FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have taken a very cautious approach to both training camp and the preseason this year, severely limiting the workloads for Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph and Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis.
The reasons why became glaringly apparent on Friday night.
With Nicks, Joseph and Revis all sitting out for the second time in as many games, Tampa Bay's depth along its offensive front and defensive back were badly exposed during a 25-21 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
With Ted Larsen in for Nicks at left guard and Mike Remmers in for Joseph at right guard, quarterback Josh Freeman was sacked on three of his six dropbacks and was never given much of a chance to get the offense rolling.
And it needed to get on a roll.
By the time the offense took the field, Tampa Bay was already down 8-0 thanks to the strafing that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady launched as he almost single-handedly exposed the Bucs' secondary.
On his way to an almost perfect evening, Brady went 8-for-8 on his first drive, which he wrapped up by throwing a 26-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola and a 2-point conversion pass to tight end Zach Sudfeld.
Brady then completed each of the first three passes of his second series for 35 yards before missing his target on a third-and-7 play that forced the Patriots to give the ball back to Tampa's offense.
Not that it mattered.
A 4-yard Freeman throw to tight end Tom Crabtree and an 11-yard run by rookie back Mike James gave the Bucs a quick first down, but Freeman was sacked twice in the next three plays to end any hope of a threat.
“Overall, we didn't come out and play very well to start the game,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “We didn't protect the passer very well. Three sacks in two series — it's going to be hard to overcome that.
“And then defensively, they got a drive going and it was long drive and we had snap counts for guys, so we were pulling guys off the field as the drive was going on and that had an effect, too.
“But whoever does get in the game has to make the stop and we didn't. It ended up being a 17-play drive. They shot themselves in the foot a couple of times (with penalties), but they were able to overcome that and that can't happen.''
As if the play of the offense and defense wasn't bad enough, the Bucs also lost running back Doug Martin when he went down on the first play of the second drive after taking a knee to the head while trying to block defensive end Chandler Jones. Martin appears to be OK, though.
“I think Doug is going to be fine,'' Schiano said. “He got hit in the head but it cleared really quickly. I saw him at halftime and was fine. He was going to play only one more play anyway and after that, that was it.''
The Bucs also lost cornerback Anthony Gaitor to a hip injury and receiver Tiquan Underwood to a knee injury.
Freeman, meanwhile, wasn't the only Bucs quarterback to struggle with time in the pocket. Rookie Mike Glennon was sacked on the third play of his first drive, though he did eventually find a throwing rhythm.
Glennon completed six of his first nine throws for 47 yards and 12 of 22 overall for 121 yards and two touchdowns, those coming on throws of 13 yards to Kevin Ogletree in the second quarter and 1 yard to David Douglas in the fourth.
The latter was part of a strong Bucs comeback in which they reduced a 15-point third-quarter deficit down to four, but their rally stalled out late in the fourth quarter.
The rally started when Glennon hit Underwood with a 41-yard pass that helped to set up a 37-yard Derek Dimke field goal that allowed the Bucs to go to the locker room trailing 18-10.
New England seemingly took control of the game shortly there after when Logan Ryan intercepted a Glennon pass and returned the ball 53 yards for a touchdown and a 25-10 lead, but the Bucs were just getting their offense in gear.
A series of penalties allowed the Bucs to finish off third/fouth quarter drive that ended with Glennon throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to Douglas and James running 1 yard for a two-point conversion.
That pulled the Bucs to within a touchdown at 25-18, and a Mason Robinson interception of Tim Tebow helped to set up another Dimke field goal, this one a 23-yarder that cut the Patriots' lead to 25-21.
Up to that point, the Bucs' biggest highlight had come on the kick off following the Patriots' first score, when second-year back Michael Smith returned the ball 63 yards to Patriots' 42.
The Bucs were unable to do anything with the field position, though, and despite having Adrian Clayborn in the lineup for the first time this year, the Bucs' defense couldn't get a hand on Brady.
Clayborn, who has been out since he tore an ACL during Week 3 of the 2012 season, started at left end while Daniel Te'O-Nesheim started at right end and Da'Quan Bowers started the game on the bench.
Bowers, who was projected to be the Bucs' starting left end, has clearly fallen out of favor since camp opened as it became apparent he lacks the physical conditioning necessary to be an every-down player.
“I don't know how he played,'' Schiano said. “ I have to watch the tape. The plan was to play him on first, second and third downs at different times, and when he hit his play count we got him out of there.''