Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady’s return to New England was riveting. Brady set the NFL’s passing record, but he wasn’t great. Nevertheless, he had just enough help — including from a peculiar coaching decision by Bill Belichick — to lead his Buccaneers to victory in a 19-17 score. The result was locked down when Nick Folk plunked a 56-yard field-goal attempt off the upright. Belichick decided to kick instead of going for it on fourth and 3 from the 37. Let’s break down some of the highlights.

Observations from the Buccaneers vs. Patriots game

Here is the final score and highlights from the Buccaneers vs. Patriots matchup on Sunday Night Football in Week 4.

Buccaneers vs. Patriots score

Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 F
Buccaneers 3 3 7 6 19
Patriots 0 7 0 10 17

Bill Belichick holds his own vs. Tom Brady

Did Tom Brady forget how to play in the elements? We kid, of course. There might not have ever been a better bad-weather quarterback. But with a slick ball and chilly temperatures Sunday night, Brady wasn’t at his best.

He had a number of misses, even on completions, that stunted the offense’s productivity. Yes, he also had a beautiful back-shoulder throw to Antonio Brown, but Brady did not play to his standards for much of the game.

Back-to-back misfires on the last drive of the second quarter prematurely ended what had been an effective drive. And Brady was way off on a simple swing pass to Leonard Fournette inside the 10 in the fourth quarter.

Some peculiar play-calling didn’t help his stat line (22/43 for 269 yards and 0 touchdowns). Bruce Arians is the “no risk it, no biscuit” guy, right? Then why the short, safe stuff and the runs into the teeth of the Patriots’ defense?

It made for a good fantasy night for Fournette, who rushed for 91 yards on 20 carries. But it also took the explosivity out of a Buccaneers offense that was lights out the first three weeks.

Finally, with the game in the balance, Arians opened it up — and it worked. Brady’s deep sideline toss to Fournette fell incomplete. Yet, linebacker Kyle Van Noy’s early contact gave Tampa a field-position-flipping first down, leading to Ryan Succop’s 48-yard go-ahead field goal.

Mac Jones bounces back

Josh McDaniels knew it would be tough sledding against the Buccaneers’ highly rated run defense. So, he didn’t try.

New England actually had negative rushing yards as a team late in the fourth quarter, with Nelson Agholor leading the team with 1 carry for 4 yards.

That placed the offensive burden squarely on the shoulders of rookie Mac Jones, who had regressed in each of the previous two weeks.

However, he swung the arrow back in the other direction Sunday. Jones completed 31/40 for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did have an interception, but it was off a deflected ball. Jones was literally the Patriots’ entire offense through three quarters. He had 215 passing yards entering the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers as a team had 204 total yards.

And yet, Tampa Bay still sold out to stop the Patriots’ nonexistent running game on first and goal from the 1 on the first play of the fourth quarter, allowing Jonnu Smith to slip free on play-action and catch a go-ahead touchdown pass.

But he will probably need to double his dosage of Ibuprofen Monday. He got rocked time and again, due in no small part to his refusal to get rid of the ball as fast as necessary.

Side note: Joe Tryon is a really good football player. The Buccaneers’ rookie edge rusher added 2 sacks Sunday, including one on a stunt created by an epic surge by Vita Vea.

Buccaneers’ injuries mount

Can Ronde Barber still play? Heck, if Brady can go at 44, maybe Barber still has some life left in his legs at 46. Or how about Darrelle Revis? He’s only three years older than Richard Sherman, and Sherman was on the field all night Sunday after just three days of practice.

Tampa Bay’s cornerback situation went from serious to critical when they ruled Carlton Davis III out of the game after suffering a quad injury in the first half.

He’s the third starting cornerback for the Bucs lost to injury this month. Sean Murphy-Bunting dislocated his elbow in the opener and is on injured reserve. Jamel Dean didn’t play Sunday with a knee injury.

After Davis got hurt, the Buccaneers’ boundary corners were Sherman — who last played December 20, 2020 — and Pierre Desir — who was on Tampa Bay’s practice squad as recently as Saturday.

Sherman showed expected rust in his first game back, and the Patriots tested him plenty. But he did have an impact on the game, recovering a fumble surrendered by J.J. Taylor on the Patriots’ first drive of the second half.

Things went from bad to worse for the Buccaneers late in the game, when the defense was without safety Antoine Winfield Jr. as he underwent a concussion evaluation. And then the only available starting DB left, Jordan Whitehead, committed a 20-yard pass interference penalty on New England’s final drive.

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