The Bucs came into the game tied for the NFL sack lead and added three more takedowns plus an interception of New England's Tom Brady, but Brady managed a pair of touchdown passes to rookie WR Kenbrell Thompkins and K Stephen Gostkowski added three field goals for the Patriots.
The Bucs curbed their penalty problems on Sunday, drawing only four flags, but still hurt themselves with dropped passes. Most notably, rookie TE Tim Wright couldn't hold on to a perfect back-corner pass in the end zone by Freeman in the first quarter and the Bucs had to settle for three points instead of seven. Later, Jackson couldn't come up with a deep pass down the sideline that would have put the ball near the Patriots' goal line. One of three failed fourth-down tries for the Buccaneers in New England territory hinged on a twisting attempted catch by WR Kevin Ogletree that glanced off his hands.
The Buccaneers couldn't overcome all those missed opportunities, scoring only three points despite picking up 323 yards of offense.
The Buccaneers scored the only points of the first quarter on a 30-yard Rian Lindell field goal that capped an impressive 76-yard drive. Tampa Bay's defense did not allow a third-down conversion or a drive of more than 18 yards until midway through the second quarter, when Brady engineered his own 76-yard march that ended in WR Kenbrell Thompkins' 16-yard touchdown catch.
Tampa Bay's offense continued to move the ball, but twice stalled inside New England territory, a bit out of field goal range, and went for it on fourth down. Both fourth-down attempts failed, and the second gave Brady a short field to launch a 62-yard touchdown drive. That one, too, ended in a Thompkins TD, this one from five-yards out. An interception by former Buccaneer Aqib Talib moments later gave the Patriots a chance to pad their lead on Stephen Gostkowski's 53-yard field goal.
As such, the Buccaneers had a total-yardage edge of 180-139 at halftime but were trailing by 14 points.
In the second half, S Mark Barron kept the Patriots out of the end zone on their first drive with an interception just past the goal line, but New England got three points on their second possession with a 46-yard Gostkowski field goal.
The Patriots started in a four-wide formation and Brady in the shotgun but then threw a screen to RB Brandon Bolden that worked perfectly and picked up 12 yards. In addition, DT Gary Gibson was slow to get up after apparently taking a shot to the helmet. The Bucs got off the field three plays later, however, when Goldson and David blitzed together and got to Brady for a nine-yard sack.
Tampa Bay's offense started off well, too, with Freeman hitting Williams down the right sideline for a 28-yard gain on the second play. Another Williams catch and a short run by Martin moved the chains again, making it first down at the Patriots' 28. The Bucs got to the 20 but had to settle for a 38-yard field goal and Lindell pushed it a few feet wide of the right upright.
The Patriots got one first down after the miss but stalled near midfield when S Mark Barron made a remarkable diving pass break-up of a short throw intended for Bolden. The resulting punt was fair caught by WR Eric Page at the Bucs' 12.
The pocket collapsed on Freeman on first down before he could escape up the middle and he absorbed a two-yard sack. After a four-yard Martin run, Jackson converted the third-and-eight with a leaping catch on the sideline over the head of CB Aqib Talib. Two plays later, Williams lost his man on a sideline comebacker and was wide open for a 13-yard completion to the Tampa Bay 48. The Bucs faced a third-and-two after Martin nearly broke free on an eight-yard run and got another set of downs when Jackson held onto a three-yarder despite being hit as he caught the ball. A pass interference penalty drawn by Williams on CB Devin McCourty put the ball at the Patriots' 15, but rookie TE Tim Wright couldn't hold on to a potential touchdown pass in the back left corner of the end zone and the Bucs settled for Rian Lindell's 30-yard field goal.
Clayborn put the Patriots in an early hole with an eight-yard sack of Brady, stunting up the middle to get free. Brady tried a screen pass to Bolden on third-and-18 but Clayborn made the hustle play again, catching the back from behind after a gain of 10 on another well-blocked screen.
The Bucs' offense got good field position at its own 45 to start the next drive and got into New England territory on a 12-yard catch by Williams that converted a third-and-six. The Bucs fell into a fourth-and-five at the Patriots' 34, however, and elected to go for it. The ball was turned over on downs when a promising-looking out pass to Williams sailed incomplete when the receiver and defender got tangled up.
The Patriots also went for it on fourth down when they needed two yards from the Bucs' 37 on the ensuing drive, and they got it on a quick out to WR Aaron Dobson. Ridley made a dazzling spin move in the backfield on the next snap and got into open field for a nine-yard gain to the 20. Two plays later, the Buccaneers blitzed and the Patriots picked it up perfectly, leading to an easy 16-yard TD pass to Thompkins at the midway point of the second quarter.
The Bucs' offense answered back with a 22-yard sideline catch by WR Eric Page on the next play and a pair of Martin runs that produced another first down three yards into New England territory. However, the Bucs soon had to go for it again on fourth down, this time needing one yard, and gave the ball up when Martin's run was stopped short by LB Brandon Spikes.
An illegal contact penalty on David turned a potential third-and-15 into a first down right on the midfield stripe for New England. Just after the two-minute warning, Brady threw deep to Dobson and, although the pass was incomplete, the ball moved down to the 17 thanks to a 28-yard pass-interference penalty on CB Johnthan Banks. Three plays later, Brady found Thompkins again for a five-yard score to make it 14-3 with 47 seconds left in the half.
The Bucs tried to use the remaining time to get some points, but after one first down, Freeman was intercepted by CB Aqib Talib at the 43 with 11 seconds to play. Two plays got the Patriots in range for a 53-yard field goal try, and Gostkowski nailed it to make it a 14-point halftime advantage for the home team.
The Bucs got off to a good start in the second half on Jackson's 12-yard catch, but a sack of Freeman two plays later killed the drive. The Patriots took it right back into Tampa Bay territory on the ensuing drive on a 46-yard run by Bolden. The drive reached the Bucs' six-yard line but Barron denied the score with a leaping interception of a hard Brady pass just across the goal line.
The Bucs failed to move the chains on the ensuing possession, however, leading to a quick punt back to the Patriots. This time, the Patriots got points out of it, following Julian Edelman's 16-yard punt return with a 36-yard field goal drive. Spence's second down sack pushed the Patriots out of scoring range, but TE Michael Hoomanawanui's second-effort 16-yard reception got Gostkowski close enough for a 46-yard field goal.
The Bucs' second drive of the half did start out with a run of first downs, as Freeman's pass to Williams' converted a third-and-three. Martin then took two consecutive runs up the middle for gains of 11 and nine yards and a short pass to TE Nate Byham made it first-and-10 just over midfield. The two teams switched sides to start the fourth quarter and Freeman then hit WR Mike Ogletree for a 15-yard pick-up over the middle. However, a holding call two plays later backed the Bucs up to the Patriots' 34 and they eventually turned it over when a fourth-and-13 attempt failed.
The Patriots followed with a 51-yard field goal drive ending in Gostkowski's 33-yarder. The ensuing Buccaneer drive went three-and-out, leaving them punting away with a three-score deficit and just eight minutes left in the game.
- The Buccaneers declared the following seven players inactive before Sunday's game: CB Michael Adams, T Gabe Carimi, TE Tom Crabtree, DT Derek Landri, DE Steven Means, QB Dan Orlovsky, TE Luke Stocker. All but Orlovsky and Means were out due to injury.
The Patriots declared the following seven players inactive: WR Danny Amendola, LB Steve Beauharnais, TE Rob Gronkowski, DL Chris Jones, WR Matt Slater, T Will Svitek, RB Leon Washington. Amendola, Gronkowski, Slater, Svitek and Washington were out due to injury.
- New England started in a four-wide formation on offense, which led to a shuffled starting lineup on defense for the Buccaneers. LBs Mason Foster and Dekoda Watson were out for the first snap, replaced by extra DBs Johnthan Banks and Ahmad Black. In addition, Da'Quan Bowers stepped in for Daniel Te'o-Nesheim at left end and Gary Gibson started in place of Akeem Spence at nose tackle.
- Second-year WR Eric Page made his first career reception midway through the second quarter, a 22-yarder down the left sideline. Rookie TE Tim Wright also got his first career NFL catch in the second period, a six-yarder that converted a third-and-five with 17 seconds left in the first half.