FOXBORO (CBS) — It was a game that was tabbed as “an 0-2 team that could be 2-0 vs. a 2-0 team that could be 0-2,” but by the end of the Patriots’ 23-3 victory over the Buccaneers, it was clear why one of the teams is undefeated while the other remains without a win.
Tom Brady and the offense struggled early on Sunday, even drawing some boos near the end of the first quarter from an impatient fan base, but things starting clicking for the final three quarters. It was all made possible by another tremendous defensive effort from New England, creating plenty of positivity in the locker room for what was a complete team win.
With that, let’s check out the four ups and four downs from the Pats’ win.
After his several drops in the win over the Jets, rookie receiver Aaron Dobson became somewhat of a scapegoat for the lackluster offensive showing. This week, however, he made such talk become history, as he was Tom Brady’s favorite receiver all day.
Dobson finished the game with more catches (seven) and yards (52) than any other Patriot, and he picked up three first downs — one of which came on a fourth-down attempt early in the second quarter. He also drew a defensive pass interference call on a third down to set up the Patriots in the red zone.
It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was a major step forward for the rookie.
Playing against his former team, Talib made what might have been the play of the game.
With the Buccaneers trying to quickly get into field-goal range late in the second quarter, Josh Freeman threw a pass to Vincent Jackson, who was running a deep out near the Tampa Bay 43-yard line. Talib jumped the route, stepped in front of the receiver and picked off the pass. The Patriots quickly ran two rushing plays to gain eight yards before Stephen Gostkowski drilled a 53-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
It was a major swing, if not in terms of points as much as it was momentum, and it stretched the Pats’ lead to 17-3.
It was Talib’s third interception of the young season. He had just two last year in 10 games and two the year before in 13 games.
The rookie didn’t have a ton of catches, but he made two that surely counted, as he picked up his first two career touchdowns.
The first came with the Patriots facing a second-and-6 from the Tampa 16-yard line. Thompkins ran an in-cut and caught the ball in stride over the middle. He never missed a step and cut back inside the 10 to find a lane into the end zone for the Patriots’ first points of the game. It turned out to be all the points they’d need.
That didn’t mean he was done though, as he ran another in-cut on a second-and-goal from the 5-yard line later in the second quarter. He got inside cornerback Johnthan Banks, and Brady never took his eyes off Thompkins. Once the receiver was in the clear, Brady threw a bullet to the rookie, and he hauled in his second touchdown of the day.
Like Dobson, Thompkins came under fire a bit after last week’s performance against the Jets. Two touchdowns is a good way to make that kind of attention go away.
It was a team effort on the defensive front, but the Patriots were able to get consistent pressure on Josh Freeman all day. The quarterback can be elusive, but not on this day, as the Patriots sacked him three times.
The first came when Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich closed a running lane for Freeman in the first quarter on a first-and-10. Jerod Mayo did the same on another first-and-10 at the end of the quarter, and Tommy Kelly and Jones combined for the most impactful sack of the day, turning a second-and-8 into a third-and-15 early in the third quarter.
Coaches, especially Bill Belichick, talk about the difficulty of converting long-yardage situations, and while the sacks may not have produced turnovers, they put added strain and pressure on the opposing offense to be perfect in the plays that follow.
Extra Point: Stephen Gostkowski
The kicker was excellent in this one, hitting a 53-yarder, a 46-yarder and a 33-yarder. All of his kickoffs sailed out the back of the end zone as well on what was as perfect a day a kicker could have had. The 53-yarder was also his eighth successful kick from 50 or more yards, which ties Adam Vinatieri’s franchise record. Any time you can tie Adam Vinatieri in the team record books, it’s a good day.
Going For Two: Brandon Bolden
An extra category gets added for the running back, who had 51 rushing yards and 49 receiving yards out of the backfield. Those rushing yards came on just three carries, so he certainly made the most of his opportunities.
Tom Brady’s Interception
On the whole, Brady had a good day, but one drive in particular did not look quite like one which was led by a future Hall of Famer.
The Patriots were in the red zone on their first drive of the second half, thanks largely to a 46-yard scamper by Brandon Bolden. Once there, however, things got a little ugly.
On first-and-goal from the 6, Brady’s play-action fake threw off the defense, leaving Dobson wide open in the end zone, but the quarterback’s pass skipped before reaching the receiver. On second down, Brady misfired on a quick screen to Thompkins. And on third down, Brady threw the ball directly at safety Mark Barron, who intercepted the pass in the end zone for a touchback, taking at least three points off the board for the Pats.
“I could play better,” Brady said after the win. “The interception will bother me for the rest of the week, until I get a chance to get out there again. The missed touchdown pass [to Dobson], that was terrible. I expect to make those plays.”
He finished 25-for-36 (69.4 percent) for 225 yards, two touchdowns and the interception, and he did enough right to earn the victory. But he certainly was not Brady, and the end-zone interception is the type of play a quarterback with his standards will always find unacceptable.
The cornerback got picked on early, giving up a couple of receptions and then getting called for pass interference in the first quarter to set up the Bucs in the red zone. It appeared as though Arrington was benched for much of the second half, though the Patriots don’t exactly volunteer that kind of information. Regardless, it wasn’t a memorable day for the cornerback.
The Pats get off easy in this version of Four Downs, but they earned it. There’s really no need to nit-pick too much after a decisive 23-3 win.