Bucs vs. Patriots Big Darn Preview

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Can the Bucs finally win a close game?

Think on this if you would. The Bucs are 10 seconds from being 2-0. No team in NFL history has ever started 0-2 with both losses coming on last second field goals. In other words, no one has lost like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost, folks.

Oh our Bucs, inventing new and fantastic ways to be labeled as losers. But imagine if you will that Lavonte David didn't shove Geno Smith in Week One. Imagine that Bill Sheridan knew his a...head from a hole in the ground and had Revis covering Colston in the final seconds instead of covering some 5th round rookie named Kenny Stills.

If the Bucs were 2-0 would you still be ready to fire Schiano? Throw Freeman into the bay? Keep looking longingly at Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Football?

Interestingly, the Patriots are 2-0 but could easily be 0-2. They had to rally from behind to beat the Buffalo Bills. They needed a late turnover by Geno Smith to put away the Jets (who were marching for at least a game tying field goal).

If you took away the results and you could easily say, "Okay this 0-2 team is on the road against a 2-0 team - easy win for the unbeaten team."

But the Patriots aren't your normal 2-0 team and the Bucs aren't your normal 0-2 team.

But what kind of 0-2 team are they? Are they one of the 12% who will get their act together and find a way to get into the post-season? Or are they the 88% on their way to another season without January football?

This week will tell the tale.

Series: New England leads 5-2

Last Meeting: October 25, 2009 in London, England - New England 35, Tampa Bay 9

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Attack vs. New England Patriots Pass Defense

Don't I know you? That's what Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams will be saying when they bump into former Buc Aquib Talib. Buc fans know Talib all too well. Amazingly talented but a melon of mush. So far, he's been on good behavior with the Patriots and has been making some nice plays for them. Of course, Buc fans also have memories of Talib struggling against the stronger, physical receivers like Hakeem Nicks. Enter Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, both who have the strength, speed and leaping ability combination that is Talib's biggest weakness.

Still the Patriots have a formidable pass defense, ranked 4th in the NFL and it's not like Bucs QB Josh Freeman has been lightning up the scoreboard. Freeman claimed this week the Bucs had their sharpest week of practice and felt confident going into Sunday.

Hopefully that means that the first two abysmal performances are behind them and that was just an extended pre-season.

Still, at this point I'd be happy with a game where Freeman doesn't turn it over. If the Freechise can protect the football and not put the Bucs defense in bad down and distance, it will give them the chance to win.

The Bucs have the 31st ranked passing offense.

Advantage: New England

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Game vs. New England Patriots Run Defense

Where the Bucs can really make some hay is in the running game. New England is surrendering 132.5 yds a game on the ground (28th in the NFL). The Bucs finally got Doug Martin back on track with a big day against the Saints and the Tampa Bay offensive line may be whole for the first time in two years with the return of All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks.

You can easily expect the Bucs to use a lot of Doug Martin and Brian Leonard this week. Tampa Bay is 12th in the league in rushing, despite a tough opener at the Jets.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

New England Patriots Passing Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense

Get this Bucs Fans. While Josh Freeman is dead last in the NFL in completion percentage. Guess who is number 30? That's right, Tom Brady. Yes, even the future Hall of Famer can't make chicken salad out of chicken spit and as soon as Danny Amendola went down - the spit is all Brady had left.

The biggest challenge for the Bucs defense will be figuring out who to match Revis against. Edleman? Yeah, he caught five thousand passes against the Jets last week but he averaged a measly 6 yards a catch. How many times can you be targeted 18 times, catch 13 balls and still not break 100 yds receiving?

Dobson is the youngster with some speed - but he couldn't catch a cold last week against the Jets. The rest of the core are guys none of us have heard of...hell, even Patriot fans don't know who they are.

The Bucs lead the NFL in sacks (9) through the first two weeks and a big reason for that is the improved play of the Tampa Bay secondary. Revis still is great and the young guys Johnson and Banks have been decent in coverage for the most part. Goldson narrowly avoided suspension for being an enforcer in the middle of the field and is probably a good reason why the Patriots will choose to rest Gronk one more week. Barron has been all over the field while the Bucs linebackers as a group has been much better this season.

Ranked 18th in the league isn't where they want to be but as Revis gets more comfortable and the defense settles in, they'll continue to improve. They might get really healthy against the Patriots' 21st ranked passing offense.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

New England Patriots Running Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense

Bucs fans were a little concerned that the loss of Roy Miller and Michael Bennett in Free Agency would cause the Bucs run defense to fall back to the back. Well, it hasn't folks. While 11th is a far cry from 1st, the Bucs average was skewed a bit by Geno Smith running for his life from the Bucs' pass rush.

No one has run on the Bucs thus far in 2013.

The Patriots place Shane Vereen on injured reserve - return. Vereen averaged 7 yards a carry in limited opportunities. The bell cow, Steven Ridley, hasn't gotten on track yet - averaging just 3.4 yds a tote and of course all Bucs fans are familiar with LaGarrette Blount. Blount is averaging just 2.4 yds a carry.

The Patriots are ranked 13th in the league in rushing.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Special Teams

Veteran Stephen Gostkowski is the Pats kicker. He is 5-of-6 this season with a long of 48. Rookie Ryan Allen handles the punting duties. So far in his first NFL campaign, he's averaging 44.1 yds a kick. The Patriots top kick return guy is LaGarrette Blount. Yes, you read that correctly. Blount is returning kicks for the Pats, averaging 20 yds a return. Edleman handles the punt return duties, he's averaging 11 yds a return.

Rian Lindell is Tampa Bay's kicker. Lindell is 1 for 2 with a long of 38. He missed a crucial 47 yard field goal that would have put the Bucs up by four with less than a minute left against New Orleans. Michael Koenen is your punter and is averaging 43.8 yds a punt.

Eric Page is the Bucs' primary returner. He averages 30 yds a kick return and 7 yards a punt return.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

By the Numbers

  • New England is 31-3 in their last 34 home games.
  • Tampa Bay is 1-2 lifetime in New England. Their only win came in 2000.
  • Tampa Bay was 4-4 on the road last season, 0-1 this season.
  • New England quarterback Tom Brady has tossed a touchdown pass in 50 consecutive games, the second longest streak in NFL history.
  • New England had more punts (11) than first downs (9) last week against the Jets.
  • Bucs RB Doug Martin rushed for 144 yds last week against the Saints. On the season, the entire New England offense has 212 yds rushing.
  • New England is +3 in turnover ratio, The Bucs are even.

Outlook

Hey folks, if you told me before the season the Bucs would be 0-2 heading in to face the 2-0 New England Patriots I would tell you there's no chance...absolutely no chance the Bucs come out of that game with a victory. And they definitely may not.

But I've watched the Bucs and Patriots play this season. The Buccaneers are a better football team than their 0-2 record indicates. The Patriots are fortunate to be 2-0. Neither of these teams are what they seem to be.

The truth is somewhere in the middle for both of these football teams. The Patriots' offense is an injury, off-the-field and free agency depleted shell of its former self. They don't present much in the way of a challenge for the Bucs' D - even with Tom Brady at quarterback.

The game will be won or lost when the Bucs are on offense. If Freeman can protect the football and keep Bill Belichick's defense offense with a play or two downfield, the Bucs can control this game with their rushing attack. If Freeman fumbles the ball or tosses up gifts to Aquib Talib putting the Bucs defense in negative positions, Tampa Bay will lose.

The Pats secondary, like the Bucs, is much improved so I wouldn't expect a huge passing day for Freeman - but don't beat your team. Keep the chains moving, complete the easy passes, convert on 3rd down. Let the Dougernaut carry the load.

Don't beat yourself with penalties and Coach Schiano - stay out of the way of your football team.

That's how the Bucs win on Sunday and I think they'll get it done.

Prediction: Buccaneers 20, Patriots 13

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