Patriots 3-0 And Awaiting Gronk's Return
The Patriots might not be as good as in the past years, but one principle still stands: if you want to win at Gillette Stadium, you better play your best football. The Buccaneers started the game well as Mike Williams caught passes from Josh Freeman early on. Tampa Bay put itself in field goal position twice in the first quarter, but they only converted one time. Josh Freeman and Co. could not take advantage of the difficulty the home team had on offense and when the Pats started getting the momentum back, it was over for the visitors.
After a terrible first quarter, Brady and the offense finally scored midway through the second quarter, when Kenbrell Thompkins caught his first touchdown pass as a pro. Another mistake-filled offensive drive by the Buccaneers, with Vincent Jackson dropping what would have been a third-down conversion and Doug Martin being stopped short of the first down on fourth down, opened the door for the Pats and they showed the Bucs that when you come to Foxborough, you better take your chances. Brady threw his second touchdown pass again to Thompkins to make it 14-3. Just when it looked like both teams would head into the locker room with that score, Aquib Talib made a nice play and intercepted Freeman. The Pats offense gained enough yards for Gostkowski, who finished the half by drilling a 53-yard field goal.
The second half didn’t get better for the visiting team, as the Buccaneers couldn’t muster any offense and the Patriots’ running game kept gaining momentum. LeGarette Blount, Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley combined for 151 yards. Gostkowksi converted two field goals to make the score 23-3 and confirm New England’s superiority.
Brady threw for 225 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. Even though those are still decent numbers, they are still not Brady-esque. Pats fan might begin to see another type of offense in New England. Since it is obvious that will take some time before Brady and his new receivers develop some chemistry, the Patriots might rely more heavily on its ground game. The Pats running game didn’t dominate so far, but it still showed some promise. Of course, the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski will help the pass offense and might convince offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to opt for more passing plays, but it might be not so bad that the Patriots start relying more on the run. Even though it is the passing offense that carried to team to the playoffs in the past years, it is also safe to say that what prevented New England from going all the way was the over reliance on the passing game. Defensive minded teams like the Ravens and the Giants knew that in order to stop New England, it had to stop Brady. The rest usually took care of itself.
But with the appearance of a running game, teams might be more afraid of the run, and that could help Brady. Remember that number 12 won his three Super Bowls while he was part of a team that had a solid ground game and a solid defense. It was harder for Brady to win championships when he was on teams with subpar defenses and running games. The fact that the passing game took some time to establish itself has forced the offense to look for other options, and it could benefit the Pats in the long run.
The New England defense is getting better game after game. It didn’t play against offensive powerhouses so far, but this unit seems like it could be dominant. Linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes do a fantastic job. Spikes notably tackled Martin on fourth down to stop the Buccaneers drive in the second quarter. Aquib Talib is embracing his role as a cover corner, as he has now three interceptions for the season.
It wasn’t New England’s finest performance, but a win is a win. The Patriots are 3-0 and they are now heading to Atlanta, which will present New England’s first challenge of the season. Gronkowski will probably be a game time decision, and it is fair to believe that his return would be appreciated to match the Atlanta offense in points.