FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano couldn’t explain why his offense has scored one touchdown in the past seven quarters.
Apparently, his quarterback isn’t the only reason.
Despite another subpar performance from Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay’s 23-3 loss to New England on Sunday, Schiano maintained Freeman still gives the Buccaneers the best chance to win, and he never thought about pulling the fifth-year veteran against the Patriots.
“There’s no magic pill. We’ve done it before as a group, we’re not doing it now,” Schiano said of executing at a higher level. “We need to figure out why. That’s what we’ll do.”
Freeman entered the game with a completion rate of 45.3 percent, the worst in the NFL. He didn’t do much to improve that, completing 19 of 41 passes for 236 yards with one interception.
It didn’t help that leading receiver Vincent Jackson left the game with a rib injury in the third quarter and didn’t return. Tampa Bay didn’t do much on the ground, either, as Doug Martin was held to 88 yards on 20 carries.
“I thought we had a good plan. It was a tough second half with Vincent going down,” said Freeman, who admitted much of the Bucs’ blueprint involved Jackson. “You saw first half we were able to sustain some drives. Just couldn’t come away with it in the red zone.”
The Buccaneers (0-3) opened with a seven-play drive to the Patriots 33-yard line before Rian Lindell missed a 38-yard field goal.
Their second drive was even more impressive. Freeman marched Tampa from its 12-yard line to New England’s 12, but came away with just three points.
“We’ve got to find a way to go to the guy that’s going to be open with the ball and that guy’s got to make the catch,” Freeman said. “It’s a collective effort to find a way, in the end, just to score some touchdowns at the end of those drives.”
Freeman believes they are close.
“Rough start obviously, but we played three quality football teams and we’ve just got to continue to work,” he said. “It’s a matter of time before we come in on a Sunday, put it all together and get this thing cranked up.”
Meanwhile, Tom Brady and his rookie receivers are starting to click.
Brady threw two touchdown passes to Kenbrell Thompkins, finally getting in sync with the youngster and leading New England to its first 3-0 start since 2007.
Thompkins, an undrafted free agent, scored on plays of 16 and 5 yards in the first half.
Aaron Dobson, a second-round draft pick, finished with seven catches for 52 yards.
In their first two games, they combined for just nine receptions.
The Patriots led 17-3 at halftime as the Buccaneers wasted those opportunities.
After turning the ball over twice on downs and missing a field goal attempt, Freeman threw an interception to former Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib with 11 seconds left in the first half.
Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 53-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
“When you’re playing against a team that has a great defense and offense like New England, you’ve got to make some of those plays and find a way to get on the board and match them,” Freeman said.
The Buccaneers lost their first two games by a total of three points on a field goal with 2 seconds left and another as time expired.
They were out of Sunday’s game much earlier despite a slow start by the Patriots.
New England punted on its first three series as it continued to struggle without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who hasn’t played this season while recovering from forearm and back surgery. Wide receiver Danny Amendola was out with a groin injury.
But on his fourth possession, Brady hit Thompkins over the middle and he ran it in for his 16-yard touchdown, the first of his career.
It also stretched Brady’s streak to 51 games with at least one touchdown pass. The only longer streak in NFL history, 54 games by Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, ended last year.
The Patriots got the ball back after Tampa Bay failed to gain 1 yard it needed on third and fourth downs. Brady started a 62-yard drive with a 9-yard pass to Dobson and ended it with a throw to Thompkins in the end zone as the Patriots went ahead 14-3.
“You’ve got to tip your hat off to Tom Brady and them, they up-tempoed us a little bit, and they executed on their plays,” said Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Gostkowski added two field goals in the second half, a 46-yarder in the third quarter and a 33-yarder in the fourth.