TAMPA — The Bucs went toe to toe with the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots on Thursday night.
But the difference was the erratic right foot belonging to placekicker Nick Folk.
Four days after getting a reprieve for a bad game by making the winning kick on the final play against the Giants, Folk missed three field goals Thursday — two in the fourth quarter. The last miss, from 31 yards, could have been the difference in the 19-14 loss.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said he talked to general manager Jason Licht about Folk's job status after the game.
"You don't want to make any rash decisions," he said. "These last two weeks haven't been what we're looking for, and Nick would be the first to admit that."
Folk, who has now missed five of his last six field goals, might not be with the Bucs when they return in 10 days to play at Arizona.
"Bad week," Folk said. "Starting last Sunday. Bad week."
The Bucs trailed 16-7 when a Folk kick was wide left to end a promising drive with 5:36 left in the game.
Quarterback Jameis Winston fired a 9-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Brate with 2:09 left to get the Bucs within 16-14.
The Patriots recovered an onside kick and added a field goal but the Bucs had one final chance when Winston drove them to the 19, and fired incomplete to tight end O.J. Howard in the end zone as the game ended.
Winston entered the fourth quarter with only 107 yards passing.
At 40, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady proved again on Thursday night he is the King of Cool. While the young Bucs and quarterback Jameis Winston wanted to prove to the NFL nation they were mature enough to hang with the defending Super Bowl champions, Brady let them know they still have some growing up to do.
With his team off to a rare 2-2 start and the Patriots defense next to last in the league, Brady was the most panic-free player at Raymond James Stadium.
Meanwhile, four days after the best game of his career against the Giants, Winston looked as if he was playing barefoot on a field of thorns.
FOLK'S RESPONSE: This one's on me, kicker says
One play epitomized what has dogged Winston early this season. The Bucs trailed 13-7 at halftime and started with the ball in the third quarter.
On third down, DeSean Jackson smoked Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler deep down the right sideline, getting behind him by about 5 yards. But Winston's pass was long and never gave Jackson a chance.
As has been the case on his three Thursday night losses, Winston started slowly against the Patriots. He went 8-of-16 for 71 yards passing in the first half and the Bucs were 0-for-4 on third down.
The Bucs offensive outburst came courtesy of running back Doug Martin, the only player with fresh legs who returned from a four-game suspension (he sat out one game last season) for performance enhancing drugs.
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After Jackson made a toe-tapping reception on third down to keep the drive alive, Martin took over with runs of 11, 17 and 11 yards, then dove across the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Bucs a 7-3 lead in the first quarter.
The Patriots answered, with Brady throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan to leave the Bucs trailing 10-7.
The Patriots weren't done. The Bucs took over with 3:42 left in the first half and failed to pick up a first down, using about 90 seconds in the process. A 40-yard punt return by Danny Amendola and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Ryan Smith set the Patriots up again. The Bucs did well this time to hold them to a 23-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay's defense, which was missing four starters, hung in there. Rookie Justin Evans, making his first start, handed Brady his first interception of the year. The Bucs sacked Brady twice in the first half despite entering the game with only one quarterback takedown on the season.