By Gregory Hunt
For the first time this year, the New England Patriots will be facing a veteran quarterback in Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman when the teams meet at Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon for Week 3 of the 2013 NFL season. However, the fifth-year player from Kansas State is playing more like a rookie, with his current passer rating of 63.0 being the worst of his career since the 59.8 rating of his rookie season in 2009.
The Buccaneers come into this game with an 0-2 record, but although the Patriots are 2-0, both teams have had remarkably similar seasons; like the Patriots, the Buccaneers have played a pair of close games in which neither offense was able to put up very many points. Last year, Tampa Bay missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record. The Buccaneers trail the Patriots 2-5 in the all-time regular season series, which dates back to Tampa Bay’s inaugural season in 1976. The teams last met in the regular season in 2009, when Tampa Bay lost to New England 35-7 at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Buccaneers on Offense
Like Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Freeman has experienced a great deal of difficulty connecting with his receiving corps. Thus far this season, Freeman is completing only 45.3 percent of his passes. When he does complete a pass, it’s usually to wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who has caught 12 of Freeman’s 24 completions for 231 yards. On the ground, running back Doug Martin has performed admirably, rushing for a total of 209 yards in the first two games. Jackson and Martin are the only dangerous weapons the Buccaneers have on offense, so as long as the Patriots keep those players in check, Tampa Bay won’t score very many points.
Buccaneers on Defense
Tampa Bay’s biggest strength on defense is its pass rush. The Buccaneers already have nine sacks on the season, which leads the NFL along with three other teams. Most of Tampa Bay’s pass rush comes from its young linebacking corps, particularly Lavonte David (2.5 sacks) and Mason Foster (2.0 sacks). The Buccaneers give up a fair amount of yards through the air, as the team is only 15th in the league against the pass, but three interceptions have helped keep opponents out of the end zone. Brady typically doesn’t give up a lot of turnovers, so as long as New England’s offensive line gives him plenty of time to throw, the Patriots should be able to move the ball.
This is a game the Patriots should win, but the final score will depend on Brady finally developing some chemistry with his receivers. Wide receiver Danny Amendola will be out of action for several weeks, so the burden will fall to veteran Julian Edelman and rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. Without any pass-catching weapons at running back or tight end, the Patriots are severely handicapped on offense, but New England is fairly solid on defense, and what’s good enough to beat the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets should be good enough to beat the Buccaneers.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.