TAMPA - When you break it down, you can see exactly what led to the Patriots' sputtering offensive performance Friday night against the Bucs. On their first play from scrimmage, they got 8 yards. Then no gain on Stevan Ridley runs on second and third down and a punt. On their next drive, Tom Brady took a sack (yielded by Marcus Cannon; Brady took the blame) and a third-and-14 pass was tipped, picked and returned for a touchdown.
Third drive, a loss of 1 on first down. "We didn't do anything offensively except lose yardage and turn the ball over," said Bill Belichick. "It was tough to watch any of what we did offensively. Throw them the ball, can't make any yards in the running game, third-and-long all day. Real hard to watch." It was not a total system failure. Rather, it was little things - like Ridley not making the first man miss on his second-and-2 run or Cannon giving modest effort on the sack - that turned into bigger things that jammed the system. "That's all being on the same page and everyone doing their job," Brady explained when asked about the lack of flow and rhythm. "When you put together a good play, you gotta put together another good play on top of that, another good play on top of that. You can't score points unless you do things well consistently unless you have a big play. And we didn't have any big plays tonight. Big plays make up for a lot of mistakes on offense, but if you don't make big plays you gotta drive the ball methodically down the field and you can't make errors. That's something we've got to focus on and something we have to focus on in practice."In an ideal world, the Patriots would have come out Friday, executed some drives in which they had balance and were able to sustain. Play well, have an orange slice at halftime and watch the second and third team scrap in the second half. Instead, they staggered around the entire first half, managing 118 yards on six possessions. Eighty-one of those came on their lone touchdown drive. They now have to at least consider playing the starters again in the final preseason game Wednesday against the Giants. "There's too many times where we're one step forward, two steps back. When you're not in a rhythm offensively it's hard to score points."It wasn't the big things as much as it was a myriad of little things that led to a disappointing night. "That's what separates the wins and losses," said Ridley, who was a bright spot with 87 yards on 16 carries. "We lost the game by just that much. It's the small things and that's what Coach Bill just said. We're gonna have to go back to the drawing board and play better football all around. We have to work on the small things and get those right so we can be the football team we need to be later on in the year."
It wasn't just the offensive inefficiency that vexed Belichick. "I think it was pretty obvious tonight that we got a lot of work to do," he acknowledged. "We really didn't perform to the level we need to in any area. When you can't score offensively, give up a lot of points defensively, nobody can make any plays in the kicking game you don't have a real good chance to win and that's the way it was tonight. "We're nowhere close to where we need to be. Hopefully we can close the gap pretty soon."