It came in a losing effort, but Bucs running back Doug Martin played well Thursday night in his return from a four-game suspension, rushing for 74 yards on 13 carries.
Martin's average of 5.7 yards per carry is his best in any game since 2015 -- he didn't even average 4.0 in a game last year -- and bodes well for the boost he can give the Bucs offense moving forward.
"It felt good to be out there -- to hear the crowd, the fans again, to be out there with my brothers, it's definitely a good feeling," Martin said. "It's unfortunate we got the loss, but we almost came back. I'm just going to learn from this and come back and get ready for the Cardinals."
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, striving for balance between the run and pass offensively, said he was pleased with what Martin brought in his first game back.
"Doug looked good. He definitely gave us a lift," Koetter said. "He looked fast. Doug, you can tell, he's explosive. He's going to help us."
Martin was especially strong on the Bucs' first touchdown drive in the second quarter -- he had runs of 11 and 17 yards back-to-back, then 9, then a 10-yard run to the 1-yard line that was initially ruled a touchdown. Given a shot from the 1, Martin dived over the top to give the Bucs a 7-3 lead. Martin extended the ball at the goal line as he leaped, and then a second time before he went down to be certain.
"I thought I got it the first time, but just in case, I went over the second time," he said. "The linemen did a good job today, and I'm going to keep getting better."
Martin was targeted on three passes as well but only caught one, with two others just out of his reach to miss out on potential big gains.
"It's surprising how fast it all comes back to you," Martin said. "I'm probably a little rusty, wish I had those two passes back, but I'll get there."
Martin was used less in the second half, but the Bucs were trailing the Patriots the whole time, and by two scores for some of that. Martin had runs of 3, 4, 4, 4 and 4 yards in the third quarter, but was stopped for no gain on third-and-2 on the opening play of the fourth quarter -- that missed opportunity led to a field-goal attempt that was missed by kicker Nick Folk. The Bucs gained 229 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter, so it's hard to question the move to a pass-heavy play call at that point.