HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady’s rookie receivers are starting to catch on.
And the New England Patriots are 3-0 for the first time in six seasons.
After slow starts to their NFL careers, Kenbrell Thompkins caught two touchdown passes and Aaron Dobson had seven receptions as the Patriots beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-3 on Sunday.
“They’re doing a great job,” Brady said. “They’ve worked really hard to understand what we’re trying to do on a weekly basis.”
That effort didn’t pay off in the first two games when Thompkins and Dobson, who missed the opener with a hamstring injury, combined for just nine catches and several drops.
But on Sunday, Thompkins, an undrafted free agent, scored on plays of 16 and 5 yards in the first half.
And Dobson, a second-round draft pick, led the Patriots with his seven catches and 52 yards receiving.
“I feel good. 3-0. You can’t ask for anything better,” Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “We know our offense, sooner or later, they’re going to start clicking.”
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.
“That’s a play that we work on every day in practice,” Thompkins said. “For me to be open and to have Tom trust me to throw me the ball felt good.”
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.
“We did some things at times offensively, but then were unable to finish drives,” Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “You’re not going to win in this league that way.”
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. But Schiano said Freeman still gives the Bucs the best chance of winning.
“It’s a rough start, obviously, but we played three quality football teams,” Freeman said.
The Patriots held Doug Martin to 88 yards on 20 runs one week after he gained 144.
And Vincent Jackson had three catches before leaving the game in the third quarter with a rib injury. There was no update on his condition.
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.
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.
“We were playing good defense,” said cornerback Darrelle Revis, who had played the Patriots 11 times before being traded to the Bucs before this season. “Then they up-tempoed us a little bit, and they executed on their plays.”
The first touchdown to Thompkins stretched Brady’s streak to 51 games with at least one scoring 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 his best game of the year with 25 completions in 36 attempts for 225 yards as part of a balanced offense that gained 156 yards rushing.
Gostkowski added two field goals in the second half, a 46-yarder in the third quarter and a 33-yarder in the fourth.
NOTES: The Bucs had only four penalties after entering the game tied for the NFL lead with 23 in two games. … LeGarrette Blount, traded by the Bucs in the offseason, led the Patriots with 65 yards rushing.
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