FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was a bit off his game. Hampered by a shin injury that kept him from practicing much last week, he wasn't terribly mobile.
Couldn't you tell?
Brady had another gee-whiz day as the league's most unflappable quarterback, shredding the Bucs for 258 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-0 victory.
"I've certainly had better weeks," Brady said. "I wasn't able to prepare on the practice field as many days as I would have wanted to. The only way I'm not going to play is if the doctor tells me I can't play. My playing is exactly what I would expect of everybody else on this team.
"Injuring my leg is different than if I had injured my arm. I really don't move very well, nor do I move very well when I'm completely healthy. So, I guess I'm used to that."
Brady spread 20 completions among nine targets, including four wide receivers, two running backs, one fullback, one tight end and one 305-pound tackle.
Brady marched the Patriots 76 yards on the game's opening drive, throwing a 1-yard touchdown to tackle Tom Ashworth, who lined up as a tight end on the goalline.
"You hear about the guy, you see him on film, see the Super Bowls, but until you play the guy you don't really know how good he is," Bucs linebacker Ryan Nece said. "The throws that he made under pressure, the third downs, you have to respect that guy. He's a great quarterback."
The Bucs started the game playing their standard two-deep zone, but abandoned it for man-to-man coverage after Brady repeatedly found open receivers. The front four pressured Brady more in the second quarter, but he usually got rid of the ball just in time to avoid a sack.
"I thought we got to Brady four or five times right after he released the football," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "He throws the ball with great anticipation and he stands in the pocket as well as anyone I've seen. He'll hold that ball until the last second and he'll throw the ball with incredible touch and anticipation to beat the rush."
The Bucs failed to capitalize on perhaps Brady's only mistake when cornerback Juran Bolden dropped an easy interception in Patriots territory early in the second quarter.
"That's all I've been asking for all year is the opportunity to make plays and that's a play I'm supposed to make," Bolden said. "Maybe that's a turning point for us. I didn't make the play and I'm held accountable. I'm upset."
Brady, however, took advantage of Tampa Bay mistakes - a roughing the kicker penalty against Nece and a fumble by quarterback Chris Simms - to score two touchdowns late in the first half for a 21-0 lead.
"You can't give Brady too many snaps because he's too good," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "He's fantastic. You watch tape after tape, and he has a great supporting cast, but it's him. We played him pretty good at times, but you can't give him more snaps and more reps."