TAMPA, Fla. — Mark Barron and Doug Martin are a pair of rookies the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on to help them rebound from a disappointing season.
The first-round draft picks who have moved directly into the starting lineup scored touchdowns on Friday night, helping the Bucs beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 30-28.
Barron intercepted a pass tipped by Ronde Barber and returned it 22 yards for a first-quarter TD. Martin scored on a 1-yard run that finished a game-opening drive led by Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman.
Brady played three quarters in his most extensive action of the preseason, but didn’t really get the Patriots offense on track until after Tampa Bay built a 23-7 lead. He finished on a high note, though, throwing a 16-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski on his final play.
Freeman played into the third quarter, finishing 10 of 19 for 102 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Connor Barth kicked a 56-yard field goal and Kai Forbath added field goals of 51 and 55 yards before Freeman’s backup, Dan Orlovsky, tossed an 8-yard scoring pass to Sammie Stroughter in the fourth quarter.
Bucs guard Davin Joseph was carted off the field in the first half with what appeared to be a right knee injury. There was no immediate announcement on his status.
The Patriots (No. 2 in the AP Pro32) traveled to Florida early in the week to practice with the Bucs (No. 26) twice in preparation for the game — workouts that first-year Bucs coach Greg Schiano felt would be especially beneficial to his players because of what they could learn from being on the field with Brady and other veterans who have been vital to New England’s success.
Freeman completed passes of 25, 14 and 10 yards to Vincent Jackson on an eight-play, 68-yard drive that Martin finished with a 1-yard TD run. Barron’s interception return — one play after Michael Bennett sacked Brady for an 8-yard loss to the New England 7 — made it 14-0 late in the opening quarter.
Brady threw seven passes in New England’s preseason opener against New Orleans, then sat out the Patriots’ second exhibition against Philadelphia. In what likely will be the most playing time he’ll get before the regular season, the two-time Super Bowl MVP completed 13 of 20 passes for 127 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Bucs, last in the league in sacks with 23 last season, dropped Brady twice and pressured him into bad throws on at least three other occasions.
Brady directed one scoring drive in the opening half, completing three of four passes for 29 yards on a 12-play, 81-yard march extended by a pass interference penalty on Barber and featuring a 29-yard run by Stevan Ridley. Ridley finished the drive with a 1-yard run, then also played a prominent role in the final possession led by Brady.
Freeman, meanwhile, cooled after hitting five of his first six passes. The Bucs settled for Barth’s long field goal after the Patriots turned the ball over on downs at their own 41, and Forbath added his 51-yarder as time expired to hike Tampa Bay’s lead to 20-7 at the half.
Barron was the seventh pick in this year’s draft, and the former Alabama safety is being counted on to bolster a defense that ranked among the worst in the league a year ago, when the Bucs yielded a franchise-record 494 points. Martin was the 31st pick overall, and is bidding to become the starting running back.
Ryan Mallett followed Brady in the fourth quarter for New England and threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes — 8 yards to Jeremy Ebert and 3 yards to Jesse Holley — to make it close in the final five minutes.