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Tampa Bay Buccaneers should remember sting of New England Patriots' first-half dominance

TAMPA — They should forget the score. It means nothing.

They should ignore the groans from the bleachers, and the angry venting of the message boards. At this point in August, it's all less than frivolous.

What the Buccaneers should take from Thursday night's preseason dud against New England was the utter helplessness they must have felt.

The shock. The frustration. The sting.

Now that is worth remembering.

For this is a team that has come far on confidence and swagger. A team that defied expectations a year ago, and embraced its growing celebrity in training camp.

So a slap like this might be just what it required.

"We needed to face a team like that in the second preseason game," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "It shows us where we're at, and now we can judge ourselves accordingly."

In this case, the verdict is not favorable.

The first-string Bucs did not block and did not tackle. They did not run, did not cover, and when it was over they probably did not floss.

If you think a 28-0 halftime score sounds bad, I'm telling you it looked worse. Tampa Bay's defense gave up an average of 7.9 yards a play in the first quarter. As a counter argument, the Bucs offense gained an average of 1.6 yards on its plays.

And when they weren't getting humiliated by the Patriots, they were getting browbeat by the officials with 10 penalties in the first half alone.

It was about as thorough as a 30-minute beating can get. And by the time it was over, the one true casualty was hope.

"I don't know if it was a slap in the face, but it was a reality check," guard Davin Joseph said. "When you don't convert on third down, you're not going to win many games. When you get a lot of penalties, you're not going to win many games. When you can't protect your quarterback and keep him standing up straight, you're not going to win many games. And that was the sum of our offense tonight."

Just to reiterate, the final result is inconsequential. That goes without saying in the preseason. The object of these games is not to take a snapshot of the scoreboard, but to get a glimpse of the future.

So game plans, substitutions and motivations have nothing in common with what goes on in the regular season.

Still, it was the breadth of the beating that was so disturbing. This wasn't a question of the Bucs pulling their starters after a handful of plays. And it wasn't turnovers or flukes.

Josh Freeman was in the huddle for five possessions, and never got the ball past midfield. The drives, if you want to call them that, went 1, 2, 13, minus-9 and 10 yards.

The defensive starters stuck around for about four drives, and surrendered three touchdowns to Tom Brady and Co.

When your punter is in the running for MVP, you know it was a long night.

So does this wipe out all of the good will created by last week's 25-0 trampling of Kansas City? Not at all. It is simply the flip side — or perhaps the downside — to youngry. For, sometimes it can turn yugly. Or yawful. Or yelpless.

"If we're going to be a contender, we can't go from a great game like we played last week to a game like this," Joseph said. "That's what we've got to learn. We have to be consistent from week to week. It's not a big deal in the preseason, but we can't afford to do this in the regular season."

This team is still as young and hungry as last week. It still has more weapons on offense than a lot of teams, and more potential on defense than we have seen in quite some time.

The thing you have to remember is that most of Tampa Bay's defensive linemen still have student IDs in their wallets. And that the 25-year-olds are considered old-school.

A team as young as this one is bound to have growing pains. A linebacker will lose a tight end in coverage. A defensive lineman might overpursue at times. A running back will miss a block, and a quarterback will hold the ball too long.

That doesn't mean the Bucs are heading for a fall, it's just a reminder that there will be moments when this team plays as young as its birth certificates.

Take the defensive front seven, for instance. A week ago they were physical. They were active. They were flying into the Kansas City backfield.

And yet, six days later, they looked befuddled.

As for the Bucs offense, that might have been even more disappointing. This unit is practically intact from last season. The offensive line is expensive and experienced.

And yet there were defensive ends and linebackers coming left, right and straight up the gut. There were no holes for LaGarrette Blount, and no open receivers for Freeman.

The good news is this game does not have to mean a thing in the standings.

Just as long as the Bucs do not forget the lessons learned on this night.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers should remember sting of New England Patriots' first-half dominance 08/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2011 10:30am]
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