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Thursday, August 18, 2011
Rapid reaction: Pats 31, Bucs 14

By Mike Reiss



TAMPA -- Rapid reaction after the New England Patriots throttled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-14, in both teams' second preseason game:

Domination from top units. The Patriots looked sharp on both sides of the ball, opening a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. It was 28-0 at the half. Quarterback Tom Brady was on his game; outside of failing to execute in a two-minute situation at the end of the first half, he directed an offense that played at a regular-season pace. Meanwhile, the defense had a nice mix of tight coverage and pressure, forcing two three-and-outs to open the game. It was 14-0 by that point as the Patriots' first-stringers smoked the Buccaneers' top players. The Patriots' top units look loaded.

Ochocinco's takes big hit, responds. The first Tom Brady-to-Chad Ochocinco connection got off to a tough start, with Brady's first pass to No. 85 over the middle resulting in Ochocinco taking a big hit from linebacker Mason Foster that drew a personal-foul penalty. After another incompletion along the sideline, Ochocinco gathered in an 8-yard touchdown from Brady on a play-action fake out of a three-tight end set. Ochocinco left the football in the end zone, hardly celebrating. In all, Ochocinco was charted on the field for 24 snaps (including penalties). His stat line: two catches, 14 yards, one touchdown.

Starters play throughout first half. Playing time is often a big question in preseason games, and Bill Belichick kept his top players in the game throughout the first half. Rookie left tackle Nate Solder, who started, played two series into the second half. The Patriots were shorthanded in the secondary, so they had some top players still on the field in the second half.

Attacking defense, led by Carter & Mayo, shines. After a 2010 season in which the Patriots struggled to generate pressure on a consistent basis out of their base alignment, Thursday night looked like a different unit. They were swarming, led by linebacker Jerod Mayo (two sacks) and defensive end Andre Carter, who was bringing it off the right edge. Impressive.

Running game gets it going. The offensive line/tight ends and running backs Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis get deserving praise, as the Patriots steamrolled the Buccaneers. First-half totals on the ground: 117 yards on 17 carries (6.9 avg.) and two touchdowns.

Health questions with Fletcher, Lockett & Woodhead. Areas to monitor on the health front in the days to come are with linebacker Dane Fletcher (thumb), safety Bret Lockett (thigh/groin) and running back Danny Woodhead (shaken up on fourth-quarter punt coverage). Woodhead was smiling on the bench at the end of the game.

Mallett throws a pick-six. After an impressive performance in the preseason opener, rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett struggled, throwing a pick-six on his first drive that opened the second half. It was returned 69 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Elbert Mack, with Mallett getting crunched on the return. No. 2 quarterback Brian Hoyer, who played sparingly as he was inserted into the game mid-drive twice as a way to keep him sharp, also almost threw a pick-six. Not a great night for the backups after a strong showing in the preseason opener. Overall, the second half was sloppy for the Patriots' reserves.