FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady and his rookie receivers are starting to click.
The star quarterback threw two touchdown passes to Kenbrell Thompkins, finally getting in sync with them and leading the New England Patriots to a 23-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Thompkins, an undrafted free agent, scored on plays of 16 and 5 yards in the first half.
Aaron Dobson, a second-round draft pick, finished with seven catches for 52 yards.
In their first two games, they combined for just nine receptions.
The Patriots led 17-3 at halftime as the Buccaneers (0-3) wasted several opportunities.
They turned the ball over twice on downs, Rian Lindell missed a 38-yard field goal attempt before making a 30-yarder and Josh Freeman threw an interception to former Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib with 11 seconds left in the first half.
Three plays later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 53-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
The Patriots (3-0) have allowed just 34 points this season, but haven’t played a top quarterback.
They faced rookies EJ Manuel of the Buffalo Bills and Geno Smith of the New York Jets before going against Freeman, who entered the game with a completion rate of 45.3 percent, the worst in the NFL.
He had another bad game Sunday, completing 19 of 41 passes for 236 yards. The Patriots held Doug Martin, who rushed for 144 yards a week earlier, to 88 yards on 20 carries.
The Bucs lost their first two games by a total of three points on a field goal with 2 seconds left and another as time expired.
They were out of Sunday’s game much earlier despite a slow start by the Patriots.
New England punted on its first three series as it continued to struggle without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who hasn’t played this season while recovering from forearm and back surgery, and wide receiver Danny Amendola, out the past two games with a groin injury after catching 10 passes in the opener.
But on his fourth possession, Brady completed passes of 15 and 6 yards to Dobson then got the ball to the Bucs 16 on a 4-yard completion to Julian Edelman. Then Thompkins caught a pass over the middle and ran it in for his 16-yard touchdown, the first of his career.
It also stretched Brady’s streak to 51 games with at least one touchdown pass. The only longer streak in NFL history, 54 games by Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, ended last year.
The Patriots got the ball back after the Bucs failed to gain the 1 yard they needed on third and fourth downs. Brady started a 62-yard drive with a 9-yard pass to Dobson and ended it with a throw to Thompkins in the end zone as the Patriots went ahead 14-3.
Brady had a tough time on his first series of the third quarter after a 20-yard completion to Thompkins gave the Patriots a first down at the Bucs 6. Then Brady threw inaccurate passes to Dobson and Thompkins on the next two plays and followed with an interception in the end zone to Mark Barron.
Gostkowski added two field goals in the second half, a 46-yarder in the third quarter and a 33-yarder in the fourth.
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