It was not a good half for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fortunately, there is still something to gain after the intermission.
The New England Patriots controlled the action in the first two quarters on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium, rushing out to a 28-0 lead and a 235-70 edge in total yards. Pro Bowl QB Tom Brady and the Patriots' first-team offense played the entire first half, a good portion against Buccaneer reserves, and Brady was very sharp, completing 11 of 19 passes for 118 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 111.3.
The Patriots used every minute of the first half to play situation football, running a no-huddle offense with Brady under center after getting the ball back at their own one with two minutes remaining. That resulted in several hits on Brady and one final scoring chance for the Buccaneers, but New England still went into halftime with the momentum.
Both teams are likely to turn to reserves in the second half, emphasizing the preseason need to sort through the second half of the roster. Reserve QB Josh Johnson, who threw for 46 yards and ran for another seven late in the first half, will get another chance to build on his strong preseason, as will a number of key defensive reserves.
The Buccaneers' offense had difficulty mounting a sustained drive against a variety of pressure packages from the Patriots' defense, and QB Josh Freeman threw very few passes that weren't under duress. He finished his portion of the night with five completions in 10 attempts for 33 yards. Tampa Bay also suffered from self-inflicted wounds, committing 10 penalties for 85 yards in the first half.
Of course, it's difficult to gauge the actual importance of a preseason outing, good or bad, especially in this most unusual of NFL seasons. The Buccaneers were dominant in their Week One victory over Kansas City but never could get into a groove in the battle of first teams on Thursday night. Preseason wins and losses rarely have much effect on the regular season – the Bucs lost 40-10 to Washington in the 2002 preseason before driving to a Super Bowl title – but the home team would still like to make the night worthwhile with a stronger second half.
The Bucs won the toss and elected to receive, with the opening kickoff going deep for a touchback. Freeman ran a play-action pass on the first play and resorted to a backhand flip in TE Ryan Purvis' direction, incomplete. After a one-yard run by RB LeGarrette Blount, Freeman had to slide left to buy time on third down but he wasn't able to thread a completion in to FB Earnest Graham.
The Bucs had to punt, but a fine 50-yarder by Michael Koenen pushed New England back to its own 36. The Patriots came out in a three-wide formation and Brady quickly completed an 11-yard strike down the left seam to WR Wes Welker. RB Danny Woodhead got two yards on a first-down run but was met solidly by S Cody Grimm. On second down, the Bucs seemed to have Woodhead bottled up on a run right but the back cut back and found an opening for a 29-yard breakaway to the Bucs' 22. BenJarvus Green-Ellis got five yards on first down, and TE Aaron Hernandez found a wide-open seam on the right side for a 16-yard touchdown.
The Bucs went to Blount on first down on the ensuing drive, but the play broke down immediately and Blount was dropped for a loss of three. Several waves of pressure on second down made it impossible for Freeman to find an open man, and it was quickly third-and-13, then third-and-18 after a false start. A draw play to Graham didn't come close to moving the sticks, and the Bucs had to punt again.
The Patriots started at their own 39 and got 15 quick yards on a controversial first play. Rookie LB Mason Foster delivered a big hit on WR Chad Ochocinco down the right seam, but he was flagged for a personal foul. A 10-yard pass to Hernandez got the ball to the Bucs' 30, but a deep-ball PBU by CB Ronde Barber helped set up a third-and-10. Brady converted it with a perfect deep out to Hernandez to the Bucs' 14. Three plays later, on third-and-four from the eight, Brady threw his second TD pass on a play-action toss to Ochocinco.
The Patriots brought a ton of pressure on the Bucs' next play, too, but Freeman stood in and delivered a 12-yard strike over the middle to WR Mike Williams. A holding penalty on T Donald Penn took back 10 of those yards and Freeman had absolutely no time to throw on first-and-20 before he was sacked for six yards by LB Jerod Mayo. After a false start made it second-and-21, Freeman tried to get half of it on a deep out but it was a little too hot for WR Sammie Stroughter. A third-down dumpoff to Graham got the ball back to the 18, and the Bucs punted for a third time.
Starting at their own 47 this time, the Pats got a quick nine on a pass to Welker, and moved the chains with a run by Green-Ellis. Second-string QB Brian Hoyer came in for one play and got a ball off to Green-Ellis for six yards to the Bucs' 36. Brady came back in to hand off to Woodhead, who zipped up the middle for 14 yards. The Bucs' sixth penalty, a neutral zone infraction by DT Gerald McCoy, moved the ball to the Bucs' 17, and two plays later Green-Ellis found a hole up the middle to get 16 yards to the one. Green-Ellis got the ball into the end zone over left guard on the next play and it was 21-0 just before the end of the first quarter.
Return man Preston Parker finally got a kick he could return on the ensuing kickoff and made a nice cut to get it to the Bucs' 27. The teams switched sides for the second quarter but the Bucs' offense continued to struggle. On third-and-eight from the 29, Freeman was sacked almost before he could set up for a loss of 11 yards, leading to the Bucs' fourth punt.
A penalty on the punt return pushed New England back to its own 29, and DE Adrian Clayborn pressured Brady into an incompletion on first down. TE Rob Gronkowski was flagged for pass interference on an attempted screen pass, which made it second-and-20, and Brady was hit as he threw on the next snap by McCoy. The Bucs pressured Brady out of the pocket on third down and he was forced into an incompletion, leading to the Patriots' first punt.
Starting from their own 39, the Bucs got two yards on a quick slant to Williams, but Blount's fourth carry was good for just one yard. A false start by TE Nathan Overbay made it third-and-12, and those five yards hurt when an out to WR Dezmon Briscoe came up five yards short. A shanked punt by Robert Malone allowed New England to start at its own 40.
Green-Ellis' first-down run around left end gained seven yards and left S Larry Asante on the ground in pain. After Asante walked off under his own power, Green-Ellis ran for five more and a facemask penalty took it down to the Bucs' 33. Woodhead broke free again on the next snap, weaving for 12 yards, and two Green-Ellis runs took it to the Bucs' 12. Sammy Morris ran for three to set up a new set of downs, but a holding call two plays later took the ball back to the 15. A short pass to Welker got the ball down to the one and Green-Ellis powered it in over left end to make it 28-0 with six minutes left in the half.
After a 25-yard kickoff return by Jock Sanders got the ball out to the 21, Josh Johnson came in to direct the Buccaneers' ensuing drive. Johnson quickly scrambled for 12 yards but he play was erased by a holding call on G Derek Hardman. Johnson then threw on-target downfield passes to WRs Micheal Spurlock and Briscoe, but neither was able to haul it in. No matter, Johnson's scrambling throw to Sammie Stroughter on third-and-20 moved the sticks. The Bucs another first down on a pass-interference call but then gave 10 yards back on a holding call against James Lee. Three plays later, on third-and-15, Johnson was quickly swarmed over by the rush and his pass to TE Daniel Hardy was well overthrown. Malone then punted the ball down to the Patriots' three with 2:03 remaining in the half.
Obviously hoping to use the last two minutes of the half to work on their two-minute drill, the Patriots ran a hurry-up attack and saw Brady sacked by Crowder for a loss of six. Brady was also hit on an incompletion two plays later, but he did convert a third-and-10 with a 16-yard pass to Welker. Another hit on Brady by LB Dekoda Watson helped force a punt, and the Bucs took over at their own 46 with 23 seconds left. An 18-yard strike to Spurlock got the Bucs into New England territory. After a Johnson scramble took it to the Patriots' 29 with one second to go, Connor Barth came on to try a 47-yard field goal. His attempt sailed a little right to maintain New England's first-half shutout.