MOST LIKELY WISHING HE HEARD A HORN BEFORE GETTING TRUCKED
Gary Gibson -- no contest. New England looked to clear the way for running back Brandon Bolden on the first play of the game. Dan Connolly did his part by nearly sending Gibson into the second row of the Gillette Stadium stands. The hit was clean; Tampa's defensive lineman, unfortunately, had not kept his head on a swivel. He stayed down on his butt, shaking that rattled noggin, for several minutes after the whistle. Bolden ended up with a 12-yard gain.
SHARPEST LOOKING RETURNING PLAYER
A knee injury has kept running back Brandon Bolden off the football field since the preseason's third week. Bolden had 11 rushes for 58 yards in three summer games, but more impressively, averaged 5.3 yards per carry. His return against the Bucaneers this Sunday was a welcome sight for the Patriots. Brady took advantage early, handing off to his new target on the game's first snap. Bolden continued getting the rock and finished the quarter leading all *receivers* with two catches on three targets for 22 yards.
LUCKIEST BREAK FOR PATRIOTS
The first few drives -- on both sides -- were ugly. It was the kind of football that made you feel like the final score would be 3-0. Tampa Bay at least got within field goal range at the end of its first series. All Rian Lindell had to do to get the Bucs on the board was hit a 38-yarder. Instead, the ball sailed wide right. Not a good start for the ol' kicking team.
JUST KIDDING -- THIS IS THE LUCKIEST BREAK FOR THE PATRIOTS
Tampa Bay had a sure touchdown when Josh Freeman found receiver Tim Wright streaking toward the end zone. The Bucs were on New England's 12-yard line after stretching a 76-yard march out six minutes. But Wright whiffed. Rather than turn his body toward the incoming pass, it appeared the receiver just assumed the ball would land in his arms without actually checking its trajectory with his eyeballs. The TD would have put Tampa Bay up 6-0. Nope. Field goal. (This one was good.)
HAPPIEST QUARTERBACK THROUGH TWO QUARTERS
That'd be Brady. Why? Not because the Patriots were up 17-3 at the half. It's *how* they got those touchdowns to build that lead. Rookies. Brady's first-year targets Aaron Dobson, who couldn't hold onto anything against the Jets last week, caught four balls for 35 yards. And Kenbrell Thompkins? Just two receptions, but one for 16 yards and both for touchdowns. Neither player was perfect. It has to give Brady hope, however, when you consider the pregame reports about him calling former receivers Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch to come back.
MOST ENTHUSIASTIC DANCER
It seems Chandler Jones put on his dancing shoes against the Jets and hasn't taken them off. The defensive lineman (primarily and end, sometimes a tackle) recorded his first and second sacks of the season last Thursday against Geno Smith. And he put just as much effort into the celebration dances as the plays themselves. This weekend, he added two more half-sacks to the total. The first sent Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman backwards two yards, the second forced the Bucs into a third-and-15 situation on their own 27.
UNHAPPIEST QUARTERBACK (AFTER THE HALF)
That would be… Brady. On the first drive of the third quarter, New England got to Tampa Bay's 6-yard line on an up-and-down series. Bolden's 46-yard run had a lot to do with it. But once inside the red zone (where the Patriots were 100-percent to this point), there were some serious disconnects. First, Brady threw low to to a wide open Dobson in the end zone. On second down, the QB missed Thompkins on a bubble screen. The drive finally died when Brady forced a ball toward Dobson, who was not clear of Tampa's linebackers, in the back of the end zone. Safety Mark Barron came up with the interception.
BEST NUMBER FOR THE BUCS
Well, it wasn't the 20-3 Patriots lead. The magic number was four: Four penalties through three quarters. That's a huge improvement over the first two weeks, where Tampa racked up an incredible 23 penalties for 220 yards. So the Bucs were having their cleanest game of the year against New England. Almost makes that 20-3 deficit look worse, huh?
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
The entire defense. (Whatever. Just roll with it.) New England's "D" came up big for the third week in a row. The unit did a hell of a job stopping Tampa on three of three fourth down plays, and holding the team to three points. It also got three sacks, four passes defensed, and a big interception. Zero touchdowns have been scored against the Patriots since the third quarter of last week's Jets game.
MOST UNDERRATED PERFORMANCE
Give the defense its due, but Steve Gostkowski deserves a little credit, too. The Patriots kicker had a fantastic day, nailing all three field goals, including one from 53-yards out and another from 46. Better than that? His consistency with kickoffs this season. Gostkowski has had only one returned this year -- the rest have all been touchbacks. Good field position is invaluable in the NFL; limiting New England's opponents is a sure strength of this kicker.