Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson had a huge challenge as the Patriots' rookie starting receivers.
With veteran Danny Amendola injured, they were replacing Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, who combined for 192 catches last year. And no NFL player had more than Welker's 672 receptions over the past six seasons.
"I just feel like you can't think about it," Dobson said after New England beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-3 Sunday. "You just have to go out there and have fun. We've been playing this game since we were little kids."
Five things to know from the Patriots' rout of the Buccaneers:
1. HAVE A LITTLE FAITH: Tom Brady is showing enough faith in his rookies to throw to them in key situations. As if he has a choice.
Amendola is sidelined with a groin injury so three of Brady's top four wide receivers are rookies. In the first two games, he completed 20 passes to veteran Julian Edelman. But on Sunday, Thompkins caught his first two touchdown passes and Dobson led the Patriots with seven catches and 54 yards receiving.
In their previous game, a 13-10 win over the New York Jets, Brady showed his displeasure with the rookies, raising his hands to his helmet and speaking animatedly on the sideline.
"Mistakes are going to happen, but you just have to learn from it," Dobson said.
He and Thompkins are, after combining for just nine catches in the first two games.
"They've worked really hard to understand what we're trying to do," Brady said. "We did a good job of adjusting (during the game)."
2. UNBEATEN, BUT ... : OK, so the Patriots are 3-0 for the first time in six years. But look who they beat. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets with rookie quarterbacks. And now the Bucs, who have struggling veteran quarterback Josh Freeman. Not exactly the best teams in the NFL.
That changes starting next Sunday with a tough three-game stretch — road games at Atlanta and Cincinnati and a home game against New Orleans.
Regardless of the opponent, the Patriots are 3-0.
"It's the best we can be right now," safety Devin McCourty said. "Everyone will continue to pick apart what we do well and what we don't do, but coming into the season if you said after the first three games, 'Where would you want to be?' we would want to be 3-0. We've got to keep building and getting better because the games get harder and harder."
3. WINLESS AND GETTING WORSE: The Bucs lost their first two games by a total of three points, losing on a field goal with 2 seconds left and on another on the final play. On Sunday, they never threatened after Rian Lindell's 30-yard field goal late in the first quarter.
Now coach Greg Schiano may have to worry about his players' attitude.
"I have great confidence this team will stick together," he said. "We have a lot of football to play and I am confident that we will improve and we will win."
4. STICKING WITH 'EM: Schiano is sticking with Freeman and Lindell despite their shaky performances.
Freeman completed 19 of 41 passes for 236 yards and one interception and has connected on 45.7 percent of his passes this year. But Schiano isn't ready to switch to rookie Mike Glennon.
Asked if Freeman gives Tampa Bay the best chance to win and whether any consideration was given to pulling him, Schiano said, "He does. And, no, there wasn't."
But Freeman couldn't come up with big plays. The Bucs managed just three points despite getting inside the Patriots 40 six times.
On one of those trips, Lindell missed a 38-yard field goal attempt.
"I like Rian," Schiano said. "I think he is going to be our kicker."
5. TOUGH DEFENSE: The Patriots have allowed 34 points, their fewest through three games since 1979. Former Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib intercepted his third pass of the season in the final minute of the first half, leading to Stephen Gostkowski's 53-yard field goal.
"Three weeks in a row we've raised our level of play," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said.
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