FOXBORO — The gimmees are officially over.
Your New England Patriots, offensively-challenged and all, finished off their seven-game exhibition season with a semi-convincing, 23-3, win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yes, seven games, including the four preseason tilts. Did you really think I’d count the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and the Buccaneers with their quarterback situations (two rookies and a mess)?
Lost in the Tom-Brady-doesn’t-have-any-weapons debate the last month is that the Patriots’ defense has looked pretty good, maybe even good, in September.
If you take away the Stevan Ridley fumble return for a touchdown in the opener in Buffalo, the Patriots have allowed only 27 points over the last three exhibitions ... I mean, first three games of this 2013 season.
And in New England, under coach Bill Belichick, points is a big, big deal, on both sides of the ball.
“We’re always talking about that the biggest stat for us is points allowed,” said Patriots defensive captain Vince Wilfork. “For the past three weeks I think we’ve done a really good job of just holding our opponents to low scoring games. Obviously that is something we work on. The red area (inside the 20-yard line) is another big area for us. Third down is a big area us. I think we stepped up big time today.”
Today, or yesterday, yes, it was nice. It has been trending this way since the “real” games started in September.
But it’s not enough to lay down any sort of gauntlet. Instead of rookies and soon-to-be benched quarterbacks, the Patriots face a pair of $100 million QBs, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (next Sunday night) and New Orleans’ Drew Brees (two weeks later) and an up-and-comer in Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton in between.