June 24, 2018
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Brady, young receivers show progress in win over Bucs

Brad Penner | USA Today Sports
Brad Penner | USA Today Sports
New England Patriots wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (85) scores a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter of a game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday.
By Mike Shalin, The Sports Xchange

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady knows his connection with his rookie receivers is a work in progress, even after positive signs in the New England Patriots’ 23-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

But all things considered, and with all the weapons he’s lost, the New England quarterback is thrilled to be 3-0.

“Just to get to 3-0, we’ve only done it once, the last seven years, or nine years or something like that, which is a pretty good (2013) stat,” Brady said after rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins combined for 10 catches and Thompkins caught two touchdown passes in the Patriots’ 23-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I’d love to get to 4-0.”

The Patriots are 3-0 for the first time since 2007. They squeezed by the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. By comparison, Sunday’s victory was a breeze as the Bucs fell to 0-3.

“I feel good — 3-0, can’t ask for anything better,” said New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

Brady has been without his five leading receivers from last year — Wes Welker is in Denver, Aaron Hernandez is in prison, Rob Gronkowski has missed the first three games, Brandon Lloyd wasn’t re-signed, Danny Woodhead is in San Diego. Danny Amendola, signed to replace Welker, is hurt and might be out several weeks.

Against the Jets on Sept. 12, Brady could be seen screaming at his receivers, admitting after the game he had to work on his “body language.”

“They’ve worked really hard to understand what we’re trying to do on a weekly basis and it changes up a lot with our offense,” Brady said Sunday.

Amid reports he had reached out to former teammates Lloyd and Deion Branch via text message, Brady threw two touchdowns to Thompkins and hit Dobson seven times Sunday. The rookie wide receivers and Brady weren’t perfect. There were still dropped passes, wrong routes run and missed throws, but Brady went 25-for-36 for 225 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the Tampa end zone.

“I could play better,” he said, noting he’ll be haunted by Mark Barron’s pick until the start of Sunday’s game in Atlanta.

Thompkins caught three passes for 41 yards and veteran Julian Edelman made seven catches for 44 yards.

Running back Brandon Bolden, making his 2013 debut because of a knee injury, ripped off a 46-yard run in the third quarter, finished with 51 yards rushing and caught five passes for 49 yards. Fellow backup running back LeGarrette Blount was featured in the fourth quarter and had a team-high 65 rushing yards.

The Buccaneers scored first — a 30-yard Rian Lindell field goal — before the Patriots surged ahead on Thompkins’ two second-quarter scores.

The Buccaneers, who believe they have two No. 1-caliber wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, couldn’t score and the rift between head coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman might have widened. In the third quarter, backup Mike Glennon warmed up but didn’t enter the game. Both Jackson and Williams were felled by injuries.

Asked after the game if Freeman gives his team the best to win, Schiano said, “He does,” and added he didn’t consider a change during the game.

Aqib Talib, playing against his old team, intercepted Freeman with 17 seconds left in the first half, setting up a 53-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal as time expired. A second-effort run after a catch by tight end Michael Hoomanawanui set up Gostkowski 46-yard field goal in the third quarter and Gostkowski also kicked a 33-yarder.

“I think we can be as good as we want to be, as long as we continue to improve as a team,” said Wilfork.

Gronkowski, who was upgraded Friday to questionable, might play next week at Atlanta.

The Bucs, who lost heartbreakers in each of their first two games, have lost eight of their last nine dating back to last season.

Freeman, who came in 31st in the league in passing (Brady was 21st) did some good things early but fell apart. He finished 19 of 41 for 236 yards and an interception. Freeman is 43-for-94 in three games.

Jackson caught three passes for 34 yards before leaving with a rib injury. Williams caught five passes for 65 yards and left with a leg problem.

The Bucs have scored three points in their last seven quarters.

“We’ll evaluate the tape, start with me, work through our staff and our players, get feedback and figure it out,” Schiano said. “There’s no magic pill. We’ve done it before as a group, we’re not doing it now. We need to figure it out why. That’s what we’ll do.”

NOTES: The Patriots have allowed 34 points (27 by the defense), the fewest allowed by a team through three games since 1979 and the second-fewest in team history. … Buccaneers running back Doug Martin had 88 rushing yards. … Brady’s first TD pass to Thompkins gave Brady 51 straight games with a touchdown pass, three games shy of owning that NFL record. … Dashon Goldson, whose one-game suspension was overturned into a $100,000 fine, played and wasn’t a factor. … The win was Bill Belichick’s 208th as a head coach, leaving him two shy of passing Chuck Noll into fifth place on the all-time NFL list. … Due to the relationship between Belichick and Schiano, these teams practiced together at the Patriots practice facility for three days and also played a preseason game. … Gostkowski’s 53-yarder at the end of the first half was his eighth career kick of 50 yards or more, tying Adam Vinatieri’s club record. … The Bucs host Arizona, which lost at Arizona and will spend the week practicing in Florida. … The Patriots are 3-0 for the eighth time. … New England has outscored Tampa Bay 86-10 in their last three meetings.

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