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FOXBORO (CBS) — That was much, much, much better, but still … what do we make of these Patriots?
They’re 3-0, obviously tied for the best record in the entire league, and regardless of the quality of their opponents in the season’s first three weeks, victories all count the same in the NFL. Yet the nagging question remains of just how good the Patriots really are.
Make no mistake: Sunday was the team’s best collective effort from top to bottom. The defense played outstanding, forcing a turnover, sacking the quarterback three times, coming up with four stops on fourth down and limiting the Buccaneers to just 5-for-14 in third-down conversions. The offense didn’t blow Tampa’s doors off, and it took a while to get going, but overall it more than did the job necessary to earn the victory.
It was a thorough win, but it came against an opponent that looks to be heading nowhere. We’ll get a much better idea of the Patriots’ full identity when the complete their upcoming stretch at Atlanta, at Cincinnati and at home against the Saints, but for now the team is perfect, turning in its best 60 minutes of the year this week. It hasn’t been pretty for three games, but it at least appears to be getting better.
There’s still plenty to discuss, so with a sufficient amount of ado behind us, let’s run through some leftover thoughts, shall we?
–Let’s start with a special shoutout to the fans who booed Tom Brady and the offense off the field late in the first quarter. Way to show some level-headed patience and football smarts, and bravo for not appearing to be incredibly entitled at a few drives that didn’t go the right way. All right!
(As is usually the case with these things, it’s always just a small pocket of fans and not representative of the whole fan base or even the 68,000 in attendance. I know this, but still, you should have to sit through three seasons of having Mark Sanchez or Blaine Gabbert as your team’s quarterback as penance for booing Tom Brady. Maybe then you’ll understand what an inept offense really looks like.)
–As for the offense figuring things out in the final three quarters, the story after the game stood in stark contrast to the feeling after the Jets game. For 10 days, the talk was about Brady not trusting his rookie receivers, or those rookie receivers getting fancy new nicknames with the words “Drop” not-so-cleverly fit into their last name, and it culminated with a report Sunday morning that Brady had reached out to Deion Branch and Brandon Lloyd asking them if they’d like to play football for the New England Patriots. (Brady denied the report.)
Fortunately for all involved, those stories won’t quite be as prominently debated as they were last week, because Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins responded to a week-plus of negativity with very strong performances. Dobson was Brady’s go-to receiver when he needed a first down, with Dobson picking up three with receptions and also moving the chains another time by drawing a pass interference penalty, while Thompkins stepped up as the red zone target that had been sorely lacking for the past two weeks. Thompson caught his first touchdown pass in the second quarter, and before halftime, Brady looked at Thompkins and Thompkins alone for another touchdown.
It was a positive and necessary step forward for the young receivers. The Patriots’ offense still isn’t quite what it needs to be, but at least the talk should focus more on the impending returns of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola instead of Deion Branch (did not record more than 37 receiving yards in any game last season) and Brandon Lloyd (acting in straight-to-DVD zombie movies instead of playing in the NFL.)
–The final score tells you all you need to know about the Patriots showing up for this one, but so too did the first play from scrimmage. The Pats ran a screen to Brandon Bolden, and Dan Connolly ran with a full head of steam to absolutely knock Gary Gibson off his feet with the hardest block of the day. Gibson stayed down on the field with a hip injury. When a guy hurts his hip when he takes a clean shot to his shoulder pads, I think it’s safe to say that man got walloped. It’s in the dictionary. Any time you can force Fox to play the subdued injury jingle after just one play, you have to feel pretty good about your intensity level.
–Coming into the game, there were many people saying “The Buccaneers are 0-2 but could just as easily be 2-0.” That is not accurate. Yes, the final scores of their first two games were close, but they lost for a reason: their own boneheadedness.
They lost in Week 1 because Lavonte David Doesn’t know the rules, and they lost in Week 2 because they twice failed to line up the right way on offense. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
And it was on display early on Sunday, on the Bucs’ drive that ended in a missed field goal. They easily should have had seven points, but instead their drive looked like this:
First-and-10: Josh Freeman missing a wide-open Mike Williams on first down from the New England 28-yard line.
Second-and-10: False start on Carl Nicks.
Second-and-15: Vincent Jackson drops a pass over the middle which hit his hands.
Third-and-15: Doug Martin runs a 12-yard comeback and gets stopped short of the first down marker.
Fourth-and-2: Rian Lindell misses 38-yard field goal with very little wind blowing on the closed end of the stadium.
That’s some Bucs football right there, it’s exactly why they couldn’t “just as easily been 2-0″ entering Sunday, and it’s exactly why they’re 0-3 today.
–Chandler Jones, who was in on two separate sacks of Freeman, looks to be taking “the leap” necessary for a second-year player, and he also did this when tasked with chipping Doug Martin on his way out of the backfield:
–I like Jones because when he sacks a quarterback, he reacts like an 8-year-old boy who was just told by his parents that he can have his birthday party at Burger King.
–The Patriots need Stevan Ridley to overcome his fumbling issues because he is a dynamic ball carrier. He showed that pretty clearly on one run in the second quarter. He took a handoff and headed between the center and the left guard, but Trevor Scott filled the hole and put his head down to make a tackle. Ridley put his hand on Scott’s helmet and spun away, and he then exploded with a north-south burst. He completely ran over safety Mark Barron before absorbing a heavy hit and getting up and going bananas in front of the home crowd. It’s the type of run that showed why the Patriots need Ridley, even if he was the third-most important running back in this particular game.
–What is with the obsession of so many people to be the first to proclaim that a bad pass by Brady was … a bad pass by Brady? A pass clearly misses a receiver by 12 feet, or he throws an interception in the end zone, and a bunch of folks rush to tweet, “Bad pass by Brady.”
It’s as if they’re trying to prove that Tom Brady does not throw a perfect pass 100 percent of the time, and they’re smarter than you for pointing this out. Who out there is actually suggesting that Brady is throwing perfect passes 100 percent of the time? Nobody. He’s one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, but he’s still only completed 64 percent of his career passes. He’s thrown 125 interceptions. He’s not perfect. It’s pretty obvious.
I suppose the fact that so many are so quick to scream “BAD PASS BY BRADY RIGHT THERE!” speaks to how good he is the rest of the time.
–In live action, from a few hundred feet away, I thought that pass interference call on Johnthan “No That Was Not A Typo” Banks was iffy. My mind changed a bit when I saw this picture:
That is against the rules.
–What a great picture: Missed Field Goal, The Agony.
–It hurts enough to get called for holding and cost your team 10 yards, which happened to Jeremy Zuttah when he held Vince Wilfork in the fourth quarter. It hurts doubly when your hold results in Skinny Vinny falling on top of your poor, poor body.
–I’ve been self-evaluating, and I just have to believe that I’ll be a better football writer when Breaking Bad finally ends. The show is just such a distraction every Sunday, and it’s been especially difficult the past few weeks.
Speaking of which, the series finale is Sunday at 9 p.m. The Patriots and Falcons kick off at 8:30 p.m. Curse you, schedule-makers. Curse you.
–I had a decent idea of what I wanted to ask Kenbrell Thompkins after the game, but I made the mistake of working in a “How did it feel for Tom Brady to have that much trust in you in the red zone?” Surprise of all surprises, he said it felt “good.”
While that was my bad, I did like how Thompkins didn’t seek out the cameras or the spotlight after catching two touchdowns. He actually was content to just head home after he got dressed, but with about 40 people crowded around his locker, he had to be asked to speak to them. Sometimes you might see a rookie have a game like that, put on some diamond earrings, seek out the cameras and go on and on about how great he is. Thompkins didn’t do that at all, and that’s a good thing.
–I liked this quote from Adrian Clayborn, when asked about how the game got away: “I don’t think things got away; I just think it’s Tom Brady.”
–You know what’s strange about Brady, though? Through three weeks, he ranks 19th in passing yards, and that trails Peyton Manning, who hasn’t played his third game yet. Brady’s thrown fewer yards than Geno Smith, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, Matt Schaub, Carson Palmer and a whole host of other fellas you wouldn’t expect to see above Brady. A lot of it is circumstantial, but it’s strange to see nevertheless.
On the other side of that, the Patriots’ defense has only allowed three touchdowns through three games, which helps to balance things out.
–The Patriots reportedly signed Rob Ninkovich to a three-year contract extension before Sunday’s game. In checking out his stats, I found it noteworthy that in his last five postseason games, he has 28 tackles, four sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Football stats aren’t always indicative of too much, but combine that with his reputation as a “Jet Killer,” and that’s a prime-time player the Patriots are keeping around for a few more years.
–Fortunately, next week, nobody will be talking about the Patriots’ cupcake schedule, as it will be a real test against the Falcons’ high-powered offense, in their loud dome, with Atlanta fired up to win after surprisingly falling in Miami on Sunday. Oh, it ought to be good, and there will be plenty to talk about next week. For now? The Patriots are 3-0 for just the fourth time in the Bill Belichick era, and that counts for something.