Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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2021 Game Preview: Buccaneers-Patriots, Week 4

There is no bigger story in the NFL than Tom Brady's return to Foxborough, but Sunday night's game in New England will also give the Buccaneers a chance to get back in the win column and seek improvement in several key areas

game preview tb

Let's start this week's Game Preview off with a scoop, a little-known and wildly-underreported fact that is going to blow your mind: Tom Brady is going to back to Foxborough.

Spoiler alert: We have a section below of this Sunday night's five "Top Storylines," and number one is Brady returning to his first NFL home to face the team he helped go to nine Super Bowls and win six of them. Maybe we should have made it Storylines one through five. Brady's homecoming will thoroughly dominate not only the discussion around this game but the NFL's Week Four as a whole, and it easily has at least five subplots.

Such as: Who was the real driving force in the NFL's greatest dynasty, led by Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick? How warmly will Patriots fans greet their obsession of the last two decades? How perfect of a quarterback matchup is Brady versus rookie Mac Jones, who has been (carefully and humbly) compared to Brady in terms of his style of play and leadership? How much does this game really mean to Brady and if it does add extra juice to his motivation is that good or bad? And will Brady punctuate this emotional matchup by capturing the NFL's all-time record for passing yards?

The answer to that last one is almost certainly yes, given that he only needs 68 yards to do so. New England has a strong defense, particularly against the pass, but Brady threw for 432 yards against a very good Rams defense last week and is averaging more than 300 per game. How the Gillette Stadium crowd reacts when that likely occurrence happens will be a good answer to the second question above.

The first of those five questions is excellent grist for sports debate shows but not something that Brady wants to get into, particularly this week. He had the best two decades any quarterback has ever had in New England but he's currently laser-focused on trying to win a second straight championship in Tampa.

"I have great respect and admiration for my time there," said Brady last week. "I had 20 great years there. I've kind of spoke that the last 18 months. It was a great time in my life, but I'm really happy to be here and I think we've done some great things in a short period of time. I really love the teammates that I have, that I'm playing with here. I love the coaches. The organization has been amazing. Again, it's just a lot of gratitude for me."

In respect for Brady, we will now acknowledge that there is more to this game than just his presence in his former haunt. First and foremost there is the Buccaneers' matchup with the Patriots rookie quarterback after a three-game run against prolific vets Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford. Tampa Bay's pass defense has sunk to the bottom of the league rankings but it now has the freshly-signed Richard Sherman and has a chance to right itself against Jones and a still-nascent Patriots passing attack. The Buccaneers would also like to get their running game on track and New England's defense has struggled a little bit in that regard.

Overall, the Patriots' defense has performed quite well, though, ranking fifth in the NFL in both points and yards allowed. New England got versatile linebacker Dont'a Hightower back after an opt-out season and added a handful of key defenders in free agency, most notably edge rusher Matt Judon. The Buccaneers put up 446 yards of offense against a very good Rams team last weekend but will once again have its hand full on Sunday night in what will surely be a raucous Gillette Stadium.

The Buccaneers are seeking their first road win of 2021 and will need to perform well in away games this season given that they have nine of them. None will have as intense of a spotlight as this one, but for the Buccaneers the focus will be on getting a win and not on the Brady-vs.-Belichick show.

GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) at New England Patriots (1-2)

Sunday, October 3, 8:20 p.m. ET

Gillette Stadium (capacity: 65,878)

Foxborough, Massachusetts

Television: NBC (Local WFLA-TV Channel 8)

TV Broadcast Team: Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst), Michele Tafoya (reporter)

Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station

Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (sideline)

ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES

The Bucs and Patriots have only had nine meetings in more than four decades, and when they have gotten together there's usually been a clear victor from the start. New England won the first three games, beginning in Tampa Bay's inaugural 1976 season. Tampa Bay got its two first victories in 1997 and 2000, but the Patriots have since recorded another four-game winning streak since the NFL's realignment in 2002, which led to scheduling based on rotating divisional matchups. Every game in the series has been separated by a gap of at least three seasons.

Five of New England's seven victories have been by at least 17 points; one of the exceptions was the most recent meeting, which New England won at Raymond James Stadium in 2017. Tom Brady – who, just to reiterate, is now a Buccaneer – threw for 303 yards and a touchdown in that game but Jameis Winston countered with 334 yards and a touchdown. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski made up the difference with four field goals in the 19-14 decision, while short-term Bucs kicker Nick Folk went 0-3 (in his defense, one was from 56 yards out). The Buccaneers lost that game despite winning the turnover margin, 2-0. The other close win for New England was in 1988, when the Bucs went to Foxboro in December and encountered a 30-mph wind blowing in one direction at Sullivan Stadium and a wind chill of negative-25. When the game went to overtime at 7-7, the Bucs won the toss and Head Coach Ray Perkins made one of the most memorable strategic decisions in franchise history, electing to kick in order to get the strong wind at his team's back. The strategy backfired when Irving Fryar made an acrobatic 26-yard catch – New England's longest play of the game – to set up Jason Staurovsky's 27-yard game-winning field goal.

Tampa Bay's two wins in the series were by 20 and five-point margins, the second one actually remaining in doubt until the final seconds. These lopsided results are partly the result of the two teams rarely meeting in seasons where both were contenders. The Buccaneers didn't beat anybody in '76, and only won two games when the Patriots visited in 1985. The two exceptions came in 1997 and 2005, and each team won one of those. The Bucs' most recent win over New England was in the 2000 season opener in Foxborough, a 21-16 decision that included two touchdown runs by Mike Alstott.

The Buccaneers and Patriots have never played a postseason game against each other. Necessarily, that would have to be in the Super Bowl, and in that regard those two teams were like two ships passing in the night around the turn of the millennium. New England won Super Bowl XXXVI after the 2001 season, but missed the playoffs (barely) in 2002, keeping them out of the path of a Buccaneers team that rampaged to the title. New England then came back to win the next two Super Bowls while the Bucs had a post-championship slide for those two seasons before righting themselves in 2005.

NOTABLE CONNECTIONS

  • Tom Brady played 20 seasons for the Patriots and helped lead them to nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships. His six Super Bowl rings were already a record before he hit free agency in 2020 and chose to start a new chapter in his unmatched NFL career by signing with the Buccaneers. He promptly led his new team to a Super Bowl championship and collected his seventh ring. Brady compiled a regular-season record of 219-64-0 as a starter while with the Patriots, went to 14 Pro Bowls and won three NFL MVP awards.
  • Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht had two formative stints in the Patriots' personnel department while working his way up to his current position. In 1999, he joined New England as a scout and later worked as assistant director of player personnel, staying with the Patriots through four seasons and one Super Bowl victory. Licht returned to the Patriots in 2009 as the team's director of player personnel, a position he held through 2011. New England won three division titles and one conference title in that span.
  • Tampa Bay is one of three teams that Patriots kicker Nick Folk played for during his 14-year career before landing in New England in 2019. He was a Buccaneer for a portion of the 2017 season, kicking in four games and hitting on six of 11 field goal attempts.
  • Tight end Rob Gronkowski is another Patriots star-turned-Buccaneers champion. He went to five Pro Bowls and earned four
  • Associated Press All-Pro first-team honors during nine seasons in New England before retiring following a third Super Bowl victory at the end of the 2018 season. When Brady signed in Tampa, Gronkowski elected to come out of retirement and was traded by the Patriots to the Buccaneers to reunite with his long-time pal.

SENIOR COACHING STAFFS

Tampa Bay:

Head Coach Bruce Arians

  • Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
  • Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
  • Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
  • Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong

New England:

  • Head Coach Bill Belichick
  • Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Josh McDaniel
  • Special Teams Coordinator Cameron Achord
  • Senior Football Advisor Matt Patricia

KEY 2021 ROSTER ADDITIONS

Buccaneers:

  • S Andrew Adams (FA)
  • RB Giovani Bernard (FA)
  • LB K.J. Britt (fifth-round draft pick)
  • WR Jaelon Darden (fourth-round draft pick)
  • CB Dee Delaney (FA)
  • OL Robert Hainsey (third-round draft pick)
  • QB Kyle Trask (second-round draft pick)
  • OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (first-round draft pick)

Patriots:

  • WR Nelson Agholor (UFA)
  • DE Henry Anderson (FA)
  • DT Christian Barmore (second-round draft pick)
  • WR Kendrick Bourne (UFA)
  • T Trent Brown (T-LV)
  • DT Davon Godchaux (UFA)
  • TE Hunter Henry (UFA)
  • QB Mac Jones (first-round draft pick)
  • Matt Judon (UFA)
  • C Ted Karras (UFA)
  • S Jalen Mills (UFA)
  • DE Ronnie Perkins (third-round draft pick)
  • TE Jonnu Smith (UFA)
  • RB Rhamondre Stevenson (fourth-round draft pick)
  • LB Kyle Van Noy (FA)

ADDITIONAL 2021 CHANGES OF NOTE

Buccaneers:

  • While "keeping the band" together on the field for a run at another championship, the Buccaneers also managed to keep their coaching staff almost entirely intact for 2021. The lone departure was Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left to coach the receivers on Dan Campbell's staff in Detroit. There were two additions to Arians' staff: Offensive Assistant A.Q. Shipley and Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Thaddeus Lewis.
  • Mike Greenberg, who provided invaluable help to Jason Licht in the efforts to keep the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning roster together as the team's director of football administration, was promoted during the offseason to vice president of football administration. Greenberg is entering his 12th year with the team.
  • After playing their 2020 home schedule in front of audiences ranging from empty stands to about 25% capacity, the Buccaneers will be at full capacity at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. And we do mean full capacity. The defending champions have already sold out every home game this season; the last time every game at Raymond James Stadium sold out was in 2009.
  • The Buccaneers introduced new uniforms in 2020 that were heavily influenced by the look the team had during its first Super Bowl era but also included a brand new alternate set with matching pewter jerseys and pants. That gave the team four combinations last season: pewter on pewter, white on white, white on pewter and red on pewter. The Bucs will use a fifth combination in 2021, with a red jersey over white pants, which they will wear in the Sunday Night Football spotlight at home against the Saints in Week 15.
  • Veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown is not a new addition to the team in 2021 but he will have a chance to make a greater impact this season. Brown joined the Buccaneers at midseason last year and played in the last eight games of the regular season, recording 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He also appeared in three postseason contests and memorably scored a touchdown in Super Bowl LV. This time Brown will be an integral part of the offense from Day One, and he'll be moving more freely after having knee surgery in the offseason. From 2013-18, Brown averaged approximately 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns per season.

Patriots:

  • After an almost three-year stint as the Detroit Lions' head coach came to an end last November, Matt Patricia returned to the Patriots in January to serve as a senior football advisor. Before heading to Detroit, Patricia had spent the previous 17 seasons on Belichick's staff, starting out as an offensive assistant but eventually working his way up to defensive coordinator, a position he held from 2012-17.
  • The Patriots have also shifted some coaching duties around on Belichick's staff. Vinnie Sunseri, who began his NFL career in 2020 as a defensive coaching assistant in New England is now coaching running backs (alongside long-time running backs coach Ivan Fears). Former Patriots star Troy Brown is showing the same sort of versatility in coaching as he did on the playing field, moving over from coaching running backs and kick returners last year to receivers and kick returners this year. Former Jets assistant Bo Hardegree also joined the Patriots' staff this year as a quality control/quarterbacks coach. Billy Yates came over from Patricia's staff in Detroit to join the Patriots as an assistant offensive line coach.
  • Ernie Adams, a long-time friend of Bill Belichick, has served as the Patriots' football research director since 2000. He continues to have that title with the team but Belichick announced that Adams will no longer be helping the team conduct its drafts after 2021. The highly-regarded Adams, who is now 68, is considered an important contributor to the building of six Super Bowl championship teams.
  • A couple of long-term contributors on both sides of the ball chose retirement this offseason, with wide receiver Julian Edelman (a Patriot from 2009-20) and safety Patrick Chung (2009-12, 2014-19) hanging up their cleats. Chung had also opted out of the 2020 season but unlike Dont'a Hightower he did not choose to return to the game in 2021. In addition, the Patriots traded away tackle Marcus Cannon and running back Sony Michel. Standout guard Joe Thuney also left to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • After determining that rookie Mac Jones had won the starting quarterback job to open the season, the Patriots released Cam Newton and brought Brian Hoyer back. Newton had started 15 games for New England in 2020 as the team's first replacement for the departed Tom Brady.

TOP STORYLINES

The G.O.A.T in Gillette – This may be a bit repetitive, but it would also be ridiculous not to lead off the "Top Storylines" section with anything other than Brady's return to Foxborough to do battle with Bill Belichick's Patriots. Brady and Belichick were the key figures in a two-decade dynasty that produced nine AFC titles and six Super Bowl wins. One game won't settle any debate as to who deserves the most credit, but that won't stop the issue from being debated at length this week and next. In any case, Sunday's game provides Brady with an opportunity to do something he's never done before, which is a rare occurrence for him these days, and that is to beat the New England Patriots. If the Buccaneers win, Brady will join Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks ever to beat all 32 teams. Speaking of Brees, as noted above the all-time record for passing yards is almost certain to transfer from hit to Brady on Sunday night, perhaps as early as the first quarter. And, probably not coincidentally, Brees will be on site to witness that passing of the torch, as he is part of NBC's "Football Night in America pregame broadcast team. Once Brady has the yardage record he'll be the first "Triple Crown" quarterback – that is, the NFL's career leader in quarterback wins, passing yards and touchdown passes – in the Super Bowl era and the first since Manning in 2017. Expect Brady to receive a warm welcome before the game and a loud ovation if and when he breaks the yardage record, but also expect the Gillette Stadium crowd to get very loud when the Bucs have the ball as they try to help their team beat their long-time quarterback.

Oh, And Gronk's Back, Too – Gronkowski's first trip back to Gillette Stadium is more than just an afterthought to the Brady homecoming, plus it has a little added drama. There is no doubt that Brady will be under center when the game starts on Sunday night, but will he be joined by his long-time Patriots teammate? Gronkowski took a hard shot to the ribs in the Week Three game in Los Angeles, and though he would return to the game after getting X-rays he was held out of practice on Wednesday. Given his unquestioned toughness, Gronkowski would surprise no one if he gritted out the game in Foxborough, but there is no guarantee at this point that he'll be able to suit up. Assuming he does, Gronkowski will probably get the same appreciative response from the Patriots crowd as Brady does. He was clearly a fan favorite during his nine seasons in New England, not only for his infectious personality but also for his rough-and-tumble style of play and his incredible production. Gronkowski scored 91 touchdowns in nine seasons as a Patriot, amazingly, and played a big role in three Super Bowl championship seasons. Gronkowski has made a lot of fans in Tampa in short order, as well, and if he is not seriously hampered by his ribs he could continue to build on an even better season than he had in 2020 on the way to another Super Bowl ring in Tampa. He is currently tied for second in the NFL, and first among tight ends, with four touchdown receptions.

Pressuring the Rookie – While his numbers through three NFL games are underwhelming, rookie quarterback Mac Jones has impressed the Patriots with his poise and calmness under pressure. That said, the New Orleans Saints came into Foxborough last weekend and turned up the heat on Jones, resulting in the first significant mistakes of his career. Jones was sacked twice, hit 11 times and – according to NFL Next Gen Stats – pressured on 18 of his dropbacks, resulting in the first three interceptions of his career. That sounds like an excellent blueprint for the Buccaneers' defense to follow; the problem is, Tampa Bay's front has had trouble pressuring the passer through the first three games of the season. The Bucs have only three sacks so far and are last in the NFL in sacks per pass play. Some of that has to do with their opponents favoring a high volume of quick passes, but the Bucs' rushers have not won a lot of one-on-one battles yet and the team's blitzes have largely come up empty. Given how effective the Bucs' pass rush was for most of the 2020 season, and especially in the playoffs, and that the Bucs then added edge rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka in the draft, it is rather surprising that the defensive front is off to a slow start. It would be even more surprising if that trend continued.

Upheaval in the Secondary – The Bucs have won 10 of their last 11 games and are 2-1 in the young 2021 season. But that "one," the streak-snapping loss to the Rams, is the most recent game and thus Tampa Bay fans have found a reason to worry for the first time in about nine months. And the greatest subject of scrutiny has been a secondary that has given up a very high number of yards and nine touchdown passes so far. It's been an eventful first month for that group, with Jordan Whitehead missing the first game with a hamstring strain and Sean Murphy-Bunting going down with an elbow injury in the opener. The Buccaneers addressed Murphy-Bunting's absence in dramatic fashion on Wednesday, signing five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman but it seems likely that Sherman won't factor into the defense until another week of practice. In addition, both of the Bucs' starting cornerbacks are on this week's injury report, with Jamel Dean the larger concern. Dean missed the last three quarters of the Rams game with a knee injury and was limited in practice to start the week. The Buccaneers have used a wide variety of personnel groupings in the secondary over the past two weeks, alternately turning to Mike Edwards, Ross Cockrell and Dee Delaney in various roles. All of that shifting around probably exacerbated the communication issues in the secondary that caused some problems against the Rams. Given Dean's injury, Sherman's very recent arrival and the results of the last game, it's difficult to predict exactly how the Bucs will line up in the defensive backfield on Sunday night.

Going to Ground? – The Buccaneers' search for balance on offense continues, so far without much success. When it is in a groove, which is often, Tampa Bay's passing attack can move the ball seemingly at will, even against quality defenses. That's a good thing, obviously, and the Buccaneers' concentration of pass-catching talent practically guarantees that they will remain a very pass-heavy team. Still, Head Coach Bruce Arians clearly would like to have a more balanced attack, if for no other reason than to add bite to a play-action passing game that can be lethal. Tampa Bay is averaging just 56.3 rushing yards per game, and while some of that is situational the team's per-carry average of 3.5 yards is not particularly good, either. Arians continues to believe in the rushing talent of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones but says the line needs to block better and the runners need to run better. They all could get some help from a Patriots' defense that is allowing 122.7 rushing yards per game to rank 24th in the NFL.

KEY MATCHUPS

1. Patriots T Isaiah Wynn vs. Buccaneers OLB Shaquil Barrett

Tampa Bay's search for more pressure on the quarterback starts with Barrett, who has been one of the NFL's most consistently dominant edge rushers since he first signed with the team in 2019. Though he has just one sack so far through three games, his total of 28.5 sacks since 2019 are second only to T.J. Watt's 32.5 in that span. The only player with more quarterback pressures in that same time frame is three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, and the 12 turnovers that have been caused by Barrett pressures are more than any other player. Barrett got the big long-term contract he richly deserved back in March and has made it clear that he intends to make it a very good investment for the Buccaneers. This year, Barrett has rushed from both ends of the line, and when he comes off the right edge on Sunday night he will be in conflict with Wynn, the Patriots' starting left tackle. Wynn was the 23rd-overall pick in the 2018 draft, and while injuries cost him his rookie year and significant time the last two seasons, he's started all 21 games in which he's played. The 6-3, 313-pound Wynn is powerfully-built but still quite mobile, and his good footwork has allowed him to stay at tackle when some scouts thought he would fit better at guard in the NFL. Wynn and the Patriots had some trouble with the Saints' pass rush in Week Three but overall have allowed a sack on just 5.00% of their pass plays, the 11th-best mark in the NFL. The Bucs want to turn the heat up on rookie quarterback Mac Jones, and how well Wynn handles Barrett could go a long way in determining if they are able to do so.

2. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Patriots CB Jalen Mills

New England has the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, on the PUP list but still boasts one of the league's best cover men in J.C. Jackson. Mills is the player who has been called on to fill in for Gilmore, and he's off to a fine start. A very versatile player who filled in at seven different spots for Philadelphia in 2020, Mills is focusing on playing outside cornerback for New England and has taken to the roll well. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he has only allowed five receptions for 37 yards on 10 targets as the nearest defender through three games and his 70.0% coverage success rate is sixth-best in the NFL. He'll have quite a challenge to keep those numbers up on Sunday night against Evans and the NFL's second-ranked passing attack. Both Evans and Mills have more often lined up on the quarterback's blind side, suggesting they will see a lot of action against each other in this game. Evans led the Buccaneers in Week Three with 106 yards on eight receptions and he has 181 yards and two touchdowns over the past two weeks. The 6-0 Mills gives up five inches to Evans and he will be specifically tested if the Bucs get the ball inside the 10-yard line. According to NFL Next Gen stats, since 2016 Evans leads the NFL by a comfortable margin in both targets in the end zone (89) and touchdowns when aligned as an isolated receiver (nine).

3. Patriots RB Damien Harris vs. Buccaneers ILB Devin White

The Buccaneers' first three opponents have made only half-hearted attempts to run the football, keeping it on the ground on just 29.7% of their snaps, the second-lowest rate against any defense. New England may take a different approach. They have run the ball an average of 23.7 times per game so far, most likely in an effort to take some pressure off rookie QB Mac Jones and keep opposing teams from pinning their ears back on the pass rush. If New England does want to keep it on the ground, that will bring White more into play as the team's leading run-stopper over the past two seasons. With the Buccaneers' powerful front line keeping blockers occupied, White is free to get downhill fast, and his speed, quickness and hitting ability make him a dominant run defender. Harris, a third-year back who had 691 rushing yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry last year, has been the team's workhorse back, getting 45 of the team's 65 handoffs so far. Next on the list is James White, with 10, but there is a good chance White doesn't play this week due to a hip injury. The 5-10, 216-pound Harris is a compact, prototypical power back who is adept at running through contact and making extra yards. He doesn't spend much time juking around and is quick to the hole. White will have to match that quickness to keep Harris from breaking out into the open.

4. Buccaneers T Tristan Wirfs vs. Patriots OLB Matt Judon

While the Bucs have yet to get a ground game going, the pass protection has been quite good, as it was for most of 2020 as well. Tampa Bay's sacks per pass play rate allowed of 4.26% ranks eighth in the NFL and Tom Brady has had time to throw for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns. Wirfs was credited with allowing just one sack during his 2020 rookie season and, according to Pro Football Focus, he has not allowed one yet in 2021. Wirfs is incredibly nimble for a big man and his technique is polished like a seasoned veteran. He'll need all of that talent and polish to hold off Judon, who is so far the most effective of the large number of big-ticket free agents New England brought in over the offseason. Judon leads the Patriots with 3.5 sacks and six quarterback hits and has brought non-stop pressure when on the field. According to NFL Next Gen Stats he leads the NFL with a pressure rate of 31.6% on his pass rushes. Judon has long arms and is extremely explosive off the snap. He has rushed from both ends of the line this year but has more often lined up on its left edge, which would make him Wirfs' responsibility for much of Sunday night.

INJURY REPORT

Key:

DNP: Did not participate in practice

LP: Limited participation in practice

FP: Full participation in practice

Buccaneers:

  • RB Giovani Bernard (knee) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • CB Carlton Davis (abdomen/ribs) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • CB Jamel Dean (knee) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • WR Chris Godwin (thumb) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed
  • TE Rob Gronkowski (ribs) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Doubtful.
  • DL Steve McLendon (not injury related) – WED: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • WR Jaydon Mickens (abdomen) – WED: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) – WED: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.

Patriots:

  • DE Henry Anderson (ankle) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: Removed from report.
  • LB Ja'Whaun Bentley (shoulder) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • T Trent Brown (calf) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • S Kyle Dugger (hamstring) – WED: NL; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • CB J.C. Jackson (knee) – WED: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • K Nick Folk (left knee) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • LB Josh Uche (back) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • LB Kyle Van Noy (groin) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • RB James White (hip) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • T Isaiah Wynn (knee) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.

WEATHER FORECAST

Evening low of 57, 38% chance of rain, 91% humidity, winds out of the SW at 6 mph.

GAME REFEREE

Head referee: Bill Vinovich (21st season, 18th as referee)

BETTING LINE

  • Favorite: Buccaneers (-7.0)
  • Over/Under: 49.5

INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS

Buccaneers-

Points Scored: TE Rob Gronkowski, 24

Touchdowns: TE Rob Gronkowski, 4

Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 1,087

Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 109.3

Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 92

Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 19

Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 241

Interceptions: S Mike Edwards, 2

Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett/DL Will Gholston, 1.0/DL Ndamukong Suh, 1.0

Tackles: LB Lavonte David, 25

Patriots-

Points Scored: K Nick Folk, 30

Touchdowns: WR Nelson Agholor/WR Kendrick Bourne/RB Damien Harris/RB James White, 1

Passing Yards: QB Mac Jones, 737

Passer Rating: QB Mac Jones, 79.1

Rushing Yards: RB Damien Harris, 176

Receptions: WR Jakobi Meyers, 19

Receiving Yards: WR Jakobi Meyers, 176

Interceptions: CB J.C. Jackson, 2

Sacks: OLB Matt Judon, 3.5

Tackles: LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, 19

TEAM STAT RANKINGS (2020 end of season)

Buccaneers-

Scoring Offense: t-1st (34.3 ppg)

Total Offense: 8th (406.0 ypg)

Passing Offense: 2nd (349.7 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 31st (56.3 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: t-7th (24.0)

Third-Down Pct.: 16th (41.7%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 8th (4.26%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 11th (71.4%)

Scoring Defense: 27th (29.3 ppg)

Total Defense: t-26th (402.0 ypg)

Passing Defense: 32nd (338.3 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 4th (63.7 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: 26th (23.7)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 27th (46.9%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 32nd (2.08%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 12th (58.3%)

Turnover Margin: t-20th (-1)

Patriots-

Scoring Offense: 26th (18.0 ppg)

Total Offense: 22nd (317.7 ypg)

Passing Offense: 20th (226.0 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 24th (91.7 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: 20th (19.0)

Third-Down Pct.: 10th (44.7%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 11th (5.00%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 32nd (25.0%)

Scoring Defense: 5th (17.0 ppg)

Total Defense: 5th (282.3 ypg)

Passing Defense: 2nd (159.7 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 24th (122.7 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: 5th (17.7)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 19th (40.5%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 4th (11.11%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: t-14th (62.5%)

Turnover Margin: t-18th (0)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • This is the big one, and we've already noted it above: Tom Brady needs just 68 passing yards to take the top spot in NFL history in that category. He has 80,291 yards heading into Sunday's game, just behind the 80,358 posted by current record-holder Drew Brees.
  • Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have hooked up on four touchdown passes already this season. The two now have 88 scores as a duo in the regular season, which is the third most by any QB-pass-catcher combination in league history. Brady and Gronkowski only need one more to catch up with former Chargers Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates for second on that list.
  • WR Antonio Brown has 892 career regular-season receptions. If he gets eight more in New England he will set the record for the fewest games needed to get to 900 career catches. The record currently belongs to Marvin Harrison, who did it in 149 games. Brown has played in 141 regular season games.
  • WR Chris Godwin caught his 26th career touchdown pass in last Sunday's win over Atlanta. He needs one more to get to 27 and tie Mark Carrier for the sixth most in franchise history. Godwin did get his 27th overall touchdown last Sunday against the Rams, which tied him for 10th place on the team's all-time list. One more would break that tie with Mark Carrier and move him into another tie with Warrick Dunn and Doug Martin for eighth place.
  • When Lavonte David takes the field on Sunday night it will be the 141st game of his NFL career, all with Tampa Bay. That will break a tie with Hall of Famer Warren Sapp for the ninth most games played in franchise history.

NOTABLY QUOTABLE

  • Head Coach Bruce Arians on Tom Brady helping to lure Richard Sherman to Tampa: "I think when you want to talk about a veteran player and you want to win a championship and Tom calls you, you're going to listen. He's going to listen to him, especially knowing the roster we have. I think there's probably a bunch of veterans out there wishing he'd call them."
  • QB Tom Brady on how the emotions of his return to Foxborough will compare with some of the big games he's played in before: "I'm not sure, I haven't done it yet. You're right, I've played in a lot of big games. This is a big game for our team, a big game for our guys. We had a tough loss last week. We want to get back track, get back to winning. You've got to do things right, right? Obviously, this team challenges you to do it the right way. They do a lot of difficult things for the offense. It will be a big challenge for us."
  • OLB Shaquil Barrett on understanding what this game will be like for Brady: "Yeah, I'll have an understanding for it and of it. I want to make sure we get the job done. I want to win every game, but especially this one because of Tom being there for a while and now he's down here. It's just something about when you're leaving home and then you want to come back there and let them know they made a mistake. Then with him beating every team in the NFL, you want to be a part of that too. Whatever we can do to help him get that win, we're going to do it."
  • CB Richard Sherman on what he brings to the Buccaneers: "The same thing I usually bring – I think I bring a level of leadership and accountability. I think I bring a high level of play. I think sometimes from the outside looking in people think, he's this old and that changes the way you play, but it really doesn't. My standard of play is just higher. The standards that people hold me to are just higher. I'm not allowed to have bad games. I'm not allowed to give up catches without getting killed. I think the accountability part, I'll bring that, and hopefully I'll earn the respect of my teammates."
  • WR Mike Evans on if the team is motivated to help Tom Brady get a win at New England: "We lost [in Week Three], so we definitely want to bounce back – that's a key focus of ours. We obviously want to play our best. It's going to be a great atmosphere. Hopefully, Tom and Gronk get the praise that they deserve. Tom won six titles there, Gronk three. It's just going to be a fun game."
  • S Jordan Whitehead on how the Bucs can improve on defense: "I think we just need to watch a little bit more film together just to see how the offense is beating us. Other teams are going to try and attack us like the past teams have so it's just recall, get back on the film. We have a couple of games under our belt, so now we just have to watch more games on the opposing team."
  • Arians on Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones: "I loved him coming out. He's smart, a pocket player who's going to get the ball out, he's very accurate. Obviously, pressure doesn't bother him. He played in some big games (at Alabama). He led his team to the championship so, yeah, he's legit."

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