By Gregory Hunt
For the third time in 10 seasons, the New England Patriots have started a season with a 3-0 record, thanks to Sunday’s 23-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The last two times the Patriots got off to a 3-0 start, in 2004 and in 2007, New England advanced to the Super Bowl. This year’s team still isn’t looking like a Super Bowl contender, but now there is reason for optimism in Patriots Nation.
Offense Grade: B-
The New England offense still has a lot to work to do, but things are getting better. Running back Brandon Bolden had a notable game, gaining a combined 100 yards from scrimmage rushing and receiving. Also, rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins caught a pair of touchdown passes for the first scores of his young career. Even tight end Michael Hoomanawanui got into the act, catching two passes for 31 yards. Coming into the game, Hoomanawanui had caught only one pass for five yards, and that was the only completion to a tight end that quarterback Tom Brady had made the entire season. Brady, who was 25-of-36 for 225 yards passing, completed passes to six different receivers in the game. Overall, the Patriots gained 156 yards on the ground, and much of this came in the fourth quarter as New England protected its lead.
However, Thompkins and fellow rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson still dropped several catchable balls. Even worse, Brady appeared very inaccurate with some of his throws. His worst throw came at the end of an otherwise impressive third quarter drive, when a pass intended for tight end Zach Sudfeld in the Tampa Bay end zone was intercepted by Buccaneers safety Mark Barron. New England’s third down efficiency was only 40% (6-of-15).
Defense Grade: A-
The Patriots defense didn’t have a spectacular game. A second quarter interception by cornerback Aqib Talib (a former Buccaneer) was the squad’s only takeaway, and it allowed Tampa Bay to gain 4.4 yards per rush. Still, anytime you keep a team completely out of the end zone, you’ve done something right. New England sacked Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman three times, and the Buccaneers were 0-4 on fourth down conversions.
But to be fair, Tampa Bay didn’t do much to threaten the Patriots defense. Freeman completed only 46.3 percent of his passes (19-41), and this had more to do with Freeman than the Patriots. Freeman’s favorite target, wide receiver Vincent Jackson, torched the Patriots early in the game with three catches for 34 yards, but he left the game with a rib injury and did not play at all in the second half.
Special Teams Grade: A-
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a particularly outstanding day. All five of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, and one of his three successful field goal attempts was for a career-long 53 yards. Rookie punter Ryan Allen punted the ball only twice with fair results, but his greatest value appears to be as Gostkowski’s holder. Punt returner Julian Edelman, who had a rather quiet seven catches for 44 yards as a receiver, made a 16-yard punt return that led to a 46-yard field goal by Gostkowski.
Coaching Grade: B
Give credit to the Patriots coaching staff for coming up with a game plan that appeared to counter Tampa Bay’s strengths. The Buccaneers defense is known for its dangerous pass rush, but although Brady was sacked three times, he was never under any serious duress. New England stuck with a short passing game, and the result was a stretch in the middle of the game in which New England scored on five of six possessions – and the one possession that failed still gained 65 yards. Defensively, New England attempted very few blitzes knowing that it didn’t need to put a lot of extra pressure on Freeman to force him to make mistakes.
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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. His work can be found on Examiner.com.