Tom Brady wasn't as crisp as normal in the New England's 23-3 win over Tampa Bay.
The New England Patriots are 3-0 for the first time since their nearly perfect 2007 season. However, the way the Patriots have accomplished that feat couldn't possibly be more different.
Instead of racking up record offensive numbers, Tom Brady and his improving rookie receivers have benefited from a stingy defense that has only given up 34 points through three games.
Fans in New England saw a lot of improvement out of the Patriots rookies this Sunday, but some areas still need to be cleaned up—especially on offense.
Check out the grades for each Patriots player.
Tom Brady: B-
Brady didn't have his "A" game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he got it done when it mattered most. He was uncharacteristically wild on a couple of throws that he normally makes in his sleep.
You could put a lot of the blame on Brady's inexperienced targets in New England's narrow victory over the New York Jets, but that wasn't the case against Tampa Bay. Other than one clear drop from Kenbrell Thompkins, the rookie receivers played remarkably well.
As John Lynch related on the CBS broadcast, Tom Brady said that "September is for improving." If the Patriots passing game can continue to do just that, this offense could be back to record-setting form come December.
Brandon Bolden: A
Bolden was the best running back in a Patriots uniform against Tampa Bay. He was decisive in the hole and picked his spots wisely.
Bolden certainly earned himself some carries against the Atlanta Falcons next week.
LeGarrette Blount: B+
Playing against his former team, you could really tell that Blount wanted to have a good game. He still dances a little too much in the backfield, but he is oddly elusive for such a large-framed runner.
I don't see the infatuation with Blount on kickoff return. The explosiveness just isn't there.
Stevan Ridley: C+
Ridley was the low man on the totem pole against the Buccaneers, averaging only 3.2 yards on 11 carries. Fumbling issues have given Bolden and Blount a chance at the starting role, and they have certainly seized the opportunity.
James Develin: C-
Develin nearly caused a turnover with his missed assignment on a Blount run. He let a Tampa Bay defender run free, nearly causing a fumble on the handoff.
Michael Hoomanawanui: A-
Hoomanawanui was the best tight end on the field for either team. He was decent blocking, but his two catches for 31 yards were incredibly important.
The second effort on his 3rd-and-19 catch didn't result in a first down, but it gave Stephen Gostkowski a chance to make a field goal and extend the Patriots lead to three scores.
Matthew Mulligan: C+
Mulligan wasn't a featured part of the offensive game plan, but he was able to make some key blocks down the stretch to help the Patriots salt away the clock.
Zach Sudfeld: C
Good things haven't happened when Tom Brady targets Sudfeld. After missing Sudfeld on a deep route, Brady threw a rare red-zone interception in Sudfeld's direction. It wasn't a good decision by Tom Brady, but Zach Sudfeld needs to get his head around on the play.
Julian Edelman: A
It was a vintage slot-receiver performance for Edelman: seven catches on seven targets. Edelman continues to be Brady's most reliable receiver and will remain so until Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski return.
Edelman was in form on punt returns as well, gaining 28 yards on two returns.
Aaron Dobson: A-
Dobson finished with seven receptions on 10 targets—including crucial third- and fourth-down conversions—as well as drawing a pass-interference penalty. Dobson wasn't fully at fault for any of the incompletions, although one slightly inaccurate pass by Brady could have been caught.
If Brady was in top form, Dobson would have had two red-zone touchdowns on the day, but inaccurate throws left Dobson diving on the dirt.
Dobson was also active in the run game, sustaining blocks down the field.
Kenbrell Thompkins: B+
Like Dobson, Thompkins bounced back nicely after a poor effort against the New York Jets. He hauled in three catches out of seven targets, two of which went for touchdowns.
Thompkins could have doubled his total of 41 receiving yards if it were not for his stone-cold drop on an underneath route with acres of space in front of him.
Josh Boyce: C
Boyce earned some playing time and a target from Brady. Boyce was open on the play, but there was either miscommunication on the route depth, or Brady simply missed him.
Sebastian Vollmer: B+
Vollmer was only in for one half before leaving the game with a foot injury. According to Mike Giardi of Comcast Sports Net NE, Vollmer was seen leaving Gillette Stadium in a walking boot. If Vollmer is out for an extended period of time, the Patriots' depth at tackle will be tested.
Logan Mankins: B+
Mankins was his normal nasty self against Tampa Bay. He does all the little things to give the Patriots an advantage in the game. A big reason that Brady is successful on the quarterback sneak is Mankin's strength, guile and explosiveness.
Nate Solder: B
Solder had another solid day, keeping Brady's pocket as clean as he could. At 6'8"-plus, I'm always amazed by Solder's ability to change direction and mirror defensive ends.
Dan Connolly: B-
Connolly sprung Brandon Bolden for a couple of big gains, putting Buccaneers defensive linemen aside with some nasty angle blocking. Connolly is as important to this offense as his counterpart Mankins.
Ryan Wendell: C+
Wendell's play was as consistent as always, despite getting beat for a sack by rookie lineman Akeem Spence. At first blush, his line calls seemed spot-on, an underappreciated contribution that fails to show up in the box score.
Marcus Cannon: C+
Stepping in for the injured Vollmer, Cannon fared better than he did against the Jets last week. I still think his future is at guard, but he will be able to fill in for Vollmer if he can't go next week.
Chandler Jones: B+
Jones continued his solid play this year, combining with Tommy Kelly and Rob Ninkovich on a pair of sacks. While he has been getting most of his pressure from the defensive tackle position this year, he was able to get pressure off the edge against Tampa Bay.
Rob Ninkovich: B+
Ninkovich celebrated his new contract extension, according to a report by Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, with a typical Ninkovich outing—motor at 100 percent and inspiring the defense. He harassed Josh Freeman all day, splitting credit for a sack with Chandler Jones.
Vince Wilfork: B-
Wilfork's play last week was subpar at best, but he held up pretty well against an interior line worth over $150 million. Wilfork drew a holding penalty and was effective setting up some twist stunts for his defensive ends.
Michael Buchanan: B-
Buchanan didn't earn a tackle, but was able to get a hit on Josh Freeman. He runs the arc better than anyone else on the Patriots and is developing into a nice option on passing downs—not bad for a seventh-round pick.
Tommy Kelly: B-
Kelly had a pair of quarterback hits and combined with Jones for a sack on Josh Freeman. He was pushed around a bit in the run game at times, but helped hold Doug Martin under 100 yards.
Joe Vellano: B-
Vellano got his first quarterback pressure against Tampa Bay and continued to hold up well in the run game. He is one of the better stories of the summer—nobody has improved more from the first couple days of training camp.
Jake Bequette: C+
Bequette saw a few snaps against the Buccaneers, earning a quarterback hit late in the game and nearly added another pressure in the first half.
Dont'a Hightower: B+
Hightower simply does his job. He was asked to cover Doug Martin, rush the passer, shed blockers inside and make tackles.
Seeing a 270-pound Hightower tracking Doug Martin down the field on a fade route was fun to watch—he stayed in phase the entire time.
Brandon Spikes: B+
Spikes times the snap better than anyone not named Troy Polamalu. He ended the day with seven tackles—five solo—and forced Doug Martin to make adjustments and cuts in the backfield on multiple occasions.
Jerod Mayo: B+
Mayo led the Patriots in tackles—big surprise—and was credited with a sack on Josh Freeman. He continues to be a consistent performer for New England and rarely leaves the field.
Jamie Collins: B-
After playing only a handful of snaps in the Patriots victories over New York and Buffalo, Collins saw more extensive playing time against Tampa Bay. His highlight of the day came stacking and shedding an offensive lineman and making the tackle on Doug Martin for a minimal gain.
Aqib Talib: A
Darrelle Revis might be the best cornerback in the league, but Aqib Talib had the better day on Sunday. He undercut a route late in the first half and snagged an interception that resulted in three points for the Patriots. He ran Vincent Jackson's route for him and now leads the league with three interceptions in as many games.
Both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams were able to get a sliver of separation on Talib down the field, but Talib was able to stretch his long arms into the situation and prevent the catch on both occasions. To be fair, both balls could have been caught, but Talib made it difficult each time.
Alfonzo Dennard: A
Dennard was a fantastic complement to Talib, batting down two passes and preventing Tampa Bay receivers from gaining clean releases with his strong press coverage. His technique which resulted in a deflection on a back-shoulder fade from Josh Freeman should be taught to cornerbacks—it was textbook.
Devin McCourty: A-
McCourty took a couple of questionable angles to the sideline in double coverage, but was otherwise very solid in coverage and in his run fits.
The communication in the Patriots secondary has seemed much better this year, and McCourty has been a big part of that.
Steve Gregory: B+
Doug Martin made Gregory whiff on a tackle, but Gregory continued his above-average play for the Patriots this season. After a missed assignment against Buffalo, Gregory has been incredibly reliable.
Logan Ryan: B-
Ryan saw his first significant number of snaps against Tampa Bay, filling in for Kyle Arrington outside and in at the "star" position. Ryan looked good underneath and was a solid tackler, despite earning a pass-interference call.
Kyle Arrington: C+
Arrington got turned around by Mike Williams—who ran a nice route—early in the game and was also flagged for a pass-interference penalty.
Stephen Gostkowski: A+
A 53-yard kick with no time remaining in the first half, followed by a 46-yard boot in the third quarter gave the Patriots the all-important three-score lead. Gostkowski added on a 33-yard field goal to put the Patriots up 23-3 in the fourth quarter.
Gostkowski's booming kickoffs gave the Buccaneers no chance on kickoff returns.
Danny Aiken: A
If a long snapper never hears his name called, that is a good thing. Aiken was as inconspicuous as ever and was perfect on his snaps.
Ryan Allen: B
Allen wasn't called on as much this week as last. He had one poor punt early in the game that only went for 39 yards, but bounced back with 47- and 42-yard punts.
Allen was solid holding for Gostkowski again this week.
Dane Fletcher: B
With Matthew Slater out with a wrist injury, Fletcher was able to lead the Patriots special teams to another stellar performance.
Duron Harmon: C
Harmon earned himself a spot in the stat sheet, but it was for a holding penalty on the punt return team.
All statistics are courtesy of the New England Patriots Media Relations Department.