By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — If you’re one for moral victories, the Patriots got one Sunday night, nearly beating Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium.
But it is still a loss in the standings, and the Patriots are now 1-3 on the season. They have a long way to go, and a long hill to climb if they want to find themselves in the playoff race in a few months.
However, if you enjoy a little sunshine in your life, there were a number of positive takeaways from Sunday night’s close call. The defense made Brady look as uncomfortable as he’s ever looked in Gillette Stadium (though returning to play the only other team he has suited up for likely played into that), and the New England offense looked as good as they have all season. Rookie QB Mac Jones had his best game as a professional in the shadow of the former guy.
Again, a loss is a loss, and wins are all that matter to Bill Belichick and the Patriots. But even in a defeat, the team looks like they’re making the right steps forward and are building toward becoming a football team that will compete for wins every weekend.
Here are the Ups and Downs from Sunday night’s close call against Brady and the Buccaneers.
He’s a beast. Judon had only one sack but he put constant pressure on Brady, hitting the quarterback twice throughout the game. And that one sack was pretty incredible, as Judon took a pair of blockers with him on his way to Brady in the second quarter. That play followed New England’s first touchdown, and really fired up the crowd and the defense.
Judon is the best player on the Patriots defense and it’s not really close.
The moment was not too big for the rookie quarterback on Sunday night, and he continues to check all the boxes in what you want in a QB. He once again faced pressure, which led to his lone interception on the evening, but Jones continues to step up in the pocket and take what the defense gives him. Josh McDaniels had him in plenty of no-huddle once again, and Jones was great at spreading the ball around, hitting nine different receivers with a pass. He completed 31 passes and threw just nine incompletions, hitting both of his tight ends — Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith — for touchdowns on the night.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction. We made plays and played hard the entire game,” Jones said after the defeat. “It sucks we lost, but we’re making progress.”
Defense Holds Bucs To One Touchdown
The Buccaneers have one of the NFL’s best offenses, but the Patriots held them to just a single touchdown. Tampa was just 1-for-4 in the red zone.
Patriots First Touchdown Drive
The Patriots took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter thanks to a strong to very strong 74-yard drive, capped off with Jones hitting Henry for an 11-yard score. The Patriots overcame a pair of holding penalties on Mike Onwenu and still found the end zone.
For a team that has struggled to march down the field, that drive was and is a great building block.
The kid is tough as nails. He appeared to have been shaken up late in the second quarter, but missed just one play before returning. Two plays after heading to the tent, he threw a double-pass to Brandon Bolden that picked up 15 yards. (Unfortunately the Patriots needed 17, but it was a good play.)
Meyers was New England’s top receiver on Sunday night, finishing with eight catches on 12 targets for 70 yards. He was also 2-for-2 for 45 yards on his pass attempts.
The Patriots were roughly an inch or two away from beating the Buccaneers, but Nick Folk missed a 56-yard field goal attempt in the final minute. His boot had the distance, but it clanked off the left upright.
A 56-yard field goal is never a given, and the rainy conditions in Foxboro didn’t help. Folk has been great for the Patriots, but it was a somewhat questionable call by Bill Belichick to send him out there with the Patriots facing a fourth-and-3 at the Tampa Bay 37.
Jones looked good all night, though his third-and-3 pass was batted down at the line. Asked after the loss if he had considered going for it on fourth down, Belichick responded with “not really.”
There’s no guarantee that Jones would have completed a fourth-down pass, but in that situation with those conditions, maybe that would have been a better option than a 56-yard field goal.
The one area where the defense needs to vastly improve is against the run. Tampa isn’t known to be a particularly skilled run team, but Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones combined for 116 yards on 26 carries. The Buccaneers picked up eight first downs on the ground on Sunday night.
Jones continues to take a beating as the Patriots try to figure out their offensive line. Trent Brown missed his third straight game, and once again he was sorely missed.
The rookie was hit three times and sacked once in the first quarter alone, and the Tampa defense — one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL — finished with four sacks and 12 QB hits.
Making matters worse, Mike Onwenu was hit with two holding penalties on the same drive early in the second quarter. Despite those flags on the guard, the Patriots still scored a touchdown on that drive.
But it’s very clear that the offensive line needs to figure things out if the Patriots want Jones to finish his first NFL season in one piece.
The Patriots running game was non-existent, and the team eventually threw in the towel and abandoned the ground attack. New England ammassed negative yardage on the ground on Sunday night. Negative. Yardage.
Seriously, we’re not even mad. We’re kind of impressed.
The Patriots had negative-four rushing yards in the first quarter, and as a team, finished with a negative rushing yard for the entire game. Their leading rusher on Sunday was receiver Nelson Agholor with four yards, and that was only because Jones’ throw to him went backwards. Even that wasn’t enough to wipe out all the negative plays on the ground.
Lead back Damien Harris had negative-four yards on four carries, and both Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor had zero yards on their lone carries. Taylor also fumbled away the New England’s first possession of the second half.
Running backs coach Ivan Fears is going to be must-see TV when he chats with reporters on Tuesday.