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The Bucs are far better than they played Thursday.

Turning the Page on the Patriots

If you’ve been following the Buccaneers news cycle since Thursday you’ve seen plenty of discussion on the first half of the Patriots-Bucs preseason game. We’ve had more than our share of criticism on this site, that’s normal, when expectations that high get so thoroughly challenged, there’s bound to be a little bit of anger and finger-pointing. Miami had similarly high expectations after going 11-5 and winning their division in Tony Sparano’s first season. Two 7-9 seasons later the atmosphere in Miami is so caustic that they booed the team in their first practice.

Tampa won’t get to that point, but a lot of the whiplash from Thursday night’s game is based in the letdown that came with seeing an elite team make quick work of a Buccaneers squad that was beginning to think of themselves as occupying the same class. Unfortunately, the Bucs aren’t there yet. But it’s time to start moving forward and looking at the game more objectively, from our collective rear-view mirrors.

This is going to be a very good team, and that Patriots game was really not indicative of what to expect this season, even despite the way it looked. Here are three reasons not to worry about last week’s game and to start looking forward to the game against the Dolphins on Saturday…

1.) The Offensive Line is a work in progress.

Remember when the Buccaneers got rid of Pete Mangurian and replaced him with Pat Morris? That has a much large impact on blocking than you might realize, a lot of issues with getting the protections right and picking up blitzes stem from the fact that the Buccaneers line is adjusting to a new coach and new blocking scheme. Typically NFL teams have the chance to start working on some of the classroom level stuff, and nailing down the mental aspect of the game that will be changing with a new coach. This year the Bucs didn’t have that chance, so when you saw a lot of mental errors out of the line on Thursday night, that was a direct result of the Bucs being behind in that phase. This will come along, the Bucs have a solid group on their line athletically and they’ll be fine once it really clicks, but as of Thursday night they still had a ways to go.

2.) Inexperience and Absence

The Bucs were without some of their best players for precautionary reasons. Guys like Aqib Talib and Kellen Winslow are game-changers. The Patriots don’t really look at Ryan Purvis releasing and heading up the seam like they would if it were Winslow. Likewise, Aqib Talib is a top-notch corner. While Winslow likely wouldn’t have helped much with the blocking he would have changed the Patriots approach to defending the Bucs. As it were they didn’t really have to respect the tight end position and could devote that linebacker to pressuring Freeman a little bit more than they typically could had Winslow played. I don’t need to discuss what Aqib Talib does, or how Ochocinco fared last time the two matched up (3 rec.-20 yards).

That aside though, asking Mason Foster to come out of the Pac 10 and in his second NFL appearance have to anchor a defense against Tom Brady is just cruel. That’s true for a lot of young Buccaneer players that were getting a taste of their first action against an NFL powerhouse. But that’s going to be a practical education for these guys. The NFL sheen is off, now they’ve seen it up close and personal and have an idea what they need to bring to the table to compete. This is a character forming kind of game for young guys, not just rookies either. The Bucs took invaluable lessons out of this game, one of the biggest being humility. Last year the Bucs got this lesson in the regular season from Pittsburgh and New Orleans, this year it comes in the preseason. I doubt a team this young and motivated is going to let something like that happen again.

3.) There’s only one Tom Brady

Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL, and it pains me to say that. It truly does. But if you look at what he’s done, there’s little argument. He won three Superbowls without elite receivers. See how the teams that gave big contracts to Deion Branch, David Givens and David Patten after their contracts ran out in New England, it didn’t go well anywhere. Branch is actually back with New England now, and low and behold, he’s good again. It’s the quarterback, folks.

Peyton Manning has always had great receivers. Marvin Harrison is a Hall of Famer, Reggie Wayne is elite and now he’s got a couple of talented young guys in Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. He’s a great quarterback, but he’s accomplished less with more. Brady got elite receivers for the first time in 2007 and promptly shattered the NFL touchdown record, took the Patriots 16-0 and narrowly missed winning a fourth Superbowl when Eli Manning found his big-boy pants and David Tyree caught a ball with his helmet. I’m not here to extoll Brady, I’m simply stating he is the best quarterback in the NFL and possibly one of the best two or three of all time. There’s not many guys in the NFL who can even approach what Brady can do, so the fact he cut up the youngest defense in the league in just its second preseason game isn’t anything to jump off the skyway for. The Bucs defense will get better, it should be a strength by season’s end. But at the same time, Brady will carve up top-5 NFL defenses with that sort of relative ease this season. A lot of that was just him.

At any rate, Miami comes to town on Saturday. Look for the starters to play into the third quarter and expect a much better all around effort. It’s time to turn the page on the Patriots game and look forward to

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