- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: The Patriots improve to 3-0 for the first time since their undefeated 2007 regular season. Some ineptitude from the Buccaneers helped their cause, but this was also a day in which the Patriots' defense continued to play well and the team's rookie receivers turned in their best game of the season.
Dobson and Thompkins bounce back: After more than a week of talk about quarterback Tom Brady's on-field frustration with his young receivers, the kids responded well. Specifically, second-round pick Aaron Dobson rose up with a strong effort, after struggling to hold on to the ball last week, while Kenbrell Thompkins caught two touchdowns. There still figures to be growing pains ahead, but this was a step in the right direction for the Patriots' rookie pass-catchers. If anything, it was Brady himself who was a bit off in this game based on his usual standard.
Stock watch: Rising -- cornerback Aqib Talib. Playing against his former team, he matched up against receiver Vincent Jackson in critical situations and also intercepted a Josh Freeman pass late in the second quarter to set up a 53-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. Talib now has three interceptions on the season.
Defense delivers: For the third week in a row, the Patriots' defense has been tough to crack. The unit had three fourth-down stops against the Buccaneers, which were essentially three turnovers, and added the Talib interception. They came up with the key stop in a 23-21 season-opening win over the Buffalo Bills, then held down the New York Jets in a 13-10 victory on Sept. 12. As the offense still works to find a more consistent groove, the defense has picked up the slack in a big way.
Bolden's leading role in debut: Second-year running back Brandon Bolden made his debut after missing the first two games with a knee injury and played more than 25 snaps as he was integrated into the mix alongside Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount.
Injuries to monitor: The Patriots played without tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm/back), receiver Danny Amendola (groin) and special teams captain Matthew Slater (wrist); their status will be watched closely this week. Also, starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer didn't play in the second half because of a foot injury.
What’s next: The Patriots visit the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night.