Patriots maul Buccaneers on international stage
At least they got out to see some sights and do some shopping. Good thing, too, because if the Bucs ever decide to look back on their weekend trip to jolly old England, those Kodak moments and souvenirs will prove to be the highlight. There certainly wasn't anything jolly about the game they played against the New England Patriots on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

Sure, the Bucs made some plays here and there. They even managed to keep the game interesting for a while. But they've been doing that for seven weeks now and the results have all been the same. This 35-7 loss was just another notch in someone else's belt.

In fact, the only thing that distinguished this setback from all the others was the presence of rookie Josh Freeman under center at game's end. Freeman took over for an erratic Josh Johnson in the fourth quarter, but in his two brief series he didn't look like the savior this team so badly needs. He completed two of his four passes for 16 yards and ran out of the pocket once for 5 yards, but he walked into a sack on his first drive and was sacked and fumbled at the end of his second.

"You're on neutral ground, and we weren't going to make a comeback, so we wanted to get some different people out there and so we made a change at quarterback," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said of the move from Johnson to Freeman.

Whether the move becomes permanent was uncertain late Sunday. Morris said he won't make a decision on that matter until he's had time to evaluate both quarterbacks and talk to his staff. What also remains uncertain is what good a change at quarterback actually will do for the Bucs, who go into their bye week riding an 11-game losing streak that dates to December.

Johnson, who threw interceptions on two of his first five passes Sunday, rang up a passer rating of 29.2 but his play wasn't the Bucs' only problem spot. Missed tackles, dropped passes and missed blocking assignments - largely the same issues that have beset this team all season - once again were at the crux of the problem.

For example, it was Barrett Ruud's whiff of a tackle after Sam Aiken caught a short pass 50 yards from the goal line that allowed Aiken to turn that play into a 54-yard touchdown and a 21-0 Patriots lead early in the second quarter.

And it was Antonio Bryant's flat out drop of a third-down pass 15 yards down field with no defender near him that kept the Bucs from extending a drive when the game still was somewhat close. "The problems here are not just limited to the quarterbacks," center Jeff Faine said. "We have to get better at doing the simple things. We can't drop passes, we can't miss blocking assignments."

And they can't keep falling behind. The Bucs had scored first in two of their previous three games but they fell behind in a hurry against the Patriots, and Johnson took the blame. "It was my fault," Johnson said of the interception that Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather returned 39 yards to stake the Pats to a 7-0 lead five plays into the game.

"We have a route there where he gets to choose whether he wants to break it or hook it, and he hooked it. I kind of anticipated that he might break it because of the coverage they were playing. And then on the second one, that was me trying to make a play pretty much and not being on the same page with the receiver. We had opportunities to put points on the board. We just didn't do it."

Unlike the Bucs, the Patriots didn't waste many of their opportunities. Despite playing at times as if they were a little jet lagged, they scored on two of their first four possessions and on their first drive of the second half.

The Pats rolled even though quarterback Tom Brady wasn't as sharp as he usually is. He wasn't at the outset, anyway, matching Johnson in mistakes by throwing two picks in a span of four throws in the first half.

The Bucs failed to take advantage of those two chances, however, and didn't get on the scoreboard until after Maurice Stovall deflected a punt to set up a 33-yard Johnson-to-Bryant touchdown pass late in the second quarter.

That gave the Bucs hope, but all hope was pretty much dashed when the Patriots took the second-half kickoff and drove the ball 73 yards in 10 plays for a score that gave them an insurmountable 28-7 lead. "We just have to be more consistent," Bucs defensive end Stylez White said. "We're not good enough to have letdowns and come back from behind. We have to be great to win games and we weren't great today."

Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune 26 October 2009