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Bucs-Patriots a study in contrasts

Sunday - 9/22/2013, 1:20pm  ET

BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer

Tampa Bay can't close out games, losing twice already on last-second field goals.

New England can't seem to find the magic on offense, yet has pulled out two close victories.

When the Bucs visit the Patriots on Sunday, it will be a study in contrasts.

Tom Brady is squarely in charge of the Patriots when they have the ball, but is surrounded by mediocrity in skill positions. Josh Freeman has been the center of turmoil for the Bucs, struggling despite being surrounded by talent.

New England has made key plays at key moments; the Bucs have not.

"There's constant communication, so I think there's a lot of trust that's built up in the quarterback-receiver group," said Brady, who will be without injured receiver Danny Amendola but might get back tight end Rob Gronkowski. "I said after the game (against the Jets) the burden's on all of us. It's not the receiver position. It's the quarterback position most importantly. That's what I need to focus on. The better I am out there, the better we're going to be as an offense. So I've got to focus on doing my job as best I can."

The focus on Freeman has involved everything but quarterbacking: missed meetings, supposed trade requests, questions about his leadership and speculation about a strained relationship with coach Greg Schiano, which both parties deny.

"Josh is going to be just fine," Schiano said of the fifth-year pro, who was 9 of 22 passing for 125 yards, one touchdown, an interception and a fumble against New Orleans last week. "We just need to keep practicing and get better, get in the groove. It will come."

Week 3 kicked off Thursday night with Andy Reid making a successful return to Philadelphia with the Kansas City Chiefs. Eric Berry intercepted Michael Vick and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown, Ryan Succop kicked four field goals and the Chiefs gave Reid a win against his former team with a 26-16 victory over the turnover-prone Eagles. Jamaal Charles added a short scoring run for Kansas City. Vick had a 22-yard touchdown pass and LeSean McCoy a 41-yard scoring run for Philadelphia.

Also Sunday, it's Green Bay at Cincinnati, Atlanta at Miami, Indianapolis at San Francisco, Houston at Baltimore, Chicago at Pittsburgh, Jacksonville at Seattle, Arizona at New Orleans, Cleveland at Minnesota, Detroit at Washington, San Diego at Tennessee, St. Louis at Dallas, the New York Giants at Carolina, and Buffalo at the New York Jets.

Monday night showcases Oakland at Denver.

Green Bay (1-1) at Cincinnati (1-1)

Both teams come off strong performances after opening losses. The Packers' offense has been in sync from the beginning, but their defense has been spotty and must contend with Cincinnati's versatile attack. Rookie Giovani Bernard has added flash to the running game, which already had the power of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Green Bay got a real boost from John Starks after first-round pick Eddie Lacy went out with a concussion against Washington. Starks, one of the heroes of the 2010 championship team, rushed for a career-best 132 yards last weekend, but the Bengals are stingy against the ground game.

Atlanta (1-1) at Miami (2-0)

The team the Dolphins host is not what the Falcons hoped to field, with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, DE Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing on injured reserve, although Weatherspoon can return in Week 11. Running back Steven Jackson, Atlanta's key offseason acquisition, is out Sunday with a thigh injury.

Miami's best work has come in pressuring the quarterback, and without Jackson, how much of a threat is Atlanta's ground game to provide any balance? The Dolphins have nine sacks, but also have allowed nine on Ryan Tannehill.

Indianapolis (1-1) at San Francisco (1-1)

Andrew Luck goes up against his coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh. Look for lots of pressure from San Francisco's defense against Indy's suspect offensive line; Luck has been sacked seven times already.

San Francisco comes off one of its sloppiest efforts at Seattle: five turnovers and no touchdowns for just the third time since 1979.

Matchup to watch: 49ers tight end Vernon Davis against younger brother cornerback brother Vontae Davis. But Vernon is nursing a hamstring injury.

Houston (2-0) at Baltimore (1-1)

The Texans have been living dangerously, needing to overcome deficits with late rallies in their two wins. Then again, that's the sign of a resilient -- and perhaps championship -- team.

"The word for this week ... consistency," coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's part of the NFL battle. We've got to get more consistent at what we're doing."

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