Each week, BucsNation will go to the game film (or TV broadcast if the game film is unavailable) to give you more insight on what transpired in this week's game.
Go ahead, admit it. Even in the pre-season, you didn't give the Bucs a snowball's chance in Abbadon of staying on the field with the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots. Who could blame anyone for believing that the Pats were going to wipe the floor with the Bucs after last week's shibacle?
Oh ye of little faith! Did Tampa Bay's performance in their third pre-season game against New England give you hope that this band of Buccaneers may be of the worst to close-to-first ilk?
Well, we can certainly say that about the defense after the Bucs' not-as-close-as-the-score-indicates dismantling of the Patriots can attest.
So come on my fellow doubters, let's relive the rise of the Bucs one last time before the cold stark reality of the Regular Season comes crashing down upon us.
- Okay, count me in with the crowd that are officially worried about Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman. As BucWild so eloquently wrote in his breakdown of the Freechise, the man the Bucs' hopes and dreams are riding upon is still struggling with things a fourth year quarterback shouldn't be. Progressions, staring down receivers, leading receivers with his passes, decision making and accuracy on the short to intermediate routes continue to elude the Tampa Bay quarterback. After starting out smoking hot against New England, Freeman fell apart. Some of that could have been attributed to the illness he had early in the week but frankly the throws Freeman were missing are ones NFL quarterbacks are expected to make. I know I may be in the vast minority, but I still believe Josh has it in him to be great. The longer this goes, though, the more reality will trump belief.
- Donald Penn had a so-so return to the lineup on Friday night. First, rookie Chandler Jones whooped him for a sack on Freeman. Next, Jones beat him to the inside, which to Penn's credit he recovered, but in driving the defender to the ground he inadvertently tossed him into the back of Davin Joseph's legs, knocking the former Pro Bowler out for the season. It wasn't all bad for Penn, though, as he looked solid opening holes for the running game and he controlled Jones most of the game.
- If Doug Martin hasn't convinced you yet that he is by far the Bucs top running back then, friend, we aren't watching the same game. While Blount lumbered, not finding much running room, Martin dazzled for 53 yds on 13 carries and a touchdown. The Muscle Hamster also nabbed 3 passes for 12 yards and did a solid job picking up the Patriots' heat. Blount is a solid back with some highlight reel runs - but I firmly believe the Bucs have found a future star in Doug Martin.
- While the loss of Davin Joseph certainly can't be understated, truth be told, Joseph wasn't having the best of pre-seasons under the new offensive system. With the exception of a couple false start penalties, Ted Larsen did just fine in pass protection and run blocking against the Patriots. He didn't appear to miss any assignments (the Bucs television network tv coverage was atrocious) and wasn't beaten at all while he was in there.
- Vincent Jackson made his arrival felt on the first drive of the game, but like Freeman, struggled the rest of the game. Jackson dropped two makable receptions and made a "business decision" on another throw where a DB was ready to light him up.
- Tiquan Underwood has suddenly gone silent after starting training camp and the pre-season on fire. With the return of Regus Benn and the addition of Jordan Shipley, Underwood's seemingly solid hold on a roster spot has suddenly become less sturdy.
- The offensive line - even before Joseph went down - is way too inconsistent for my liking. On one play, they seem to be capable of moving mountains, on others, they are like Supermen surrounded by Kyrptonite.
- There was a Dallas Clark sighting at Ray Jay Friday Night. It's about as rare as the Southern Aurora Borealis. We'll see if that improves during the Regular Season.
- I think there's a significant amount of the offense that the Bucs have not shown during the pre-season. For one, we know that the Bucs have been working on screens during Training camp and the OTA's, but I think we've seen just one the entire pre-season. Plus, the slant routes that Mike Williams is deadly on hasn't made any appearances. No fans, I think there's much more to Mike Sullivan's playbook than we've seen so far.
- Michael Smith finally had the look of a potent running back against the Patriots. On the Bucs' final scoring drive, it was essentially all Smith as the rookie broke runs of 11 and 7 yards and caught two passes for 16 yards. Smith also had a 9 yard run wiped out by a holding call.
- The great Tom Brady's offense night against the Bucs' number ones: Eight possessions, 5 of which ended in three-and-outs, one which ended in a pick-6 and one that would have been a three-and-out had it not been for a terrible spot by one of the replacement refs (the Bucs would force a punt on that drive as well). They did have one nice scoring drive but that was pretty much it for the vaunted Patriot offense.
- Belichick kept Brady in one more drive to face a Bucs' defensive unit that comprised of second and third team players. Of course, it resulted in a touchdown.
- I'm now fully convinced that Michael Bennett is the best pass rusher on the Bucs' defensive line. Bennett lived in the Patriots backfield most of the night.
- Roy Miller showed some presence and pressure up the middle as well.
- The Gerald McCoy injury looked serious at first but like LeGarrette Blount's injury last week, was just a scare. McCoy needs to stay healthy this season to begin removing the bust label from his shoulder pads.
- We've said it the last couple weeks, we simply aren't seeing the pressure on the quarterback from Adrian Clayborn. Before leaving with an injury on Friday Night, Clayborn once again struggled to get any heat on Brady. I'm beginning to wonder whether Clayborn will live up to the billing this season.
- Sean Jones was cut by the Lions yesterday. The Bucs' significantly upgraded at strong safety with first round draft pick Mark Barron. Not only did Barron display his ball skills and athletic ability on his electric pick six (with an assist from the ageless one, Ronde Barber) he was delivering the punishment to Patriot running backs and receivers.
- I know the Bucs haven't shown all of their blitz schemes that they'll be using this season, but unlike his predecessor, the basic schemes that Schiano and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan have been shown got to the Patriots QB repeatedly, sacking him twice. Brady was battered, bruised and frustrated by the end of it.
- The defensive performance, while impressive, wasn't without some blemishes. On the Patriots only scoring drive against the Bucs' first unit, Tampa Bay allowed runs by Steven Ridley of 11 and 29 yards before allowing him to walk into the endzone. With that said, even that drive should have resulted in a punt. A very questionable pass interference call on Ronde Barber extended the drive.
- Mason Foster is lucky that he has his lofty draft status. Adam Hayward played out of his mind against the Patriots, with 6 tackles, an assist and a sack. Hayward diagnosed plays quickly, got off blocks and flowed to the ball in a way we haven't seen from a middle linebacker since Shelton Quarles. While Foster is the starter, don't be surprised if Hayward begins to steal some snaps.
- For the second straight game, the Bucs secondary was glued to opposing receivers. Very rarely did you see open wide receivers and they handled the challenge of the Patriots' unique passing game with relative ease. Super tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski were limited to 7 catches for 76 yards - most of which came when the Bucs starters had made their way to the sideline.
- Don't worry too much about the 21 points New England put up in the second half. The points came against Buccaneer backups and guys who likely won't be on the 53 man roster. As the injury to Joseph can attest, the Bucs certainly need to find some depth on the defensive side of the ball - but the guys who gave up two touchdown passes to Ryan Mallet may not be here to provide it.
- While he's not going to win the job in Tampa Bay, especially after the big contract (for a kicker) the Bucs gave Connor Barth, but Kai Forbath has put some great tape out there. He nailed two 50 yarders against the Pats with relative ease.
- Preston Parker continues to try to make it more difficult for himself to be on the 53 man roster, muffing another punt return on Friday night. Because of his struggles, Parker is in a battle with Tiquan Underwood, Jordan Shipley and Sammie Stroughter for the back end of the Bucs receiving core. Once thought to be a slam dunk for the final roster after a solid 2011 campaign, Parker has to realize that all he did last season was for a different coaching staff. He doesn't have the credit that a decent season like last year typically affords. While Underwood hasn't been used for returns, both Shipley and Stroughter have experience in both kickoff and punt returns. Continue to muff punts and drop passes, Parker could find himself wondering what happened.
Note: There will not be an After Further Review following the Bucs-Redskins pre-season finale as (like the Bucs) we will be focusing our gaze on the Carolina Panthers and the start of the 2012 regular season.