Patriots-Bucs: Sickly offenses come together
By HOWARD ULMAN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | September 22,2013
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady stretches out his arm during a practice/stretching session at the team’s training facility in Foxborough, Mass., on Wednesday.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — If Tom Brady had Tampa Bay’s veteran receivers on his team, the NFL’s two-time MVP might not have had so much trouble winning his first two games.
If the Buccaneers had Brady instead of struggling Josh Freeman at quarterback, their chances of being unbeaten instead of winless would have been infinitely better.
On Sunday, Brady again will try to get in sync with the New England Patriots’ crop of rookie wide receivers, another test of his admitted lack of patience when there is a game to be won.
“I think there’s a real urgency to what we do here,” he said. “This is not tiddlywinks. This is real football and this is a real job and we’re held accountable every single day for what we do every single day.
“This is about winning football games, and we’re doing our best to do it, and that’s why we work hard. That’s why you make the commitments you make to the players that you play with, so that we can go out and try to win, and win on a consistent basis.”
With Danny Amendola expected to be sidelined with a groin injury, three of Brady’s top four wide receivers are rookies. The Patriots also are missing running back Shane Vereen with a broken wrist, but hope to have star tight end Rob Gronkowski for the first time after offseason forearm and back surgery.
Freeman has plenty of help with running back Doug Martin and wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. But Freeman is 30th in the NFL in passer rating and 33rd in completion percentage.
“There’s some good things you look at the first two ballgames, despite some that were inconsistent or a little bit rocky along the way,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said of Freeman’s play. “It’s not just one player, it’s not just one play, it’s a combination of a collective group of men going out and executing. To this point, we haven’t done that.”
Five things to look for when the Bucs (0-2) visit the Patriots (2-0):
CLOSE CALLS: Tampa Bay’s losses have been by field goals in the closing seconds, dropping coach Greg Schiano to 0-5 in games decided by three or fewer points.
“It’s frustrating, sure. Just when you lose, period, it’s frustrating,” he said. “When you put 85-90 hours of work into a week, and then you don’t achieve what you set out to achieve, frustrating would be probably the most mild word you could use.”
MORE CLOSE CALLS: The Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills 23-21 on a field goal with 5 seconds left, then edged the New York Jets 13-10 when Brady completed fewer than half his passes for the first time in 58 games, including the postseason.
“I think everyone knows we’re a couple of plays away from losing games and they were a couple of plays away from winning games,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said, “so you really can’t always take a team just from the record.”
OLD-TIME QB: After facing rookie quarterbacks in their first two games, the Patriots will go against five-year veteran Freeman. That gives them more video to help prepare. But it also makes it tougher to confuse a player with plenty of experience.
“He’s got a strong arm,” Patriots safety Steve Gregory said. “He can definitely get the ball downfield and he’s athletic, can move around in the pocket, can get into the open field and run with the ball.”
BETTER D, BUT: With the addition of backs Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay’s defense has shown dramatic improvement over last season, when it nearly set an NFL for yards passing allowed. But the Bucs have been unable to finish off the opposition.
“It comes down to players,” Schiano said. “We can draw a lot of squiggly lines to put the players in a position where they can do their job, and then you have to trust that they’ll do it.”
SNEAK PREVIEW: The teams held joint practices in Foxborough before the Patriots beat the Buccaneers 25-21 in an exhibition game. That experience likely had limited value for the teams in getting ready for Sunday because neither side revealed much of what it would do in the regular season.
“It was definitely not showing them everything that we have in our playbook. They’ll sure see it this upcoming week,” Martin said.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org