FOXBOROUGH, Mass -- Bill Belichick sometimes will show New England Patriots players and coaches key developments from other games around the NFL, as those situations could come up in their own games.
Importance of directional punting: Atlanta's Devin Hester set the NFL record with his 20th career return for a touchdown on a 62-yard punt return in the second quarter, and earlier in the game had a 48-yard return that was negated because of offsetting penalties. A punter's ability to control the football and use the sideline to his advantage can be critical in negating a dangerous returner, as we saw with New England's Ryan Allen this past Sunday in Minnesota. The Buccaneers failed in this area, as they allowed Hester's dangerous return skills to be a factor.
Ball security for those who don't usually handle the football. A fumble recovery by Buccaneers safety Mark Barron on the Falcons' second drive could have been a big play in the game, but he had the ball stripped away on the return, which Atlanta recovered and later turned into a touchdown, because the ball wasn't kept tucked close to his body. Safeties like Barron don't usually carry the football, but it's a good reminder as to why all players should go through ball-security drills. That was sloppy.
Why March headlines don't necessarily result in September wins. Do a Google search from the offseason on NFL teams who were most successful in terms of a free-agent moves and the Buccaneers were widely lauded by respected voices. From that, this thought crossed the mind while watching the 0-3 Buccaneers get dominated: Those "A" and "A-minus" grades might mean it's time to revisit the grading curve. Former Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli once said something like this: "Any team can win a Super Bowl in March, but the key is building a team to win it in late January and early February." The Buccaneers might get there in time, but the optimism from earlier this year hasn't produced the expected results.
Thoughts on Mankins and Fletcher. Former Patriots Logan Mankins (starter at left guard) and Dane Fletcher (starter at middle linebacker in place of Mason Foster) played extensively. Mankins is playing through a knee injury and it showed on some plays -- he was driven back by blitzing linebacker Paul Worrilow in the second quarter. Mankins still brings a nastiness to the field, as his first play ended with a powerful shove of Kroy Biermann into the turf. Fletcher led the defensive huddle and was active with a pass deflection on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's first incomplete pass. At times, his over-aggressiveness was exploited in the running game, but he generally seemed to account well for himself and was effective as a blitzer up the middle.