Tom Brady led four touchdown drives in six first-half possessions to propel the Patriots to a 31-14 victory Thursday in Tampa. He helped stake the Pats to a 21-0 lead after the first quarter and a 28-0 lead by the time he hit the bench in the second half. Brady completed 11 of 19 passes for 118 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I’m glad we put some points on the board, but obviously, a lot of things that we could do better too,” Brady said in his postgame news conference. “We’ll use it as a tool really to get better, hopefully come out and play better next week.”
For sure, the Bucs won’t be thrilled with their defensive effort, and the Patriots were far from perfect, but it was a good start for a unit that made its preseason debut. They quickly shook aside the rust on their way to a five-play, 64-yard touchdown drive that concluded with Brady’s 16-yard strike to tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Brady also connected with Chad Ochocinco (two receptions, four targets, 14 yards, one touchdown) in the end zone, and the quarterback targeted six different receivers, completing passes to four of them.
While it was encouraging for Brady to post 28 points in his first action after just 20 practices, there were plenty of things that could have been better, and head coach Bill Belichick wasn’t shy about that assessment.
“I thought he did some good things,” Belichick said. “He had some other things that weren’t so good. Tom did a good job moving the offense, ran the team. I thought we had good tempo out there. I think there’s something things he’s got to sharpen up on, too.”
The offense did play with a quick pre-snap tempo, but the timing wasn’t always there during the play. Brady sailed a sideline pass past Ochocinco, who wasn’t out of his route on time, and the reigning MVP was off on some attempts over the middle to Ochocinco and Wes Welker. Brady also missed an out-route to Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots attempted to run their two-minute offense just before the half, and that was the first unit’s least effective possession. Brady was 3-for-5 for 28 yards, but he also took his only sack (Tim Crowder beat Nate Solder) and they only recorded one first down before punting.
“We expect to go out there and score,” Brady said. “There was some good. There was plenty of bad. I’m sure I’m going to see the film [Friday] and be disappointed with some of the things that I wish I probably could have done better. We’ve just got to build on it, understand the things we did wrong and try to make the corrections.”
The Patriots’ fourth touchdown drive was certainly one of the positives. The Tampa defense was gassed after so many reps with little rest in the humidity, so the Patriots outmuscled the Bucs with the ground game. On the nine-play drive, the Patriots ran it eight times for 41 yards before BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored his second touchdown of the game. While it happened in the second quarter, it was typical of one of the Patriots’ game-killing, fourth-quarter possessions.
All in all, it wasn’t flawless by any means, but a 28-point first half isn’t shabby after the long layoff, especially since the Patriots could see where they needed improvement.
“It was fun,” Brady said. “It’s been awhile since we’ve had a chance to be out there.”