season. The big time officially begins next week, when the Patriots travel to Atlanta to play the desperate (1-2) Falcons, before traveling to Cincinnati to play the talent enriched, (2-1) Bengals, before coming home to face the currently (3-0) Saints and Drew Brees, who always seems to have their number.
I also wish to congratulate a good guy, in former Patriots' QB Brian Hoyer, for leading Cleveland to a 27-20 road win over the Minnesota Vikings, on his first start of the season for the Browns. I wish him all the best.
That said, here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: After a truly horrific first quarter of play, the "O" finally got untracked, and scored enough points to put this game on ice.
1.) QB: Tom Brady was hurried, harried, and out of sync early on. Once again, he was being hit far to often, and was not on the same page with his novice receivers. Fortunately, his defense, and the inept Tampa offense, kept the Patriots in the game until he settled down in the second quarter, and started moving the team. Tom was again uncharacteristically inaccurate at times, missing wide open receivers. He still isn't converting on third down, as the Pats were a mere 6 for 15. He also made one of the most unforgivable mistakes that a QB can make, in throwing a redzone interception, early in the third quarter. For the game, Brady completed 25 of 36 passes for just 225 yards, two TDs, and the aforementioned pick. Folks, the Pats' averaged a putrid 6 yards per completion today, which represented a high for the three games played this season! Save for that awful pick, Tom did a good job of managing the game. But one has to wonder whether performances like this are going to be good enough against the better, higher scoring teams. The offense is still leaving far too many points on the field, and needs more from their dynamic QB: GRADE: C;
2.) RBs: Stevan Ridley looked indecisive in his cuts, and a tad slow in hitting the holes that were afforded him. Averaging 3.2 yards per run (11 carries for 35 yards) is not going to get it done. Fortunately, former Buc RB LeGarrette Blount was far more effective, gaining 65 yards on 14 carries. There was also a Brandon Bolden citing, as Bolden chipped in with 51 yards on just 3 carries, one of which was a 46 yard jaunt on the Pats' initial second half drive. This Bolden bolt should have lead to points. But, the Brady redzone pick short-circuited that. Bolden also had 5 receptions for 49 yards, coming out of the backfield. His overall solid performance will likely lead to more touches next week in Atlanta: GRADE: B;
3.) OL: After a rocky start in the first quarter, in which they weren't opening up running lanes and weren't adequately protecting their QB, the Big Uglies got their act together, and pretty much dominated the remainder of the game. The Patriots' offense seemingly kept the ball away from the Tampa offense for the entire 4th quarter: GRADE: B+;
4.) TEs and WRs: Though the TEs weren't a huge part of the offense, "the Hooman" had two receptions for 31 yards, and though Zach Sudfels had no catches, Tom Brady badly misfired towards him, after he had gotten open deep, early in the second quarter. Regarding the WRs, Aaron Dobson had seven (7) catches for 52 yards with a bad drop...but also was a victim of an errant Brady throw. Julian Edelman had a dependable seven (7) catches for 44 yards. Though Kembrell Thompson had only three (3) receptions for 41 yards, two of them were for TDs: GRADE: B-;
II. DEFENSE: Though this unit has yet to be tested by a big-time QB, they once again got the job done. They contained RB Doug Martin, holding him to 88 yards on 20 carries, and had little trouble with QB Josh Freeman...though their secondary was aided on several occasions by WR drops, and poor Freeman throws.
1.) DL: Solid effort by D Tommie Kelly, both against the run, and in applying pressure to the Tampa QB. He finished with .5 sack, and had two (2) QB hits. Chandler Jones recorded another sack, and had two (2) QB hits. DE Rob Ninkovich had .5 sack, and participated in five (5) tackles. After a somewhat tepid first quarter, this crew pretty much dominated the line of scrimmage: GRADE: B;
2.) LBs: Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes cleaned up nearly everything that got past the DL, combining for 16 tackles, including 10 solos...with Mayo adding a sack. Decent job of coverage against RB Doug Martin, and what the Bucs had at TE. Pretty much a ho-hum day for the rest of the LBs, as Mayo and Spikes hit everything in sight: GRADE: B+;
3.) SECONDARY: Just how good is this group, really? We'll find out next Sunday night, when they tangle with QB Matt Ryan, throwing to the likes of Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez. Though they held the Bucs to just 236 yards through the air, the Tampa receivers appeared to be getting open. The secondary was aided by an early game ending injury to WR Vincent Jackson, several dropped balls that should have been caught, and some poor throws by a QB, who soon may be out of a job. The deep patrol gave up three passes of 20 yards or longer, and seemed to have particular problems with Jackson, prior to his injury, and WR Mike Williams, who had five (5) catches for 65 yards. Still, any time a "D" holds an NFL team to just three (3) points, it's time for passing out cigars. Key interception by Aqib Talib in the closing seconds of the first half shut down any Tampa momentum, and led to a last second Gostkowski 53 yard FG, giving the Pats a 17-3 halftime lead: GRADE: B;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: Great game from the much maligned "Ghost", who made his presence known with three (3) FGs of 34, 46, and 53 yards...the later to end the first half. Once again Gostkowski's deep kick-offs prevented the possibility of any momentum changing run-backs. With Pats' special teams' ace Matthew Slater out with an injury, this was of great importance. The punting by Ryan Allen left something to be desired, and needs to get be better. Typical great job of punt returing by Julian Edelman, who averaged 15 yards on two returns: GRADE: A-;
IV. COACHING: The offense can ill afford another slow start next week in Atlanta. My guess is that Gronk will return, next week. Though that should get Brady's juices flowing, something needs to be done about improving the route running of the younger guys, and in doing something to "take the top off" the opposing defense...so as to free up the running lanes on play action, and the medium range slants that the Pats run across the middle of the field. Despite all the talk of finding a legitimate deep threat to open up the field and gain respect for play-action, nothing of substance appears to have been done. Another poster has opined about a possible trade for Tampa WR, Vincent Jackson. Don't be surprised is this type of move gets explored. It's hard to criticize anything that BB had done, other than his personnel moves. He seems to be getting the most from his defense, and, as long as Tom Brady is around, the offense will eventually find a way: GRADE: B;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: Not a very exciting game, overall. But, if I have to pick one play that was the biggest of the big, I'll go with the 4th down conversion by the Patriots on a 4th and 2 from the Tampa 37 yard line, during the Pats first drive in the 2nd quarter. Operating from the shot-gun, Brady hit rookie WR Aaron Dobson by the sideline for a six (6) yard completion, and a first down. The play seemed to give the offense a kick in the backside...as they would thereafter travel the remaining 31 yards on 4 plays for a TD, on a Brady to Thompkins 16 yard catch and run play. The TD gave the Pats a 7-3 lead, and, seemingly, control of the game.
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: The nominees are Jerod Mayo, Aqib Talib, and "The Ghost". But, I'm going to go outside of the box, and award the game ball collectively to the Big Uglies who, by and large, controlled the game.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=330922017
As always, your thoughts and opinions are welcomed. Good night!