SERIES: 7th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series 4-2, with a 2-1 mark at home and a 2-1 record at Tampa Bay. The last time these teams squared off, the Patriots rolled to a 28-0 win at Gillette Stadium.
PREDICTION: Patriots 37-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: The first obstacle for both teams is getting acclimated to
the field in Wembley Stadium, which has not held up well in two previous regular-season
NFL games in London. The Bucs have to get RB Cadillac Williams untracked early
and control the clock because their secondary will be under intense fire with
Patriots QB Tom Brady coming off a six-touchdown game. And New England might
not have to worry about balance with Tampa Bay entering with just 11 sacks.
The Bucs want manageable passing downs for QB Josh Johnson in his first regular-season
start against a 3-4 scheme.
FAST FACTS: This will be the fourth regular-season NFL game played outside the U.S. (Cardinals 31, 49ers 14, Mexico City, 2005; Giants 13, Dolphins 10, London, 2007; Saints 37, Chargers 32, London, 2008). ... The Bucs are 0-6 for the first time since 1985 and have a 10-game losing streak.
--WR Julian Edelman missed another day of practice Thursday and will not be on the field Sunday as he continues to nurse a broken arm.
--RB Sammy Morris (knee) missed practice Thursday and likely will be a game-time decision Sunday in London. The Patriots will be without Fred Taylor (ankle), so they need as many running backs as possible.
--LT Matt Light missed practice Thursday and will likely not play Sunday in London. Light hurt his ankle last week and was replaced by Sebastian Vollmer.
--DB Darius Butler (ankle) missed practice Thursday and will be a game-time decision this weekend in London. The Patriots aren't too desperate in terms of depth in the backfield, so they could get by without Butler.
--RB Fred Taylor continues to rehabilitate from an ankle injury and will miss Sunday's game in London.
--DT Chris Hovan was limited in practice with an ankle injury this week but is expected to play against the Patriots.
--RB Clifton Smith did not practice this week due a concussion and will be a game-time decision.
--RB Earnest Graham will make his second start at fullback Sunday against the Pats.
--DE Kyle Moore (knee) could see his first action in more than a month against the Patriots in London.
--CB Aqib Talib has helped hold DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith to one catch each in the past two weeks.
The Patriots boarded their chartered flight Thursday afternoon and began the long trip to London, where they'll face the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.
Plenty of pomp and circumstance has followed the Patriots throughout the week
given the fact the game will be played overseas, but the players promise it
is business as usual.
"It's not a vacation, and it's more of a business trip," running
back Laurence Maroney said. "That's how I'm going to take it, that's how
I'm looking at it.
"If I'm going to go sightseeing in London, I'm going to have to go on
my own time. Right now, I'm on Patriots time, and I'm just going to go out there
and handle my job."
Of course, he won't be as enthusiastic once he finds out about the exchange rate, in which $1.66 in U.S. money equals one British pound.
"That's highway robbery!" Maroney said. "A dollar isn't even
worth a pound over there!"
The game itself isn't a problem, but the players would much rather skip the
travel and all the other circumstances that come with being part of what has
evolved into an NFL sideshow in London.
"It'd definitely be nice just to go out there and play in different countries,"
Maroney said, "but to be honest, I'd just rather stay here. It's less traveling,
less jet lag. I know my area and surroundings."
Likewise, they know what it's like to play on the road in either hostile or
neutral environments. Tom Brady, for example, has played in three Super Bowls.
This game might have a similar feel for the simple fact it's being played on
a neutral site.
"It's certainly not a normal week for us, but I think it's important for
us players to realize that this is a trip for us that we're trying to go over
there and win a game, nothing more than that," Brady said.
"It's like any other road trip that we take, it's not for going out and seeing the sights, or anything like that. It's for one reason, and we need a really focused group. And we certainly need to bring our energy and excitement, and try to go out there and play a great game."
Maybe there are days when NFL observers are envious of pro coaches. But you would not want to be Buccaneers defensive coordinator Jim Bates today.
Come to think of it, yesterday and the day before weren't much fun either.
Bates is responsible for trying to stop Tom Brady and the New England Patriots
-- which is a little like trying to beat back the tide with a broom.
Not only did Tom look terrific in throwing six touchdown passes last week against winless Tennessee, five of them came in the second quarter.
There's little chance that Bates believed his job would be this impossible
when he took over from Monte Kiffin last spring.
He had wanted to bring in some players -- the Dolphins' Jason Taylor, for example
-- who had thrived in his system and could help show the young players how to
execute in it.
But GM Mark Dominik decided, out of respect to linebacker Derrick Brooks, signing
more 30-something veterans wasn't the way to go. Bates had to make it work with
Chris Hovan and Ronde Barber if he needed to lean on experience.
Two days later, the Bucs allowed the Carolina Panthers to rush for 262 yards
and three touchdowns. On the game-winning, 80-yard TD drive, the Panthers ran
the ball 15 times in 16 plays.
"When you get back a couple days later, they had 240 yards and they run
the ball way too much," Bates said. "They're a good running team,
they have a good line and two good backs. But we can't allow any team to run
as much. They had 240 yards going into the last drive. We had two turnovers
and scored on defense. There were a lot of positive things and then the last
drive just left a sour feeling in our gut.
"I tell you, it was very, very disappointing for our football team. Coaches, fans, I'm sure. Because at that time we had all the momentum in the world. We just scored on defense and in that previous series, we played the run really well. What's hard is when a team can take it and just pound it in there 15 times. Anything we tried to come up with, we just couldn't make plays and we couldn't execute. I wish I could've called some plays to get them in a third down and give us a chance to get off."
Bates knew taking over for Kiffin would be tough, but it was made harder by the fact that he didn't have the players to execute his scheme.
"It definitely is a growing experience, and sometimes you wish they'd grow faster with some players," Bates said. "There's certain flashes where we're getting good play. It's just a growing experience for all of us. It's not easy."
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