FOXBOROUGH — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 19-17 loss to the Bucs:
▪ Tom Brady got the W, but Bill Belichick came away from Sunday’s night game as the winner. Brady’s Buccaneers were the heavy favorites, but Belichick and the undermanned Patriots gave them all they could handle. Brady only escaped after Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal slammed off the left upright.
Belichick frustrated Brady for most of the night, limiting Brady to 269 yards and no touchdown passes, just the second time in his Bucs tenure that Brady didn’t throw a TD. Using tight man-to-man defense all night, Belichick forced Brady to pat the ball in the pocket and complete just 51 percent of his passes (22 of 43), Brady’s lowest since 2019. His 70.8 passer rating was also his lowest in his last 11 games.
The Patriots couldn’t force any turnovers, and that was probably the difference. Brady was also able to compile two field goal drives in the fourth quarter to put the Bucs over the top. But in the long-awaited, much-anticipated showdown between Brady and Belichick, the coach definitely got the better of the pupil, even though the Bucs escaped with the win.
▪ Moral victories are never fun, and dropping to 1-3 on the season hurts the Patriots significantly as they try to get back to the playoffs. But Sunday night’s result was a strange one — the winning team came away feeling frustrated about the way it’s playing, while the losing team has to feel good about the way it is coming together on both sides of the ball.
Mac Jones showed impressive poise and toughness, and Belichick’s defense played its most complete game of the season. The Patriots ultimately made too many mistakes, and Jones couldn’t get it done in crunch time. But the Patriots look like they may be turning a corner after disappointing losses to the Dolphins and Saints early in the season.
▪ What a performance by Jones, throwing for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and going toe-to-toe with Brady on the national stage. Jones took a beating again — he was sacked four times and hit 12 times — but he showed impressive poise and toughness on a night when his running game gave him nothing.
“He played his tail off,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “He gave his team a chance to win.”
▪ This was an excellent game for the Patriots secondary, playing without Stephon Gilmore. J.C. Jackson held Mike Evans to a quiet seven catches for 75 yards, Jonathan Jones toughed out an injury to hold Antonio Brown to seven catches for 63 yards, and Jalen Mills locked down Chris Godwin for just three catches for 55 yards.
▪ Brady sure did miss Rob Gronkowski, out with a rib injury, Sunday night. Gronk is Brady’s favorite target in the red zone, and it’s not a coincidence that they struggled Sunday, scoring a touchdown on just 1-of-4 possessions inside the 20. Brady had a miscommunication with backup tight end Cameron Brate in the end zone, and Brate also had a drop in the third quarter on what could have been a sizeable gain.
The Patriots’ defense also deserves a lot of credit for bending all night but not breaking inside the red zone.
▪ This was a classic Belichick game plan — throw a lot of different looks at the quarterback, take away the top options, and make the opponent beat you with its fourth option. That meant playing back for much of the night and daring Leonard Fournette to beat them. Fournette had a great game, gaining 138 total yards. But when you hold the Bucs to 19 points and just 1 for 4 in the red zone, that’s usually good enough to win.
▪ But a couple of decisions by Belichick may deserve some second-guessing. Late in the second quarter, Belichick decided to punt on fourth and 2 from the Bucs’ 44 yard line. And late in the game, Belichick opted for a 56-yard field goal attempt instead of going for it on fourth and 3. The decision in the first half was too conservative, and potentially cost the Patriots three points. The decision to kick at the end was probably a coin flip, but Folk usually doesn’t have the leg from 56 yards.
▪ The Patriots also need to cut down on the mistakes. They allowed four sacks and had too many unblocked blitzers chasing down Jones. J.J. Taylor lost a fumble, spoiling a terrific scoring opportunity. They committed too many penalties — seven for 74 yards — and Matthew Slater committed a gut-wrenching unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to negate a fumble.
The Patriots played much better on Sunday night, but need to play cleaner football. They’re not good enough yet to overcome these mistakes.
▪ Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles tried to blitz Jones into oblivion, and other than an early interception, Jones handled it well and found his open receiver.
There was the 16-yard throw to Jakobi Meyers in which he side-stepped Lavonte David. A 16-yarder to Kendrick Bourne also against the blitz. A 15-yarder to Meyers on third and 3. A 21-yard checkdown to Damien Harris in the second half.
Jones’s ability to handle the blitz — and the spotlight — bodes very well for his future here in New England.
▪ Great job by Josh McDaniels to not force the run. The Patriots finished the night with eight carries for minus-1 yard — a new record low for the franchise — and McDaniels put the game in Jones’s hands, spreading the Bucs out with a shotgun spread and letting Jones go to work.
At one point in the night, Jones completed 19 consecutive passes, matching the longest streak of Brady’s career. He shook off an early interception and finished with his best game as a pro. Hopefully this game can be a turning point for Jones and the offense.
▪ This game demonstrated how off-kilter the Bucs are right now. The red zone offense was a mess without Gronkowski. The Bucs entered the game having committed the second-most penalties in the NFL, and committed two pass interferences on the Patriots’ first touchdown drive, plus a crucial one on the Patriots’ final drive. Ryan Succop missed a 36-yard field goal in the second quarter.
And the Bucs’ secondary is a mess, playing without two starters Sunday and losing Carlton Davis in the first half. Jones looked like a rookie last week against the Saints, but he looked like a wily vet against this struggling Bucs defense.
Brady’s teams usually have a few struggles early in the season as they figure things out. This year’s Bucs certainly fall into that category.
▪ The Patriots’ finally got some return on their investments with tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Neither had big numbers — Henry just four catches for 32 yards, and Smith just three catches for 14 yards — but they each caught their first touchdown as Patriots. Henry, especially, did a nice job of working himself open and making himself a target for Jones on his touchdown late in the second quarter.
The Patriots could still use more from their tight ends, but Sunday night was a good start.
▪ Another big free agent signing, linebacker Matthew Judon, continues to wreak havoc. He had 2.5 sacks last week against the Saints, and was a wrecking ball Sunday night, finishing with a sack, two quarterback hits and two tackles for loss, while also drawing a huge illegal hands to the face penalty to negate a 44-yard reception to Antonio Brown.
Judon was trash talking Brady all night, and backed it up with his play. He has been a terrific addition to this defense.
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Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.