The Patriots finished strong against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after falling into a 14-point hole, spurred along by two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter by Ryan Mallett and some impressive running and returning by new tailback Jeff Demps in a 30-28 loss Friday night.
Mallett finished 7 of 13 for 66 yards and two touchdowns as the Patriots fell to 1-2 in the preseason, but the team got an opportunity to see extended play from its starting lineup.
Demps, who got an opportunity to run the ball and return kicks, had three carries for 41 yards in his debut.
Not everything was good. Tom Brady found himself hurried and harassed behind a shaky offensive line that saw the return of guard Logan Mankins. Brady was sacked twice, fumbled once, and hit several times. But as the game wore on, the line settled. In the third quarter, Brady was able to ride Stevan Ridley (16 carries, 87 yards) before hitting tight end Rob Gronkowski for a 16-yard touchdown.
"I don't think we did anything very well offensively," coach Bill Belichick said. "I was surprised that we could do anything."
The Buccaneers came out and scored on the opening drive of the game, going 68 yards on eight plays before Doug Martin punched in a 1-yard touchdown. They followed that by scoring on a tip-pass interception by Brady, with rookie safety Mark Barron returning it 23 yards for the score.
The Bucs got three field goals of 51 yards or more to help extend their lead. Kai Forbath had two.
Ridley scored a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter and showed some solid burst out of the backfield.
Bucs backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Stroughter in the fourth quarter before Mallett came in and hit rookie Jeremy Ebert for a 3-yard score and followed it up with a 4-yard strike to Jesse Holley in the back of the end zone.
Running back Shane Vereen hobbled off the field with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Safety Steve Gregory also was shaken up with a right leg injury. He walked off the field under his own power.
0:33 4th quarter: Bucs 30, Patriots 28 -- Ryan Mallett ran around, avoided a sack, and then found Jesse Holley for a 4-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to help the Patriots end this game on a strong note.
Mallett had key passes on the 12-play, 65-yard drive to Donte' Stallworth of 10 and 18 yards before hitting Holley in the end zone.
2:19 4th quarter: Bucs 30, Patriots 21 -- The Patriots held the Bucs to another three-and-out and Jeff Demps had an exciting looking punt return -- his first -- before the Pats were flagged for holding.
4:21 4th quarter: Bucs 30, Patriots 21 -- Jeff Demps made one cut and broke away for a 29-yard run that set up 3-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Mallett to Jeremy Ebert for the Patriots.
Demps definitely showed off his famous speed, hitting another gear after making a Tampa Bay defensive player miss before scooting along for those 29 yards. He did show some rookie tendencies though on his second series, taking a 3-yard run around the right end and hesitating -- instead of hitting the sideline -- before taking a huge hit. It'll be interesting to watch him develop after what he's shown.
7:35 4th quarter: Bucs 30, Patriots 14 -- Ryan Mallett has replaced Tom Brady at quarterback.
7:50 4th quarter: Bucs 30, Patriots 14 -- Dan Orlovsky threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Stroughter on a drag over the middle as the Bucs extended their lead. The drive was highlighted by running back Michael Smith, who touched the ball five times before giving way to Mossis Madu, who burst through the middle of the line for 19 yards.
A couple of negatives here for the Patriots. LB Niko Koutouvides bounced off Smith on a couple of tackle attempts and the defensive line is failing to get any leverage on the Bucs' line.
End of the 3d quarter: Bucs 23, Patriots 14 -- End of the third quarter and what sticks out is the solid play from running back Stevan Ridley. So far, 16 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown.
0:54 3d quarter: Bucs 23, Patriots 14 -- Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski for his second catch of the night, this one a 16-yard touchdown over the middle. The play finished an 8-play, 84-yard drive in 3:34.
Also on the drive, Jeff Demps, the silver medal sprinter at this year's Olympics, was called for false start on his first play on offense.
4:18 3d quarter: Bucs 23, Patriots 7 -- Jeff Demps made his debut, returning a kick for 23 yards.
4:30 3d quarter: Bucs 23, Patriots 7 -- Marquice Cole almost picked off a pass and the Patriots held the Bucs to five plays before Kai Forbath converted on a 55-yard field goal. It was his second field goal of the game of 50 yards or more, and the Bucs' third.
6:45 3d quarter: Bucs 20, Patriots 7 -- Patriots safety Steve Gregory went down with a right leg injury. He limped off under his own power.
7:45 3d quarter: Bucs 20, Patriots 7 -- Offensive lineman Dan Connolly was called for a costly 15-yard penalty on an illegal chop block, putting the Patriots in a third-and-25 situation. After a 3-yard Danny Woodhead draw, the Patriots punted again.
9:47 3d quarter: Bucs 20, Patriots 7 -- Chandler Jones has shown up to play in the third quarter. The rookie defensive end got a couple of hits on Bucs QB Josh Freeman, claiming a sack on the second while also drawing a holding penalty on the tackle facing him. After two more false start penalties, the Bucs were forced to punt.
13:09 3d quarter: Bucs 20, Patriots 7 -- Aaron Hernandez got whacked by Bucs corner Eric Wright and the Patriots went three-and-out to start the third quarter.
15:00 3d quarter: Bucs 20, Patriots 7 -- The second half is about to get underway and Tom Brady is warming up as if he's going to keep playing.
Some halftime stats and notes:
- Tom Brady is 9 of 14 for 80 yards and an interception.
- Stevan Ridley has rushed 10 times for 52 yards and a touchdown.
- Bucs QB Josh Freeman is 9 of 17 for 89 yards.
- Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson has three catches for 49 yards, all on the opening series
- Bucs running back Doug Martin has 10 carries, 42 yards, 1 touchdown.
What's really been surprising is the hits Brady has taken this game. He was walloped pretty good by Adam Hayward for sack and was popped by Michael Bennett in the first quarter for a sack and fumble. There's been some miscommunication and some poor play overall by the offensive line. We'll see if that improves at all.
End of the 2d quarter: Bucs 20, Patriots 7 -- Kai Forbath kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired in the first half -- the Bucs' second 50-plus yard field goal tonight.
1:52 2d quarter: Bucs 17, Patriots 7 -- The officials pick up a flag on a possible pass interference involving Brandon Lloyd. Instead, the Patriots punt after going three-and-out in their 2-minute drill.
2:08 2d quarter: Bucs 17, Patriots 7 -- Aaron Hernandez went back to receive the punt after the Bucs went three-and-out. That's a first for the Patriot. It was a 5-yard return filled with indecisiveness.
3:08 2d quarter: Bucs 17, Patriots 7 -- Tom Brady came back from an 11-yard sack and connected with Deion Branch for a 13-yard pass, but neither were able to help keep the drive going for long. A holding penalty on guard Donald Thomas took away a Stevan Ridley rush for a first down and several hurries had Brady throwing uncomfortably before the team was forced to punt.
5:40 2d quarter: Bucs 17, Patriots 7 -- The Bucs challenged whether Aaron Hernandez was down before fumbling on an 8-yard pass from Tom Brady and were unsuccessful. Brady, a play earlier, had been sacked for a loss of 11 yards after a what appears to be a failure of communication by left guard Donald Thomas and left tackle Nate Solder on the play, which allowed for Bucs backup middle linebacker to get an easy hit on Brady.
6:19 2d quarter: Bucs 17, Patriots 7 -- Connor Barth kicked a 56-yard field for the Tampa Bay Bucs after Josh Freeman misfired on a couple of passes. Patriots corner Kyle Arrington dropped a potential interception on one errant Freeman throw.
6:49 2d quarter: Bucs 14, Patriots 7 -- Shane Vereen (foot) and Spencer Larsen (knee) have both left the game. Their return is questionable.
7:43 2d quarter: Bucs 14, Patriots 7 -- The Patriots went for it on fourth down -- running the ball three straight times after getting a second-and-1 -- and failed to get a first down. Stevan Ridley was stopped before he could get across the marker.
9:39 2d quarter: Bucs 14, Patriots 7 -- Despite a pass interference call on rookie safety Tavon Wilson (holding tight end Dallas Clark), the Patriots kept the wraps on the Bucs offense, forcing them to punt after Josh Freeman was unable to connect with Preston Parker.
12:07 2d quarter: Bucs 14, Patriots 7 -- Stevan Ridley broke off a 29-yard run -- helped in part by great blocks from Rob Gronkowski and Donald Thomas -- and followed it up by punching it in the end zone after two strong runs. On the drive, Ridley rushed six times for 47 yards and caught a 4-yard pass. It was a 12-play, 81-yard drive for the Patriots that culminated with Ridley's 1-yard TD run.
End of the 1st quarter: Bucs 14, Patriots -- Shane Vereen tweaked his ankle on a running play before the first quarter ended. It doesn't look too serious. He was getting it checked on the sideline. In the last drive, Tom Brady has connected with Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd and we've seen Stevan Ridley break loose on an 11-yard run.
2:58 1st quarter: Bucs 14, Patriots 0 -- Marcus Cannon gave up his first sack of the night as Tom Brady got crushed, fumbling the ball. Luckily, Spencer Larsen recovered. A play later, a Brady pass to Rob Gronkowski was tipped and intercepted by Mark Barron and returned 22 yards for a touchdown. Not so lucky.
4:36 1st quarter: Bucs 7, Patriots 0 -- Bucs QB Josh Freeman connected with Dallas Clark for 12 yards and another Tampa Bay first down, but the Patriots managed to hold the Bucs to five plays before forcing a punt. Rookie safety Nate Ebner had a nice tackle to wrap up Bucs receiver Mike Williams before he could shake loose for more yardage.
7:30 1st quarter: Bucs 7, Patriots 0 -- The Patriots went three-and-out on their opening drive. Tom Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski for eight yards and then Stevan Ridley proceeded to get stuffed on consecutive plays.
Starting on the offensive line for the team were LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Dan Connolly, RG Donald Thomas, and RT Marcus Cannon.
9:36 1st quarter: Bucs 7, Patriots 0 -- The Bucs capitalized on a 39-yard kickoff return by Michael smith to drive 68 yards for an opening drive touchdown.
Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman hooked up with new wide receiver Vincent Jackson for three passes for 49 yards before running back Doug Martin punched in a 1-yard TD.
15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Bucs 0 -- The Patriots are kicking off and we're away.
It's getting close to game time and we'll be providing updates throughout the night right. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments.
Some things to immediately look out for:
- The offensive line -- We keep coming back here. But this time things will be different. Left guard Logan Mankins and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer will be making their debuts. Their presence should help shore up any worries fans have had about this position group's stability. But we'll also get a chance to see if there's any rust there between them.
- Tavon Wilson's extended look -- With Patrick Chung sidelined with what appears to be a shoulder injury, Wilson will get an opportunity to show what he can do for the Patriots in the starting lineup. As coach Bill Belichick has noted previously, the team will have plenty of time to play in its sub packages, allowing for more defensive backs. This game will be an opportunity for Wilson to show how much more he deserves to be on the field than, say, James Ihedigbo.
Enjoy the game everyone.