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DEFENSIVE LINE Despite the fact that New England was without starting left tackle Matt Light, Tampa Bay's defensive line couldn't get enough pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in London on Sunday.
Brady threw the ball 32 times, and the Bucs had just four quarterback hurries and one sack, which defensive ends Stylez G. White and Jimmy Wilkerson combined for late in the first half.
As a result of the lack of pressure, Brady used his accurate arm to pick apart Tampa Bay's defense, completing 23-of-32 (71.8 percent) passes for 308 yards and tossing three touchdowns and two interceptions before being pulled with just under seven minutes remaining in the 35-7 affair.
The Bucs did have some success off the right side, where the Patriots had rookie Sebastian Vollmer playing in place of Light. In fact, Vollmer was flagged for holding twice on one drive early in the third quarter thanks to some explosive pass rushes by backup DE Tim Crowder, who had one tackle in this game. Newcomer Michael Bennett had two of Tampa Bay's four QB hurries on the day, including one on an attempted screen play on the same drive as Vollmer's penalties. But even those two 10-yard infractions weren't enough to keep New England's offense from scoring. This particular drive ended when Brady threw a 35-yard touchdown strike to tight end Ben Watson, which put New England up 28-7.
Brady did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly, but there were too many plays where he was afforded a comfortable pocket to throw out of, and the Bucs paid for it.
Part of the reason why Tampa Bay's pass rush was ineffective Sunday was because of the play of its defensive tackles. Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan simply didn't get enough push up the middle. They also failed to help stop Patriots running back Laurence Maroney from converting key third-and-short running plays, which contributed to New England converting 6-of-12 (50 percent) of its third downs in London. Maroney rushed 13 times for 43 yards (3.3 avg.) and one touchdown, which came late in the fourth quarter and capped off a 10-play, 89-yard drive, which put the Patriots up 35-7.
New England rushed for 107 yards and one score on 28 carries (3.8 avg.). While Tampa Bay's defensive tackles didn't get the job done, Sims did stop RB Kevin Faulk for a 4-yard loss on an attempted screen play late in the second quarter. Bucs rookie DT Roy Miller might have been the most active and impressive of the defensive tackle group for the Bucs. He had a tackle for a 4-yard loss late in the fourth quarter. Miller and Sims each had four tackles in the game.
Wilkerson was quite active in the trenches, notching seven tackles and half a sack. White, whom he teamed up with on that quarterback takedown, finished the game with five tackles, but was also called for being offsides in the fourth quarter, which gave the Patriots an automatic first down on the second-and-4 play.
LINEBACKERS New England posted 414 yards of total offense vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday. Brady and Co. did a lot of their damage in the short-to-intermediate part of the field by getting wide receiver Wes Welker matched up with Tampa Bay's linebackers.
Welker had a team-high 10 catches for 107 yards and one touchdown. But New England's speedy receiver wasn't the only player that had success vs. the Bucs linebackers.
On a third-and-11 play in the second quarter, Brady dumped the ball off to WR Sam Aiken on a crossing route. The ball and route were well short of the first down marker, but Aiken beat Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who missed the tackle and watched Aiken outrun Bucs cornerback Elbert Mack and a few other Tampa Bay defenders down the right sideline for a 54-yard touchdown, which put New England up 21-0. Late in the third quarter, Ruud did a good job of not biting on Brady's play-action fake and sticking with the intended receiver on a third-and-1 pass play, which fell incomplete. However, Ruud also missed a sack late in this game after putting himself in position to bring down the quarterback on a well-designed blitz. Not only did he miss the sack, Patriots backup QB Brian Hoyer pulled the ball down and rushed for 20 yards to Tampa Bay's 44-yard line. Ruud finished the game with six tackles and one pass defensed.
Ruud wasn't the only Bucs linebacker to miss a tackle Sunday. Early in the third quarter, Bucs LB Geno Hayes missed a tackle on a dump off to RB Kevin Faulk, who gained 8 yards and picked up a first down before being tackled by LB Quincy Black. On the same drive, Brady threw a 35-yard TD strike to TE Ben Watson, who beat Hayes to the end zone on the play. Hayes and Black had five and four tackles, respectively. Hayes also contributed a pass defensed.
SECONDARY The final score (35-7) of Tampa Bay's loss to New England suggests the Bucs didn't do much well in London, but the team did accomplish a few feats vs. the Patriots.
In the second quarter, the Bucs intercepted Brady twice. The first pick came early in the second quarter when Brady attempted to toss an 11-yard touchdown to Patriots WR Randy Moss. The ball was under thrown, but Bucs free safety Tanard Jackson showed tremendous athleticism by pulling the ball out of the air for an interception in the end zone. It was Brady's first interception in 184 pass attempts. Jackson led the Bucs defense with eight tackles and one interception.
Midway through second quarter, Brady's pass attempt deep downfield was intercepted by Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib, who picked off the ball on Tampa Bay's 18-yard line and returned it 23 yards to the 41. The pick was the fourth of the season for Brady and Talib, who had three tackles and one pick in this game.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, that success was short-lived. In the first half, Moss got himself wide open across the middle of the field with Talib trailing on the play, which resulted in a 37-yard completion down inside Tampa Bay's 15-yard line. Three plays later, Brady threw a 14-yard screen play to Welker for a touchdown. The Bucs had some trouble defending the Patriots' screen passes. On this particular one, Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Elbert Mack, and safety Sabby Piscitelli each got blocked out on the play, which capped off a five-play, 67-yard drive.
While he had a lot of his success against Tampa Bay's linebackers, the Bucs secondary had trouble containing Welker as well. Late in the second quarter on a third-and-14 play, Mack got picked by the umpire, which allowed Welker to get open across the middle and catch a pass from Brady for a first down. Mack finished the game with four tackles.
Moss had five catches for 69 yards before leaving the contest in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. Barber and Piscitelli had two and five tackles, respectively.
SPECIAL TEAMS The Bucs were without Pro Bowl return specialist Clifton Smith in London. He missed Sunday's game due to a concussion he sustained against the Panthers. Bucs rookie WR Sammie Stroughter, who returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown last week, struggled vs. the Patriots, averaging just 17.7 yards per kickoff return and 9.7 yards per punt return. As a result, Tampa Bay's average starting field position was its own 19-yard line.
Bucs tight end John Gilmore was called for holding on one of Stroughter's kickoff returns. Bucs linebacker Quincy Black and cornerback Torrie Cox each had two special teams tackles.
Punter Dirk Johnson might have had his worst outing as a Buc. He didn't have enough hang time on punts, especially in the first half, which allowed Welker to field line drives and pick up good yardage. Johnson averaged just 37.3 yards per punt (31.4 net) on nine attempts. Welker averaged 13.3 yards per return, including a 24-yarder he ripped off late in the first quarter.
The best play from this unit was turned in by Bucs WR Maurice Stovall, who got his hand on a punt in the second quarter. However, the ball rolled to Tampa Bay's 34-yard line.
COACHING Offensively, Tampa Bay had the opportunity to make some plays in the passing game, but second-year quarterback Josh Johnson once again struggled to see the field and deliver accurate passes. He completed just 34.6 percent of his throws and tossed three interceptions, including two to defensive back Brandon Meriweather, who returned his first pick for a score. The Bucs fell behind 21-0 in the second quarter, which forced offensive coordinator Greg Olson to abandon the running game for the most part. Tampa Bay converted just 27 percent of its third downs and scored one touchdown before pulling Johnson late in the fourth quarter in favor of rookie QB Josh Freeman, which probably was the right call by Bucs head coach Raheem Morris.
Defensively, Jim Bates really had no answer for the Patriots offensive game plan, which was creative and featured several screen plays. The pass rush from Tampa Bay's front four wasn't good enough, which allowed Brady to pick the Bucs apart and throw three touchdowns. The final score of this game would have been worse for Tampa Bay had it not been for the interceptions recorded by Jackson and Talib. Both turnovers came inside Tampa Bay territory.
Not that it would have changed the outcome of Sunday's game, but Morris likely is regretting his decision to punt on fourth-and-6 late in the third quarter with the Bucs trailing 28-7. By punting, the Patriots started the ensuing drive at their own 11-yard line, but Morris' plan backfired when the Patriots orchestrated a 10-play, 89-yard drive that ended with a score, which put New England up 35-7.
The Patriots clearly were the better team on the football field inside Wembley Stadium.