The offense erupted for 362 yards with 153 yards coming on the ground and 209 yards via the passing game. They stats could have been higher if not for atrocious starting field position in the first half, and a few dropped touchdowns by wide receiver Frank Murphy and running back Pepe Pearson in the second half.
After a strong showing last week against Cleveland, the Bucs' first-team defense maintained their dominant play by holding New England to 83 yards of total offense. The Patriots quarterbacks were limited to completing less than 50 percent of their passes (12-of-26), and were sacked five times - two by reserve defensive tackle Chartric Darby and one each from defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive tackle James Cannida and defensive end Simeon Rice, who had an outstanding game.
The stingy Pewter Pain defense allowed only one third down conversion in 14 tries (7 percent), and held the Patriots to an average of 1.7 yards per play. The Tampa Bay defense just squeezed the life out of the Patriots offense as the game progressed. New England's preseason record heading into tonight's contest was a perfect 2-0.
The Bucs set the tone early for what was to transpire. After the Patriots took the opening kickoff and moved for a first down on their second play when quarterback Drew Bledsoe hit wide receiver Troy on a slip screen for a 10-yard gain, the Bucs defense stiffened and forced a New England punt. Returner Robert Kilow let the ball drop around the 20-yard line and it was downed by defensive back Je'Rod Cherry on the Bucs' 6-yard line.
On the Bucs first offensive play, Dunn ran a stretch play off the right side and slithered through a miniscule hole for a 35-yard gain. Ten plays later, on a fourth-and-6 from the New England 38-yard line, Bucs coach Tony Dungy denied a possible 55-yard field goal attept with the wind, instead opting for punter Aron Langley to to pin the Patriots inside their own 20-yard line. But Langley's punt went for a touchback.
The scoreless first quarter was a battle of field position with the Tampa Bay coming out on the short end of the stick. All three of the Buccaneers drives started inside their own 20-yard line, at their own 6-, 12- and 15-yard lines respectively. The only decent field position of the quarter was after Brown returned a Langley punt eight yards to the New England 49-yard line. The Patriots were unable to take advantage of the excellent starting position and punted after a three-and-out series.
There were some anxious moments for the Bucs' special teams units. Early in the second quarter, Terrell Buckley returned a punt 26 yards to the Tampa Bay 49-yard line. Only a touchdown-saving tackle by Langley prevented a 75-yard touchdown return that could have changed to complexion of the game.
The Bucs brought a scare to the Patriots, too. Starting from their own 20-yard line, Brad Johnson wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson on a crossing route for 18 yards, and Dunn scampered down the right sideline for 56 yards on the first two plays that put the Buccaneers in business with a first-and-goal at the Pats 6-yard line. Keyshawn Johnson caught his first pass of the preseason and ended the night with five catches for 37 yards.
But the drive was all for naught as Patriots first-round draft pick Richard Seymour moved from his defensive line position and stepped in front of a Johnson pass intended for tight end Todd Yoder. Seymour raced down the sidelines with the ball for a 15-yard return. The interception to the New England 18-yard line ending a promising Tampa Bay drive with no points.
But it was only a matter of time before the Buccaneers drew first blood. Midway through the second quarter, after a Kilow returned a 34-yard punt by Lee Johnson 27 yards to the New England 24-yard line, the Bucs' first-string offense finally scored a touchdown in the preseason. Brad Johnson took advantage of a man coverage situation and sent reserve running back Aaron Stecker on an out-and-up pattern from the inside slot against linebacker Tedy Bruschi. Stecker made a great catch in the right corner of the end zone and just barely got both feet inside the white line. This capped a two-play, 24-yard drive that took just 47 seconds. A successful conversion kick by Gramatica put the Bucs on top 7-0 with 7:20 left in the first half.
The Pats countered with a field goal just before halftime. Capitalizing on a 10-yard return by Brown of a 49-yard punt by Langley, the Patriots began to set up shop at the Tampa Bay 42-yard line. After seven plays, 20 yards and an elapsed time of 1:41 from the game clock, kicker Adam Vinatieri hit a laser from the right hash mark that easily sailed between the uprights to put the Patriots on the board, although trailing 7-3, with six seconds left in the half.
This was the closest New England would get because the second half belonged to the Bucs. With two more touchdown passes in the second half and more dominant defense from the first- and second-string defense, the Pewter Pirates just wore down the game, but out-manned Patriots.
In the third quarter, Johnson hit wide receiver Jacquez Green on a beautiful post-corner route in the end zone. Johnson had a tremendous pump fake that the defensive bit on, which left Green wide open in the back of the end zone to put the Bucs up by a count of 13-3. The 10-play, 66-yard drive coming right out of the chute on the first possession of the second half took all the powder and shot out of the Patriots' muskets. Bruschi was able to block the PAT by Gramatica that kept the Patriots within 10 points at 9:06 of the third quarter.
The Bucs notched the final tally of the contest with 11:03 left in regulation. Quarterback Shaun King, who was 5-of-7 for 61 yards on the night, hit a wide open Karl Williams who was streaking towards the end zone on a skinny post coming from the right hash to the middle of the field. Williams' touchdown culminated a six-play, 69-yard drive that took 2:58 of clock time. A successful PAT by Gramatica made the final score 20-3.
A big positive was that all three quarterbacks looked comfortable and experienced success. Johnson and King both threw touchdown passes and Ryan Leaf was 3-of-5 for 49 yards and both incomplete passes were drops. Leaf's passes were accurate and had some zip on them. Rookie receiver Alex Willis hauled in a 23-yard strike, while Yoder made a nice 25-yard catch down the middle of the field.
Backup center Todd Washington also looked comfortable filling in for injured starter Jeff Christy, and he played well.
This was an excellent team performance by the Bucs. An overwhelming defensive effort was combined with an efficient offensive output and an adequate special teams performance against a vastly improved New England Patriots squad. Mistakes were made, but they were overshadowed by superb plays and playmakers on both sides of the ball.
If the Bucs continue to improve it will be peaking right when the regular season begins in Dallas in two weeks and that's what Dungy was aiming for at the beginning of training camp. But first the Bucs (1-2) must travel to Atlanta to finish the preseason against top NFL draft pick Michael Vick and the Falcons.
For more inside information on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, subscribe to Buccaneer Magazine by calling 1-800-881-BUCS(2827).