NFL Preseason Preview - New England (1-1) at Tampa Bay (1-1)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The New England Patriots may only have a few days to prepare for Friday's preseason clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the defending AFC champions will still be entering Raymond James Stadium as a very rested team.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick opted to hold out a plethora of big-name players for Monday's game against Philadelphia, with quarterback Tom Brady the most prominent member of that long list. Also among those given the night off were wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, tight end Aaron Hernandez, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo, defensive end Rob Ninkovich and cornerback Devin McCourty.
All of the above are fully expected to be back in uniform for Friday's tussle, which will serve as the primary regular-season prep for both teams. New England may have a few previously injured members now available as well, with All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins (knee surgery), right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) and tight end Daniel Fells (leg) all activated from the physically unable to perform list within the last two weeks.
The Patriots likely won't have starting safety Patrick Chung, who left Monday's 27-17 loss to the Eagles after hurting his shoulder, while wide receiver Jabar Gaffney (leg) and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) figure to sit out another week after also missing the Philadelphia game.
New England also surprisingly released veteran defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene on Tuesday, citing an unreported knee condition as the reasoning.
Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer struggled in stepping in for Brady on Monday, with the backup duo completing a combined 15-of-37 attempts for 160 yards on the night. Mallett did throw a touchdown pass to Alex Silvestro early in the second quarter, however.
McCourty and Silvestro, a former defensive lineman attempting to make the Pats as a converted tight end, both played collegiately for former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, a close associate of Belichick who's in his first year in charge of the rebuilding Buccaneers.
Schiano's debut went rather well, with the Bucs posting a 20-7 victory at Miami in their preseason opener, but weren't anywhere near as sharp in last Friday's 30-7 trouncing at the hands of visiting Tennessee.
Tampa Bay's offense was virtually non-existent against the Titans, producing a paltry 81 total yards and six first downs for the contest. Starting signal- caller Josh Freeman did complete a short touchdown pass to Mike Williams in the first quarter, but ended his evening just 4-of-10 for 21 yards.
Rookie running back Doug Martin, one of two first-round picks by the Buccaneers in this past draft, compiled 23 rushing yards on seven carries in the loss. The Boise State product could be in line for quite a bit of action in this one, with backfield mate LeGarette Blount's status in question after straining his groin in Friday's setback.
Schiano is hopeful tight end Luke Stocker will be ready to go after missing last week's tilt with a concussion, but left tackle Donald Penn (calf), wide receiver Arrelious Benn (knee), defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (Achilles) and cornerback E.J. Biggers (broken foot) remain sidelined for Tampa Bay.
Brady threw for a pair of touchdowns in New England's 31-14 triumph over the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium last August. Tampa Bay has usually had the upper hand in this preseason series, however, winning seven of the nine all-time exhibition meetings between the clubs.
08/22 11:33:24 ET