Look for the Bucs to play their starters into the second half against the Patriots Friday night, as Game 3 of the preseason will be a true dress rehearsal for opening day.
Head coach Greg Schiano made it clear Thursday that barring a bizarre first half, fans will get to see the first-team Bucs lock horns with New England after halftime. And Schiano wants to see results and performance, which was lacking in the 30-7 loss to Tennessee last week.
Here's five things to keep an eye on:
Throwing Deep: Josh Freeman hasn't completed a long pass in two preseason games. The longest aerial gain was an 18-yard catch-and-run by Mike Williams. Yeah, the Bucs want a smashmouth running game, but winning teams in the NFL need a balanced attack.
Sacks: The preseason sack total for Bucs defensive linemen stands at zero, which is especially alarming for the team with the least sacks in the NFL last season. Getting to Tom Brady is always a challenge, but the Bucs must to find a way.
Donald Penn: The former Pro Bowl left tackle makes his 2012 debut. Penn suffered a calf injury training on his own in July, and was absent from football drills through training camp practices until this week. Penn is a critical piece of the puzzle, and it'll be interesting to see how much rust he has to shed Friday.
Dallas Clark: The Bucs' new tight end, who was a famous piece of Peyton Manning's offense in Indianapolis, has played less than 10 snaps in two preseason games. The Bucs are being cautious in an effort to preserve him for the regular season, but at some point Clark will have to build some in-game chemistry with Josh Freeman. Perhaps tonight's the night.
Amobi Okoye and Gary Gibson: These two veteran defensive tackles were signed in 2012 to provide depth, but they've been saddled by injuries and don't seem close to ready. Gibson hasn't played in preseason yet, and while Okoye tipped a pass that was intercepted in the preseason opener in Miami, he sat out last week and Schiano acknowledged that he's got a bad knee that has to be managed. How -- and if -- these guys perform Friday could go a long way toward determining if they make the Bucs' final roster.