Tampa Bay nailed three field goals from over 50 yards out. New England lost a gamble when they went for it on fourth down, unable to snag the lone yard they needed. It was just that kind of night.
That is, until the fourth quarter.
Ryan Mallett brought some magic to the game with a sweet touchdown pass to Jeremy Ebert and another incredible touchdown to Jesse Holley (the play of the game).
For a team that played three quarters of dysfunctional football, the Patriots made this game mighty interesting down the stretch.
Here are New England's biggest winners and losers from the night.
Winner: Ryan Mallett
Ryan Mallett very nearly willed a dead team to victory on Friday. He provided a spark that otherwise wouldn't have existed without him. The interesting thing is, I wasn't surprised that he led this comeback. I'm starting to expect good things from this kid.
When New England's offense is in a rut, Mallett has proven that he has a strange ability to kick start the engines. He invigorates his teammates in a subtle yet profound way.
Mallett connected with Brandon Bolden, Donte' Stallworth, Alex Silvestro, Jeremy Ebert and Jesse Holley, all of whom are desperately fighting for roster spots.
These aren't the guys you'd normally associate with a big comeback, but they very nearly pulled it off. It was fun to watch Mallett incorporate these guys into the mix and elevate their game to another level.
The power of Mallett's arm is undeniable, but his accuracy is still a work-in-progress. It's not uncommon to see him hit a bull's eye and then miss the dart board entirely on his next next throw. Nevertheless, he's added some patience to his game and his decision-making has improved.
More importantly, he's produced results. Against the Eagles last week, he threw 105 yards and one touchdown. Against the Buccaneers, he threw 66 yards and two terrific touchdowns.
He's definitely leaving an impression. The kid's getting better every day.
Loser: Tom Brady
Even the greatest quarterback of all time has bad games now and then. This was such a game.
Brady was roughed up, sacked, picked off and consistently thwarted by the blitz all night.
He managed to throw 127 yards and a touchdown. He occasionally displayed flashes of his usual laser-sighted accuracy and made some progress in his rapport with Brandon Lloyd.
But overall, Brady couldn't stimulate the offense into any sort of groove. The ball was in quicksand for the first three quarters and Brady was never able to find his mojo.
Winner: Jeff Demps
Jeff Demps is an Olympic track and field superstar who just won a silver medal and now he's a running back for the defending AFC champions. That's the kind of story that energizes a fanbase.
Demps got off to a rough start on Friday by gaining disappointing field position on special teams and following it up with a false start. But after Demps eased into the game, he displayed some of his trademark speed.
On one particular carry, Demps ran 29 yards in a blur and left Tampa Bay's defense scratching their heads. With a total of 41 yards on the night, Demps literally had guys lunging left and right at him throughout the fourth quarter.
Great stuff from a guy who's quickly becoming a fan favorite in New England. He's a fun player to watch. He'll be on the final roster.
Losers: The Offensive Line
Once again, Tom Brady was mentally and physically drained by pass rushers, further illustrating the uncomfortable fact that the blueprint for beating the Patriots is common knowledge around the league.
The Buccaneers consistently paralyzed New England's offensive flow. Brady had the same miffed expression on his face that he had during the team's first preseason game against the Saints. It's also the same face he had during Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI.
New England's overall pass protection is worrisome. Blockers aren't blocking, tackles are getting beat, bodyguards aren't guarding and Brady's bearing the brunt of the beating.
Winner: Stevan Ridley
Stevan Ridley put the finishing touch on his inevitable roster spot with 16 carries, 87 rushing yards and one touchdown on the night.
He was consistently impressive, combining speed and power in a smooth and effortless manner, further proving his potential as a high-end running back (and stealing some thunder from Shane Vereen in the process).
Winners: Marquice Cole and Nate Ebner
Marquice Cole and Nate Ebner have been living on the fringe throughout the offseason. Neither of them have been overly exceptional thus far, leaving both guys in a strange limbo heading into the upcoming roster cuts.
But after Friday night, it's safe to say that both of them have earned spots on this team.
They were consistently active in hunting down the ball, breaking up passes and displaying speed and intellect on special teams. They're both high-energy players and multi-dimensional weapons on the field who make their presence known through blunt physicality.
These are good guys to have on the team.
Winners and Losers: The New England Patriots
The Patriots were thoroughly outplayed, dismantled and beaten by the Buccaneers. New England played some of the ugliest football I've ever seen. For the first three quarters, this thing was dead in the water.
However, New England's second backup quarterback spearheaded a pretty entertaining comeback with a bunch of players that aren't even expected to make the team. Even though they came up short, it was still pretty impressive. That, in of itself, is a victory.
It was an ugly game, but our lesser-known guys fought extremely hard in the fourth quarter. That's something to feel very good about.
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