- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Young receivers rebound: After struggling in a Week 2 win over the Jets, rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins bounced back with their best performances of the young season. Dobson tied for the team high with seven catches (four produced first downs and he also drew a 28-yard pass interference penalty), and Thompkins had two touchdown grabs. There still will be growing pains ahead, few have doubts about that, but it was a step in the right direction for the Patriots.
Injuries to key players: Receiver Danny Amendola (groin) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm/back) didn't play, while starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer injured his foot and didn't play in the second half. Their status figures to be watched closely this week, with Gronkowski potentially set to make his debut if things keep progressing (he had been listed as doubtful the first two weeks of the season, but was upgraded to questionable last week). If Vollmer isn't ready to play, it pushes third-year tackle Marcus Cannon into the starting lineup and also shines a spotlight on the health of veteran Will Svitek, who has missed the first three games of the season with a knee injury and would add another layer of depth.
Defense delivers again: Since their record-breaking season in 2007, the Patriots' identity has mostly been tied to their offense. But as the offense has struggled to find its groove early this season, the defense has picked up more of the slack. In three games this season, opponents have scored 34 points against the Patriots, which is impressive (and also the fewest allowed by the Patriots through three games since 1979). But then when considering that seven of those points came on a fumble return for a touchdown, while another seven came after an interception deep in their own territory, it reflects well on the defense. One theme that was heard after Sunday's win was how having so many returning players has helped the unit start at a higher point in 2013.
Tough part of the schedule ahead: While the Patriots are naturally pleased with their 3-0 start, with wins over the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Buccaneers, there also seems to be a realization that things are about to get much tougher. The next three games on the schedule are at the Falcons, at the Bengals, then home versus the Saints. The Patriots have built themselves some margin for error with a strong start, but it seems fair to say we'll find out some more about this team when it faces some tougher competition.
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