FOXBOROUGH — The defense had a solid showing for the Patriots, holding the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers to only three points in a 23-3 victory Sunday.
But of course, we had our eyes on so much more.
1. Brandon Bolden swoops in for the offense — After missing the first two weeks of the season with a knee injury, Bolden returned to the lineup as the surprise starter for Sunday’s game. He functioned as a pass-catching running back, filling a void left by Shane Vereen after his injury. Bolden certainly has the skill set to fill in for Vereen. He caught 76 passes for 807 yards and six touchdowns for Mississippi. So in his second-year, with no Vereen or Danny Woodhead in front of him, he had the opportunity to contribute out of the backfield once again. He responded with five receptions for 49 yards and added three rushes for 51 yards, totaling 100 yards of offense. A good chunk of his contributions came on a 46-yard run.
“To go out there and you work all week and then to see how everything turned out today was awesome, especially being the first game back,” Bolden said. “It’s exciting to get back out there and play with my teammates.”
His contribution was a huge boost for the offense that had trouble getting production out of the running back position in Week 2.
2. Back in the chem lab — Receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, the focus of all eyes after a rough first two weeks of professional football, combined for 10 catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie duo only had two drops, one each. And despite some small complications, they were a successful pairing for the Patriots. Both seem to be finding their niche within the offense and have improved tremendously week over week.
“We’re trying to keep elevating and improving every week,” Dobson said. “We’re not trying to backtrack. We’re trying to keep the level up and move forward.”
While Sunday showed they still have improving to do, it also showed their chemistry with Tom Brady has taken significant step forward. That’s a huge positive for the team.
3. The proper temperament — There was considerable amount of attention paid to quarterback Tom Brady after he let his anger get the best of him on the sideline last week. This week, he was much less animated. That’s partly because he was in better sync with his wide receivers. But it’s also because he is now more conscious of his demeanor after having to face questions about it. Faced with an angry quarterback and a curious media, rookies like Dobson are in a no-win situation to respond.
“You just have to learn from it,” Dobson said. “It’s going to happen. Mistakes are going to happen but you just have to learn from it, learn from the mistakes this week, and then go back out and do it right.”
On Sunday, Brady was still frustrated in spurts. He was angry with himself over his interception and would love to have back a couple of throws, including a missed touchdown connection with Thompkins or Julian Edelman. But he managed to control that anger and lead his team to its third straight win. See, it works both ways.
4. Aqib Talib continues to make plays — If you had to give a game ball to only one player on the team, Talib would be a good choice. Tasked with covering Vincent Jackson, he held the Buccaneers’ top receiver to three receptions for 34 yards on six targets. He intercepted one pass and broke up another. It was one of the few times that Talib was asked to shadow a receiver around the field, getting the top assignment last year against Anquan Boldin in the AFC title game before getting injured. He was more than up to the challenge this year.
“I’m sure they missed [Jackson] when he went out, but I thought Aqib [Talib] did a good job competing against him and played him tough at the line of scrimmage,” Bill Belichick said. “Jackson made a couple, but Talib made a couple. It was a good, competitive matchup.”
It’s been a terrific stretch for Talib, who has forced four turnovers this season and has three interceptions to lead the team. He deserves a ton of respect for his effort against one of the league’s most respected receivers.
5. Efficiency creeping back up — After a dismal offensive outing in Week 2, the Patriots made their way back to respectability against the Buccaneers. They finished 6 of 15 on third down and 2 of 5 in the red zone. Those aren’t numbers you’d normally crow about, especially considering a good majority of the team returns from a 2012 squad that set the league record in first downs (444). But after the team had such a tough time against the Jets (4 of 18 on third down, 0 for 3 in the red zone), any slight improvement is a huge positive.