Bucs 7 Patriots 35 - the game report
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted to put on a good show for the passionate NFL fans of London on Sunday. However, they were quickly thrust into the supporting role by a red-hot New England Patriots team that rolled to a 35-7 victory at a packed, 85,000-seat Wembley Stadium.

The Buccaneers’ search for their first victory of the 2009 season will thus head back home after the team came up short in its first regular-season game played outside of the United States. The sold-out crowd of 84,254 – the third-largest attendance ever for a Buccaneers game – was vocal, passionate and thoroughly into the proceedings before the game even began. It was also well-attended by Tampa Bay fans from here and abroad.

Those British Buc fans also witnessed the regular-season debut of Tampa Bay’s 2009 first-round pick, QB Josh Freeman. Freeman played the final nine minutes of the game and completed two of four passes for 16 yards while absorbing two sacks.

Unfortunately, those Buc supporters first saw New England rush out to a quick lead, as S Brandon Meriweather returned the first of a pair of first-quarter interceptions for a 39-yard touchdown. Patriots QB Tom Brady, coming off a six-touchdown performance just the week before against Tennesee, added touchdown passes to Wes Welker and Sam Aiken to give New England a 21-0 lead four minutes into the second quarter.

Tampa Bay tried to get back into the game just before halftime, running a successful two-minute drill that ended in QB Josh Johnson’s 33-yard touchdown pass to WR Antonio Bryant. However, the Patriots scored on Brady’s third touchdown pass, a 35-yarder to TE Benjamin Watson, to open the third quarter and then capped the scoring in the final period on a one-yard Laurence Maroney run.

The first-half deficit could have been worse but the Buccaneers’ secondary intercepted Brady twice in a span of four throws, first by S Tanard Jackson in the Bucs’ end zone and then by CB Aqib Talib on a deep pass over the middle. That was particularly impressive given that Brady had been picked off only twice in his previous 248 passes.

Brady did throw those two scoring passes in the game’s first 19 minutes, though both were very short tosses turned into scores by good runs by Welker and Aiken. Of course, in the end it was a vintage Brady performance: 23 of 32 passing for 308 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 107.3 rating. Brady was sacked just onece, consistently escaping Buccaneer pressure to convert six of 11 third downs while he was the helm. He was relieved in the final period by rookie QB Brian Hoyer.

Johnson had a rougher time of it, though he did throw for 156 yards and a touchdown. He completed only nine of 26 passes, however, and was intercepted three times. After the Patriots’ extended their lead to four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Bucs turned to Freeman. The rookie’s first two plays were handoffs to RB Derrick Ward; he was sacked by DT Mike Wright on his first dropback. Freeman’s first actual pass was a 13-yard dart to WR Brian Clark.

Before he departed, Johnson directed two drives that reached well into New England territory. However, both drives stalled and the Bucs punted both times from inside the Patriots’ 40-yard line. After the second of those kicks, Brady drove the Pats 89 yards on 10 plays, handing off to Maroney for the score that essentially clinched the outcome.

The Buccaneers were officially the home team for Sunday’s game, and while it was played at a neutral site there were quite a few Buc touches to make it at least resemble a home field. A stretch of lower-level seats were covered with large tarps bearing Tampa Bay’s symbols, seats were equipped with Buccaneer Battle Flags, the Buccaneers Cheerleaders performed frequently and even the giant Buccaneer flag that is unfurled before every home game at Raymond James Stadium made the trip over.

The Bucs ran for 89 yards on 26 carries, but only 17 of those yards came after halftime. The Bucs had to throw in order to attempt a comeback, and rookie WR Sammie Stroughter was once again at the center of the attack. He led the team with three catches for 63 yards and also handled all of the kickoff and punt return duties with Clifton Smith out due to a concussion.

Welker proved to be Brady’s favorite target, turning 10 mostly underneath throws into 107 yards and a score. WR Randy Moss was limited to 69 yards on five receptions. The Patriots ran for 107 yards but needed 28 carries to do it as the Bucs’ defense was generally strong against the ground game.

The Patriots got the ball first to start the second half and immediately got back the seven points they had surrendered before halftime with a 73-yard touchdown drive. New England converted their first third-down of the drive, a one-yarder, on a Maroney run around left end that just barely got the necessary yardage. Brady then found Welker again over the middle for 13 yards, putting the ball just over midfield.

A holding penalty and a near-sack by DE Michael Bennett put New England into a second-and-20 but they converted again thanks to TE Chris Baker’s fine sideline catch of a 16-yard pass. Another holding penalty hurt the Patriots after they had reached the Bucs’ 25 but Brady made it irrelevant moments later with a 35-yard touchdown pass to TE Benjamin Watson, who beat one-on-one coverage by LB Geno Hayes.

Tampa Bay’s first drive of the half was less successful, dying in three snaps after a first-down draw play to Williams lost five yards. Williams caught the ball on a nicely set-up screen pass on third-and-15 but he could get only nine of those yards back and the Bucs had to punt.

With the Wembley crowd suddenly reaching a higher decibel level (helped by a very well-executed “wave” around the stadium, the Buccaneers’ defense got the stop it needed. Hayes broke up a pass intended for Faulk with a dive and Brady was forced to scramble on third-and-six, coming up a yard short. The resulting punt was nearly blocked and it rolled out of bounds at the Bucs’ 30.

An incompletion and an unsuccessful Ward run made it third-and-10, but Johnson converted the third down by getting off a pass to Stroughter just before he was hit. Stroughter danced away from two tackles and got over the line for a gain of 17; the first down stood but most of the yardage was erased on a late-hit penalty on G Davin Joseph. Back at their own 32, the Bucs ran twice but got only one yard.

On third-and-nine, after a timeout, Johnson bought time with a scramble and found Stroughter downfield for a gain of 35 yards to the Patriots’ 32. The Bucs quickly found themselves in a third-and-15 spot at the 37, then punted after Johnson overshot Stroughter on his next pass. Dirk Johnson’s kick was a good one, high and fair-caught at the Patriots’ seven.

Brady tried to get it all on first down with a sideline bomb to Aiken but it was well-defended. Brady went up top again on third-and-eight but his pass was just out of Moss’ reach. The punt and Stroughter’s six-yard return put the ball back at Tampa Bay’s 39. A four-yard run by Williams brought up third-and-six, and though Johnson scrambled into position to hit a wide-open Bryant downfield, the receiver dropped it and the Bucs punted again.

The third quarter ended on Kevin Faulk’s six-yard run from the 11. After the switch of sides, Welker took a short pass 13 yards and Brady threw a a seven-yard out to Moss. Welker got 16 more on his next catch, moving the ball past midfield, though a false start pushed it back over the 50-yard line. A 12-yard Aiken catch and an offsides call led to a first down at the Bucs’ 36, and Brady found Welker for 16 more two plays later.

After a 13-yard run by Maroney down to the five, Maroney took it down to the one on a draw and then stepped in easily over right guard on the next play. The touchdown increased New England’s lead to 35-7 with 9:25 to play.

Freeman came on to direct the next drive but was pressured into a throwaway on third-and-four. After the Bucs’ punt, New England sent in their own rookie passer, Brian Hoyer, to finish out the game. He handed off twice to bring up third-and-five, then scrambled for 20 yards after an illegal shift backed them up five. Rookie DT Roy Miller dropped RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a loss of four, helping bring up a third-and-11. A three-yard loss by Green-Ellis brought on the two-minute warning and a New England punt.

Freeman came back out and threw a three-yard pass to TE Kellen Winslow before scrambling for five yards. After an incompletion and a delay-of-game penalty, Freeman tried to convert a fourth-and-seven but was sacked by LB Derrick Burgess. Freeman fumbled on the play but T Donald Penn recovered. New England got the ball on downs and kneeled twice to end the game.