Bucs’ top units fail to impress in sloppy loss to Patriots

Well, that was a start to forget. There was much to dislike about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early against the New England Patriots.

Josh Freeman struggled to do anything in two series. Meanwhile, Tom Brady sliced the Bucs’ defense during his work in the first quarter Friday at Gillette Stadium.

As with all evaluations this time of year, we must keep in mind that this is the preseason. Only so much can be learned. Still, the Bucs should want to see a few sparks from their potential starters on both sides of the ball. On this night, those were hard to find.

Two preseason games down, two to go. Here are five observations from the Patriots’ 25-21 victory in Foxborough, Mass.

1. On a night when the Bucs’ top offense looked awful, Doug Martin walking off the field late in the first quarter was the worst sight. He took a knee to the helmet when trying to block defensive end Chandler Jones in pass protection, a sight you never want to see now or any other time this fall if you’re wearing pewter and red.

The good news: He walked off the field on his own power, though clearly shaken. The bad news: The moment offered a glimpse of how the Bucs live on the edge with Martin and his 5-foot-9, 215-pound frame. Obviously, any visions Tampa Bay has of keeping pace with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints in the NFC South depends on a healthy Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Friday provided a moment of pause.

2. Search long and hard for much to like about the top offense’s performance. Mostly, the Bucs looked scattered, disjointed, ineffective … pick your synonym for “bad.” Yes, this is the preseason, but you still want to see some execution if you’re coach Greg Schiano.

We’ll delve into Josh Freeman’s woes in a moment. But the offensive line, without guard Carl Nicks playing, failed to provide much protection in the first quarter. Brady cut through the Bucs’ defense like a chainsaw. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s offense looked more like a butter knife. Not much to like at all.

3. This was a forgettable night for Josh Freeman, plain and simple. You know the situation is never good when the number of times sacked (three) tops the number of completions made (two).

He went 2 for 3 for 8 yards and looked insecure in doing so. The reasons: (A) He struggled to deliver the ball on time, and (B) his line did not do him many favors. Backup Mike Glennon looked capable at points later in the game, but despite Freeman’s struggle, it is humorous to read tweets questioning Freeman’s job security. One word: Preseason.

Certainly, Freeman had a night to throw into the nearest wastebasket possible. But he is the Bucs’ answer at quarterback come Week 1, no question.

4. Tom Brady was brilliant against the Bucs’ top defense. For all the talk about his left knee sprain Wednesday, which seemingly almost broke Twitter, he looked more than fine. He completed his first 11 passes and finished 11 for 12 for 107 yards with one touchdown.

Newly acquired Danny Amendola, who had six catches for 71 yards with one touchdown, was his favorite target and brought to mind shades of Wes Welker. The Patriots’ quick pace troubled Tampa Bay, and it will be interesting to see if opponents adapt a similar strategy throughout the season against the Bucs. Brady schooled Tampa Bay defenders this week.

5. Mike James and Peyton Hillis both showed promise. The rookie running back finished with 81 yards on 15 carries, his burst and athleticism obvious at times. Meanwhile, Hillis had 73 yards on 18 carries.

Brian Leonard did not play, so James and Hillis were given looks to make their cases for the No. 2 spot behind Martin. Hillis had some impressive downhill runs, and James showed that he could be creative to fight for yardage when necessary. The Bucs drafted James and brought in Hillis to build depth, and both did positive things Friday.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.