Bucs surprisingly polished against Patriots
TAMPA -- For two days this week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practiced alongside the New England Patriots and savored the chance to learn from the three-time Super Bowl champions and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
But Friday night, the Bucs surprised just about everybody in Raymond James Stadium -- maybe even themselves -- by teaching the Patriots a thing or two.
They raced to a 20-7 halftime lead when both team's first units were on the field in the third exhibition game of the preseason, and then held on for a 30-28 victory that erased the sting from last week's collapse against the Tennessee Titans.
It was quite a spectacle to see the student, new Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano, schooling mentor Bill Belichick in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score suggested.
"We definitely came out and played better this week than last, which we needed to do," Schiano said, referring to the 30-7 thumping by the Titans. "So that's a good starting point.... It's only preseason, but we got a little better this week."
Yet as encouraging as the performance was on many counts, some major discouraging news lingered in the post-game locker room: the likely loss for the season of Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph with a knee injury in the first half.
That represents a serious blow to the offensive line, one of the Bucs' strong points heading into the season -- a unit that had taken a big step forward in the off-season with the signing of All-Pro guard Carl Nicks.
"It's an awful experience," said veteran defensive back Ronde Barber. "It's nothing you could ever want. We'll all pray for Davin and hope he heals and gets a chance to come back eventually. Not this year -- but give somebody else an opportunity. That's the way you've got to look at it. They've got to find a way to fill that role. He was a leader on this football team.... You hate to lose a guy like that, who means so much to this team. But we'll find a way. We have to."
There was no official word on Joseph, but everyone on the team seems braced for the worst. Said Schiano: "We'll get an evaluation tomorrow; we're going to do a test, so we'll see."
His job will most likely fall to veteran Ted Larsen, who has played the position before and replaced Joseph after he was carted off the field.
As the Bucs forge ahead dealing with the serious loss, they can take heart in many other aspects of their triumph over New England -- a win that raised their preseason record to 2-1 with an exhibition finale set for Wednesday night in Washington against the Redskins.
There were the impressive performances by the team's two first-rounders to open the scoring -- a one-yard touchdown plunge by tailback Doug Martin, who later darted for a 19-yard gain, and the 22-yard interception return for a score by safety Mark Barron off a tip from Barber.
And there was the heavy pressure from the young Buc defense on New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady, who completed 13 of 20 passes for 127 yards and one TD, but was sacked twice and finished with an uncharacteristic quarterback ranking of 78.5.
"We've got great linebackers," said Adam Hayward. "All of us are just getting used to it, especially Quincy (Black) and I. This is our third coach and fourth different defense. We're still getting comfortable in it. We're trying our hardest to buy in and once we do, you see how successful it is. We're getting to the quarterbacks a lot. It's great that Schiano came from the era of smash-mouth football, where you bring pressure on the quarterbacks. We're going to try to bring the heat and make the quarterback make a quick decision."
The Bucs raced to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter before the Patriots even got on track -- courtesy of the new kids on the Buc block, Martin and Barron. And the Bucs padded their lead with three field goals of 50-plus yards, one by Connor Barth (56) and two by rookie Kai Forbath (51 and 55) that increased the lead to 23-7 in the third quarter.
All that contributed to the post-game scowl on Belichick's face.
"We didn't do anything offensively except lose yardage and turn the ball over," he said. "It was tough to watch anything offensively. There wasn't anything."
Schiano, on the other hand, found plenty to like, especially in the performance of Barron, who took home a memorable souvenir in the ball he swiped from Brady -- with Barber's assist -- for his first NFL touchdown.
"Mark played faster this week," he said of the former Alabama star, who had missed the preseason opener with a toe injury. "He looked more confident in what he was doing, and that's what rookies do."
Barron felt good about his night, too. "I felt like we did a great job against (Brady) and put a lot of pressure on him, like we had him rattled a little bit," he said.
Martin, meanwhile, was equally pleased with his progress, which included 53 yards on 13 carries for a 4.1-yard average.
"As a running back, you definitely want to have that rhythm," he said. "…You have to be able to go in at any time and bust a big run."
The Bucs set the tone from the start, marching 68 yards on eight plays -- fueled by a 25-yard completion from Josh Freeman to showcase wideout Vincent Jackson, and capped by Martin's 1-yard plunge. And they never looked back.
"It was a good start," said Freeman. "We were able to run the ball. We were able to be effective on a few third downs, and ultimately, when we got down in the red zone, we were able to do what we needed to do. Our identity as an offense is to run the football."
The news wasn't all good -- oft-injured defensive tackle Gerald McCoy hurt his leg, returned to the game but was later taken to the locker room for evaluation. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn hurt his arm. But the injury that has cast a cloud over the Bucs is the one to Joseph.
"Football injuries are part of this game," Schiano said. "We know that. I hope that tomorrow get better news, but right now I'm concerned."