Let's just get the obvious out of the way – the biggest takeaway from the biggest regular season game in decades was that not only did quarterback Tom Brady make his return to Gillette Stadium, entering from the visitor's tunnel this time, but he also broke the league's all-time passing record on a 28-yard completion to wide receiver Mike Evans.
Talk about historic.
It was a weird night, with even the New England weather seemingly spilling its own emotions about Brady's homecoming. The rain started as soon as he took the field for pregame warmups and didn't let up the entire game.
But after Brady settled down a bit in the first quarter, it was blatantly apparent this was going to be a fantastic matchup to watch. With the unprecedented familiarity Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick had with the opposing quarterback, a near-flawless gameplan was put together to combat him. Only, it wasn't quite enough.
It was, however, still a back and forth battle and ultimately, gave Tom Brady the chance to engineer yet another game-winning drive. And that he did, while his defense came up big as an answer, forcing the Patriots to attempt a 56-yard field goal in the pouring rain on fourth-down and three.
(Can we shoutout Lavonte David here too for breaking up the pass on third and three that forced them into the try? Because I haven't heard enough people doing so.)
Though the narratives prior to the game focused on just two men, Brady and the Bucs went into Gillette and showed why football is the ultimate team game.
Here are a few team takeaways from the night.
1. The defensive pass rush returned in a big way.
You'd think down two starting corners and losing a third while having to start a player that had only signed with the team this past Wednesday would understandably limit how effective the defense could be in a game.
You'd be wrong, though.
With their backs against the wall and no other choice given how ever-changing the secondary has been, the Bucs got their groove back in the pass rush thanks to the guys up front quite literally leading the way.
The Bucs registered four sacks during the game, which is one more than they had in the first three games combined so far this season. Two of those sacks belonged to rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. They were his first ever regular season NFL sacks, though he formally gave all the credit on his second sack to nose tackle Vita Vea. He wasn't the only one to benefit from the play of the Bucs' interior lineman. The Patriots often set two blockers on Vea, leaving other guys one on one – like Will Gholston, who recorded his second sack of the season. Shaq Barrett also nabbed himself another sack – he has three in four games now. Vea is also helping himself because according to Next Gen Stats, he and Barrett are tied for the team lead in pressures with nine this season.
The Bucs blitzed quarterback Mac Jones at their highest rate this season, bringing five or more rushers on 47.8% of plays. Two of their four takedowns happened when bringing five or more and they recorded eight pressures in such situations. On the night, the Bucs also managed 12 quarterback hits, putting tremendous strain on New England's offensive line protecting for a pocket passer like quarterback Mac Jones. Even when Jones got rid of the ball quickly or handed it off (as seldom as he did), the Bucs managed six tackles for loss on the night. Oh, and two takeaways. Oh, and the Patriots converted just two of nine third downs, had just two trips inside the red zone, converting only one of them and oh yeah, only scored 17 points. Even with a near-constant shuffling of the defensive backfield. All of a sudden the Bucs' pass rush woes don't look so bad.
It wasn't just the pass rush, either. The Bucs kept up their stoutness against the run, allowing the Patriots -1 yards on the ground on Sunday and no, that's not a typo. For more on that, see Scott Smith's Data Crunch.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week four matchup vs. New England Patriots.
2. The Bucs brought a more balanced attack on offense into the rain-filled matchup.
Tampa Bay had 116 yards on the ground against New England and quarterback Tom Brady only had to account for three of them. It was running back Leonard Fournette that made up most of the rest, gaining a season-high 91 rushing yards on the night. The Bucs ran the ball on 30 of 73 offensive plays, giving that side of the ball some much needed balance.
It paid off in time of possession, too. For the first time this season, the Bucs' offense had the ball longer than their opponent, owning a 33:55 to 26:05 advantage over New England Sunday night. That becomes paramount for the defense to keep up their energy levels and therefore stay aggressive. We heard all night about how the game was 'a great team win' and this is exactly why. Each phase of the ball did their job and through tough conditions, including a mini-monsoon throughout the game, it allowed the Bucs to keep the game in control, even when the Patriots held leads.
3. Third downs, penalties are still an issue and red zone efficiency is becoming one.
The Bucs won the turnover battle, they won the time of possession battle, they outgained the Patriots' offense 380 yards to 294 yards on overall offense so… why was the game so close?
Potential answer: third down and red zone efficiency.
The Bucs found themselves in 19 third-down situations. Nineteen. And 11 of those 19 were third and six or more. Part of that could be contributed to inefficiency on first and second down but the Bucs had a 5.1 yard per play average on offense. And that's where penalties come in… maybe.
The Bucs again committed seven penalties, gifting 74 yards to the Patriots that way. But despite how it felt in the game, Tampa Bay actually got those yards back and then some from New England. The Pats had eight penalties for 77 yards on the night. Seemed like a wash among the two teams, though you never want to rely on your opponent committing eight penalties in a game.
That brings me to the red zone. Where the Bucs were extraordinarily efficient inside the 20-yard line last season, and especially in goal-to-go situations where they led the league for a majority of the season, this year has seen them struggle. The Bucs converted just one of four red zone trips into points on Sunday night. It was an eight-yard scamper from running back Ronald Jones that gave the Bucs their only touchdown of the game.
Part of that can maybe also be attributed to the conditions in which the game was played in. The rain, the wind, the surrounding storylines. But at least the weather didn't affect that 48-yard field goal by Ryan Succop, right?