The New England Patriots followed up their impressive win against the Philadelphia Eagles with a fast start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, culminating in a 25-21 victory. But that doesn't mean the Patriots have nothing but positives to takeaway from the exhibition game against the Bucs.
As reported by Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith, Head Coach Bill Belichick told the media after the game that the "team is still in a growing stage," and that there is still work left to do.
So what are the five biggest stories to takeaway from the Patriots win over the Buccaneers?
Zach Sudfeld is a Diamond in the Rough
Sudfeld, an undrafted rookie tight end out of Nevada, has emerged as a potential weapon for the New England offense during the offseason, with rumblings that he could be the next player to fit perfectly in the offensive schemes of Josh McDaniels.
Friday evening, he proved the support was justified.
Sudfeld hauled in an impressive catch for a touchdown that was batted in the air by Tampa Bay linebacker Najee Goode. Sudfeld kept his eyes on the football, despite falling down with forward momentum, and grabbed the ball for a score, as seen in the image above.
He would also add a two-point conversion reception, where he was the recipient of a Tom Brady laser beam pass in the back of the end zone.
Sudfeld will likely still have some rough spots to work through as he develops into a regular NFL contributor, but keep an eye on this potential future star.
Apart from Sudfeld, There are Plenty of Weapons on the New England Offense
There were questions this offseason in New England about the viability of running the usual offensive scheme with a potentially less talented group of players.
This article from late July by Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald speculated that the team would likely keep the same offense, but there were certainly questions about the ability of the skill players to cope with the demands of Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels.
But last night helped to dismiss some of that speculation, if not all of it, as the first team New England offense picked apart the Tampa Bay defense with an up-tempo attack featuring a number of players involved in the passing game.
The first drive of the game featured Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola, with contributions from Julian Edelman and fullback James Develin. The Buccaneers were unable to cope with the frenetic pace of the Patriot offense, and it lead to a picture-perfect drive from Brady and his teammates.
The First Team Defense is In Week 1 Form
The Buccaneer offense was unable to get off the ground at all during the starters versus starters portion of the contest because the New England defense was dominant. The defensive line got great pressure on almost every play, forcing Josh Freeman to take multiple sacks.
Rob Ninkovich stood out as a player the Tampa Bay offensive line just couldn't deal with. He flashed great pass rushing skill and registered a sack early in the game.
His counterpart on the other end, Chandler Jones, also picked up a sack, while linebacker Brandon Spikes had two quarterback take downs.
The secondary will be the area of concern for the Patriots as they don't seem quite as talented in the back four as they are up front, but there was nothing but positives from the first team on Friday night.
The Backup Defenders Struggled Against the Run
The Buccaneers didn't really test the Patriots in the running game while the starters were on the field, but by the time reserve runners Mike James and Peyton Hillis got their chances, they were finding gaping holes for big gains all night.
The Patriots surrendered over 150 yards to the third and fourth options at running back on the Tampa Bay depth chart, and were seemingly pushed around by the backup offensive linemen of the Buccaneers. This isn't encouraging, and may also signal a weakness with the run defense on the first team.
The Philadelphia Eagles were not able to run on the Patriots quite as easily in preseason Week 1, but there were moments in the first half when Bryce Brown and Nick Foles were able to exploit the Patriot defenses.
There is talent in the New England front-seven. But they must be stout against the run to be a complete defense.
Tim Tebow is Not Going to Throw the Football for the Patriots This Year
Tim Tebow put forth one of the worst efforts of the preseason on Friday evening, as his seven passes led to only one completion for one negative yard and an interception.
He did add 30 yards rushing, which proves there is still some value to be had with the former Florida Gator signal caller under center. But his throwing ability looked poor after the amazing performance of Tom Brady and the inconsistent but occasionally encouraging display by Ryan Mallet.
Tebow may make the New England roster in 2013, and may find himself in some games. But his chances of overcoming Ryan Mallet to be the primary backup to Tom Brady are virtually non-existent.
He threw the ball too short or too long on multiple occasions, and held onto the ball too long, unable to pick out open receivers or make quick enough reads to break down the defense.
Tebow is capable of better, but he's not going to consistently deliver the type of precision demanded by a New England offense that is all about quick tempo and even quicker decision-making.
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