Patriots Live Blog: Tom Brady, Andre Carter Help New England Top Tampa Bay 31-14

Patriots Live Blog: Tom Brady, Andre Carter Help New England Top Tampa Bay 31-14

Final, Patriots 31-14: The Patriots looked very good again, as the first-team offense clicked from the outset and the new-look defense brought a ferocious level of pressure with the front seven. As such, the Patriots are 2-0 in the preseason and have beaten their opponents by a combined margin of 78-26. They'll get their next chance Aug. 27 in Detroit.

Fourth quarter, 5:06, Patriots 31-14: Brian Hoyer has taken over for Ryan Mallett, and the Patriots will try to run out the clock. Mallett was 9-for-14 for 71 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He led one scoring drive.

Fourth quarter, 6:14, Patriots 31-14: Well, if there's going to be a bad part from Thursday night's game for the Patriots, it will be Danny Woodhead's head injury. Woodhead was hit by a merciless, blind-side head shot from Devin Holland while Woodhead was in punt coverage. Woodhead, whose wife gave birth to their first child this week, suffered a concussion last season, so this will be something to monitor going forward.

Fourth quarter, 9:28, Patriots 31-14: Apparently, it's preseason for the pirates, too, as the cannon was inexplicably fired in the middle of the Bucs' most recent drive, which was capped off by Allen Bradford's two-yard touchdown run.

Third quarter, 1:13, Patriots 31-7: Zoltan Mesko just unleashed a 57-yard punt after the Patriots' offense stalled. Brian Hoyer was subbed in again in a spot situation, and he threw two incompletions on second and third down.

Third quarter, 3:17, Patriots 31-7: Stephen Gostkowski's 44-yard field goal extended the lead, and Ryan Mallett delivered two strong throws to Matt Slater on his third drive. When Mallett steps up and delivers the ball with confidence, he's a much different quarterback than the guy who can get overcome with the pace of a rookie whirlwind.

Slater has caught the ball as well as he ever has in this training camp and preseason. He still won't be in the offensive game plan unless something crazy happens, but he still likes to show that he can contribute offensively, as well.

Nate Solder is done for the game. Steve Maneri moved to left tackle, and Corey Woods took Maneri's spot at right tackle. Woods is a long shot to make the roster.

Third quarter, 6:48, Patriots 28-7: The Pats' starting secondary remained in the game for the last drive, and Kyle Arrington recorded the defense's second interception of the preseason — and the first for an actual defensive player. (Ah hem, Buddy Farnham.) Devin McCourty got flagged for a questionable pass interference penalty a play before. On the drive's two plays, the coverage was pretty solid, as it should have been against the Bucs' second unit.

Third quarter, 7:10, Patriots 28-7: Stevan Ridley fumbled away the ball on a fourth-and-1 attempt, and the Patriots' offensive reserves have two turnovers in two possessions. Mallett has looked a little shaky, although he did slow himself down as the quarter has progressed. Three of Mallett's five completions have gone to Ridley, and the quarterback isn't delivering with a lot of confidence with his throws down the field or out wide.

Third quarter, 11:06, Patriots 28-7: The Patriots' second-string offensive line, from left to right, includes Nate Solder, Jonathan Compas, Rich Ohrnberger, Thomas Austin and Steve Maneri. Solder will obviously make the team, and Ohrnberger and Maneri will likely be on the roster, too. Austin has an outside chance, but Compas is a long shot.

Third quarter, 11:56, Patriots 28-7: Ryan Mallett overshot a floater to Carson Butler in the left seam, and Elbert Mack played center field and then turned in a nice 69-yard return for a touchdown.

This is a good test for Mallett, with the road atmosphere and some rain over the stadium, but the results haven't been good yet.

Third quarter, 15:00, Patriots 28-0: Ryan Mallett led the offense onto the field for the start of the second half for the second week in a row. The difference here, though, is Brian Hoyer only got two first-half reps. Mallett has struggled at practice, but he was very good in his preseason debut.

Don't read Thursday night's rotation as a view of the depth chart at quarterback. I think the Patriots are very happy with where they're at with Hoyer, and they're probably trying to get a better look at Mallett, who needs the experience. Mallett has gotten the second-most reps in practice since Saturday.

Halftime, Patriots 28-0: Tom Brady and the offense only converted one first down in their attempt to run the two-minute drill. Nate Solder gave up a sack to Tim Crowder, who beat the rookie with a quick move to the inside and immediately took down Brady. Wes Welker also took a big hit over the middle. The starters will be happy with a 28-0 "victory" in this game, assuming they're out after halftime, but the two-minute offense will be a point of emphasis this week in practice.

The Patriots also announced linebacker Dane Fletcher will not return with a thumb injury, so he joins Bret Lockett among the fallen players in Tampa.

Second quarter, 2:03, Patriots 28-0: I can't even imagine how good this defensive front can be when Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis are healthy enough to join the lineup. They're just continually in the Tampa quarterback's mug, and it was Josh Johnson on the last series.

Tom Brady and the starters are coming back onto the field after a punt pinned them back to their own 3-yard line. It's a good opportunity for them to run a true two-minute offense, even if it's a risk to have them in the game at this point.

Second quarter, 5:51, Patriots 28-0: That was a run-heavy drive for the Patriots' offense, which clearly tried to take advantage of Tampa's tiring defense. It's extremely hot down there, and the players aren't in midseason shape due to the shortened camp. Plus, the Bucs' offense has only notched one first down (compared to the Patriots' 16), so it was a good opportunity to showcase that second-half type of running game that they used to finish their opponents.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis actually scored twice, though his first score was called back due to a holding penalty on Dan Koppen. The Patriots ran the ball on eight of their nine plays on that drive, including Green-Ellis' one-yard punch.

Second quarter, 10:04, Patriots 21-0: The Patriots are taking over again. Jeremy Ross didn't get a chance to return the most recent punt. He's averaged nine yards per return so far, and he's looked good in the process. If Ross can prove some value in the return game, he could absolutely steal a job from Brandon Tate.

The Patriots have called Bret Lockett's issue a thigh injury, and he won't return. He immediately clutched his groin when he hit the turf before getting carted off.

Second quarter, 12:34, Patriots 21-0: The Bucs' defense showed up and put some big pressure on Tom Brady. Rookie first-round pick Adrian Clayborn let up on a low hit to Brady's knee, which probably allowed Patriots fans to exhale as that went down.

Zoltan Mesko's first punt traveled 43 yards and went for a fair catch in a large part to Matt Slater's great coverage down the right sideline. Slater fought through two blockers to close in on Preston Parker.

Safety Bret Lockett had to get carted off with a groin injury after the punt. That could be a tough blow for Lockett after suffering through a pair of injury-plagued seasons, including a washed-out 2010. Lockett is a good special teams contributor who has been challenging to earn one of the four or five spots at safety.

Second quarter, 13:22, Patriots 21-0: This is just a merciless attack of the Buccaneers' dignity. Jerod Mayo and Mark Anderson teamed up to sack Josh Freeman on third down, and that was the most aggressive blitz of the night (and maybe the first five-plus quarters of the preseason) for the Patriots. This pressure is pretty amazing compared to the way the Patriots struggled in that department last year, and Mayo is looking like one of the main beneficiaries. He's blitzed three times, recorded 1.5 sacks and forced an incompletion.

First quarter, 0:06, Patriots 21-0: BenJarvus Green-Ellis capped off another dominant drive with a one-yard touchdown run, and you'd never know the Patriots' offense was facing a live defense for the first time. Nate Solder has looked very good once again, and he smoked former Patriots linebacker Tyrone McKenzie on the touchdown run.

Brian Hoyer came in for two plays early in the drive during one of Bill Belichick's patented coaching moments when he tries to make sure every player on the roster can be ready in an instant. I think the most extreme instance came last season when Belichick used Kyle Love on a kickoff.

Rob Gronkowski dropped a sideline pass late in the drive. I bring this up because I think it's the first time I've seen Gronkowski miss a pass in the red zone in the last three weeks.

First quarter, 3:28, Patriots 14-0: Andre Carter is absolutely abusing left tackle Donald Penn, who is a pretty good player. On the Bucs' most recent failed third down, Carter had Penn turned around, and the left tackle looked defeated as he tried to block Carter with his backside. Jerod Mayo recorded a sack on the drive, too. He's blitzed twice and pressured Josh Freeman each time.

First quarter, 6:49, Patriots 14-0: Tom Brady and Chad Ochocinco hooked up for their first touchdown together. The Patriots had to work harder for yardage during that drive, but the scoring play came easy. After two runs, Brady play-actioned to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and caught the defense. Ochocinco started his seam route at half speed before striding past cornerback Ashton Youboty to get open in the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown.

Earlier in the drive, Ochocinco took a vicious hit to the head from rookie linebacker Mason Foster, who drew a personal foul and will receive a fine later this week. It was the first of two failed attempts to Ochocinco on the drive.

It looks like Danny Woodhead and Green-Ellis will get the starting-caliber snaps in this game. It might not mean anything, though. Remember, last preseason, the Patriots rode one or two backs for about a half or a game at a time to sort out the depth chart and position battle.

Undrafted rookie tight end Will Yeatman got plenty of reps on the last series. The coaches ride Yeatman hard in practice, and he gets a lot of quality reps. The former Maryland lacrosse player is a work in progress, but there's been no doubt from day one that the coaches like him. He'll compete with Lee Smith for the third tight end position on the roster.

First quarter, 10:04, Patriots 7-0: Two more very good rushes from the Patriots' defensive line. Andre Carter nearly got to Josh Freeman on first down, and Freeman made a bad decision to throw a wobbly incompletion. I was impressed on third down, though, when the Bucs tried to counter the Patriots' aggressive rush by dumping off a screen pass, and Mark Anderson quickly recovered from the back side of the defense to tackle Earnest Graham after a five-yard gain. Two three-and-outs, and two very strong series from Carter, Anderson and Eric Moore.

First quarter, 11:45, Patriots 7-0: Just went back to look at the Bucs' first offensive play, when Josh Freeman threw a dangerous shovel pass that fell incomplete after getting some serious pressure in his face. Eric Moore had a great rush from the left side of the defense, and Jerod Mayo broke free from the right side on a blitz. Freeman stepped up immediately to toss the ball aside. So the Bucs passed twice on the opening drive, and the Patriots generated very good pressure from the edge each time.

First quarter, 11:45, Patriots 7-0: Tom Brady and the offense made it look like they were going against the scout team defense at practice. Brady threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez on a simple seam route that the Bucs failed to cover. Rob Gronkowski was a standout blocker on the drive, and Danny Woodhead had the big play with a 29-yard run in which he reversed field to recover from a play that should have resulted in negative yards. Brady was 2-for-2 on the drive, with his other completion going to Wes Welker for 11 yards. Easy stuff.

First quarter, 13:53, 0-0: Andre Carter had a good third-down rush to force a Josh Freeman incompletion and a three-and-out for the Bucs. Jeremy Ross handled the punt return, too, which is noteworthy. Tom Brady and the starting offense takes over for the Patriots.

First quarter, 15:00, 0-0: Chris Koepplin sent the opening kickoff for a touchback for the second week in a row, and the Bucs will start at the 20. Interestingly, Stephen Gostkowski is still not handling kickoff duty.

7:31 p.m.: The Pats and Bucs are moments away from kicking off their second game of the preseason.

7:00 p.m.: There are plenty of things to watch as the Patriots take on the Buccaneers in Tampa. Let's highlight a few of them.

Tom Brady and the passing game: Brady and his receivers were very up and down through the first two weeks of training camp, but I think they've collectively been much better this week. Let's see if they carry it over into their first preseason game together. I've got nothing but confidence that Brady, Wes Welker and Deion Branch will be fine in time for the regular-season opener, but I want to see how the quarterback gets it going with Chad Ochocinco.

In addition to that, I want to see how Brady meshes with the tight end duo. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have each had stellar camps — with Gronkowski being the best offensive player on the team by a wide margin — but they had their issues staying in sync with Brady in 2010. Let's see if Gronkowski and Hernandez can do a better job of reading defenses on the fly and running routes the way Brady wants them to do so.

Chemistry on the offensive line: Nate Solder will likely start at left tackle, and that should be very valuable as he builds chemistry with the other four starters. Ideally, the Patriots won't ever see Solder on the field this season, but if Matt Light suffers a setback or an injury of any kind, Solder's preseason experience will be helpful.

It's also important for Solder to get this experience in a road environment. Granted, the Bucs' pirate ship won't be shooting its cannons at anyone, and the crowd won't be full and screaming loudly, but it will give Solder some work with the Patriots' silent counts. Don't underestimate the little things when Brady is under center.

Edge rushers: It's still tough to see what the Patriots' four-man front is capable of doing because Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis are out, but they've built up a good rotation on the outside. Jermaine Cunningham won't play, so it should give Andre Carter, Mark Anderson, Markell Carter and Eric Moore an opportunity to prove their worth.

Coverage over the middle: Brandon Meriweather's practice struggles have been well-documented. Let's see if the Buccaneers try to expose the Patriots by passing the ball over the middle. Linebackers Gary Guyton and Dane Fletcher have had their struggles in coverage, too, so that could be a weakness for New England.

Stephen Gostkowski's availability: When will he be cleared for kickoffs?

6:41 p.m.: If you missed it this week, check out my story on Devin McCourty, who said he's got a lot more confidence this season, which I think should lead to an even better year for the cornerback.

6:23 p.m.: With about an hour to go until kickoff, let's run through the players I expect to see their first action and some others who probably won't suit up at all.

Expected to Debut:

Quarterback Tom Brady

Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Wide receiver Wes Welker

Wide receiver Deion Branch

Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco

Tight end Rob Gronkowski

Left guard Logan Mankins

Center Dan Koppen

Right guard Dan Connolly

Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer

Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork

Linebacker Jerod Mayo

Cornerback Devin McCourty

Expected to Sit Out:

Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth

Left tackle Matt Light

Wide receiver Taylor Price

Wide receiver Julian Edelman

Wide receiver Brandon Tate

Linebacker Brandon Spikes

Linebacker Jermaine Cunningham

Running back Kevin Faulk

Defensive lineman Ron Brace

Defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick

Safety James Sanders

Defensive lineman Shaun Ellis

Running back Shane Vereen

Cornerback Ras-I Dowling

Defensive lineman Mike Wright

Offensive lineman Ryan Wendell

8 a.m. ET: After sitting out last week's preseason opener against the Jaguars, quarterback Tom Brady should be expected to lead the Patriots' starters onto the field Thursday night in Tampa.

The Patriots have been actively preparing for the Buccaneers this week in practice, using the scout team to give the offensive and defensive units a better look at the Bucs' sets. The Pats' offense has also been practicing with silent counts to prepare for their first road crowd.

And while it's possible the starters won't see much action, cornerback Devin McCourty said he "can't wait" to play this week, which is a good indication that the front-line players will be ready to go.

Still, don't expect Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis or Matt Light to make their preseason debuts. Without Light in the lineup, the Patriots will likely start first-round pick Nate Solder, who will have a tremendous opportunity to develop some chemistry with the rest of the line.

Stay with NESN.com's live blog throughout the day to stay prepared for the Pats-Bucs action.

Yardbarker

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