Brady showing no rust
He’s dominant in first half as Patriots crush Tampa Bay
TAMPA - Tom Brady said this week he was “shocked’’ he didn’t play in the preseason opener against the Jaguars.
But the Patriots’ franchise quarterback certainly saw plenty of action last night against the Buccaneers, playing all but two snaps in the first half and leading the offense to four touchdowns in a dominating performance on both sides of the ball for the visitors.
New England went into halftime with a 28-0 lead, and the only time Tampa Bay came close to scoring was when Connor Barth missed a 47-yard field goal on the final play before intermission. The Patriots went on to win, 31-14.
Brady and the starting offense (sans left guard Matt Light) were incredibly efficient, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions.
“It was fun,’’ Brady said. “It’s been a while since we’ve had the chance to be out there. I think a lot of guys were antsy to get out there. Glad we put some points on the board. Obviously, there are a lot of things we can do better too, but we’ll use it as a great tool for us to get better.’’
Brady finished 11 of 19 for 118 yards and two touchdowns; he was sacked once. Those numbers look good, but Bill Belichick wasn’t ready to say Brady & Co. were in midseason form.
“He did some good things, had some other things that weren’t so good,’’ the coach said. “Tom did a good job moving the offense. I thought we had a good tempo out there, [but] there are some things we need to sharpen up on, too.’’
Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who saw his team shut out the Chiefs last week, said the Buccaneers were not prepared for what they saw last night.
“They did not treat this like a preseason game. That’s why they are who they are,’’ McCoy said. “This is actually positive. We needed this. Last week’s game was a false sense of security. ‘We’re good. We beat Kansas City. We shut them out.’ No, we’re not.
“A lot of times we’d get the call but we couldn’t get lined up. They were moving the ball so fast. Now we have to learn to recognize formations to attack quicker.’’
Tampa Bay, a young squad expected to be one of the better teams in the NFC this season, struggled on both sides of the ball. New England began the game with four down linemen - Andre Carter and Eric Moore were the ends, with Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love manning the tackle spots - and the revamped alignment quickly showed how versatile linebacker Jerod Mayo will be freed to make plays.
Mayo nearly sacked Josh Freeman on the first snap of the night, and then broke up a third-down pass intended for fullback Earnest Graham. On second down, Dane Fletcher stuffed running back LeGarrette Blount after a 1-yard gain.
“Coach [Belichick] was talking about coming out and starting really fast,’’ said Mayo. “That was one of our main goals and I think we did a pretty good job with that.’’
New England took over at its 36, and Brady had it in the end zone in just five plays: an 11-yard completion to Wes Welker, a 2-yard run by Danny Woodhead, a 29-yard run by Woodhead, a 6-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and a 16-yard touchdown to Aaron Hernandez. The second-year tight end was alarmingly open at the goal line and scored untouched.
The defense forced another three-and-out on Tampa Bay’s second possession. Gerard Warren and Myron Pryor burst through the middle of the line on third down, pushing Blount back for a 3-yard loss and forcing the hosts off the field again.
New England’s first scoring drive was so short Brady didn’t have the chance to throw to his newest target, Chad Ochocinco. But he looked to him three times on the second, though the first two didn’t work out so well.
On first down, Ochocinco went across the middle and was drilled by rookie linebacker Mason Foster. The helmet-to-helmet hit drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty, though the sparse crowd on hand at Raymond James Stadium did not agree.
Ochocinco left the field for two plays, and when he returned Brady looked to him again on a sideline route, though this time his throw was a bit high.
But on third down from the 8-yard line, Brady went Ochocinco’s way one more time and the result was Ochocinco’s first reception - and touchdown - in a Patriots uniform.
Green-Ellis scored on the final play of the first quarter on a 1-yard run, extending the lead to 21-0. The defense cranked things up even more in the second.
Mayo and Mark Anderson dropped Freeman for an 11-yard loss early in the second quarter, and the Patriots consistently chased the third-year signal-caller out of the pocket. When he wasn’t running for his life, Freeman was getting punished.
Freeman was spared midway through the second when Josh Johnson came on in relief. He did not fare any better.
While Carter and Moore were paired at the end spots for almost every snap, Belichick rotated the tackle pairs: Wilfork and Love were on the interior to start, then Pryor and Warren, then Wilfork and Pryor.
Tampa Bay finally got on the board in the third quarter.
Patriots rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett started the second half, and after picking up two first downs, he was intercepted by Elbert Mack, who returned it 69 yards for a touchdown.
Mallett saw more action than Brian Hoyer, but the move doesn’t signify a change on the depth chart. Hoyer started and played well last week against the Jaguars, and it’s believed that the coaching staff simply wanted to see more of the rookie.
Mallett recovered when the Patriots got the ball back, but, as they were on the edge of the red zone, Stevan Ridley fumbled and lost the ball.
Hoyer did get some snaps, coming on for two plays in the first half - likely the type of emergency situation Belichick likes to use to test the preparedness of his quarterbacks.
Hoyer also played in the second half.