The poor, rainy weather reached Tampa Bay right at halftime, but the storm rolled into Raymond James Stadium for the Buccaneers at the starting whistle.
Tom Brady and the visiting New England Patriots wasted little time making last Friday’s 25-0 Bucs rout in Kansas City feel like a distant memory.
“We had a couple of mistakes out there, but Tom Brady, as we know, is an awesome quarterback and [New England] has an awesome offense,” said Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris. “They came to play tonight. We came out kind of sluggish and kind of flat on both sides of the ball. We started to pick it up a little in the second quarter, but we have to get a better effort out of everybody out there.”
The Patriots starting offense scored on each of its first three possessions en route to a 28-0 first half lead and eventual 31-14 win.
In that dominant first 30 minutes of football, New England outgained Tampa Bay 235-73 and moved the chains 17 times compared to four for the Bucs. In total, Tampa Bay was outmatched offensively, 383-244.
Tampa Bay’s one shining moment came early in the second half during backup time. Cornerback Elbert Mack made a sliding interception of Patriots third-string quarterback Ryan Mallett's errant pass and returned it 69 yards to the house. Mack’s runback was sprung wide open with a key Larry Asante block.
That score brought the Bucs within 28-7. Celebrations from players or fans were understandably brief.
Conditions for Thursday’s game were listed as 85 degrees and cloudy. Two brief spats of rain came through – once during halftime and once in the final quarter. Paid attendance was announced as 49,313.
The game’s defensive starters were as follows: LE Michael Bennett, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Frank Okam, RE Adrian Clayborn, WLB Geno Hayes, SLB Quincy Black, LCB E.J. Biggers, RCB Ronde Barber, FS Cody Grimm, SS Sean Jones, DB Elbert Mack.
Tampa lined up offensively with: TE Nathan Overbay, LT Donald Penn, LG Ted Larsen, C Jeff Faine, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood, TE Ryan Purvis, WR Dezmon Briscoe, WR Mike Williams, RB LaGarrette Blount and QB Josh Freeman.
Inactive for the Bucs were WR Detron Lewis, FB Rendrick Taylor, CB Vince Anderson, DT Brian Price, LB Brandon Heath, G Brandon Carter, G Thomas Claiborne and C Matt Allen.
For all that appeared to click last Friday – pressure from the defensive line, exceptional pass protection from the offensive front, linebackers flying around and picking up their assignments – the Bill Belichick coached Patriots neutralized it all.
Brady, who didn’t play at all during the Patriots’ 45-12 dismantling of Jacksonville last Thursday, finished 11-of-19 for 118 yards and two touchdowns and looked to be in midseason form. The two-time NFL Most Valuable Player led last year’s eighth-rated offense straight through Tampa Bay defenders with relative ease, playing virtually every first-half snap. Brady also notched his first scoring hookup with newly acquired receiver Chad Ochocinco on the team’s second drive.
The Bucs posted six sacks last week at Kansas City and limited the Chiefs to 86 yards rushing all game. Tampa Bay’s young front seven were unable to duplicate those results against the Patriots, rarely able to get to Brady on passing downs and giving up chunks of yardage on the ground.
Against New England the Bucs received sacks from defensive ends Tim Crowder, at the second quarter’s two-minute warning, and George Johnson, with 5:08 left in the third quarter.
Running back Danny Woodhead [5-for-63] cut back to his left for a 29-yard run on the Patriots’ third play from scrimmage. It was New England’s first of 11 plays that went for 10 yards or more in the first half. That initial drive was capped by a 16-yard, Brady-to-Aaron Hernandez touchdown pass with 11:45 left in the first quarter that caught the Bucs coverage off guard. Linebacker Quincy Black was on Hernandez as he came off the line, but let him release with the expection of help from behind. Rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster was there as a last line of defense, but did not react to pick up Hernandez quick enough.
The touchdown to Ochocinco about five minutes later displayed much of the same sloppy coverage. On third-and-four from the Tampa Bay 8-yard line, Brady ran a play-action and rolled to his right. His new high-profile target was lined up on the right side and broke a post into the end zone that strong safety Sean Jones did not pick up.
“Last week I think we kind of, not got full of ourselves, but kind of took it as we were where we needed to be,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, starting after not seeing the field in Kansas City. McCoy finished with one tackle. “Personally, I think we needed this because now we can judge ourselves accordingly. [The Patriots] are a Super Bowl caliber team and the tempo that it was tonight is how it’s going to be during the season, so we need to learn it, go get in the film room and handle our business.”
Second-teamers SS Corey Lynch and LB Dekoda Watson led the Bucs in tackling, with five apiece. DT Frank Okam, CB Anthony Gaitor and CB D.J. Johnson each recorded four.
Offensively, Tampa Bay appeared overmatched in the trenches and the first team was unable to advance any further than their own 43. In Morris’s postgame press conference, he mentioned the Bucs losing the battles up front.
"It's always disturbing, but it's stuff that you can learn from with a young football team," the third-year head coach said. "Last week we were able to dominate of front, this week we got dominated early ... You have to come out of the tunnel ready to go, and we didn't tonight."
Quarterback Josh Freeman was sacked twice for 17 yards and Tampa Bay again failed to impress on the ground.
For the second straight week, backup quarterback Josh Johnson was the Bucs’ leading rusher, with 24 yards on three runs. Starting running back LeGarrette Blount ran four times for one yard. Rookie Allen Bradford led the tailbacks in rushing with 17 yards on five attempts, including one impressive, eight-yard cutback run in the third quarter.
“[We] have to go out there and execute,” Blount said. “Just got to go out there and do what we’ve been practicing for the whole week – go out there and execute our game plan and do what we have to do to put points on the board. Obviously we didn’t do that, so that’s what we have to work on.”
Starting right guard Davin Joseph admitted the unit up front performed below expectations.
“We have to be able to go out against a good team and be able to establish something. We can’t hang our defense out to dry by keeping them three-and-out and leaving them out on the field. We have to get it together. We have to get it together on offense. We have to show composure and be able to take advantage of our opportunities.”
Tampa Bay’s lone offensive touchdown came with 9:28 left in the game on a 2-yard run from Bradford. The score capped a 12-play, 84-yard march. Josh Johnson was in on quarterback for that drive and hit on only six of his 17 attempts all night. Like his rushing total, he again led the Bucs quarterbacks in yardage with 105 through the air. Johnson also through an interception with 7:10 left in the third when his attempt to Michael Spurlock was picked by New England cornerback Kyle Arrington.
“They were able to put some pressure on us and get us out of the pocket and get us out of our rhythm,” Johnson said of the aggressive pass rush the Patriots attacked Tampa Bay with Thursday. “It is a credit to them, they came out ready to play tonight. It really took us a while to get something going, so that’s a lot for us to learn from.”
The interception gave the Patriots back possession after Asante forced a fumble for the Bucs two plays prior. Running back Stevan Ridley coughed up the ball and linebacker Adam Hayward flew in for the recovery.
Asante was shaken up earlier in the night during the Patriots' second drive of the second quarter. With running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis bearing down, Asante lowered his head while squaring up for the tackle. Asante stood after the ending the seven-yard pick up, but then went back down to the turf for a brief moment and Tampa Bay trainers had to attend to him.
Green-Ellis's 11 carries for 51 yards was part of a Patriots running attack that totaled 200 yards. Ridley led New England with 84 yards on 14 attempts.
One of the few positives Tampa Bay can take away from Thursday’s disappointing performance was that its defense forced two turnovers compared to one giveaway. That puts the Bucs plus-three in that catagory after two games.
Little else proved successful, though, and cornerback E.J. Biggers said the entire defense will have to try to use this tape to fix mistakes.
“You just have to learn from your mistakes,” he said. “That’s it. You really have to learn from your mistakes and go back and watch the film; everybody just correct everything they did wrong. It’s just another chance to get better. It’s like I said, going to watch film and everybody just getting better.”
Quarterback Rudy Carpenter was under center for Tampa for the final two series and finished 6-for-10 with 33 yards.
Six Bucs tied for the lead in reception with two: Preston Parker, Maurice Price, Michael Spurlock, Mike Williams, Earnest Graham and Collin Franklin. Parker’s 43 yards led for yardage and Price’s 34-yard catch-and-run from Carpenter in the fourth marked the Bucs’ longest play from scrimmage.
Tampa’s lone injury to report on is defensive tackle E.J. Wilson (ankle) who went down mid-game and did not return.
The Bucs will now have a week to analyze tape and lick their collective wounds before the Miami Dolphins come into town next Saturday at 7:30 p.m.