That day won’t be this Sunday. Instead, the Patriots are looking to upset Brady and his Bucs, and send them home with their second-straight road loss in 2021.
It’s a tall task. BetOnline.ag has Tampa Bay as seven-point favorites for this much anticipated Sunday Night Football match-up. Even with news Friday the Bucs will be without running back Giovanni Bernard, cornerback Jamel Dean, and with tight end Rob Gronkowski - another Foxboro legend - doubtful with a rib injury.
Which players could be up to the task of being key contributors to upsetting the Super Bowl Champions? Well, I asked Mike D’Abate of the Locked On Patriots Podcast that very question on the weekly ‘Crossover Thursday’ episode of the Locked On Bucs Podcast.
“If the Patriots are going to be competitive, they’re going to have to put the ball in the end zone,” D’Abate said. “(Tight ends) Jonnu Smith or Hunter Henry. One of them, or if not both, need to have a pretty good game on Sunday...to be able to put the ball in the end zone.”
But the host of Locked On Patriots didn’t stop there. In an example of the team effort New England is anticipating needing to beat the Buccaneers, D’Abate added a third offensive player. Not as a catch-all, but as another player who must step up in order for an upset to become possible.
“They need to start taking some deep shots down the field,” said D’Abate. “If they’re going to take deep shots down the field (Nelson) Agholor (has to) be the target, and he’s got a good synergy with (quarterback) Mac Jones, so look for that connection.”
Throwing against the Buccaneers defense isn’t a bad spot to target so far in 2021. In two of their three games, Todd Bowles’ defense has given up at least 300-yards passing, and in the one they didn’t Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons still totaled 293-yards through the air.
Specifically for Smith and Henry, tight ends have done fairly well against the Bucs so far.
In Week 1, Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz had six catches for 45-yards. Atlanta’s Kyle Pitts led his team with 73-yards receiving on five catches in Week 2. Then, in Week 3 Tyler Higbee caught all five of his targets for 40-yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots might be wise to try and get Jones’ tight ends going early, as the Buccaneers defense has only prevented two targets aimed at a tight end from being completed in all of 2021.
In fact, Tampa Bay’s 91 percent completion allowance on passes intended for tight ends is the highest in the NFL among defenses with at least 20 tight end targets against, through three weeks of football.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t plan on dropping two in a row. The New England Patriots would love to spoil Tom Brady’s big return to Foxboro. Only one team is going to get what they want, and for the home team to celebrate, it’s clear who needs to step up, and who the Bucs need to shut down, this Sunday night.