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The Boston Globe

Sports

Christopher L. Gasper

Tougher tests to come for the Patriots

Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson was targeted 10 times by Tom Brady and caught seven passes for 52 yards.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson was targeted 10 times by Tom Brady and caught seven passes for 52 yards.

FOXBOROUGH — We live in a world of instant communication, instant information, and Instagram. But in an era of immediacy and instant gratification, the Patriots are going to require some old-fashioned patience.

They’re less Instagram selfie and more like waiting for a photograph to develop in a dark room.

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How good are the 2013 Patriots? Good enough to be 3-0 after a utilitarian 23-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium Sunday. What does being that good mean? We won’t know the answer to that question for at least a few more weeks. For now, we’ll have to go with the old Bill Parcells quote: “You are what your record says you are.”

The Patriots could play better, but it’s mathematically impossible for them to have better results.

“I mean there is a bunch of teams in league right now that would take that zero beside their name,” said Patriots defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who spent his previous nine seasons in Oakland, the NFL’s black hole. “Ain’t nothing wrong with ugly wins, as long as you win. That’s all that matters. Trust me, that ugly win is going to feel a whole lot better on Monday morning than a pretty loss.”

The Patriots are a team that is going to give you emotional whiplash, if you evaluate them snap to snap. This is a team that is going to require progress charting, not alternating between brow-beating and chest-beating.

Coming off an uninspired and unconvincing win over the New York Jets 10 days earlier, the Foxborough Faithful quickly lost patience with the Patriots late in an offensively inept first quarter in which they ran 12 plays, gained 31 yards, and trailed, 3-0.

Boos filled the air and their ears.

The din of disapproval was a distant memory after the Patriots ran off 17 straight points in the second quarter. It ended up being 23 unanswered points in all.

The major takeaway from Sunday was that the Patriots’ passing game has a pulse.

No one was having flashbacks to 2007 — the last Patriots squad to begin 3-0 — but Tom Brady and the New England offense were able to matriculate the ball down the field.

The Patriots’ last seven real possessions of the game (excluding the victory kneel-downs) all ended in Tampa Bay territory, five of them with points.

Rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins both caught more than laser glares from Brady this week.

Thompkins had both Patriots touchdowns, catching a 16-yarder from Brady to get the Patriots on the board with 7:31 left in the first half and getting open for a 5-yarder that made it 14-3 with 47 seconds left before halftime.

Dobson was targeted 10 times and caught seven passes for 52 yards. He also drew a crucial 28-yard pass interference penalty that set up the Patriots’ second touchdown. Against the Jets, 10 passes thrown his way yielded just three grabs.

Thompkins caught three passes for 41 yards on seven targets and has caught nine of the 28 passes he’s been targeted on this season.

But the fact there were no Tommy Tantrums this week speaks louder than the statistics about the progress of the passing game.

The biggest offensive faux pas came from TB12, who threw a rare end-zone interception on third and goal on New England’s first drive of the second half.

“It was a good win. It was fun to be out there, fun to see us play a little bit better, so it’s nice to be 3-0,” said Brady, who was 25 of 36 for 225 yards.

Like the wins over the Bills and Jets, it’s tough to judge how much the outcome had to do with the Patriots and how much the result was the result of incapable competition.

Forget all that talk about Tampa Bay, which lost its first two games by a combined 3 points, being a few plays away from 2-0.

This is a team that signs its own death certificate.

Despite moving into Patriots’ territory on their first four possessions, Tampa Bay only had 3 points.

Its first and last possessions of the first half were both calamities.

On the Buccaneers’ first possession, they reached the Patriots’ 28. Then they went: false start, drop, and 13-yard completion, before Rian Lindell missed a 38-yard field goal.

On the last, quarterback Josh Freeman was picked off by former Buccaneer Aqib Talib at the Tampa Bay 43 with 11 seconds left in the half, paving the way for Stephen Gostkowski’s 53-yard, half-concluding field goal and a 17-3 Patriots lead.

The Buccaneers were halted four times on fourth down in Patriots territory in the game.

“It wasn’t an explosion. It was a gradual tipping of the scales,” remarked Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.

Maybe the Buccaneers, who had to deal with reports of player unrest leading up to the game, should be second-guessing Schiano if the team’s game plan calls for zone defense and soft cushions on rookie wide receivers who have yet to show they can consistently separate.

Or ask Darrelle Revis, the prototypical shutdown corner, to line up 5 yards off Dobson and bail at the snap of the ball.

Of course those same players have to look in the mirror and take ownership for the crucial penalties they committed that hampered two of their own drives and extended one for the Patriots.

The Patriots remain an unfinished product, but they’re finished with the skid row portion of the schedule.

Next up is a three-game stretch of at Atlanta, at Cincinnati, and home against the New Orleans Saints.

Conveniently, they also should be finished playing without all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Nitpicking three wins against dubious competition beats taking a magnifying glass to defeat.

But we’ll have to wait to see how significant those three wins really are.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.
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