|Undefeated Mirage Gives Way to Reality of Flawed Patriots Team in OT Loss to Broncos||Gronkowski Avoids Major Injury||Connelly’s Top Ten: Harper Drop, Officials Desperate to be Liked, Run Out Clock||There’s Hope for a Hanley Trade|
The New England Patriots continued to look impressive in this 2011 preseason, easily dispatching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-14 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
The team jumped out to an early 21-0 first-quarter lead, reaching the endzone on each of the offense’s first three possessions. The defense matched the effort, sacking Tampa starting QB Josh Freeman twice while applying immense pressure to the Bucs’ passers.
QB Tom Brady saw his first action this season, and appeared to be in 2010 form as he torched the Buccaneers’ defense for 118 yards and two TDs on 11 of 19 passing. The Michigan alum lead the squad to a 28-0 first half lead, scoring a quartet of touchdowns on efficient scoring drives of 2:08, 3:15, 3:22,and 4:13 respectively. Brady completed passes to Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Will Yeatman and Chad Ochocinco in his outing, and appeared to be in rhythm the entire night.
Sophomore tight end Aaron Hernandez shook off the opening week cobwebs that saw him commit a pair of fumbles against Jacksonville, hauling in three Brady passes for 42 yards, including a 16 yard touchdown on New England’s first possession.
Following the emergence of rookie running back Stevan Ridley last week, fourth-year rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis showed that the starting job is still his to lose. The Lawfirm torched the Bucs’ defense, rushing 11 times for 51 yard while scoring a pair of short TDs.
A question mark throughout the offseason and into the preseason, Pepper Johnson’s defensive line came out in a fury. Free agent signing Andre Carter was most noticeable, consistently providing pressure off the right end and disrupting the Tampa Bay backfield. Gerard Warren, Kyle Love, Eric Moore and Mark Anderson also had solid efforts in the win.
Tom Brady – Brady looked to have complete command of the offense on Thursday, leading to touchdown drives of 64, 61, 53 and 60 yards in first-half action. With Brady at the helm, New England scored on four of six drives.
Andre Carter/Jerod Mayo – The veteran acquisition, Carter, showed that his training camp performance is no fluke. Carter consistently pressured Tampa quarterbacks while being an unblockable force for the Bucs’ offensive line. Carter’s play helped linebacker Jerod Mayo massacre the Buccaneer’s offensive line. Mayo registered a pair of sacks, while matching the team lead with five total tackles.
Chad Ochocinco – Contrary to training camp reports, Ochocinco showed some good hands and resolve in his preseason opener. Ochocinco received a vicious blow from Bucs’ linebacker Mason Foster which earned Foster a 15-yard penalty and a possible fine later in the week. On the same drive, Ochochinco caught a Brady eight-yard pass to extend the lead to 14-0.
Special Teams – In a game with few errors, the special teams unit committed a pair of penalties on the punt unit. Devin McCourty was whistled for an illegal block in the back on a second quarter return, while Tracy White horse-collared Tampa returner Preston Parker in a play in the second half. This is the second consecutive week with special teams miscues, an interesting item to watch going forward.
Offensive rookies – Studs last week, the incoming crop of freshman took a sight step back in Week 2. Ryan Mallet went 9-14 for 71 yards and an interception, which was returned for a Tampa score. Ridley churned out 84 yard on 16 carries, but fumbled a fourth-down carry midway in the third-quarter to end a New England drive.
Backups – Handed a 28-0 lead, the Patriots’ second stringers were humbled after last week’s brilliant performance. The offense generated just three points on a 44 yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski, while the defense allowed a pair of drives longer than 75 yards, including an 84 yard march for a score.
The Patriots return to action next Saturday, traveling to Ford Field in Detroit to battle the Lions at 8 p.m.