With a Week 4 home loss to the Carolina Panthers, the New England Patriots endured their fourth 2-2 start in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. They won their next game the previous three times. Two of those 2-2 starts (2003 and 2014) lit a fire and led the team to two Super Bowl titles (38 and 49). So Patriots fans were not too worried. However, with a short week and a road game against the rising Bucs, a little doubt rolled through Patriots Nation.
Let’s Add to the Doubt
Tight End Rob Gronkowski tweaked his groin against the Panthers Sunday, but it never seemed like something that would sideline him in Tampa Bay. But, a couple of hours before the game, he was on the inactive list. Without him, the chances of winning drop, no matter the opponent. His absence was crucial as the Patriots struggled in the Red Zone, forcing four Stephen Gostowski field goals.
Brady has been putting up MVP numbers trying to win games with a defense that has been massively underperforming, to say the least. On the first drive, last night, Brady completely missed Chris Hogan across the middle. Justin Evans made a great athletic play picking the ball off around midfield. Very un-Brady like throw, but it seemed that some late pressure got there.
Speaking of Pressure…
Tom Brady has now been sacked 16 times this year.
He was sacked 15 times in 12 games last year.
— Patriots Militia (@PatsMilitia) October 6, 2017
In five weeks, the hits are getting to Tom Brady, how much it affects him, we will never know. As long as Gisele keeps her damn mouth shut. He is still playing full games, and performing like the 2007 Tom Brady. Yeah, I said it. The Patriots need him to be Tom Brady if they want to return to Super Bowl 52. I am not sure where the offensive line struggles are coming, it is the same group of guys that allowed those 15 sacks last year. The one issue is the blind side, as Nate Solder has just looked BAD. Hopefully Scarnecchia can turn things around.
Back to the Game
After the pick, the Pats and Bucs combined for three straight punts, and Brady and his boys had the ball on their own two yard line. Thanks to a third down Bucs PI penalty, the drive stayed alive and New England got down to the Tampa nine with a 3rd and 5. An incompletion to James White forced the first Gostowski field goal. 3-0.
The next two possessions for each team saw a combined two yards and just 2:43 off the clock. With the ball at his own 32, Jameis Winston got rolling with a 16 yard hook up to tight end Cameron Brate. Two plays later, he hit DeSean Jackson for 11, and returning (from suspension) running back Doug Martin scampered for 17. A holding call three plays later gave the Bucs a 3rd and 20 at the 33. An incomplete pass seemed to kill the drive, but Deatrich Wise was called for illegal hands to the face, automatic first down. Doug Martin found the end zone a few plays later to give Tampa the lead. 7-3.
My turn, Jameis
The Tampa Bay lead would not last long. It was the GOAT’s turn to cash in. Enduring a 2nd and 24, thanks Solder (holding), Brady hit Cooks for 19, than followed with a 10-yard strike to Amendola. Next, he hit White for 24, reaching the Red Zone again. Three plays later at the Bucaneers five, Brady hit Hogan with a bullet for the score, giving New England the 10-7 lead.
After a 3-and-out, shockingly, Brady was able to muster up a 22 yard drive to grab another Gostowski field goal for the 13-7 lead. With one more chance to score before the break, Jameis could not find anything. But two BONEHEAD roughing the passer calls gave Nick Folk a 56-yard attempt. He missed, BAD, I think he hit Tallahassee. To be honest I don’t know where that is compared to Tampa Bay.
UNEVENTFUL SECOND HALF, until the end
After two Tampa Bay punts, (WHO’S DEFENSE IS THIS?!) and another New England field goal, Brady had his team back at midfield. However, Glanton took his free pass off the edge, sacked TB12, and forced the fumble, picked up by the Bucs at the 47. A short field is just what Winston needed to get going.
Winston faced a crucial 3rd and 2 at New England’s 31, but the Pats stopped Doug Martin for no gain and forced Nick Folk to kick. And he was WIDE left. He probably hit Tallahassee again, just awful. Even CBS’s “Kicking Expert” Jay Feely was disgusted.
After a New England punt pinned the Bucs at the 3, with 10:40 left in the game, Winston needed something to get a spark. Three plays later, he hit DeSean Jackson on a slant and Jackson took it 41 yards to Pats 48. In just four plays afterwards, Winston had his team at the New England nine. With a 3rd and goal at the 3, Winston found the end zone himself for the score, but a hands to the face penalty nullified the TD. Now, Nick Folk was called upon for a 31 yard field goal. Ok, he’s got this, it’s not 56 or 49 yards, this is shorter than an extra point. WIDE LEFT. NO GOOD. You gotta be freaking kidding me. TALLAHASSEE again. The score stays at two possessions. An 84-yard, five-minute drive for nothing.
Bucs would not go away
After a quick New England punt, Winston had to work quick. He did just that. In just nine plays, he went 74 yards, ending the drive with an eighteen yard strike to Cameron Brate. Then, Nick Folk somehow made the extra point, and the Bucs were down by two, 16-14.
With 2:09 left, Folk tried the onside kick, recovered by rugby specialist Nate Ebner, giving Brady a short field. However, the Bucs were able to force a field goal attempt. Thank God for SG3, yeah I gave him a nickname. He hit the 48-yarder to extend the lead to five, 19-14.
Winston got the ball at the New England 25 needing a touchdown in 1:10. He hit Jackson for 24 yards to start, then found Humphries for twenty yards with 26 seconds left. After a 17 yard hookup with Brate, the ball was at the 19 with three ticks left. With one final shot, Winston tried a quick back shoulder throw to tight end OJ Howard. The same pass he hit Brate with earlier for the touchdown. But, the rookie did not turn around and the pass fell incomplete, giving me a sigh of relief and sending me to bed a semi-happy man. Thanks Red Sox.
Anytime a TB12 team can hold the opponent to 14 points, the Pats have a chance to win. Yeah, Winston threw for 300+ yards, but the improvements showed. Even on a short, traveling week. This was big confidence boost for that defense. I think the most impressive was Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore had communication issues last week, but he had one assignment last night: Mike Evans. He did a great job. I think that is where he is best, and Patricia figured it out. Let the guy take the team’s top wideout, and follow him all game. The same was the case for Malcolm Butler on DeSean Jackson. He held him in check until the end, as Jackson racked up 65 yards on two catches late in the fourth, helping him get 106 yards for the game. Gilmore held Evans to five catches on eight targets, for just 49 yards. These two corners are very crucial to a defense who lacks a pass rusher, as Trey Flowers is now taking on the double teams.
Tampa Bay has had kicking struggles since the Roberto Aguayo experiment started a couple of years ago. Now with Nick Folk, they have still not found a kicker. With New England’s inability to finish off drives, makes from Folk really could have changed the game. Could have won the game for Tampa Bay. But, they have that problem to deal with the rest of the season.
Luckily for New England, Stephen Gostowski is kicking out of his mind right now. His confidence has to be sky-high right now. Four field goals really were the difference last night. It is not often for New England to score just one touchdown. But it is good to know that we have a sure handed right leg for three points.
Well, 3-2. Now 14-0 in short week games. A lot of good things last night, but of course things to still work on. With six games against the division, you got to think at least five will go to New England. They have one more NFC opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, at home, who we all know are looking for vengeance. After the Bye Week (Week 9), they go to Denver and then head to Mexico City to play the Raiders. Got to have both of those, but a split would not be the worst. Especially if they are 6-2 heading into the Bye. Well, here’s to 10 days off, time for some rest before the Jets game. LET’S GO!