Tom Brady is finally up against a defense that he might not be able to overcome — his own. Despite a sensational start to the season by two-time league MVP Brady, the New England Patriots have allowed three of their first four opponents to score at least 30 points as they prepare to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night.
The reigning Super Bowl champions have already lost twice at home following Sunday’s 33-30 setback to the Carolina Panthers — a division rival of Tampa Bay. “We haven’t been really in control too often,” said Brady, who rallied his team from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit in Sunday’s last-second loss. “We are all really focused on trying to do a much better job than what we’ve done.” The Buccaneers, who had their Week 1 matchup postponed due to Hurricane Irma, have sandwiched a pair of home wins around a 17-point loss at Minnesota. Quarterback Jameis Winston is coming off his best game of the season and gets back top running back Doug Martin, who returns after a suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
TV: 8:25 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Patriots -5.5. O/U: 55.5
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (2-2): Brady turned in a pedestrian effort in the season opener but he has thrown for 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions over the past three games while completing at least 71 percent of his passes in each. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has 18 receptions and two touchdowns while averaging 95 yards receiving over the past three, but wide receiver Brandin Cooks has been inconsistent in his first season with the team. The ground game also has been spotty, although running back James White has a team-high 22 receptions. The defense has been a sieve, allowing a staggering 456.8 yards per game — by far the league worst — and ranking 31st with 32.0 points per game.
ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS (3-1): It’s unclear how much of a role Martin, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, will play in his season debut, although Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 83 yards on 16 carries. Winston, the top overall pick in 2015, bounced back from a three-interception performance at Minnesota by throwing for 332 yards and three touchdowns to rally Tampa Bay to a 25-23 win over the New York Giants on Sunday. He connected with each of his tight ends — Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard — for TD passes last week but Mike Evans is his favorite target with 19 catches for 227 yards and two scores. Injured linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are both expected to sit out their second straight game.
1. Brady was 9-0 on Thursday night until New England lost to Kansas City in its season opener.
2. Brate has 10 touchdowns since the start of the 2016 season, the most by any tight end in that span.
3. New England was 8-0 on the road last season and won its lone away game this season at New Orleans.
PREDICTION: Patriots 30, Buccaneers 27