After a lopsided win like this, you can almost see the vultures overhead, waiting to feast on last year’s AFC Champions and owners of an undefeated season. Maybe the Patriots’ luck has finally run out. Or maybe the Buccaneers are the team that the NFC has to watch out for.
Tampa Bay’s offense played almost flawlessly on their first possession with QB Brian Griese (9/10, 44 yards) completing his first eight throws to five different receivers, rushing three backs, and ending the 80-yard drive with RB Earnest Graham’s 1-yard rush for a touchdown after taking nine and a half minutes off the clock. Tampa’s starting defense followed suit by holding New England to three and out on their first possession, nearly intercepting QB Matt Cassel’s first pass, and forcing a fumble on New England’s first extended drive. QB Luke McCown (7/9, 79 yards, 1 TD) then drove the offense 60 yards for a 34-yard field goal and threw for a touchdown on the next possession to RB Byron Storer. Tampa Bay showed a balanced offense in the half with 114 yards rushing and 120 yards receiving. Buc WR Antonio Bryant led all receivers with 2 catches for 37 yards. QB Jeff Garcia had a calf strain and did not play.
New England did not look like the dominant team that it was last year. Tom Brady’s absence due to a foot injury spoke volumes for the Pats. QB Matt Cassel’s (6/10, 57 yards) could not get his team into the red zone and the offense was only able to score a 53-yard field goal in the final two seconds. One bright spot for the Pats, WR Wes Welker continued to look like the player that he was last year with 3 catches for 25 yards.
New England’s woes continued in the second half with an early fumble that was recovered by Buc DB Sabby Piscitelli and returned 24 yards for a touchdown. QB Kevin O’Connell (6/15, 61 yards, 1 INT) did not do much better when he was intercepted while trying to throw the ball away on his first pass. Early in the fourth quarter, FB Heath Evans rushed 1 yard into the end zone capping one of the few extended drives that New England was able to put together.
Bucs’ QB Chris Simms (2/4, 24 yards) took over in the third quarter and was under constant pressure from New England’s defense. Josh Johnson (1/1, 6 yards) took over in the fourth, was sacked on his first possession, and had trouble getting a drive going. But the damage had already been done.