BOSTON (CBS) – We’ve heard it all week that the Buccaneers could easily be 2-0, and the Patriots could just as easily be 0-2.
The Patriots’ wins have not been pretty to start the 2013 season, but as Tommy Kelly said earlier in the week, it’s a whole lot better to win ugly than lose pretty.
There’s a good chance the Patriots are in for another “ugly” win on Sunday.
By many accounts the Buccaneers are a team in turmoil, with their “star” quarterback and star cornerback reportedly feuding with head coach Greg Schiano. But winning changes a lot, and the Bucs are desperate for a W to call their own.
The Patriots offense is still working out the kinks, and are in for a very tough matchup against stout Tampa D. Here are a few things to watch for as the Pats take on the Bucs on Sunday:
Will Anyone Catch Passes?
Last Thursday night against the Jets was, to put it nicely, a disaster on offense. Dropped balls, wrong routes and even a few bad passes from Tom Brady – yes, a few bad passes by Tom Brady — led to the Patriots offense picking up a meager 178 yards through the air. They finished with just seven first downs. The Jets, who had a rookie quarterback making his first career road start, picked up eight.
All of that led to a very frustrated, and animated, Brady on the field and on the sidelines, and a boatload of questions about the young receiving corps. Aside from Aaron Dobson’s first career touchdown on a play the Jets weren’t ready for, fans at home and in the rain-soaked stands had a better offensive night just walking to the bathroom.
Danny Amendola is still on the shelf with a groin injury, so the question of who will catch passes other than Julian Edelman still remains.
The Patriots had 10 days to figure that out, and it can’t possibly get any worse than it was against the Jets. With a short week before the Jets, the Patriots had no practice time. Dobson, who was inactive for Week 1, was making his NFL debut, though just three catches on 10 targets is unacceptable even for a rookie. It wasn’t much better for undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, who had just two grabs on seven targets. Josh Boyce, whom the Patriots took in the fourth round, didn’t even get a chance to catch a pass, but that might change on Sunday.
With the status of Rob Gronkowski still unknown (more on that in a few), someone else must step up. Edelman can only do so much, which right now is catch 42 percent of the passes thrown by Brady this season. With a much better secondary out there on Sunday, he’ll have a hard time keeping up such a torrid pace.
So will it be Dobson, Thompkins or Boyce that finally step up, or will we once again see a frustrated Brady stomp off the field? Trying to predict which receiver will have a good game is about as useful as trying to predict what will happen in Breaking Bad, but Brady said the onus falls on everyone on the Patriots’ offense, especially himself. So instead of the pressure falling on just one player, it will be on everyone to bounce back, and step up.
Will Gronk Play?
Bill Belichick said the recovering tight end looked great on Wednesday – in the meeting room.
Granted, the head coach was sick of answering questions surrounding Gronk’s status for the last month, and Gronkowski has been practicing with the team all week. It’s doubtful he is 100 percent, but then again, when will Gronk ever be 100 percent?
The Patriots could certainly use Gronkowski out there, especially Brady, but they’ll have to weigh if having a somewhat healthy Gronk in Week 3 is more important than a fully healthy (if possible) Gronk for the late-season push for the playoffs.
Chances are he sits this one out again, and returns next week against Atlanta. But crazier things have happened, and if the Patriots get desperate enough, he could make a limited appearance. He was officially listed as questionable on the injury report, which is an upgrade from being doubtful the past two weeks.
He just needs to watch out for a few hard-hitting Buccaneers.
Watch Out For Dashon Goldson
Goldson was suspended for Week 3 for laying a helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints’ running back Darren Sproles, but appealed and somehow had that turned into a $100,000 fine. This came after Goldson was already fined for a hit on the Jets in Week 1.
So instead of being spared a game against the hard-hitting safety, the Patriots will have to keep their heads on a swivel. It doesn’t help that Darrelle Revis, who Tom Brady called one of the best of all time, is back there with him, locking down whoever he is asked to.
This will be no easy weekend for Brady and his youngsters, and they’re already banged up enough on offense. Let’s hope they make it out of Sunday’s tilt un-Goldson’d.
Contain Vincent Jackson
Doug Martin is an extremely talented back, coming off a 144-yard performance against the New Orleans Saints. But with the Patriots’ strong run defense, Vincent Jackson will pose the biggest threat for Tampa’s offense.
At 6-5 Jackson is a big target, but one that will line up anywhere on the field. He’s been playing mostly in the slot over the first two games, and will present a big problem for the Patriots’ secondary. He’s had success against the Patriots in the past, with 19 receptions for 359 yards and three touchdowns in three games – all while a member of the San Diego Chargers. He torched the Patriots for 10 catches, 172 yards and two touchdowns in 2011, but many receivers were doing the same that season.
There is a big difference between Philip Rivers and Josh Freeman, but despite the issues surrounding the Tampa offense Jackson has been a steady force. He leads the team with 12 catches and 231 yards, and though he hasn’t found the end zone yet (Martin, Mike Williams and Kevin Ogletree account for Tampa’s three scores on the season), that will change if Aqib Talib and crew don’t key in on Jackson.
Tune in to Patriots-Buccaneers on 98.5 The Sports Hub — the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Pregame coverage begins at 10 a.m. with a full postgame show following the game. Pregame coverage begins on WBZ-TV at 11:30 a.m. with Patriots GameDay, with Patriots 5th Quarter airing on myTV38 immediately following the game!