In a meeting of two teams seeking to establish an identity, Thursday night’s matchup between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers provides an opportunity for one of these teams to establish itself as a legitimate threat in their respective conferences.
The Patriots, 2-2, find themselves in an unaccustomed position as a loss at Tampa Bay could drop them potentially two games off of the AFC East lead, while the Buccaneers, at 2-1, need a win to keep pace with the Falcons and Panthers in the NFC South.
New England has gotten off to an unusually slow start, and it has been the defense that has let the Patriots down so far. Its two losses have come by scores of 42-27 in the opener against Kansas City and 33-30 this past week at home against the Panthers. New England has surrendered 20 and 33 points in victories over the Saints and Texans, respectively.
Tampa Bay is one of seven teams that has never defeated a Tom Brady-led Patriots team, and the Buccaneers stand 0-4 in their endeavours. Thursday’s game marks the ninth time the two teams have met, with the Patriots holding a 6-2 advantage, and will be the first time that New England has visited Raymond James Stadium.
The Patriots feature the usual cast of characters, and Tom Brady is off to perhaps his best start ever. Brady has completed 103 of 155 passes for 1,399 yards and 10 touchdowns already this season, and has yet to throw an interception. He boasts a passer rating of 116.6, which is even more impressive considering the fact that he has been sacked 13 times to date.
Rob Gronkowski continues to be Brady’s go-to guy. The Gronk has 20 receptions for 318 yards and two touchdowns so far. Brandin Cooks has 13 catches for 294 yards and two touchdowns and Chris Hogan has four touchdown receptions among his 15 total catches and has accounted for 214 yards.
Mike Gillislee has been the workhorse back for the Patriots as he has rushed for 194 yards on 57 carries, an average of only 3.4 yards per carry, and has scored four touchdowns. James White is the only running back to eclipse the 4-yard-per carry mark, and has 73 yards on 18 attempts.
Jameis Winston is quietly having an impressive start of his own as he has completed 68 of his 108 passes for 864 yards, six touchdowns, three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 94.8. Winston has only been sacked five times through three games.
Winston’s favorite target has been Mike Evans, who has 19 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Cameron Brate has also accounted for two scores on his 10 catches for 132 yards and rookie O.J. Howard also has a touchdown grab among his four receptions.
Tampa Bay’s ground game is paced by Jacquizz Rodgers, who has carried the ball 40 times for 165 yards, an average of 4.1 yards per carry, and has scored one touchdown. Running back Doug Martin returns from his three-game suspension this week and should give the Buccaneers an added boost.
Defensively, the Buccaneers have had their share of problems, having surrendered 34 points in a loss to Minnesota and 23 points in last week’s victory at home against the Giants.
But injuries have played a big role in that as Tampa Bay has seen at least nine starters miss significant portions of games so far. The Buccaneers will certainly need its full complement of defenders Thursday night if they hope to keep Brady and company in check.
How to watch Patriots at Buccaneers
Date: Thursday, October 5th, 2017
Time: 8:25 p.m. ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
TV Channel: CBS
SB Nation Coverage: Pats Pulpit and Bucs Nation
Online Streaming: CBS Sports will be streaming the game via Amazon Prime Video Service, international viewers can use NFL Game Pass.
Radio: 97.9 Tampa Bay’s Rock Station Online Radio Stream. Westwood One Sports will air the game across the country. Ian Eagle (play-by-play) and Tony Boselli (analyst) will call the action and Scott Graham will host pregame and halftime shows.
Announcers: Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (color analyst), Tracy Wolfson and Jay Feely (sideline reporters)
Odds: New England: -5 1/2; under/over: 56 (Bovada)