Tom Brady and Bill Belichick did not disappoint in primetime, not even on different teams. The dynamic duo, which put together so many sensational and memorable, performances in primetime, did it again.
The game was tight for the entire game, with Brady putting his team ahead with two minutes left in the game — just like you would expect. Then Mac Jones and the Patriots offense couldn’t quite get enough yardage for kick Nick Foles, who hit the upright and missed his 56-yard attempt with one minute left in the game.
Here are our 12 takeaways from the game.
Maybe they pushed the Buccaneers. But the Patriots are 1-3.
As good as the Patriots looked in this game and as much as Jones seemed to show new levels of poise, New England lost to Brady and a superior Buccaneers team. Belichick’s squad drops to 1-3. They’re clearly putting together a recipe for success, but even in a 17-game season, it’s fair to wonder whether they have enough runway to get into the playoff hunt.
The product on Sunday night was encouraging. The final result for the first four games is discouraging. The Patriots will have to figure out how to reconcile with that and jumpstart their season — before it’s lost.
The Patriots were happy to let Mac Jones cook
The Patriots threw the ball on their first three plays on offense. New England ran into some snags by relying heavily upon Jones to generate offense, with the rookie QB throwing an interception on his ninth pass. But it was clearly the only option for New England, which could generate nothing but negative yards when running. (More on that shortly). The Bucs entered the game without their two of their three top cornerbacks and lost that third CB in the second quarter to a leg injury. He didn’t return to the game.
Simply, it made too much sense to ride Jones when the Buccaneers had such an obvious weakness.
Because of that shoddy secondary, Jones was outperforming Brady at halftime. He attempted a substantial 20 passes by half and had a 87.5 quarterback rating to Brady’s 76.5.
Jones still relied upon the short passing game, struggling to find receivers downfield. His only interception, for example, was on a throw that traveled more than 20 yards.
The second half was Jones’ finest hour of the season, with the quarterback looking enormously impressive and poised. He traded blows with Brady, all the way into the final drive where Jones faltered at a spot where Folk was just beyond his typical range.
Jones finished 31 of 40 for 275 yards, two touchdowns and the interceptions. Considering the hype and the hysteria for this game, Jones looked steady, calm and well beyond his years (23).
Josh McDaniels got the from efficient to explosive in the second half
McDaniels was impressive, especially considering he had no run game to work with. Not only did McDaniels find ways to get Jones comfortable and in sync with his receivers, the offensive coordinator managed to get QB/WR Jakobi Meyers in sync with the team’s pass-catchers. Meyers managed to bring a spark to the offense on a pair of trick plays, both double passing plays, for 45 yards.
But beyond those gimmick plays, McDaniels was helping Jones pepper the ball around the field and stay within his comfort zone (unlike last week when Jones began forcing the ball downfield and, in turn, struggled). McDaniels managed to scheme up plays that got his pass-catchers open, like on the team’s second touchdown, a 1-yarder to tight end Jonnu Smith.
They largely neglected the rushing game, because it stunk
To be clear, the Patriots are not the only team to abandon the run against the Buccaneers. Their run defense is absurdly impressive. They stop everything and everyone. The Patriots had no hope to find running room, and finished with eight carries for -1 yards (and two holding penalties on running plays). New England clearly figured itself a strong running team heading into the season, but it has yet to actually establish itself as such. The absence of tackle Trent Brown, who missed his third straight game, is clearly a contributing factor. But it’s not the only one. The entire offensive line has failed to meet expectations for a team that was supposed to be able to play bully ball.
The Patriots defense stood up to Tom Brady
He really struggled at the start of the game, eventually putting together a few impressive throws in the second quarter. That’s when he seemed to start to find his footing. Even though the Bucs’ final drive of the first half ended with a field goal — largely because of a few Brady misfires — it set the table for Brady to find some swagger in the second half. He was never quite sharp. But he was just sharp enough to win the game.
J.C. Jackson had major issues with Mike Evans in the first half. But then the CB won in a big way in the second.
Brady seemed to want to pick on Jackson, 5-foot-11, who had to match up against Evans, 6-foot-5, for most of the game. The receiver finished the first half with five receptions for 55 yards.
Then it seemed to turn in the second half. Evans committed an offensive pass interference on a pivotal second down with roughly four minutes left. Evans had two catches for 20 yards in the second half.
Matthew Judon had no problems with the Bucs’ pass-protection
In the first half, Judon put up an 8-yard sack on a first down that seemed to set the Buccaneers offense off schedule. They couldn’t convert the ensuing third-down and settled for a punt.
Judon showed up to start the first half by drawing an illegal hands to the face penalty that erased a massive play from Brady to Antonio Brown and a third-down conversion. The penalty moved the Bucs backward, where they elected to run the ball, essentially giving up on the drive.
The Patriots didn’t hesitate to get N’Keal Harry on the field, even if he didn’t get involved
The Patriots put Harry on the field for a fair share of snaps, though he was clearly playing as WR4. Ultimately, the first-round pick contributed in only one meaningful play. On a third-down during the Patriots’ first touchdown drive, Harry drew a pass interference penalty with Richard Sherman in coverage. Though the pass fell incomplete, Harry generated a first down. He finished the game with one catch for 10 yards.
Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. The game provided yet another reminder.
Maybe Brady had a shaky evening. Maybe he wasn’t the prolific version of himself that we’ve seen so often with the Buccaneers (and, of course, the Patriots). But he also eclipsed the all-time passing record, surpassing Drew Brees (80,358). It was widely impressive milestone that even Brady seemed to try to gloss over. But it was yet another reminder that he’s the greatest quarterback of all time, no matter how you measure it.
Tom Brady did what he could to avoid the spotlight
Brady didn’t take any special care with the ball with which he set the record. In fact, he ran another play before calling a timeout. And still, the Bucs didn’t get the ball to the sideline.
And then there was his semi-clandestine meeting with Robert Kraft. Kraft took the field before the game to meet up with Brady. But the QB didn’t get out there until warmups. Instead, Kraft and Brady met in the bowels of the stadium, where only team photographers could capture the moment.
Brady clearly didn’t want the attention on a night where he was guaranteed to get all the attention, along with Belichick.
Bill Belichick isn’t afraid of using a pencil as a toothpick
Speaking of all the attention, Belichick was featured on TB throughout the game, and one point, the cameras caught him picking his teeth with a pencil. Gross.
But also, hilarious.
Jakobi Meyers was legitimately dropping dimes
The degree of difficulty was relatively high on Meyers’ second throw. (Yes, he threw the ball two times on Sunday, with the Patriots opening up the trick-play pages in their playbook.) He zipped the ball in to Nelson Agholor, and the receiver caught the ball in stride. They managed a pickup of 30 yards.
This was just the kind of excellent play-calling that was working for McDaniels on Sunday night. Impressive stuff.