It's a new team this year. Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got slaughtered by the New England Patriots during preseason, losing 31-14 in a pretty pathetic effort that turned out to be a precursor to the ten-game losing streak in the regular season. This year it was different, as the Bucs put a beating on the New England Patriots, with both teams playing their starters into the third quarter. By the time the Bucs pulled all their starters, they were leading 20-7. The Patriots kept their starters in for a few more drives and would eventually claw back to a 28-30 score, but the Bucs held on to their win.
Despite the score line and a very good defensive performance, there were plenty of problems for Tampa Bay. The injuries stand out, with Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy and Davin Joseph all leaving the game early, while Larry Asante appeared to injure himself late in the game. It's not clear how serious most of those injuries are, but Joseph is expected to miss the entire season with a left knee injury. Schiano noted after the game that Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn are expected to be fine, but it doesn't look good for Joseph.
The other bad news: Josh Freeman had another inconsistent game. Although he started the game out strongly, connecting on five of his first six throws for 65 yards, his footwork suddenly deteriorated in the second quarter and almost all of his throws were off target the rest of the night. Freeman completed just 5 of 13 passes for 37 yards the rest of the game. While his decision-making didn't appear to be a problem - he consistently threw to the open receiver - he just missed throws that were there to make. When he was on target during his first two drives he did find Vincent Jackson repeatedly, as the big wideout caught three passes for 49 yards.
Still, there were many positives in this game for the Bucs. Despite being forced to miss both Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy for almost all of the game, the defense looked strong. The Bucs managed to pressure Tom Brady consistently, sacking him twice. Michael Bennett was especially dominant against right tackle Marcus Cannon, forcing one Brady fumble on a vicious sack.
On offense, Doug Martin had a terrific game, rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries despite some inconsistent blocking up front. Fullback Erik Lorig, tight end Dallas Clark and right tackles Demar Dotson and Jeremy Trueblood appeared to be the biggest problem for the running backs. Legarrette Blount only had 7 carries for 22 yards, and was not given many opportunities to prove himself this game. He did not look decisive or powerful on the carries he did get, and it looks like Doug Martin has now pulled away with the victory in this position battle.
The Bucs' starters scored just one offensive touchdown, when Martin jumped into the endzone to cap off the first drive of the game. The defense picked up the slack afterwards, with Mark Barron returning an interception 22 yards for a score. Ronde Barber tipped a ball in coverage on a pass intended for Rob Gronkowski, which Barron could easily pluck out of the air and run in to the endzone. Connor Barth and Kai Forbath added a number of field goals after decent offensive drives later in the game, while Sammie Stroughter ran a crossing route into the end zone late in the game.
The Bucs' starters got two touchdowns in, though, with their backups adding two more. Tampa Bay's backup offense mostly kept the ball on the ground, with rookie Michael Smith carrying most of the load. The speedy back had 6 carries for 38 yards, and looked outstanding as a kick returner as well. It appears the rookie will make the roster and should carve out a role for himself in the regular season.
On defense Tampa Bay managed to stop the run, but the backups gave up a couple of big runs later on. Tom Brady was kept in check for most of the game, but tore apart the second-team defense on his final drive of the game, capping that drive off with a touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. When the Bucs pulled their second-string defense for the third string, the Pats managed to add two more touchdowns as Ryan Mallett had little trouble moving the ball down the field. Former Gator Jeff Demps, who last week chose the Patriots over the Bucs, burned the Bucs on the ground on the final touchdown drive.
Overall, the Bucs can look back at their performance in this game with satisfaction. Despite some problems, the Bucs managed to beat a very good team when the starters were on the field. This was far from a repeat of last year's embarrassing performance. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the injury to Davin Joseph will not make this win one to remember.