The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will attempt to bounce back from a Week 3 loss, ending a ten-game winning streak, this Sunday in another away environment against the New England Patriots.
A game that Buccaneers fans, Patriots fans, and just about everyone in and around the NFL has had circled on their calendar since the schedule was revealed this past spring.
Mike D'Abate of Patriot Maven stops by the preview Bucs vs. Pats, offering insight into the feeling around the New England area as Tom Brady is set to return for the first time, how rookie quarterback Mac Jones has performed, and more.
1. What is the feeling around New England with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski set to make their return?
Mike D'Abate: As expected, there is a great deal of nostalgia surrounding the return of Tom Brady, as well as Rob Gronkowski to New England, and rightfully. Each was beloved during his time in Foxboro, and the impression they left on the franchise will always be felt very deeply by all Patriots fans. Still, there is a football game to be played on Sunday, between two teams that are in need of a win to right their respective ships. I would expect both Brady and Gronkowski to receive warm pre-game welcomes from the fans at Gillette Stadium. Once the opener kickoff occurs, it will not be personal, it will be strictly business.
2. What do you make of Bill Belichick's comment regarding the similarity in Tampa Bay and New England's offense with Tom Brady at the helm?
MD: It sounded to me like Bill Belichick was making an honest assessment, in the moment of the question. His pairing with Brady spanned nearly two decades, much of that time spent winning. These two know each other very well. As well as Brady knows Belichick’s tendencies, the same is true in reverse. Perhaps there was a bit of posturing in Bill’s response…maybe in light of Tom’s comments made on his knowing ‘exactly what the Patriots will do, what is being said in the locker room’ etc. (which Brady made during his “Let’s Go” Podcast with Jim Gray earlier in the week, before Belichick’s press conference)?? After all, these two are staunch competitors. Still, despite what one may hear from the hot-takers, the prevailing sentiments between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are respect and admiration. I think that both Belichick’s, as well as Brady’s comments, were more centered amount the respect each has for the other when preparing for a game.
3. What have been your early impressions of Mac Jones?
MD: For all of the discussion surrounding New England’s desire to change their passing game, they are still operating under a timing-based system, predicated on vertical routes and completions from quick, accurate throws. Mac Jones showed a capability of doing that at a pro-level, and won the job during training camp. At his best, he can create plays by leading his receivers under the defense, releasing the ball quickly and delivering it accurately. So far, the Pats have played it a bit safe with the rookie, and that is by design. Through his first two games, Jones completed over 70 percent of his passes. Still, he has played under constant pressure from defenders. On Sunday against the Saints, he was pressured on 17 of his drop-backs, and hit 11 times. In order to be effective, the Pats offensive line needs to do a better job of protecting him, or Jones is at risk for a tough season. On the plus side, he is exhibiting a poise beyond his years that should give New England fans optimism for the future.
4. This is obviously a new-look Patriots team after an active offseason. What are the strengths and weaknesses across the roster? Do any matchups between the Pats and Bucs concern you, for either team?
MD: The Patriots came into 2021 having upgraded their defensive front seven, an exciting rookie quarterback and expected strengths in their running game and along their offensive line. So far, the Pats have struggled a bit in both of their perceived strengths, mostly due to injury. Right tackle Trent Brown has been sidelined with a calf injury, leading to breakdowns in both run and pass protection. Also, James White’s season-ending injury weakens both their rushing attack, as well as their passing game, as White is a quite capable receiver out of the backfield. The Patriots' front seven is much improved, as additions such as Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy (at linebacker) and Davon Godchaux (at defensive tackle) have helped the Patriots to more easily set the edge and stop the run. If there is one area that concerns me on Sunday, it would be the ability of the offensive line to stop a stout Tampa Bay defensive front. If Jones spends much of the night under duress, it may be a long game for the rookie. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tom Brady’s ability to shred a secondary. J.C. Jackson has been a solid primary option, but the Pats remain a bit thin beyond that. I promise you that Tom knows that, and he will look to exploit it.
5. What is your prediction for the game? Any hot takes?
MD: I honestly believe that this will be a closer matchup than most people believe. The Patriots are still a team in search of an identity, and this game will be a chance for them to take a major step in that direction. However, I’m still not sure that they are ready to win this. Ultimately this will be the quintessential chess match between Brady and Belichick…and each will have his moments on Sunday. Still, the Bucs are defending champions for a reason. They are well-coached and solid in all three phases of the game. In the final analysis, Tampa takes this one, but the Patriots won’t make it easy.
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