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4 things we learned from Patriots’ 19-14 win over Buccaneers

The embattled Pats defense did just enough to hold off the Bucs on Thursday night.

NFL: New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots entered Week 5 with one of the worst defenses in football, but Tom Brady did his part and the defense played better in a 19-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football. New England improved to 3-2 on the season, while Tampa dropped to 2-2.

Despite the potential for a shootout, both teams spent most of the first half trading punts and not getting much going on offense. The Bucs took a 7-3 lead when Doug Martin scored his first touchdown of the season, but the Patriots dominated the game from there. Tom Brady hit Chris Hogan for a 5-yard touchdown to give New England a 10-7 lead, and the Pats held on to that lead throughout the third quarter, with the Bucs struggling to move the ball.

Winston and the Bucs finally woke up in the fourth quarter, but there were several times where they couldn’t close the deal in the red zone, which led to missed field goals from Nick Folk, killing their comeback attempt. Winston hit Cameron Brate for a late touchdown to give Tampa some hope in the final minutes, but it got snuffed out when the Patriots hit a field goal and held the Bucs out of the end zone as time expired.

1. Patriots offense did fine without Gronk

Rob Gronkowski ended up missing the game, being a late inactive after picking up a thigh injury in Wednesday’s practice. The Patriots offense wasn’t quite as sharp without him creating mismatches, but Brady is still playing at a high level and did enough to get the road win.

Brady finished with 30-of-40 passing for 303 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, reaching the 300-yard mark for the fourth straight game. He got productive games out of Brandin Cooks, Hogan, and Danny Amendola, making do even without using any of his tight ends. The Pats defense has been getting all the attention, but the team as a whole will be just fine as long as Brady keeps doing his thing.

2. Jameis Winston isn’t a finished product

Winston was downright brutal in the first half, completing just 8 of 16 passes for 71 yards. He was better in the second half, leading the Bucs to a near comeback. But the early damage was done. Winston ended his night with 334 yards and a touchdown on 26-of-46 passing.

Perhaps the Patriots defense finally woke up after being the worst in the league over the past three weeks, but Winston’s performance simply wasn’t good enough. He badly overthrew his receivers, sailing passes over their heads multiple times. He got happy feet in the pocket, panicking and dumping off checkdowns instead of waiting for receivers to get open. He should’ve had an interception that went through a Patriots defender’s hands. He didn’t throw his first touchdown until deep into the fourth quarter, and his heroic comeback efforts were too little, too late.

In short, this was a rookie-year performance from Winston, and we should expect much more in his third season. If the Bucs are going to be taken seriously as a playoff contender, then they need more consistent outings from their supposed franchise quarterback.

3. The Bucs still have a kicker crisis

Remember when the Bucs traded up to draft Roberto Aguayo in the second round? Remember when they released him after just one season, replacing him with Nick Folk? Well, Folk was 0-for-3 on the night, costing his team multiple chances to get back in the game.

Aguayo is still a free agent. Just saying.

4. Welcome back, Doug Martin

One of the few positive notes for the Bucs was the return of Martin, making his season debut after serving a three-game suspension. Martin saw limited touches, but he showed his game-changing talents in the second quarter, ripping off several big gains in a row and scoring the Bucs’ first touchdown of the game. Martin finished with 74 yards and the touchdown on 13 carries and looks to play a bigger role when he’s more up to speed. Tampa’s offense has a lot more potential with him in the backfield.