TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-1) VS. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2-2)
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5, 8:25 P.M. ET
RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM (64,428)
NETWORK TELEVISION: CBS
PLAY-BY-PLAY: JIM NANTZ ANALYST: TONY ROMO SIDELINE: JAY FEELY & TRACY WOLFSON BUCS RADIO: 98ROCK, FLAGSHIP STATION (WXTB-97.9 FM)
PLAY-BY-PLAY: GENE DECKERHOFF ANALYST: DAVE MOORE SIDELINE: T.J. RIVES
LAST GAME: TAMPA BAY WON VS. N.Y. GIANTS 25-23; NEW ENGLAND LOST VS. CAROLINA, 33-30
PewterReport.com Publisher and Bucs Beat Writer Scott Reynolds
Tampa Bay is on a six-game home winning streak and the Bucs are eagerly awaiting their primetime match-up against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. I think Trevor Sikkema did an outstanding job of previewing the game in this week’s Cover 3 column, so I’m going to encourage you to read that as I’m not going to offer much more X’s and O’s analysis here. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I like and don’t like from a match-up standpoint before I make my prediction.
I like the fact that the Bucs found a way to win last week against the New York Giants. Tampa Bay took control of the game early, then lost control before gaining it back in the game’s waning moments. The lesson, of course, is to stomp an opponent when they are down and don’t let up so you don’t have to rally, but I liked how the Bucs stayed calm and remained throughout, and I think they grew up a lot last Sunday. I like that the Bucs feel confident at home and that the crowd has really gotten into the game over the last calendar year since last October.
I like the Bucs’ diversified passing attack and think there is plenty to exploit on the Patriots defense, from matching Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard against New England’s linebackers, and matching Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries against the Patriots secondary. I like that Jacquies Smith returned to help the pass rush and got his feet wet against the Giants. I like that safety T.J. Ward is on the mend and should help out against Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski. I Doug Martin’s return and the energy it brings to the team and the Bucs’ ground game.
I don’t like the fact that the Bucs have struggled in primetime nationally televised games and that’s where Tom Brady has thrived for decades. I don’t like the Bucs facing Brady and Bill Belichick after a loss, as New England rarely loses two games in a row. I don’t like that the Patriots have two speed receivers in Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan and the Bucs don’t have any semblance of a pass rush. I don’t like the thought of Brady having all day to throw. I don’t like Tampa Bay not having linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. I don’t like the fact that Nick Folk has missed two extra points and two field goals in three games.
This game may not come down to Brady vs. Jameis Winston, or Belichick, Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels vs. Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith. This game could come down to kicker Stephen Gostkowski vs. Folk, and the edge goes to the Patriots.
Reynolds’ Score Prediction: Patriots Win 33-31
Reynolds’ Pick To Click: QB Jameis Winston
PewterReport.com Editor and Bucs Beat Writer Mark Cook
The young gunslinger vs. the crafty veteran. Jameis Winston vs. Tom Brady. That is the narrative from many, and no question it will be the main story line for many nationally. But as Winston and head coach Dirk Koetter said, it is the Buccaneers versus the Patriots. And while quarterback play will affect the outcome, the team who plays best defensively will most likely be the winner on Thursday night.
The good news for the Bucs is, the Patriots defense has been bad this season. Like worst in the NFL bad. The bad news for the Bucs, the Patriots coaching staff is the best in the business and it is highly unlikely they stay last in the league. With that being said, there will be plenty of opportunities for Tampa Bay’s offense to move the ball. Having Doug Martin back hopefully gives the running game a boost, although Jacquizz Rodgers ran the ball well against the Giants last Sunday. The Bucs receivers and tight ends will find open spaces and with the Patriots defensive line not overly impressive, Winston should have time to find open players.
The Buccaneers defense is better than the Patriots, but most likely are still without star linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. And let’s face it, Brady can make great defenses look average, and does it on a regular basis. I fully expect the Patriots to move the ball up and down the field, but the Bucs will need to tighten up in the red zone and force field goals. Both offenses should be able to move the football, and the defense that can force the most mistakes will come out on top.
Depending on the weather (20 percent chance of rain, windy conditions), this game looks to be a back-and-forth shootout, with both teams racking up the yards. With the home-field advantage I will give the Bucs a slim nod and will say they finish the first quarter of the season with a 3-1 record.
Cook’s Score prediction: Bucs win 34-31
Cook’s Pick To Click: QB Jameis Winston
PewterReport.com Buccaneers Beat Reporter Trevor Sikkema
It’s hard to say that a game in Week 5 of the NFL season is the most important game of the year, but it really might be for this Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. The team is sitting at 2-1 right now with two wins at home. A win against the Patriots would bring them to 3-1 and 3-0 at home with an 11 day break before they play a struggling Cardinals team and an erratic Bills team, both on the road. If the Bucs win this game, there’s a real chance they could ride momentum and good health into a possible 5-1 start before the divisional opponents come into play.
But that’s all part of the big “if,” so what has to happen for that “if” to become a “did.”
First off, the Patriots aren’t what you think they are; they’re just not. Their defense is one of the worst in the NFL, they have injuries and commutation issues at every level. They can’t defend the pass and are barely better against the run. On offense, they’re firing on all cylinders, but how sustainable is it? For a team led by Tom Brady, you’d think those chances are better than others, and they are, but if the Pats don’t put up 35 points a game, they’re going to lose, and that’s a tough task for any quarterback.
For the Bucs, we can sit here and talk about certain miss matches of skill players like the Bucs’ athletic tight ends against the Pats’ slower linebackers, or the confused corners against the Bucs’ physical receivers, but in the end, the only thing that matter is Jameis Winston.
Doug Martin’s return could be a crucial emphasis to how this game ends. If he is running well that means less time on the field for Brady and more control for the Bucs. But, the most important box score will be the one next to Winston’s name. If he can keep the completions high, the turnovers down and the ball going to where it needs to, the Bucs could get over the mighty Patriots. Winston hasn’t been great in Thursday Night Football games to this point in his career, but it’s just a random night. he’s played in plenty of big games.
The Bucs need another big game performance from their franchise quarterback on Thursday. It may be the only way they can get it done.
Sikkema’s Score prediction: Bucs win 38-34
Sikkema’s Pick To Click: QB Jameis Winston