Buccaneers vs Patriots: Takeaways from New England's 23-3 Win over Tampa Bay
Tom Brady found rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins for two touchdowns, while the defense allowed just three points, to lead the New England Patriots to a dominating 23-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
The defense continues to protect the offense, giving valuable incubation time to the young rookie receivers. Both Thompkins and Aaron Dobson came through with solid games, while Julian Edelman chipped in with seven catches.
The Pats also got their ground game going with 156 yards on the ground.
On defense, the Pats stopped four fourth-down attempts by the Bucs, and despite giving up a few big passes, had perfect red-zone play. Through three games, this is the best the Patriots defense has looked in a long time.
Here are the biggest takeaways for the 3-0 Pats.
It's the Arm That's the Problem for Gronk
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports that it's actually Gronk's arm recovery that is holding him back, not his back. This is both good news and bad news.
A second back surgery always seemed to be the more severe of the two problems; it's good to hear it has healed quickly. But this broken arm just won't go away.
It will be interesting to see if Gronk has it overly wrapped once he does return, which is expected to be next weekend against the Falcons.
Josh Freeman Made Passing Plays but Couldn't Finish
The Bucs started the game with drives of 50 and 76 yards but came away with just three points. Surprisingly, Josh Freeman threw for more yards than Tom Brady on the day, but the Bucs could not capitalize on their early opportunities, and that was the difference.
The Pats continue to show elements of the "bend, don't break" defense. Thus there were plays to be made downfield; the Bucs simply couldn't make enough of them.
The Patriots pass defense wasn't always perfect, but they clamped down when it mattered.
The Pats Found Their Running Game
With the offense looking sluggish in the first quarter, Stevan Ridley gave the Pats a spark with a couple big runs. It was just what the offense needed.
The Pats managed 156 yards on the ground, with a lethal combination of Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Blount closed out his old team, piling up many of his 65 yards in the fourth quarter.
With the passing game still looking out of sync early, the run game reestablished itself as a weapon, even without Shane Vereen. Bolden's 100 yards of total offense were also a big boost early.
The Pats' ground game powered a balanced game and proved they could get it done against a quality run defense.
Stephen Gostkowski Is Having a Pro Bowl Start
Some questioned if Stephen Gostkowski was in a make-or-break year due to his down season in 2012, but so far Gostkowski has been lights-out in 2013.
He was 3-for-3 against the Bucs, including a career-long 53-yard field goal. On the season, he's missed just one field goal. He also has just one kick returned on him this season. Tough to play kicker much better than Gostkowski has to this point.
Wasn't All Perfect for Tom Brady
Brady missed a couple of noticeable open receivers in this one, and it seems clear that his work with the young receivers remains a work-in-progress even on his end as well.
Brady's end-zone interception didn't come back to haunt the Pats, but it was an ill-advised throw in a close game that left points off the board. Brady knows he can't make that throw.
Otherwise, it was a solid outing for Brady, who saw some pressure (three sacks, six QB hits), but hung strong to go 25-of-36 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
It's Too Early to Give Up on Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson
With Kenbrell Thompkins scoring two touchdowns and Aaron Dobson picking up seven catches for a team-leading 52 yards, it should buy them a reprieve from the hyper-critical Boston media this week. Both still left a few plays on the field, but their progress from last game is undeniable.
The return of Rob Gronkowski should give them more room to work with, as will Danny Amendola. It's a positive sign that the Pats are still winning even with them playing a central role.
Both continue to get open; the difference this week was that they just caught the ball.
The Defense Is Legit
The Patriots have surrendered just 34 points on the season, and it's time to give them their due. Yes, they have yet to face an elite quarterback, but thus far, the Patriots long-maligned defense has played as you'd expect a veteran defense to play against two rookie quarterbacks and Josh Freeman.
It has't always been perfect, but the Pats have shown great heart already this season, stopping four fourth-down attempts by the Bucs.
They also got the chance to give rookies Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan some quality snaps on defense, while Brandon Spikes and Vince Wilfork rebounded from poor games against the Jets.
The entire unit is showing progress but will have their biggest test yet against Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
The Pats Are 3-0
Ultimately, what matters most is that the Patriots are 3-0 for the first time since 2007. They are not without their weaknesses, but thus far have shown good fight and disciplined football that has become their hallmark under Bill Belichick.
The improvements on both sides of the ball were noticeable since last week's game against the Jets. Once they get back Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola they'll be even better.
Until then, the work with the young receivers can continue. In the long run, the three wins, two of which are divisional, offer incredible flexibility for the Pats.
They'll have their work cut out for them against the Falcons, despite their injury issues.