Patriots, Belichick winning despite new players on offense
The Patriots have played their first two games without any of their top five players in receptions last season, but still find themselves 2-0, winning by a combined five points as they prepare to host the Bucs on Sunday.
Gone from last year are several key offensive players -- receiver Wes Welker signed with the Broncos, tight end Aaron Hernandez is facing a murder charge, receiver Brandon Lloyd retired and is working on a zombie movie and running back Danny Woodhead went to the Chargers. Tight end Rob Gronkowski hasn't played but could make his season debut Sunday. The team's top offensive free-agent signing, receiver Danny Amendola, is out a few weeks with hip injuries.
"Every team in the league has players in and out of their lineup every week," coach Bill Belichick said in a call with Tampa media on Wednesday. "That's, unfortunately, part of the game. it's hard to just line up with the same guys all the time; it just rarely happens in this league. Whoever's in there has to be prepared to step up and do their job."
Receiver Julian Edelman, stepping up in Amendola's absence, had 18 passes targeted for him Sunday, and he already has 20 catches this season, one less than he finished with in 2012. The Patriots have turned to two talented rookies in second-rounder Aaron Dobson from Marshall (three catches, 56 yards, TD) and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins of Cincinnati, who has six catches for 89 yards.
MUTUAL RESPECT: Belichick has had a close relationship with Greg Schiano since his son, Stephen, played one season as a long-snapper for Rutgers in 2011, and he knows the Bucs well from time the two teams spent practicing together before a preseason game last month.
"(Schiano) is an outstanding coach, does a great job with his team and his players," Schiano said. "They're very close to being a 2-0 team."
TURNED A CORNER: Belichick said former Bucs corner Aqib Talib has been a strong addition to his team over the past year, and not only on the field, where he had two interceptions in Sunday's win against the Jets.
"Aqib's been great," Belichick said. "I've really enjoyed having him on our team. He's obviously a very good player, but he's become a good leader for us, really has a lot of on-the-field presence. His experience brings a lot to our defense ... he's just been a great addition to our team. We gave up a pretty good pick for him, so I'm sure it was a good deal both ways, but we're glad we have him on our team."
The Bucs acquired a fourth-round pick from New England in the Talib trade, using it on Michigan State defensive end William Gholston, who made the team's 53-man roster but has been inactive for both games this season. Tampa Bay also sent the Patriots a seventh-round pick in the deal, which they used on Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan, who made the roster and had a sack in Sunday's win against the Jets.