Some were calling the New England Patriots "The worst 2-0 team" in the NFL after two ugly wins within the AFC East division. And with the added knock that this division is the weakest division in the league, things look pretty pathetic for the team that only a season ago, led the league in yardage, scoring, and turnover differential.
But what would you expect from a team that lost all but one of its receiving targets, and carries over some huge injury situations from the 2012 season? Even taking into account that the same all—universe QB is still under center, and the same front line still protects said Super—QB, there still may be some wonder that this team might struggle to win such easy games.
Most of Patriot Nation waits with baited breath as Rob Gronkowski inches closer to bursting onto the scene to join Tom Brady... the only question being how ready he is to assume his old, familiar role as nightmare mismatch... and what happens when he starts taking game day hits?
We also await the return of Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen... also both with huge questions now about their ability to stay healthy and on the filed contributing to an offense that is used to steamrolling opposing defenses.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rumbled into Foxboro brimming with confidence, and missing only their two top tight ends, but also suffering from a quarterback controversy that simmers behind the scenes. Josh Freeman is gradually playing himself out of the job that was his for the losing, while rookie Mike Glennon licks his chops for the chance to kick him out.
But this game was decided more by the missed opportunities than by any sort of steamrolling or potent attack. New England clearly won the battle on all levels, although with no clear domination in the style of last year's squad.
There were no 100 yard rushers, no 100 yard receivers, and even the sacks and interceptions were evenly split between the defenses. But the deciding factor came down to one simple problem- connections, or the lack thereof. Where New England struggled in the passing game in their two previous games, the Bucs were the guilty group this week. In fact, Tom Brady and Josh Freeman were polar opposites today, each throwing an interception, but only Brady able to connect for touchdowns, while completing 69.4% of his passes... to a mixture of rookies and relatively inexperienced veterans.
This is truly amazing when you consider that Freeman has horses such as Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, and Eric Page, all of whom were guilty of the dropsies. And each week, different players are stepping forward for the Patriots, showing just how versatile this team can be, and how their QB brings out the best in them.
But there is an aspect of this game that escapes our initial observation- the play book of one coach and his crew... Bill Belichick, as maligned as he may be, is one of the greatest minds in the game today. Who else leads his franchise to 10 division titles in 13 years? It is this mind that designs the game plan to fit the personnel he has on the field. And perhaps none in history can do it with such... grayness... Belichick keeps all things close to his chest, including the mandatory injury report; and who can decipher his press conferences?
All we can say for sure is that there will be a winner on the field, and this Sunday was no exception. It wasn't pretty, but the Patriots came through with their third straight win of this young season, and they look that much better than in the previous two weeks' wins.
The lopsided score belies the fact that things are not perfect in Foxboro, but also show that this team will fight hard while improving in small ways in all phases of the game. And that is the theme that is broadcast within the organization, and emanates out in everything they say and do. The doubters were silenced for the third week in a row, and doubts will surely rise again as the Patriots prepare to travel to Atlanta for a prime time showdown with the Falcons.
While many other teams are struggling to make things work, the Patriots have shown, yet again, that they will not be easy to beat. While they benefited from a relatively easy schedule to start the season, they are also being hardened for a higher level of competition. And with a leader like Tom Brady on the field, their determination will carry them to victory.