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The Lane Breakdown: Mac outperforms Brady, but the Patriots fall short on Sunday night

The rookie out dueled the GOAT, but it wasn’t enough to get the win.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots lost an emotional game on Sunday night at a rain-soaked Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady was back in town, and the Patriots weren’t able to do enough to win the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Let’s take a look at my takeaways from the 19-17 loss.

1. Belichick vs. Brady: Much was made about the question as to who was more important for the Patriots dynasty. I could talk about how Tom Brady had a hard time Sunday and played pretty bad. I already wrote a whole article about it, so I’m not getting into it here. I refuse to believe that either Bill Belichick or the 44-year-old quarterback was more responsible. The fact is that we, the fans, were the real winners. And we were treated to one game when Belichick had to coach against Brady. Two of the best to do it going head-to-head, and it was awesome to see. Being in the building with Brady again was surreal, and it was great to be able to show him our love and appreciation before and after the game. This was one of the most anticipated games of the season, and it lived up to the hype. Let’s all just be happy that we were able to witness what Brady and Belichick could do together and move on.

2. Brady struggles: Brady came back to Foxboro and had a tough time. He ended up finishing with just over a 50 percent completion rate, with 269 passing yards and no TDs or INTs. He seemed to be a little too excited about the game and started off throwing the ball high over his receivers’ heads. You really can’t blame him for being emotional about this game, as he spent such a big part of his life in New England, and I know it was an emotional game for everyone. He never really settled down, though, and while he had a few drops from some of his guys, he just wasn’t as sharp as he usually is. But Brady did enough to win, which he’s done what feels like a million times. The Patriots’ defense did a great job slowing down what is a great Tampa offense. It obviously wasn’t enough to win the game, but it was great to see them play so well against the pass.

3. Mac Jones shines: Jones, on the other hand, had another solid game. He finished 31-of-40 with 275 passing yards with 2 touchdowns and a pick. At one point, he had 19 straight completions, which is the most by a rookie QB in the last 40 years. The Patriots literally had a negative running game tonight, finishing the game with minus-one rushing yards. The Patriots are asking him to basically win the game by himself only four games into his career. The fact that he has looked so good with no help and constant pressure in his face is amazing, and should excite you about his potential for the future.

4. Patriots’ offensive line: Another game, another terrible performance by the Patriots’ offensive line. Trent Brown is still missing and Justin Herron struggled again, but he wasn’t the only one. Michael Onwenu was actually benched for Ted Karras, who immediately was on the field for back-to-back sacks, one of which he failed to recognize a game up front and Mac got killed by Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. They had trouble keeping Mac upright, but they also couldn’t get any running game going. I know that the Bucs have one of the best rushing defenses in the league, but you still can’t have your backs getting hit in the backfield on every handoff. This unit was supposed to be a strength, and it has looked like one of the worst units in the league so far this season.

5. Kicking decisions: To me, this game was decided by two decisions to kick at the end of both halves. With the Patriots winning 7-3 with two minutes left in the first half, they faced a fourth-and-2 at the Tampa 44. There was no doubt in my mind that if Brady got the ball back, he was going to drive down the field and score at least a field goal. You have to put your faith in the offense in that moment, it was a potential six-point swing if they were able to pick up the first down, since Brady, of course, drove his team right down the field for a field goal. I know that there was a chance you don’t pick it up and give Brady the ball back close to midfield, but I firmly believe they should’ve gone for it. Then, facing a fourth-and-3 from the Tampa 37, they elected to attempt a 56-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth down. Folk wound up missing the kick, but the outcome doesn’t matter in this case — they should’ve gone for it. Those two decisions were the difference in this game, and Belichick’s insistence on playing so conservative drives me insane. I’m hoping that he starts listening to the analytics at some point, but I’m not holding my breath.

6. More fumbling woes: On the first drive of the second half, after the Patriots forced a three-and-out and started their drive inside the Tampa 40, they would fumble the ball away. They picked up a first down, and then JJ Taylor fumbled inside the 30-yard line after catching a pass in the flat. The Patriots forced another three-and-out, but at least three points got taken off the board. This is becoming a serious issue for this team’s backs. It’s something that they need to clean up if they expect to win consistently. Rhamondre Stevenson has fumbled, Damien Harris has fumbled and now Taylor has fumbled. They have to be better than that.

7. Curious refereeing: Some of the calls and non-calls were pretty brutal. The amount of holding going on by the Tampa offensive line was ridiculous. There were multiple examples, but perhaps none better than on the final drive of the first half, when Josh Uche got held on the edge, which allowed Brady to scramble and eventually hit Chris Godwin for 28 yards. Then, the Patriots were called for multiple holding calls on offense as well, when the Bucs were never called for one all game. I didn’t see the Matthew Slater penalty that negated the fumble on the punt, but there were some questionable calls that seemed to go Tampa’s way more often than not. By no means was that the difference in the game, but it was frustrating to see.

8. Running the ball/stopping the run: For yet another game, the Patriots’ rushing attack was non-existent. In fact, it would’ve been better if they had not even attempted a run, as they finished the game with minus-one rushing yards. It’s the second consecutive game where they have failed to eclipse 50 yards rushing. For a team we all thought would be a bruising running team, that is just not going to cut it. They have to be able to help out Mac at least a little bit. We have seen how good he can be on play action, imagine if the running game was actually effective. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots were again unable to stop the run. The Bucs only finished with 119 rushing yards, averaging four yards per carry, but it was situational plays that continue to kill them. When their opponent decides that they want to run the ball, they simply cannot stop it. The pass defense did a good job tonight, but if they continue to not be able to stop the run, that isn’t going to matter. Winning the battle of the trenches was supposed to be something that the Patriots were going to be able to do this season. After four games, they have consistently lost that battle. Winning some more of those battles could go a long way to helping this team moving forward.

9. Trick plays: I may hate the fact that Josh McDaniels continues to run the crack toss, even though it hasn’t worked all year, but I loved his willingness to reach into his bag of tricks Sunday night. Two passes by Jakobi Meyers, one to Nelson Agholor for a long completion and one to Brandon Bolden, were very creative and gave the offense a bit of a spark. Of course, the Bolden play was on third down on the drive where they decided to punt from the 42, and the Patriots had to settle for a FG after the Agholor catch, but it’s still good to see them running those plays. They’ve run a number of these plays already this year and I think they should keep doing it. It’s fun for the guys and can open up the offense quite a bit. I’m all for being more aggressive.

10. Optimism for the future: There’s no such thing as a moral victory, and losing this game against Brady when New England had a real chance to win should sting. With that being said, I don’t see how you don’t walk away from this game feeling good about the future of this team. The defense, without Stephon Gilmore, played pretty well for the most part. They forced Brady into a rough game and did enough to put the Patriots in position to win the game at the end. As we’ve already covered, Mac looked great, and New England really played hard against a Tampa Bay team that was supposed to kill them. No one in that locker room is happy. You’re not happy after a loss, and you’re not supposed to be. The Patriots should be holding their heads high knowing that they went toe-to-toe with the defending Super Bowl champs, on one of the most anticipated sports nights of the year, and played well. They need to continue to grow and build off of what they’ve done so far, but they’re clearly headed in the right direction, and it looks like they have the QB of the future already on the roster, which is half the battle.

Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast. Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats.