TAMPA – Over the first two preseason contests, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had barely sniffed opposing quarterbacks, recording just one sack in 75 pass attempts.
So, it was safe to surmise that Tom Brady might duplicate a performance like he had in last year’s exhibition win over the Buccaneers when he tossed two touchdowns and threw for 118 yards on 11-of-19 passing.
Instead, on Friday night at Raymond James Stadium, the Buccaneers looked more like the 2002 Super Bowl-winning team comprised of future Hall-of-Fame defenders than a defense that had the fewest sacks in the NFL last season.
In the first half, with the Buccaneers playing their starters, Brady was sacked twice, intercepted once, and was pressured constantly while completing 9 of 14 passes for 80 yards before halftime.
The New England front line of Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Donald Thomas, and Marcus Cannon did little to keep Tampa Bay defenders off Brady.
“It’s pretty obvious we have a lot of work to do,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We didn’t perform to the level we need to in any area. It was pretty tough to watch.”
The Patriots offense found its rhythm in the third quarter and Brady looked a bit sharper, tossing a 16-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. Brady finished with 127 yards on 13-of-20 passing.
“It was a good drive,” Brady said. “Those are the ones we need. We need to put those ones together consistently, series after series, quarter after quarter, and that’s how you string together good games.”
Brady led just two scoring drives before being replaced by Ryan Mallet in the fourth quarter.
After the Patriots were quickly forced to punt on their first possession, Brady was strip-sacked on the second play from of New England’s next drive, only to have Spencer Larsen recover it. On the following play Brady’s pass was tipped by safety Ronde Barber and intercepted by rookie Mark Barron, who returned it 22 yards for the touchdown.
Brady finally looked like himself on the Patriots’ third possession thanks in part to the line giving him more time. Brady completed three passes on the 12-play, 81-yard drive, before Stevan Ridley scored on a 1-yard run.
“We obviously got off to a slow start but we played a little bit better in the second half,” Brady said. “There’s too many times where we’re one step forward, two steps back. It’s just a matter of us getting out there and playing together. When you’re not in a rhythm offensively, it’s hard to produce a lot of points. When you put together a good play, you have to put together another good play on top of that. You can’t score points unless you do things consistently.”
Brady said the offense needs to create big plays if it will succeed once the season begins. Newly acquired speedster Jeff Demps may help provide those big plays.
Demps, a silver medalist on the US Olympic 4 x 100 relay team, played a majority of the second half impressed Brady’s.
“It’s pretty amazing to go from what he was training for the last six or eight months of his life and to come here and put pads on and do the same thing, it’s a credit to his hard work and his mental toughness,” Brady said.