Foxboro, MA – Strides were clearly made over the past 10 days in the rapport between Tom Brady and his inexperienced targets.
Brady threw two touchdown passes to rookie wideout Kenbrell Thompkins, helping the New England Patriots beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-3, at Gillette Stadium.
Much was made about the manner in which Brady exhibited his frustration from the countless drops and missed connections with his receiving corps in an ugly 13-10 home win against the New York Jets two Thursdays ago.
Brady completed 25-of-36 throws for 225 yards with one interception for the Patriots, who have opened a campaign at 3-0 for the first time since their undefeated regular season six years ago. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was inactive once again as his 2013 debut remains on hold, while slot receiver Danny Amendola missed a second straight game with a groin injury.
Rookie wideout Aaron Dobson had 52 yards on seven receptions.
"We had good contributions from all three phases on offense, defense and special teams," said New England head coach Bill Belichick, who earned his 208th career win, one shy of tying Pittsburgh legend Chuck Noll for fifth place on the NFL's all-time list. "I thought our situational football was better: third down, red area, fourth down, kicking game. I thought we made some improvement this week; that was good to see."
Josh Freeman had 236 yards and one interception on 19-of-41 passing for Tampa Bay (0-3), which is off to its worst start since beginning 0-7 in 2009.
"There is no magic pill, we've just got to keep working and hopefully start to get into a little bit of a groove," said Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano. "We did some things at times, offensively, but then were unable to finish drives and you aren't going to win (in) this league that way."
The Buccaneers turned the ball over on downs four times in New England territory, with the Patriots producing points on three subsequent possessions.
New England mustered only two first downs on its first three drives of the game, but the offense began to find a rhythm in the second quarter.
Brady converted both a third and fourth down with passes to Dobson before hitting Thompkins underneath on a crossing pattern for a 16-yard touchdown.
Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin then was stopped for no gain on 4th-and-1 at the New England 38. On the previous Bucs' drive, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard got away with a hold of wide receiver Mike Williams' jersey on a 4th-down incompletion from the New England 34.
After going up 7-3, the Patriots' next drive was extended by a defensive pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-5 from the Tampa Bay 45. Brady moved the chains on 3rd-and-1 from the eight with a quarterback sneak and found Thompkins two plays later in the end zone with 47 seconds to go in the second quarter.
It appeared Tampa Bay was going to run out the clock with Martin carrying the ball on first down. However, Freeman threw three straight passes, the last of which was picked off by former Buccaneer Aqib Talib at the Tampa Bay 43.
With 11 seconds remaining, the Patriots were able to gain eight yards and Stephen Gostkowski equaled his career long by nailing a 53-yard field goal to close out the first half.
Gostkowski kicked two more field goals, one in the third quarter and another with 8:19 to play in the game.
Tampa Bay reached the red zone twice in the first quarter, with Rian Lindell missing from 38 yards away and connecting from 30 to open the scoring.
Brady extended his streak to 51 straight games with a TD pass, three shy of Drew Brees' NFL record ... The Patriots have now forced a turnover in 30 consecutive games ... Gostkowski converted his eighth career field goal of 50- plus yards, tying Adam Vinatieri for the most in Patriots history ... The Patriots improved to 6-2 all-time against Tampa Bay ... Martin had 88 yards on 20 carries.