The Bucs went back to work on Wednesday, preparing to face New England's explosive offense
The New England Patriots scored 59 points against the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday, 45 by halftime. Those numbers have been repeated in Tampa quite frequently in the days since because they're not often seen in the NFL, and because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the pleasure of being next up on the Patriots schedule.
The Buccaneers aren't particularly worried about giving up 59 points in London's Wembley Stadium on Sunday. Regardless of the relative strengths of the teams involved – and no one would argue that the Patriots are anything but strong – scoring explosions like that one are usually outliers.
The highest single-game score for any team last year was 56 by the New York Jets against eventual NFC champs Arizona. The next two weeks, the Jets scored 26 and 13 points, respectively, against Cincinnati and Oakland squads that won a combined nine games. The next highest output was a 540pointer by Buffalo at Kansas City; the next two weeks the Bills scored exactly three points against both San Francisco and Miami. In a closer-to-home example, the New Orleans Saints rang up 51 points against Green Bay in Week 12 and were held to 20 by the Buccaneers in Week 13.
The specifics of the final score against Tennessee aren't particularly important. What concerns the Buccaneers is that the Patriots are capable of a high-octane outing on any given Sunday, and they probably won't go about it the same way they did the week before. Thus, the Buccaneers know they are preparing this week for a challenge greater than getting used to Greenwich Mean Time.
"[They are] tough, physical, violent, strong, big – you name it," said Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris of the Patriots. "Schematically, dominant. They do it all. They'll change the scheme on you from week to week. They'll do whatever they have to do to win. You really don't have any idea what [quarterback] Tom Brady has in store for this game. You've got to be ready to deal and you've got to be more tough, got to be more physical, be more violent. They want to find something that you can't do and exploit it. That's what they'll try to do. Last week they found something obviously and went out and exploited it, scored 59 points."
It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that the Patriots chose to exploit the edges of the Titans' pass defense, which was without both of its starting cornerbacks, Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper. Brady threw the ball relentlessly in the first half, passing on more than two-thirds of the plays before halftime and racking up 339 yards and five touchdowns. The Buccaneers don't share that particular weakness – they're starting corners Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib are healthy and have played well – but they obviously have been attacked successfully in other ways. This past Sunday, the Carolina Panthers ran the ball up the middle of the defense to the tune of 267 yards, for instance.
The Patriots certainly seem like a pass-first team whenever Brady is at the helm, but they're averaging 116.3 rushing yards per game and they ranked sixth in that department last season while Brady was out. Running back Fred Taylor is out for the season due to injury but Laurence Maroney found his way against Tennessee, rushing for 122 yards and a score. The Bucs certainly cannot rule out the idea that the Patriots will try to duplicate the Panthers' approach.
Or they may continue to air it out, in search of another high-scoring afternoon. Either way, the Buccaneers are working hard to devise ways to contain the Patriots attack and get their first win of the season.
"When it comes to the Patriots, you don't get shocked at what they do," said Morris. "But you've got to love those challenges. You want to play against Randy Moss and Wes Welker…awesome. We love it. Tom Brady throwing it to them. It's a challenge that your DBs love. You get a chance to see these guys play. Like always, the more physical, the more tough team will win. That's how it always plays out."
The Bucs were not more physical than the Panthers on Sunday, at least not during the 16-play fourth-quarter drive that proved to be the difference in a 28-21 loss. But like game scores from week to week, the tougher team in any given game isn't necessarily determined by what happened the weekend before. The Bucs are relishing the opportunity to lock horns with a team so highly thought-of around the NFL, and there is no crisis in confidence, no matter what the Patriots did last week.
"I don't think I'm going to have a problem with that," said Morris. "These guys, they appear to be spirited. They appear to be highly motivated to win. I think it's a big challenge. Everybody wants to play the Patriots. That's fun. It's a lot of fun to play those types of teams on a highly-decorated stage over in London. The motivation is high. Motivation in this league is for everybody. Nobody wants to be embarrassed on Sunday. So you go out and practice well, play well and play hard. Motivation is easy."
Responded wide receiver Sammie Stroughter: "It's the NFL – anything can happen. You've got to lick your chops and be excited for this opportunity. I believe in our defense, I believe in this team and this is a great opportunity for us to show what kind of team we really are and dig deep."
Bucs Add G Murphy
The Buccaneers waited until Wednesday afternoon to fill the roster spot opened by fullback B.J. Askew's transfer to the reserve/non-football injury list on Tuesday. That's when their waiver claim went through on former Miami Dolphins guard Shawn Murphy.
Murphy shares a college background with one of his new teammates, as both he and starting left tackle Donald Penn excelled at Utah State, albeit with Aggie careers that just missed overlapping. However, it is his relation to another professional athlete that always draws far more attention: He is the son of former Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy.
One of eight Murphy children, Shawn was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the fourth round in 2008. He was inactive for all 16 games as a rookie and the first five games of Miami's 2009 campaign before being waived on Monday. Now with the Buccaneers, Murphy provides interior-line depth on a unit that also includes Sean Mahan, Jonathan Compas and Marcus Johnson among its center and guard reserves.
The 6-4, 315-pound Murphy was a two-year starter at Utah State (2006-07), transferring in from Dixie State (Utah) Community College the year after Penn finished his Aggie career and signed on with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent. Penn later jumped from the Vikings' practice squad to Tampa Bay's active roster in October of 2006 and moved into the starting lineup the following season.
Murphy actually started every game at left tackle as a junior before moving into the starting left guard spot for his senior campaign. He was charged by the Aggies' coaching staff with personally allowing just three sacks during those two seasons.
Dale Murphy played 2,180 games in the Major Leagues, the majority of them with the Braves, and continues to draw some annual support for the Baseball Hall of Fame. A seven-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner and two-time MVP (1982 and 1983), the slugging outfielder also provided young baseball fans with a positive role model thanks to his honorable approach to the game and to life.
Only two Buccaneers were held out of practice to start the week: defensive tackle Chris Hovan (ankle) and running back Clifton Smith. Smith's absence was not much of a surprise, given the vicious hit he absorbed from Panthers CB Dante Wesley during Sunday's game. Smith sustained a concussion and while he was at the Bucs' headquarters on Wednesday he was not cleared to practice.
Smith is expected to accompany the team to London – Morris doesn't envision leaving any injured players behind – but if he is unable to play the Buccaneers do have an able replacement on punt and kickoff returns. Stroughter stepped into that role after Wesley knocked Smith out of the game on Sunday and quickly produced just the third kickoff return for a touchdown in franchise history.
The rest of the Bucs' special teamers believe that either young player can make a difference in the game.
"We've been very confident in Sammie and Clifton, both the same way," said wide receiver Maurice Stovall, who was credited with a key block on Stroughter's 97-yard return. "Obviously, Clifton has a history of returning touchdowns, both punt and kickoff return. Now that Sammie has shown the team and the rest of the organization that he can do it, we'll be expecting that from him. We expect that from ourselves. We know that it can get done and that just gives us a team and as a special teams unit."
Stroughter earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his efforts but wasn't able to thoroughly enjoy it due to the final outcome of the game.
"It's a good honor I guess, but we lost," he said. "The main motivation for this team and for myself is to win a game. I'd much rather sacrifice any of that to win that first game, to get that first one under your belt. You've just got to continue to strive and get better."
Still, the entire kickoff return unit could take pride in a job well done and the NFL's recognition of it.
"I think it's good that we were able to make a big play at that point of the game to give our team a chance to win, even though the outcome wasn't what we expected," said Stovall. "Special Teams, Rich Bisaccia and Dwayne Stukes and Byron [Storer], they all work hard on drawing up schemes and studying the film of the team that we're playing. Coach Rich made a good decision to call on that play. All the blocks were executed. As we watched film, everyone had their block and did a good job. When we executed and everybody's on the same page, you can see what happens."
Three other Buccaneers, all starters, were limited in practice on Wednesday: wide receiver Michael Clayton (hamstring), linebacker Barrett Ruud (elbow) and defensive tackle Ryan Sims (hand).
The Patriots' injury report was lengthy, as is the team's general approach. New England's five-touchdowns-in-one-quarter trio – Brady and receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker – were all on the list, but all participated fully in practice. The noted body parts are a right shoulder for Brady, a shoulder for Moss and a knee for Welker.
Of the 15 Patriots on the injury report, five were held out of practice: cornerback Darius Butler (ankle), wide receiver Julian Edelman (forearm), tackle Matt Light (knee), running back Sammy Morris (knee) and running back Fred Taylor (ankle). Cornerback Shawn Springs (knee) was one of three other Patriots limited on the practice field on Wednesday.