It wasn’t always pretty, and the offense still lacked explosive plays, but Tom Brady finally clicked with his young receivers, the defense was once again dominant, and the Patriots emerged with a convincing 23-3 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Despite the Patriots’ perceived struggles on offense -- they’re averaging 19.7 points per game through three games, down from 34.8 last year -- they are now 3-0 this year for the first time since the 2007 season.
Brady was forced to dink-and-dunk all game, and his longest pass was just 20 yards. But after a shaky first quarter in which the Patriots punted three times, Brady was accurate and efficient over the final three quarters, finishing 25-of-36 passing for 225 yards and two touchdown passes, both to Kenbrell Thompkins (the first two of his career).
The rookies weren’t perfect -- Dobson and Thompkins each had a bad drop in the game -- but they were much improved over their first two games. Dobson caught seven passes for 52 yards, including a couple of crucial conversions on third- and fourth-down in the first half, while Thompkins caught three passes for 41 yards.
In fact, the biggest mistake of the day came not from a rookie, but from Brady, who threw a bad interception in the end zone to Mark Barron -- Brady’s first end zone interception since Week 14 in 2011.
The biggest revelation on offense was the contribution of Brandon Bolden, who filled in nicely for Shane Vereen after missing the first two games of the season with an injury. Bolden finished with 100 total yards (51 rushing, 49 receiving), including a 46-yard run in the third quarter, and five catches for 49 yards.
While the offense finally found its groove, the defense continued its stout play through the first three games and had its best performance of the season, holding the Bucs to 323 total yards and a combined 5-of-17 on third and fourth downs.
The Pats sacked Josh Freeman three times and held him to 19-of-40 passing for 236 yards and an interception to Aqib Talib, his third of the season. Helping matters for the Patriots was that Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson left the game early in the third quarter with a rib injury, taking Freeman’s best target away.
Running back Doug Martin did finish with 88 rushing yards on 20 carries, but the Bucs fell behind by two touchdowns in the second half and were forced to throw.
After facing three of the league’s worst offenses in the Bills, Jets, and Bucs to start the season, the schedule now gets much tougher for the Patriots, with games at Atlanta, at Cincinnati and vs. New Orleans coming up.