Players and coaches should have had reason to celebrate what was a strong performance from the Buccaneers’ starters in the all-important third preseason game against New England on Friday night. Instead, they were all worried about the status of two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph.

Joseph suffered a right knee injury just before halftime of what was ultimately a 30-28 victory for Tampa Bay. Joseph was carted off the field, and though his status was not to be officially determined until another evaluation Saturday, teammates told Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune the injury was “severe” and the team reportedly fears he may be done for the season.

“I’m worried about Davin, I’m praying for him tonight,” coach Greg Schiano said.

For his part, Joseph took to Twitter and tried to express a positive attitude:

The on-field impact of losing the leader of the offensive line was immediately felt, as Cummings noted replacement Ted Larsen was whistled for false starts on consecutive plays. And as the Tampa Tribune's Martin Fennelly writes, this is just the kind of adversity a young team coming off an awful season needed to avoid.

Before the injury, all seemed well in Tampa, as the team did its best to quickly remove the bad taste from its collective mouth following last week’s blowout loss to Tennessee. The Bucs clearly were getting the better of the vaunted Patriots in a long battle of starters-versus-starters.

Josh Freeman answered questions about his inconsistent play, completing 10 of 19 passes for 102 yards and engineering a 68-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession of the game.

The team’s defensive starters were even more impressive, as rookie safety Mark Barron picked off a Tom Brady pass and returned it for a touchdown. On eight drives that pitted the Patriots’ starting offense against the Bucs’ defensive starters, New England only managed one drive that moved more than 14 yards. Indeed, the Tampa Bay defense showed it may be ready to move past last season’s nightmarish performance against one of the NFL’s top offenses, writes Gary Shelton of the Tampa Bay Times.

  • Rookie may win battle at RB: Doug Martin started in the backfield for the first time and put in a performance that may give the rookie the edge in what has been a long battle with LeGarrette Blount. Martin finished with 53 yards on 13 carries and added another 12 yards on three receptions. Blount carried seven times for 22 yards. And though Stephen F. Holder of the Tampa Bay Times advises to be wary of trying to glean too much from Martin getting the start in this particular game, he writes the move felt permanent given all of Martin's successes this preseason.
  • Aggressive defense suits Bucs: Tampa Bay's defense was nothing short of awful in 2011, finishing last in the NFL in several key categories (including points allowed, rush yards allowed, sacks and more). But Friday's game against the Patriots showed the new scheme Schiano brought to Tampa suits the roster well enough to make a significant improvement within a season a real possibility, several players told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. "I don't want to say dominant performance this early in the season, but it definitely felt like we were way more comfortable in this defense," said veteran Ronde Barber, playing at safety this year after moving from cornerback. "But above all, we were playing as fast as anybody."

For more from Tampa Bay Bucs blogger Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsNFLTB on Twitter.