While Tom Brady didn't put on the kind elite showing he probably would have wanted in his return to Foxboro, the veteran quarterback and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ultimately did enough to squeak out a 19-17 victory over the New England Patriots.
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Brady got off to a slow start on a rainy night at Gillette Stadium. He tried to push the ball downfield but wasn’t able to deliver the kind of consistently pinpoint accurate passes we have all become accustomed to.
Brady threw 22 10-plus-yard passes in total, the fifth-most in a single game in his career dating back to 2006 (including postseason). Six of those passes earned a big-time throw designation in PFF's grading system, while seven resulted in a quarterback-fault incompletion.
Tom Brady on 10-plus yard throws
It was a good performance from the reigning Super Bowl champion quarterback, but it came in a volatile fashion with several highs and lows.
Veteran Leonard Fournette was the recipient of 20 of Tampa’s 26 runs on Sunday night, and he led the team to an efficient ground game. The Bucs generated 0.2 expected points added (EPA) per rush on running back carries, their second-best single-game mark dating back to the start of 2020.
A lot of this success stems from Tampa’s third-down rushing, as they converted four of five such runs for a first down.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Wide receiver Antonio Brown was the focal point against New England. He was targeted on 37.9% of his routes, which was the highest rate on the team by 10 percentage points.
Bucs’ WR/TE Target Rates (targets/routes run)
Brown now leads the team in this metric for the season at 24.4%.
Tampa’s offensive line did a good job protecting Brady overall, but there was a clear best and worst performer. The standout from the group was guard Ali Marpet, who was the only lineman without multiple losses in pass-protection and led the unit in positively graded run blocks. Tackle Donovan Smith was at the opposite end of that spectrum, as he lost five reps in pass protection and committed a penalty.
Edge defender Shaquil Barrett was a ferocious piece in Todd Bowles’ blitz packages. He ended up with six pressures and three other pass-rush wins while also forcing a couple of incompletions in coverage.
Rookie edge defender Joe Tryon-Shoyinka came up with a couple of impact sacks, the first ones of his young NFL career. Tryon-Shoyinka didn’t do much outside of that, though, with two missed tackles and an 8.3% win rate.
Devin White was an impact player against the pass, with four pressures on 11 blitzes and only two first downs allowed on eight targets. He also forced an incompletion and recorded two passing stops.
Tampa Bay’s secondary was running due to injuries, and that matter got even worse when cornerback Carlton Davis was knocked out with an injury.
The Bucs' injury woes at cornerback forced them to start Richard Sherman on the outside tonight, just days after he signed with the team. The veteran was targeted nine times, and he allowed all nine to be caught for 100 yards while committing a defensive pass interference penalty.
On a more positive note, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was in his playmaking form. He came in like a heat-seeking missile for a forced fumble, picked off a pass and totaled four passing stops en route to Tampa Bay’s highest coverage grade by a defensive back on first review.
This moment wasn’t too big for rookie quarterback Mac Jones. The 15th overall pick did produce a couple of turnover-worthy plays and rarely tested Tampa downfield, but he did execute a successful passing attack.
The area where Jones shined the most was when he faced one of Tampa Bay’s vaunted blitzes. Instead of crumbling like most inexperienced passers, Jones made the right decisions and got the ball out quickly.
Mac Jones vs Tampa Blitzes
|% of Dropbacks||42.5%|
Jones may not be the highest-graded rookie quarterback of the week, but he continues to look like the most NFL-ready of the bunch.
New England didn’t have a single successful run play and finished with negative yards on the ground for the game.
Some of this has to do with the game script favoring the pass and giving the backfield only six carries, but it also has to do with the lackluster run-blocking. The running backs were contacted at or before the line of scrimmage on every run.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Jones and offensive playcaller Josh McDaniels spread the wealth against the Bucs by giving five different pass-catchers — Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry — five or more targets. The group as a whole helped Jones out by catching all but one catchable pass and nine of their 13 contested opportunities.
When it came to man-to-man opportunities, it was Meyers who was the go-to target. Going up against Richard Sherman on most of those reps, Meyers was targeted six times on 15 man-coverage reps and hauled in five for 59 yards (3.93 yards per route run).
New England’s offensive line shuffled around during the game. Guard Michael Onwenu was benched after three lost reps in pass-protection and two holding penalties.
The right tackle spot was rotated back and forth between Justin Herron and Yasir Durant, but neither of the two was able to effectively secure the spot. Herron lost five reps on 35 pass-block snaps while Durant lost two on 15, one of which was a sack.
Edge defender Matthew Judon was the only notable performer in the pass-rush for the Patriots. He notched four pressures — one of which was a sack — and three other pass-rush wins.
Rookie interior defensive lineman Christian Barmore played more than he ever had in the first three games of his NFL career, but he failed to seize the opportunity at hand. Barmore had more negatively graded plays against the run than positively graded ones and recorded a win on just 6.5% of his pass-rush reps.
While Buccaneers linebacker Devin White found immense success against the pass, Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy did not. He didn’t win a single pass-rush rep and was responsible for a game-changing penalty late in the fourth quarter.
With just over four minutes left and leading the Bucs by one point, Van Noy committed a DPI on a deep ball to running back Leonard Fournette that gave Tampa a 20-yard gain. This boosted the Bucs’ win probability from 48% to 64%.
Cornerback J.C. Jackson shadowed star wide receiver Mike Evans all night long — with most of his reps coming in single, press-man coverage — and he got picked on early.
Jackson ended up allowing six catches on 11 targets for 64 yards while making no plays on the ball. He’s the lowest-graded New England defensive back upon first review.