The Patriots continue to get it done, successfully extending their record to 3-0 on Sunday with a 23-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New England made the plays necessary to win, while the Bucs missed several key opportunities to say in the game. The Patriots had a few miscues, but an all around effort in all three phases of the game led New England to victory. This is the first time since 2007 that the Patriots have started their season 3-0.
The New England offense came out of the gate slow. The Patriots were unable to sustain a drive early on, starting the game with three consecutive punts. On their fourth drive, the Patriots finally found their rhythm as they marched 66 yards on Tampa holding onto the ball for over five minutes. The Patriots capped off the drive with a 16-yard touchdown grab by Kenbrell Thompkins. The touchdown was Thompkins’ first of two on the day, both in the first half. The rookie added one more touchdown in the second quarter on a six-yard connection with Tom Brady. Thompkins finished the day with three grabs for 41 yards on seven targets to go along with his two scores.
Fellow rookie receiver, Aaron Dobson, also made his presence felt on Sunday hauling in seven catches for 52 yards on 10 targets. Dobson received the most targets from Brady on Sunday and appeared to take some big strides in easily the best game of his young career. Dobson’s three missed targets were on a defensive pass interference call and two under thrown Tom Brady balls, including a wide open look in the back of the end zone early in the second half.
Dobson and Thompkins were both used primarily on drag routes across the middle matching them up with the Tampa linebackers. This allowed the rookies to build speed across the middle in order to run at full tilt as soon as Brady put the ball on them. The designed timing routes worked as the Buccaneers linebackers struggled to keep stride with the New England receivers. Julian Edelman contributed in much the same way coming across the defense on drag routes on the way to a seven-catch 44-yard performance. Edelman caught all seven targets sent his way from Brady while also setting up the Patriots offense with solid field position through his punt returns.
The New England offense also received a nice boost from the running game. LaGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, and Stevan Ridley each contributed in their own way on Sunday allowing the Patriots to slow the game down in the second half on the way to victory. LaGarrette Blount led the way on the ground with 14 carries for 65 yards on his way to earning some tough first downs and milking the clock down the stretch. Brandon Bolden had only three carries, but managed 51 yards on those three carries including one rumble for 46 yards. Bolden also assumed the Patriots “receiving” back role on Sunday as Brady connected with him five times on six targets for 49 yards. Stevan Ridley appears to be losing his grip on the starting role registering just 11 carries for 35 yards. LaGarrette Blount, not Ridley, was leaned on down the stretch as the Patriots put the game to sleep. It remains to be seen how Ridley is used going forward, but he seems to be losing carries each week even with Shane Vereen hurt.
As an offense, the Patriots put forth a well-balanced effort on Sunday and continued to do the most important thing in football. Take care of the ball. Tampa Bay on the other hand, did just the opposite. The Buccaneers turned the ball over on downs twice in the first half on their way to several missed opportunities throughout the game. The most notable of those opportunities was the Buccaneers final drive of the first half. Following Kenbrell Thompkins’ second touchdown of the first half, the Bucs got he ball back with 36 seconds left in the half. Three plays later Josh Freeman through a pick along the sidelines on a jumped route by Aqib Talib. The interception noticeably shifted the momentum of the game taking the wind completely out of the Buccaneers sails. The Patriots managed to move the ball up the field enough on the following two plays to get into range for a field goal kicker Steven Gostkowski. With 11 seconds left, Gostkowski connected on a 53-yarder and from that point on the Patriots were in complete control. New England went into the half up 17-0 in what was a devastating blow to end the half.
In the second half New England leaned on the run ultimately slowing the pace of play and taking over the time of possession battle. Tampa tried to air it out against the Patriots defense in the second half, but New England kept Josh Freeman uneasy in the pocket all afternoon. Freeman struggled even more after Vincent Jackson was forced to leave the game with a rib injury. The Patriots defense managed to corral Doug Martin holding him to 88 yards on 20 carries thanks in large part to the push provided up front by defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.
The entire Patriots’ front seven stepped up on Sunday. New England struggled to get to Freeman in the first quarter, but from the second quarter on they didn’t give him much time to work with showcasing a number of different looks and pressures. New England got another solid week from defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich who provided pressure off of the edge disrupting the Tampa offense, ultimately forcing mistakes. Chandler registered his third sack of the season while a Jerod Mayo got his first and Tommy Kelly and Rob Ninkovich combined for the Patriots third sack of the day. Alfonzo Dennard stood out in the secondary along with Aqib Talib on their way to effectively shutting down the Bucs passing game. Dennard came up big with some heads up plays along the sidelines and on third downs. Talib did a nice job pacing the 6’5” Vincent Jackson before he was forced to leave the game.
New England continues to make the few plays necessary each game to win, while their opponents find ways to lose. The Patriots sustained success has taught them how to capitalize on those plays and remain calm while doing so. As long as they continue to take care of the ball and capitalize on their opponent’s miscues, New England will continue to win and get better with each game. The Patriots should get nothing but healthier moving forward and these early ugly battles will only help as the season pushes on.
Next week the Patriots head down to Atlanta for a matchup with the Falcons. Atlanta is coming off a disappointing loss to the Patriots’ AFC East foe Miami Dolphins. Miami edged out Atlanta 27-23 in a game that came down the final drive. Atlanta, like New England, is dealing with several big time injuries early this season. Steven Jackson continues to sit as he recovers from his thigh injury and Roddy White has primarly been used as a decoy in 2013 following his high ankle sprain. Atlanta is also with defense end Kroy Biermann for the rest of 2013 and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon until at least Week 11.
This is going to be a tough matchup for each side as both teams bring many weapons on both sides of the ball. The New England defense will be tested deep by Matt Ryan and the highflying Falcons attack featuring the emerging Julio Jones and future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons defense can be exploited and with the possible return of both Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, the Patriots may be able to do just that in Week 4.