Monday, October 26, 2009

Patriots 35, Buccaneers 7 (10/25/2009)

It's official; all winless teams must quake in fear before the mighty New England Patriots! The Pats laid the smackdown on the Bucs, sending their second consecutive oh-fer team home still oh-fer. The win kept them a game ahead of the Jets in the AFC East, and with the bye week to recuperate and reassess, it will seem like a long time until there's more football. But don't worry, yours truly doesn't *take* no stinkin' bye weeks, so the mid-season report will be forthcoming sometime soon.

Even though the score wasn't as bad, this game might have been unofficially over even quicker than the Titans game. Tampa's first two possessions were ended by Brandon Meriweather interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, and the Pats led 14-0 in the first quarter. Tampa fought longer in this game, but Tennessee didn't start getting blown out until the second quarter. Brandon McGowan continued to impress, with two passes defended and five tackles, while Leigh Bodden added two passes defended but let up a few, too. More often than has been usual, the secondary was a step late, specifically Darius Butler on the Bucs only touchdown. But it isn't going to be perfect every week.

The rest of the defense played extremely well. It is always impressive to hold a team to 27% on third down conversions, 89 yards rushing, 26:45 time of possession, and a QB rating of 36.6 (with 3 interceptions). The line did a great job pressuring the QB, and it wasn't all Wilfork this time. Ty Warren played inspired, getting back to his 2006 form, and he was helped by Mike Wright and rookie Myron Pryor. The team also moved Derrick Burgess to down lineman and played a lot of 4-3, and that energized Burgess. He wasn't dominant, but he had his first sack in six weeks and didn't crumble on the point against the run.

(Suggestion for Phil Simms and Jim Nance, yesterday's announcers. When you tout a player before the game [in this case Tampa left tackle Donald Penn] at least have the guts to admit you were wrong when he is consistently beaten. Penn didn't hold up well on running plays or passing plays. Maybe he had a bad game, but you guys weren't shy in your criticism of Patriots rookie left tackle Sebastian Vollmer -- so you might want to be a bit more even-handed about it in the future.)

The linebackers were all over the place, and might have been the real story of the defense. Jerod Mayo continues the Medical Miracle Tour, gutting out 8 tackles even without his full strength or explosion of that injured knee. Can't wait until *he* gets back to full speed. Gary Guyton was solid as usual, and recently benched Adalius Thomas did a great job holding the end against the run.

But the real linebacking star was Tully Banta-Cain. A few weeks back I wrote that Banta-Cain "gets fooled on screens and is a non-factor when the play isn't to his side, even though he's fast enough to run those plays down." Maybe he reads this blog because he made two tackles for a loss and on one screen pass he almost got the QB and then ran down the receiver from behind, even though it was to the *other* side of the field. A great game from a player finding his way in a new defense. Tully, if you feel it necessary to throw any egg my way, I'll be sure to catch it -- face first :)

On offense, it was all about the precision passing game.Tom Brady completed almost 72% of his passes and had another ho-hum 100+ QB rating (107.3, for those keeping score at home). The one complaint is that under pressure he threw two interceptions; though neither proved costly in a blowout. Wes Welker continued to be Mr. Reliable (10 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown), and though Moss got dinged up early, he came in when needed to get first downs. Ben Watson made a nice read on his touchdown, running up the seam when the safety dropped coverage. And Sam Aiken turned a short pass into a long touchdown when he broke a tackle and raced 50 yards for the longest Patriots play of the year.

The running game was decent, breaking 100 yards for the second consecutive week. Laurence Maroney wasn't quite as good as he was against the Titans, but he was decent and was well complimented by BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The one concern here is that the team is running dangerously low on running backs, with only Kevin Faulk available beyond Laurence and BenJarvus. If they don't get Sammy Morris or Fred Taylor back from injury soon, they should consider adding a running back now, so they would have two weeks to teach him the offense.

The Pats biggest problem on offense was the penalties. Four false-starts in a neutral-site game? And three offensive holding calls, not to mention two more motion penalties in the kicking game. Tsk tsk tsk... for shame. You guys have got to get this straightened out and fast; two of your next four games are on the road in domes (Indy and New Orleans), so it won't get any easier to hear the snap count.

Special teams played well, with Gostkowski forcing touchbacks on almost all of his kickoffs and the coverage teams neutralizing Tampa's strength in returns. The Bucs did get one partial block of a punt, and almost got another one, so there is some work to do in that area.

So where does that leave us? As previously noted, first place in the AFC East and enjoying a well-earned weekend off. Here's hoping for weather stays as nice as it was Sunday we see a few Yankee losses in the Soon-to-be-Winter Classic.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: So far the season the Patriots have run two fakes out of kicking formations and both times they were called back on motion penalties. Yesterday Logan Mankins was called for a false start on a fake punt; brownie points if you can identify the culprit and game of the other penalty (answer below).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "84-7 the last two games. Okay... now that they fattened up on cupcake teams, let's see how they come out of the bye. The next five games will determine whether they are built to go deep in the playoffs."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 5-2!

uiz answer: Chris Baker against the Ravens -- and he was the intended receiver on the play!

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