With the entire season obviously behind us at this point, this is the second entry in a new series taking an in-depth look back at each regular season game now that we have plenty of context behind it to understand the significance of what transpired in each one. Also included will be notable stats, quotes, and additional information to hopefully focus on things you may have forgotten and make it an interesting look back at the season. The idea behind this is with free agency approaching and the draft not far off, this will paint a bigger picture of each game and highlight some of the weaknesses and things that went wrong, which will likely play a factor in how the team approaches fixing some of the issues they dealt with this season.

In this morning’s installment, the focus is on their week three win over the Buccaneers, which was a dominating 23-3 home victory.

Week 3: Sunday, September 22nd, 2013 vs Tampa Bay

After beating the Jets in week two, everything was clicking for New England, at least defensively. After a long break thanks to having played a Thursday night game the week before, the Patriots took on the Buccaneers at home and allowed just three points, which was surprising since some thought this could have been a tougher match-up. Instead the visiting Buccaneers put forth a less than inspired effort, with the Patriots sending them home with a 23-3 loss.

That would be a sign of things to come for the Buccaneers, who at the end of the season finished with a miserable 4-12 record and would end up firing both head coach Greg Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominik.

Looking back there were some interesting things worth pointing out, and here’s a closer look at some of the things that transpired during that game:

OFFENSIVE STATS:
Total Number of Offensive Plays: 72 (Excluding punts & field goals)
Number of First Down Plays: 30 – First Downs Converted: 4
Number of Second Down Plays: 25 – First Downs Converted: 8
Number of Third Down Plays: 15 – First Downs Converted: 6
Number of Fourth Down Plays: 2 – First Downs Converted 1
Punts – 3
FG Attempts: 3, Made: 3

PASSING STATS:
Tom Brady:
Total: 25-of-36 (69%) for 225yds, 3 sacks, 2 TDs, 1 INT QB Rating: 92.9
First Down:7-of-13 (54%) for 62yds 1 sack
Second Down: 10-of-13 (77%) for 79yds, 1 sack, 2 TDs
Third Down: 7-of-9 (78%) for 78yds, 1 sack, 1 INT

Red Zone Passing:

3-of-7 (43%) for 29yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT

RUSHING LEADERS:
LeGarrette Blount: 14 carries, 65yds (3 First Downs)
Brandon Bolden: 3 carries, 51 yards (1 First Down)
Stevan Ridley: 11 carries, 35yds (2 First Downs)
Tom Brady: 5 carries, 5 yards (1 First Downs)

RECEIVING LEADERS:
Julian Edelman: Targets: 7, Receptions: 7, 44yds (2 First Downs)
Aaron Dobson: Targets: 10, Receptions: 7, 52yds (4 First Downs)
Brandon Bolden: Targets: 6, Receptions: 5, 49yds (2 First Downs)
Kenbrell Thompkins: Targets: 7, Receptions: 3, 41yds, 2 TDs (3 First Downs)
Michael Hoomanawanui: Targets: 2, Receptions: 2, 31yds (1 First Down)

NOTABLE INACTIVES:
RB Leon Washington, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Danny Amendola, WR Matthew Slater


Julian Edelman finished with 7 receptions for 44-yards on the afternoon and remained a big part of Brady’s third down success throwing the football.
(USA TODAY Images)

SOMEONE IMPORTANT MISSING WHEN THIS GAME BEGAN:

We all remember the fact that both Amendola and Gronkowski sat this one out, but one of the bigger surprises came after we learned that following the Jets’ game special teams captain Matthew Slater suffered a broken wrist, which cost the Patriots another important player. Slater is their best coverage player on special teams and a team captain, so losing him for a period of time was certainly a big blow to a team that would start becoming further decimated by injuries as the weeks went on.

PATRIOTS DEFENSE SHOWED UP IN A BIG WAY:

Facing the likes of Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson, there were questions coming into the game about how well Aqib Talib would be able to match-up in shutting the Buccaneers’ receiver down. However, Talib made Jackson largely ineffective and shadowed him all afternoon while holding the Buccaneers explosive receiver to just 3 catches for 34 yards.

There were obviously no passing touchdowns that afternoon, which marked the second straight week they had held an opponent without one after allowing two in week one out in Buffalo. For a secondary that couldn’t seem to stop anyone in 2012, they had been much more cohesive so far compared to the previous season.

Also worth pointing out was the reduction in big plays. In 2012 they allowed plays of over 30 yards in four out of their first five games. However, through three weeks in 2013, they allowed just one (week two against the Jets).

They had also tightened up in the red zone since week one. Against the Bills E.J. Manuel was 2-of-2 with two touchdowns, but after this one was over they had held opponents to 1-of-9 passing with no touchdowns.

Meanwhile, against the run, they had been just as tough. They put together another great performance against the Buccaneers and at this point had allowed just six runs of over 10 yards, with Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly having been pretty incredible inside.

Here’s a quick glance at the opponent’s rushing stats through three games:

Opponent rushing:

Runs of 1-5 yards: 59
Runs of 6-10 yards: 14
Runs of 10-20 yards: 6

The stat that clearly stands out is the fact they had held opponents to runs of 5 yards or less on 75% of the positive gains allowed. Against Tampa Bay they held Doug Martin to just one carry over 10 yards, with 14 of his 20 carries being of 5 or less yards.

Another great job by Wilfork and Kelly, as well as Jerod Mayo. But little did they know that those three would all be gone in the weeks to come, which would cause everything to begin to shift.

DEFENSE ACTUALLY ALMOST REACHED A MILESTONE:

As mentioned, this week’s game marked another big showing by the Patriots’ defense.  After holding the Buccaneers to just three points, at the time that gave them a total of just 34 points allowed on the season through three games, which was the second best three-game start to a season in franchise history. The team would later release a stat and pointed out that the last time the Patriots started off a season giving up so few points was back in 1979, when they gave up 33.

DOBSON, THOMPKINS SHINE IN WIN:

This was a big day for the two rookie receivers, with both rebounding against the Buccaneers.  Dobson had the biggest day for New England, finishing with 7 receptions after being targeted 10 times, including two grabs on two targets on third down, both conversions.

Meanwhile Thompkins finished with two touchdowns on the afternoon and seemed to be starting to gain a little confidence at this point in the season.

RIDLEY THE UNSUNG HERO IN THIS ONE:

Ridley didn’t have a big afternoon carrying the football, but Ben Volin of the Boston Globe pointed out after the game was over that Ridley was a big part of New England’s success in the passing game.  Volin noticed in the film review that Ridley had three terrific chip blocks that gave Brady additional time to hit their receivers.

BLOUNT CAME UP BIG IN THE FOURTH QUARTER:

Facing his old team, LeGarrette Blount was part of the big reason why the Patriots were able to close them out.  In the fourth quarter he rushed eight times for 56 yards on one of New England’s drives, where he helped the Patriots take the clock from 7:38 to 2:58, and by the time they gave it back the Buccaneers were forced to start the drive from their own 7-yard line.

WE LEARNED GRONK’S SETBACKS WERE ARM, NOT BACK RELATED:

A slightly alarming note from NFL Network analyst Ian Rapoport that week, who reported that the reason tight end Rob Gronkowki wasn’t ready to play was an issue that was “more with his arm than his back.” 

At the time It was relatively disturbing considering all the setbacks he had suffered seemed to have been due to the arm he broke in 2012 against the Colts.  At this point in the season the Patriots were heading into what was considered to be one of the more difficult stretches they would face this season, with games against Atlanta, Cincinnati, and New Orleans upcoming.

At this point in the year they hadn’t seen much production at the tight end position, with Michael Hoomanawanui being the only one so far with a reception.  Brady had zero luck connecting with Zach Sudfeld at this point in the year, having targeted him three times without a completion and he had actually ended up throwing an interception on two of them.

The Gronkowski story would become even bigger as we all remember, and unfortunately we would only be teased by his presence in the weeks to come before losing him yet again.

NINKOVICH EXTENDED:

Jeff Howe would report on Monday that mere hours before kickoff Rob Ninkovich would receive a contract extension for 3 years, worth $15-million.  Ninkovich had played well to that point and remained a key part of New England’s defense, especially considering all the adversity they were about to have to face after things began to unravel following the Atlanta Game.

ADDITIONAL NOTES AND NUMBERS:

- Tom Brady extended his touchdown streak in this game to 51 straight games, closing him in on the record of 54 held by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

- After this game when facing 3rd-and-more-than-10 yards, opponents were 0-for-10 converting against New England’s secondary.  To take it a step further, when facing 3rd-and-7 or more, opponents were just 3-of-21 converting against them at this point in the season.

- Julian Edelman extended his third down reception streak in this game, which had seen him been targeted eight times with eight receptions.  He had converted 5 of them, including two touchdowns.  At the time he also lead the team with 27 catches for 201 yards.

- Aaron Dobson would be second on the team in receptions and was tied with Danny Amendola with 10 catches, 4 of which had come on third down and all of them were first down grabs.

- Kenbrell Thompkins was the most targeted receiver in the red zone for the Patriots at this point in the season, having been targeted six times with three receptions including two touchdowns.

- Bill Belichick would notch his 208th win, putting him one away from tying Chuck Noll’s record of 209.