August 19, 2011
Patriot Starters Look Ready To Get Real
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
TAMPA -- If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are supposedly one of the more improved teams in the NFC, what must Raheem Morris be thinking after Thursday night.
The Patriot varsity played the entire first half and went into the locker room at halftime up 28-0, and the domination by the Patriots was much worse than that. Tom Brady saw most of the action under center and looked at times better than his MVP season last year. The Patriot defense enjoyed the debut of Andre Carter and kept the pressure on Josh Freeman all during the first half. Backup quarterback Josh Johnson fared somewhat better in the second half, but the Patriots prevailed in the end, 31-14 at Raymond James Stadium.
All the defensive starters save for Albert Haynesworth played and completely blanketed the Buccaneer offense. The Bucs were held to only 73 total yards in the first half, and only 11 total yards rushing. LeGarrette Blount, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2010, was held to only one yard in four carries. Freeman was 5 of 10 passing for only 33 yards and was sacked twice. Jerod Mayo had two sacks and he, along with Carter, led a fierce pass rush which kept the Tampa Bay offense off kilter all during the first half. Whatever offensive game plan Morris and Greg Olson had for this game, the Patriots were all over it and never allowed Tampa Bay to establish anything, but anything, offensively.
Along with Carter, linebacker Nick Koutevides was making his Patriot debut. He played into the second half and looked sharp out there for the most part, showing a great deal of quickness and knowing where to be. If Haynesworth can pick up the Patriot defensive scheme as well as these two guys, the Patriots will have something to really squawk about, and the same goes for Shaun Ellis as well.
Offensively, the Patriots moved the ball easily, scoring touchdowns on four of their six first half possessions. Of particular interest was the ability to run the ball right down the throat of the Tampa Bay interior line; BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead combined for 114 yards rushing in the first half, averaging over seven yards per carry. Green-Ellis scored two touchdowns, both from one yard out.
Brady sparkled in his 2011 debut, with a passer rating of 111.3 and playing all but a few snaps of the first half. He hit Wes Welker five times for 56 yards and Aaron Hernandez three times for 42 yards and a touchdown, and looked like he was in November form while doing so.
But perhaps his most memorable throw of the evening was a first quarter eight-yard scoring toss to Chad Ochocinco, making his Patriot debut. The loquacious former Cincinnati wideout lined up on the right side and did a quick left in-cut, and made a leaping grab at the back of the end zone to give the Patriots at the time a 14-0 lead. It was one of only two catches for Ochocinco, but at least the ice has been broken between these two. His coming to New England is significant in that it mirrors his former teammate, Corey Dillon, coming here after a messy departure from the Queen City wanting to win a Super Bowl.
The second half featured many of the players who starred last week against Jacksonville, and only Stevan Ridley matched his work from last week.
Ryan Mallett came out for the second half at quarterback. On the sixth play of the half, he tried to throw a deep touch pass to seemingly no one, and Elbert Mack made an easy interception. He managed to run it back 69 yards for a touchdown to get Tampa Bay off the schnide. It was a terrible throw by Mallett, with defensive lineman Frank Okam coming in at him up the middle.
Mallett finished with 9 of 14 passing for 71 yards, and a passer rating of only 47.
Ridley fared somewhat better. He gashed the reserve Buccaneer defense for 84 yards on 14 carries for a six-yard average. He continues to demonstrate that he deserves a place on this team, and is taking advantage of the fact that fellow draftee Shane Vereen is still out with a hamstring injury. Ridley did have a third quarter fumble, but that proved inconsequential as Kyle Arrington intercepted a Johnson pass three plays later, which led to a field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, the only score for the Patriots in the second half.
There was a deeply disturbing moment in the fourth quarter. With the score 31-14 Patriots at the time, Woodhead was in on punt coverage and got clobbered in the head by Devin Holland. He managed to run off the field but then collapsed on the sideline. One has to wonder what Woodhead was doing in there in the fourth quarter of a blowout preseason game on special teams. If Woodhead loses significant playing time because of this, and if it flows over into the regular season, Bill Belichick will have committed one of the biggest brain cramps of his Patriot career. He won't answer for it, but then he won't need to explain what everyone should view as a blatantly stupid move from an otherwise brilliant coach. Even if it was the regular season, putting Woodhead in that situation is not smart (Mike Vrabel was also injured in a similar situation on special teams some years back). It is one thing to use these players in a real game in a crucial situation, but no one of significance should be anywhere near the field in the fourth quarter of a preseason game, especially one that is not a close game, regardless of what situations need to be worked on.
Otherwise, Belichick should be happy with his A-team and should have a clearer picture of what the next round of cuts should bring. It probably shouldn't be concluded that Tampa Bay brought nothing on offense purposely; wanting to play well in front of the home crowd should have motivated the Buccaneer offense to come out sharper than they did. That said, it was a complete domination on both sides of the ball by the Patriots, and they now get an extra two days of rest going into next week's game at Detroit next Saturday night on national television.
So, it looks like Brady will not lose his starting job to Mallett, the defensive additions look good, the offensive line was spot on, and as long as Woodhead is all right, the Patriots did well. They are now 2-0 in the preseason, and looking exceedingly well all the way.
Next up: an Albert Haynesworth sighting.
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