- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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TAMPA -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 30-28 loss to the Buccaneers in preseason action:
Ugly night for Patriots. This was somewhat similar to last season’s third preseason game at Detroit in which the Patriots were pushed around and quarterback Tom Brady took too many hits. The Buccaneers were aggressive on defense and had success disrupting the rhythm of the passing game by getting to Brady early and building a 20-7 halftime lead. The overall pass protection -- from the line, to tight end, to running backs -- was shaky. Some might also say Brady didn’t always help his cause by holding on to the ball too long on some plays. The Patriots got behind early -- the defense was shredded on the opening drive -- and were playing catch-up the rest of the night. Bill Belichick will likely say that the team has a lot to work on after this one. He’d be speaking the truth.
Brady plays into late third quarter. Brady’s final play came with 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter and was a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski. This highlighted Bill Belichick’s approach of playing Brady and the top guns into the second half in this “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. It was hot and humid here in Tampa, so while the results weren’t necessarily desired, one positive was that the Patriots’ conditioning was tested.
Three injuries of note -- Vereen, Larsen, Arrington. Second-year running back Shane Vereen and fifth-year fullback Spencer Larsen limped off in the first half and did not return. That left the offensive backfield a bit thin. Vereen had been making a charge for some more playing time, and in his absence, Stevan Ridley was one of the bright spots for the Patriots and looks like he’s positioned to be the opening-day starter and lead option. Meanwhile, cornerback Kyle Arrington was replaced by Ras-I Dowling for the final two series of the second quarter and was having his back examined by the athletic training staff on the sideline. All three players did not return.
Writing on the wall for Stallworth? With Wes Welker not dressing for the game, the Patriots didn’t turn to Donte' Stallworth -- who played extensively on Monday night -- until late in the fourth quarter (he had a few late catches). Julian Edelman received a lot of playing time at receiver but had a quiet night on the stat sheet (no catches). That could be bad news for Stallworth in his hopes for a roster spot.
Defense -- up and down night. Outside of a 19-yard Doug Martin run, the Patriots played solid run defense. That was one of the positive aspects of the defensive performance, as it’s live work they can’t often get in practice. The secondary had some early struggles, but with rookie safeties Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner seeing significant playing time, there weren’t major issues on the back end outside of the first drive. Some valuable experience gained there.
Demps -- up and down debut. Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps didn't play until midway through the third quarter and had an up-and-down debut, with two kickoff returns that didn’t produce big results and a penalty for simulating the snap count. But his explosiveness was on display late in the fourth quarter with a 29-yard run that showcased his blazing speed. He’s one of those players: When the ball is in his hands, you don’t want to miss it. Exciting.
Reminder -- it’s just the preseason. It wasn’t an inspiring performance from the Patriots, but as we’ve seen before, beware of reading too much into preseason results. The Buccaneers took it to the Patriots, just as the Lions did last year in the third preseason game. The Patriots’ 2011 season turned out to be pretty successful.