The men paid to protect Josh Freeman and carve holes open for Doug Martin fell short on both counts in Sunday’s season opener.

The Jets limited the Buccaneers to 250 total yards in an 18-17 victory deftly carrying out their primary mission: stop second-year running back Doug Martin before he got started.

Martin who carried only three times in the preseason was limited to 65 yards in 24 carries while Freeman was sacked three times amid steady pressure.

“We’ve got to play better up front starting with me’’ right tackle Demar Dotson said. “There are no excuses. If I was on defense I’d be trying to stop Doug too. He’s an explosive running back and we know teams are going to target him. ...We’ve got to block better and give him a chance.’’

Martin’s first six carries gained only eight yards and he rarely had enough of a crease to reach the second level against a New York defense that played well again in Thursday night’s 13-10 loss at New England.

Run blocking has been a chronic problem for the Bucs dating to last year’s late collapse when a 6-4 start dissolved into a 1-5 finish.

In Tampa Bay’s last seven regular-season games the Bucs have averaged a mere 3.7 yards per carry. That’s well below the NFL average (4.3) frustrating a veteran offensive line seeking to establish a rhythm.

“We’ve got to get our running game going and help Josh out’’ said left tackle Donald Penn who has started 93 consecutive games. “Our defense looked great out there in New York and we’ve got to help them out. We can’t sugarcoat it we have to step up and get this thing going.’’

Maintaining possession is paramount in Sunday’s home opener against the Saints who boast the NFL’s No. 1 offense since quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton arrived in 2006.

“The main thing from our standpoint is holding onto the football’’ Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “We don’t need to give those guys any more possessions than they are already going to have. If we can do that and we’re moving the football converting third downs and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals then I think it’s going to be a good day for us.’’

Part of the problem up front is lack of continuity.

Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph missed all of last season with a knee injury and still looks rusty. At left guard Carl Nicks played well as a key free agent addition in 2012 until a toe injury sidelined him for the final nine games.