Brandon Meriweather was awarded AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for in Week 7 by the league. The third year safety finally had the breakout game the team had hoped for since selecting him in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Meriweather was one of the young guns the Patriots had tried to get into place as the years rolled by with veterans manning the starting positions. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety stepped into the lineup his sophomore season starting 10 games the majority of which came when Rodney Harrison went down with an injury. Teamed up with fellow young safety James Sanders, Meriweather lead the team with 4 interceptions last year.
To his credit, Meriweather has learned how to use his tremendous athletic ability to make plays in the secondary. He also learned the importance of studying game film when facing an unfamiliar opponent.
"[The Buccaneers] actually ran that play against Carolina last week," Meriweather said of his pick-six interception "And the coaches just happened to put us in a great position."
Being in the right spot allowed the Patriots safety to take advantage of the breakdown between Tampa Bay's quarterback and their young wideout.
"I think the quarterback and the receiver were on two different pages and he just happened to throw the ball and I just happened to get a good break on it," Meriweather admitted.
As it turned out, Meriweather was correct in assuming there was a breakdown in the Tampa Bay Offense.
"With the interception, the first one, we had a route where he gets to choose if he wants to break it or hook it and he hooked it," Buccaneers quarterback Josh Johnson said. "I kind of anticipated that he might break it out because I knew the coverage they were playing so he hooked it and I threw it. [The interception was] My fault."
Tampa's offense has had their share of struggles. Johnson replaced an ineffective Byron Leftwich who led the team to a disappointing 0-3 start before being benched. Johnson hadn't fared much better before Sunday, but was given the starting nod because Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris felt he gave the team the best shot vs New England.
"All the quarterbacks that have been in there have been subject to some other people not doing a great job for them as well," Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris said Tuesday. "But now it's time to get Josh [Freeman] out there."
Morris made the switch to Tampa Bay's 2009 first round pick Josh Freeman after the game was well out of hand in the second half. By that time, Johnson had thrown three interceptions, but downplayed the third mistake that Patriots defensive back Darius Butler snagged.
Johnson knew, that playing poorly might result in his being replaced during the game by Freeman.
"I understand. Just the same situation as Byron [Leftwich]. If we don't win games, maybe Josh [Freeman]is going to play," Johnson said "I understood what was going on when I first was the starting quarterback. I knew that once these games are out of hand that I might come out of the game"
Meriweather and Butler share the team lead with two interceptions on the year. Ironically, Butler's pick Sunday came at the expense of Meriweather who was in position to make a third interception on the day.
"I was upset with him. He stole one from me. I kind of gave him a little pep talk," Meriweather joked. "But I was happy for him, though. I was happy for him."
Meriweather in on pace to set career highs this season. He led all Patriots defenders last season with 4 picks. He also managed 9 passes defended and a pair of forced fumbles. So far he has 5 passes defended and 1 forced fumble through seven games.
If the young defensive back can continue on this path, the Patriots will have hit on another of their recent first round picks. The man he replaced certainly thinks so. On NBC's "Football Night in America," Harrison heaped praise on Meriweather claiming he was one of the best safeties in the AFC, even suggesting that he deserved MVP of the defense honors.
For Meriweather the praise is fine, but he's looking forward to more football.
"I really don't think I've hit my peak yet," Meriweather told reporters when asked about Harrison's comments. "I think I have a lot to learn and a lot to get better with."
The Patriots return to Gillette after the bye week, where they'll face the Miami Dolphins. New England currently leads the AFC East division with a 5-2 record. The (4-4) Jets lost the (3-4) Dolphins, while the (3-5) Bills fell to the (5-3) Houston Texans.