FOXBORO -- So much for that "worst 2-0 team in the NFL" jazz.
The Patriots are still unbeaten today, and now they seem much worthier of the distinction. After a stumbling start, the Patriots -- for the first time all season -- began clicking on all cylinders in the second quarter and coasted to a 23-3 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It was another superlative effort from the defense, which has only allowed three touchdowns in three games this season, but perhaps more noteworthy was the work of the rookie receivers. After a weak showing against the Jets that reportedly had Tom Brady contacting some of his old pass-catchers to see if they were looking for work, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins combined for 10 catches, 93 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"We had a good week of practice," said defensive captain Vince Wilfork, "and it showed today . . . It feels good to go out and execute the way we executed."
Brady was also back on track, completing 25-of-36 passes for 225 yards. His day was married only by an end-zone interception in the third quarter that could have made his stats, and the final score, even more gaudy.
"It was fun to be out there," said Brady. "Fun to see us play a little bit better."
The first quarter was a continuation of the first eight this season, in which the Pats' offense managed only two first downs and was outgained 105-31. It was a tribute to the defense that the only thing the Bucs were able to come away with was a 30-yard field goal by Rian Lindell and a 3-0 lead . . . though Lindell missing a 38-yard field goal on Tampa Bay's first drive certainly helped.
"We got off to a bit of a slow start," said Brady. "We just didn't convert some meaningful third downs. When you don't do it, you're off the field and you're punting the ball to the other team.
"But our defense did a great job limiting them to a field goal, stopping them, and, really, that was a big turnaround . . . "
The Bucs reached the Patriots 34 early in the second quarter, an area Brady calls "the fringe": Too far away for a high-percentage field-goal attempt, too close for a punt. The defense forced incomplete Josh Freeman passes on both third and fourth downs, turning the ball back to the offense. And -- with Brady completing a key fourth-and-two pass to Dobson midway through the drive to move the ball to the Tampa Bay 31 -- they marched 66 yards in 11 plays for the go-ahead touchdown. Brady hit Thompkins with a 16-yard touchdown pass and the Pats were ahead, 7-3.
They would never trail again.
"That ended up being a big swing," said Brady. "A big stop, a good drive."
On their next possession, they went 62 yards in 10 plays with Brady finding Thompkins for another TD, this one from five yards out, to make it 14-3 with 52 seconds left in the half. Then Aqib Talib picked off a Freeman pass on the Tampa Bay 43 with 11 seconds remaining, and Brady used two plays to get the Pats in position for a 53-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal as time expired to make the score 17-3.
Gostkowski added two more field goals in the second half -- 46 yards in the third quarter and 33 yards in the fourth -- for the 23-3 final.
And now the Pats are now 3-0 at the start of a season for the first time since going 16-0 in 2007.
"Love to get to 4-0," said Brady.
They get their shot next Sunday night in Atlanta.