COMMENTARY | After two messy wins against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 and the New York Jets in Week 2, the New England Patriots flexed their muscles in convincing fashion against an inferior Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in a 23-3 victory in Week 3. The following list of players were lucky enough to make my Week 3 "stars of the game" list (I am sure they are very proud).
1. Tom Brady winning with what he's got
After significantly struggling to find a rhythm in the Patriots' Week 2 win over the New York Jets, quarterback Tom Brady was back in business against a solid Buccaneers defense. Brady completed 25 of 36 passes for 225 yards, 2 touchdowns and several clutch third down completions. While that stat line may not blow you away, it was clear to everyone watching the game that Brady was in control from the second quarter through the final snap. Yes, there were several shaky moments early in the game and an interception in the red zone in the third quarter, but considering the offense is still operating without top targets Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, there really isn't a whole lot New England fans can complain about.
2. The New England Patriots defense
In fairness, the Patriots have three victories against three less-than-stellar offenses, but it still cannot be denied that for the third week in a row, the defense looks sharper than it has for quite some time.
The defensive secondary was able to hold Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman to only 19 completions on 41 attempts, an average of only 46.3 percent, for a measly quarterback rating of 54.5. Freeman, as well as the entire Buccaneers team, never once scored a touchdown. New England also held outstanding young running back Doug Martin, who finished last week with 144 yards on 29 carries, to only 88 yards, preventing him from playing an important role in the game.
Rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson took a lot of heat after only managing to haul in a combined 5 receptions for 103 yards on 17 targets in Week 2 against the Jets. Brady, Bill Belichick and the fans in Foxboro, MA were visibly frustrated with their performances, and it is no secret that if the team is going to have success over the next three weeks, they are going to need production from both Thompkins and Dobson. It may not have been a perfect performance, but both receivers looked much better than they did in Week 2.
Despite only catching 3 balls on 7 targets, Thompkins had two very important touchdowns during key moments in the game. Dobson, who failed to make it into the end zone, finished as the leading receiver with 7 receptions for 52 yards on 10 targets. If both wide outs can continue improving, the Patriots may very well end the season with a strong receiving corps once Gronkowski and Amendola return healthy.
Coming into the season, the starting running back job unquestionably belonged to Stevan Ridley, but after two lackluster performances in Week 1 and Week 2, it appears as though coach Bill Belichick may be looking to other potential options on the roster.
University of Oregon standout LeGarrette Blount made a strong case against the Buccaneers for why he may end up being the permanent replacement. Blount carried the ball 14 times on Sunday for 65 yards, an average of 4.6 yards per carry, and he absolutely looked the part of starting half back. Ridley, however, failed to impress again, averaging 3.2 yards per carry and only 35 yards.
5. Aqib Talib strikes again
For the third time in two games, cornerback and primary defensive back for the Patriots Aqib Talib snatched a key interception to shift momentum New England's way. Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman attempted to force a pass to star wide receiver Vincent Jackson as time ran down at the end of the second quarter, but instead of completing a huge gain, Talib stepped in and made the easy grab. Talib's third interception on the season led to an important Stephen Gostkowski field goal, and the Patriots never looked back.
The Patriots took care of business in their first three games, but the schedule now shifts to possibly the toughest stretch of the season for New England. Over the next three weeks, the Patriots will square off against playoff contenders in the Atlanta Falcons (1-2) and Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) on the road and then come back home to play the New Orleans Saints (3-0). If the Patriots can find a way to manage two wins over those three games, they will put themselves in excellent position before playing two important division contests against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.
You can watch the New England Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 8:30 p.m. EDT on NBC.
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Justin Haskins is a New England native and a freelance journalist. He has been obsessively following Boston professional sports for 10 years and has been published in numerous online publications and websites.
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