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NFL Preview - Tampa Bay (0-2) at New England (2-0)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots are studies in early 2013 contrast, with an awful lot of similarities.
The Bucs are 0-2 following consecutive late losses in which they've been outscored by a grand total of three points. Meanwhile, the Patriots are 2-0 after games in which they won by a combined five points.
But in the record where "you are what your record says you are," don't expect much in the way of moral victory celebration from second-year Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.
"We're close," he said. "Close isn't good enough, we've got to get over the hump."
He heads to Gillette Stadium to face the Patriots in a game sopping with familiar faces.
Schiano is an old friend of New England coach Bill Belichick from his days as head coach at Rutgers University, where Belichick's son, Stephen, played his college ball.
Belichick recommended Schiano for the Buccaneers job when it came open following the exit of former coach Raheem Morris, and one of the Patriots' starting cornerbacks, Aqib Talib, was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2008 and played 54 games there before heading to Massachusetts during the 2012 season.
The teams played in the preseason on Aug. 16, a game New England won, 25-21.
"I have a lot of respect for coach Schiano," Belichick said. "He's done an excellent job. We certainly had good work with him, here, in the preseason. His team's well prepared. They're a couple plays away from being 2-0. That's the way we look at it. I think he's an outstanding coach."
The Bucs' head man was equally effusive in his response.
"The common passion for the game of football and what it's done for our lives is what brought us together, that and his son playing for us at Rutgers," Schiano said. "He's a great coach. He's another Hall of Famer. So you're looking at certainly a challenge for all of us going up there to Foxborough."
The trip to New England is a familiar one for Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis, though it's the first time he'll make it as a member of the Buccaneers, who acquired him from the New York Jets in the offseason.
Reports have indicated a rift between Revis and Schiano that prompted a meeting between the men earlier this week. For his part, Revis wholeheartedly denied any issues exist.
"Why wouldn't I be happy here?" he said. "They gave me an opportunity coming off my injury to play football again, so I'm excited to be here."
Staying available in the backfield with Revis is safety Dashon Goldson, who was suspended for a game following a head-to-head hit on New Orleans' Darren Sproles last week, but had the penalty reduced to a $100,000 fine. New England quarterback Tom Brady, whom Goldson will endeavor to harass on Sunday, nonetheless had kind words to say about his imminent rival.
"If I were a safety, I'd try to play like him," Brady said. "I played against him last year, always kind of watched him as a 49er and he got his opportunity there after a few years in San Francisco and took advantage."
Brady has his own problems on his own side of the field, where he's been dogged by an inability to connect with an inexperienced receiving corps. He completed fewer than 50 percent (19 of 39) passes against the Jets last week and logged 185 yards, his lowest total in three seasons.
Offseason acquisition Danny Amendola did not play last week and is doubtful this week with a groin problem. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is also doubtful to make his season debut after a prolonged bout with injuries as well.
Among the healthy, Julian Edelman has caught 20 of Brady's 48 completions through two weeks.
"The burden's on all of us," Brady said. "It's not the receiver position. It's the quarterback position, most importantly. That's what I need to focus on. The better I am out there, the better we're going to be."
On the flip side is Tampa Bay passer Josh Freeman, who's come under fire for ineffectiveness in the first two weeks and could have a short leash if things go bad early against the Patriots -- who've held their first two foes, Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel, to a combined 61.5 passer rating. Freeman's rating is 63.0, lowest in the NFC.
His immediate understudy is Mike Glennon, who was picked in the third round out of North Carolina State in April.
In the backfield, Freeman's got young star Doug Martin, whose 209 yards are second in the league through two weeks. New England's top runner through two weeks, Shane Vereen, is on injured reserve with a wrist problem. His colleague, Stevan Ridley, has 86 yards on 25 carries in two games. Ex-Buc LeGarrette Blount is also available, though he's carried just 11 times for 26 yards.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Buccaneers are stingy against the run (82.5 yards per game) and New England's Ridley is a player looking to emerge from the recesses of Belichick's doghouse. With Brady in need of any offensive player with the ability to take the heat off him, look for Ridley to get some opportunities to return to the coach's good graces.
On the other side, Tampa Bay has been pretty anemic offensively, thanks at least in some part to Freeman's inconsistency. That seems a perfect opportunity for Belichick to try to rattle the fifth-year man's confidence early. Expect some varied fronts and coverages that could prompt the passer in an error that begin the Glennon watch.
Seven points in either direction and the 2-0 and 0-2 roles are reversed. And while the Brady against Freeman matchup is a huge advantage for the Patriots, there aren't a lot of other areas in which a dinged-up New England team has complete superiority.
If Freeman starts well and maintains a level of consistency throughout, there's no reason to believe the Bucs can't pick up a W.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Buccaneers 17, Patriots 16
09/19 13:20:27 ET
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