The silver lining in any preseason game is exactly that: It's a preseason game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't read too much into their 25-0 throttling of the Kansas City Chiefs in their 2011 preseason opener, and they won't let a tough night against the New England Patriots in Week Two define their preparations for the regular season.
It was certainly a difficult night, however, at least in the first half. The visiting Patriots, coming off a 47-point effort in Jacksonville the week before, scored on their first three drives in a 31-14 victory, and ended up with a 383-244 overall advantage in yardage. Tampa Bay hurt its own cause with 12 penalties, 10 during an uneven first half, and New England's strong pass rush made it difficult for the offense to operate in the early going.
The Patriots' offense was even more deadly, scoring touchdowns on each of their first three drives. Pro Bowl QB Tom Brady, who did not play in the team's preseason opener, stayed in for the entire first half and completed 11 of 19 passes for 118 yards, two touchdowns and a 111.3 passer rating. Starting RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis added two short first-half touchdown runs as part of a 200-yard effort by New England's ground attack.
"We had a couple of mistakes out there, but Tom Brady, as we know, is an awesome quarterback and [New England] has an awesome offense," said Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris. "They came to play tonight. We came out kind of sluggish and kind of flat on both sides of the ball. We started to pick it up a little in the second quarter, but we have to get a better effort out of everybody out there."
The Bucs had just 73 yards at halftime, but reserve QBs Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter each led lengthy drives in the second half. Johnson directed an 84-yard scoring march and threw for 105 yards while running for another 24. He was the team's leading rusher for a second straight game. Carpenter came in for the final two drives, the second of which covered 76 yards but stalled inside the Patriots' 10-yard line in the game's closing minutes. Carpenter completed six of 10 passes for 68 yards and a passer rating of 80.4.
Rookie RB Allen Bradford finished the Bucs' one offensive scoring drive with a two-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, his first as a professional. He had a team-high five carries for 17 yards. Starting RB LeGarrette Blount had four early carries but was usually met on or behind the line of scrimmage by the Patriots' aggressive defense.
Still, the Bucs' finished the night feeling they could have been much more effective on offense, especially in the first quarter. Tampa Bay's first three drives all started at the 20 and failed to gain a first down, leaving New England's offense with relatively short fields each time.
"We can't hang our defense out to dry by keeping them three-and-out and leaving them out on the field," said starting RG Davin Joseph. "We have to get it together. We have to get it together on offense. We have to show composure and be able to take advantage of our opportunities."
CB Elbert Mack provided the big play of the night for the Bucs' defense with an interception and 69-yard return for a touchdown off rookie QB Ryan Mallett early in the second half. George Johnson and Tim Crowder had the Bucs' two sacks of Patriots quarterbacks and rookie CB Anthony Gaitor had another strong outing with two passes defensed and four tackles in the second half. The Bucs likely won't consider Thursday's game a particular success on defense, unlike the opener in Kansas City, but they have time to get back on track before the season opener against Detroit.
"You just have to learn from your mistakes," said CB E.J. Biggers. "That's it. You really have to learn from your mistakes and go back and watch the film, everybody just correct everything they did wrong. It's just another chance to get better."
The Buccaneers' defense, so stingy in Kansas City six days earlier, had trouble on New England's opening possession. RB Danny Woodhead broke off a 29-yard run after slipping through the grasp of DT Gerald McCoy in the backfield, and QB Tom Brady completed the 64-yard drive with a 16-yard TD pass to TE Aaron Hernandez, who was wide open down the right seam.
The Bucs' second offensive possession fizzled in three plays, like the first, and the Patriots quickly doubled their lead with a 61-yard drive aided by a personal foul call on rookie LB Mason Foster. Brady converted a key third-and-10 on the march with a deep out to Hernandez, then finished it with a play-action eight-yard scoring toss to WR Chad Ochocinco.
The Bucs followed with a penalty-filled possession – Tampa Bay had collected five flags in the first 12 minutes of the game – and that negated a fine opening-play completion by Freeman to Williams. The Patriots started their third drive just a little bit closer than the other two, at their own 47, and the results were similar. This drive was helped by runs of 14 yards by Woodhead and 16 by Green-Ellis, the latter of whom ran it in for a one-yard score to make it 21-0 with six seconds left in the first quarter.
Green-Ellis added a second touchdown on a third-and-one run in the second quarter, capping a 60-yard drive. The Patriots tried to use the final two minutes of the first half for a situational two-minute drill, with Brady still on the field, but that gave the ball back to Tampa Bay near field in the final seconds of the first half. The Bucs moved into field goal range behind Johnson but K Connor Barth missed a 47-yard field goal to the right.
(Click here for a detailed report on the first half of Friday night's game.)
The Patriots got the ball to start the second half and brought in Mallett to lead the attack. He got the team two first downs but then threw a deep ball that was intercepted by Mack in Buccaneers territory. Mack slid down to the ground to make the catch but got up and was able to weave through all 11 Patriots for a 69-yard touchdown.
The Patriots used another rookie, RB Stevan Ridley, to get back into Buccaneers territory on the next drive. Ridley broke off a 21-yard run and a caught a 13-yard pass, and Sammy Morris pounded up the middle on third-and-one to give New England a first down at the Bucs' 35. Mallett tried to go deep to WR Buddy Farnham on the next play but it was well-defended by Asante. On third-and-10, Mallett threw to Ridley over the middle and he got nine yards. The Patriots went for it on fourth-and-one, but Asante forced a fumble by Ridley and LB Adam Hayward recovered for the Bucs at their own 26.
Johnson threw a sideline pass to WR Ed Gant on the next play, which drew a pass-interference call on CB Devin McCourty and put the ball on the 45. On the next play, Johnson threw to Spurlock down the right numbers, but the ball ended up bouncing between him and CB Kyle Arrington, and Arrington ended up with the ball, lying on his back, for an interception at the New England 43.
Mallett avoided a big rush on third down three plays later to complete a 19-yard pass to WR Matthew Slater. Johnson got to Mallett for a six-yard sack on the next play, and S Corey Lynch immediately dropped TE Will Yeatman for a loss of two on a second-down pass. Mallett threw underneath to Slater on third down to set up fourth and two, bringing out K Stephen Gostkowski for a 44-yard field goal try. He nailed it to make it 31-7 with 3:17 left in the third quarter.
After another touchback, RB Kregg Lumpkin ran for four yards but Johnson missed on a fade-stop to Gant. On third-and-six, Johnson was on-target to Nathan Overbay but the tight end couldn't haul it in and the Bucs had to punt.
Two plays later, CB D.J. Johnson jumped a pass meant for Slater but wasn't able to hold on to what might have been another pick-six for the Bucs' defense. Mallett's third-down pass was incomplete and the Patriots sent it back to Tampa Bay on a punt down to the Bucs' 15.
Bradford came into the game on the next drive and started it with two carries for nine yards to end the third quarter. At the start of the fourth period, Johnson found an open TE Daniel Hardy cutting right to left and Hardy made a dazzling catch of a low ball for a 21-yard gain. The Patriots challenged the catch but it was upheld, giving the Bucs a first down at their own 46. Johnson was sacked on the next play for a nine-yard loss, but he quickly made up for it with a pretty 28-yard strike to WR Preston Parker. Two plays later, Johnson took off on a scramble to the left and got 12 yards for a first down at the Patriots' 23. A false start and two Bradford runs left the Bucs in a third-and-nine, but a penalty on the Patriots led to another first down. A Johnson keeper got five yards to the 12 and a well-designed screen to Lumpkin put the ball at the two. Bradford pushed it in over left tackle for the Bucs' second touchdown of the night.
The Patriots put the ball on the ground on the ensuing drive and Ridley ripped off runs of 13, eight and 13 yards. Mallett then tried to go deep to Slater but it was nearly intercepted by Gaitor. Two plays later, the Bucs' secondary blanketed all of Mallett's options and he threw the ball incomplete.
Carpenter came in to direct the next drive but couldn't move the chains. The Bucs and Patriots traded punts and Carpenter got another shot with four minutes remaining, starting at the Bucs' 15. New Buc WR Aundrae Allison made his first catch on the right side and split two defenders for a gain of 12, and two plays later Parker faked out a defender after a short pass and gained 15 yards. Carpenter then took off on his own for a 15-yard scramble to the New England 48, then threw a fly down the right sideline to new Bucs WR Maurice Price for a gain of 34. The Bucs faced a third-and-nine from New England's 13 when the two-minute warning arrived, and a short pass to TE Collin Franklin picked up four yards. The Bucs went for it on fourth-and-five but Carpenter's pass into the end zone sailed over Price's head.
Game Notes: Thursday's loss to New England broke a streak of three straight wins in the second week of the preseason for Tampa Bay. The streak had begun with a 27-10 win over the Patriots in 2008. … First-year DE George Johnson recorded one of the Buccaneers' two sacks in the third quarter. Johnson now has a sack in each of the team's first two preseason games. … TE Nathan Overbay started for the first time as a Buccaneer when the team opened in a two-TE set. Overbay joined TE Ryan Purvis in the starting lineup, which did not feature a fullback.
Inactives: There are no official inactives during the offseason. However, the Buccaneers revealed seven players prior to the game who would definitely not participate: WR Arrelious Benn, CB Myron Lewis, CB Aqib Talib, S Ahmad Black, TE Luke Stocker, DT Roy Miller and DT Brian Price. TE Kellen Winslow suited up but did not play.
The Patriots did not announce any scratches prior to the game, but a few notable players did not see action, including T Matt Light and DT Albert Haynesworth.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, DT E.J. Wilson sustained an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return.
For the Patriots, S Bret Lockett was carted off the field in the second quarter and did not return. He was diagnosed with a thigh injury. LB Dane Fletcher suffered a thumb injury in the second quarter and did not return.