By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
November 21, 2002

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ARCHIVED STORY WRITTEN 09/00 Steve, the Patriots allowed the Vikings to score touchdowns on their first three possessions of the game en route to a 21-13 decision at Foxboro. What was problem they were having stopping the Vikings in that first half?
Steve Grogan: Defensively they just couldn't get the ball away from Minnesota and that really hurt their offense. Time of possession was over 2-1 in favor of the Vikings in that first half, and it appeared that was their game plan all along. They employed a grind-it-out, ball control offense and I don't think that was what the Patriots expected.  Minnesota is such a threat to throw the ball deep that it has to be addressed by your defense, which is what the Patriots did. But the Vikings turned away from their vertical game and more than made up for it with ball-control game.  Minnesota was content to throw short, control-type passes and run the ball a lot to hold on to the ball while at the same time keeping it out of Bledsoe's hands. Vince Lombardi would have been proud of that first drive, where they went 73 yards in 17 plays and ate nearly nine minutes off the clock. To the Patriots credit they came right back and scored after that, and they also moved the ball well on offense the
few times they did have the ball in that first half. But Minnesota put two more in the endzone after that and I though asking the Patriots to come back after that, especially the way their offense has been playing, was just a little too much to ask of them.
PFc: Was there anything you saw that the New England defense could have done differently in that first half?

SG: They really didn't play that badly in the first half, what killed them was the third down conversions. The Patriots just could not make a stop on third down; I think the Vikings converted 6 of 8 third down situations on those drives in the first half.  It really kills you defensively because now your defense is on the field too long and it wears them down for the rest of the game while your offense is sitting on the sidelines. But you also have to give some credit to the Vikings who saw what the Patriots were trying to do on defense and took advantage of it.  They didn't even bother to look Moss's way because he had double coverage, and on the short passes Chris Carter is going to win most of the time against Ty Law because Law has to prevent him from going deep and stopping the big play. It's the old strategy of giving up the short stuff and hoping they'll make a mistake and you get the ball back. But Minnesota didn't make any mistakes in the first half. They took full advantage of what the Patriots were giving them, and they took advantage of some of the three/four-deep guys on the roster (like against Kato Serwanga on the deep pass to Matthew Hatchette that put them in control of the game).
PFc: Daunte Culpepper hurt New England with his strong running in the first half but was shutdown in the second half. What adjustments did the Patriot make at halftime?
SG: I know they credited the Patriots defense with shutting him down in the second half but to be honest I don't think he was looking to run that much in the second half. They had a comfortable lead in the second half and I believe Culpepper wasn't forcing himself to make plays and he was trying to throw the ball more.  The Patriots did keep their contain on him much better in the last 30 minutes then they had in the prior 30, and the few times he broke the pocket and tried to run they had someone on the outside that was keeping him from getting the corner. There is no other quarterback in the league comparable to Culpepper in both size and power right now, and he has essentially become Minnesota's third down, short yardage back. He is a an awesome physical specimen and may become a star in the future.

PFc: Tedy Bruschi was extremely active in this game for the Patriots, and served as Culpepper's "shadow" on most plays. What did you think of his play against the Vikings?

SG: Bruschi's a great athlete, and if you are going to stop a guy like Culpepper you have to have a great athlete to put on him and mirror him. Bruschi did a great job in that aspect, particularly in the second half where he made some big plays to keep Culpepper from running.  During Bruschi's first four to five years he was strictly a special teams player but he earned a chance to play and he's making the most of it. A lot of people didn't think he could play a full game/season because he'd get worn down since he is a smallish-type player, but they were wrong. Right now he's making plays and it's been a treat to
watch him progress the way he has so far.

PFc: For all their offensive woes so far this season the Patriots moved the ball well in the first half, yet points were again hard to
come by?

SG: I thought the offense played well for three quarters. There wasn't much to critique in the first half as they didn't have the ball that much, but they were doing the same thing Minnesota was doing in taking what the defense would give them. They were getting the ball to Terry Glenn on short passes, running the ball well with Kevin Faulk, and actually pass protected well for three quarters. I thought the offensive line was vastly improved over the last two weeks until late in the game when Minnesota knew they were going to throw the ball.  They were trying to use ball control and eat the clock and keep  Minnesota's offense off the field; the difference was they didn't put any points on the board like the Vikings did.

PFc: What did you think of Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth down from the three trailing 21-7 in the fourth quarter?

SG: I thought at that point in the game it was the right decision. A field goal would have made it 21-10 and you still would have had to have scored two touchdowns to win. While I didn't have a problem with the decision I'm not sure I would have went with the play they called that wound up with a sack of Bledsoe.

PFc: That play seemed to highlight the difference in this game between the two teams and what has been the Patriots' Achilles heel all season; being able to successfully execute in the redzone.

SG: This has been the dominant theme the last several weeks and it has not changed. The Patriots are just too one-dimensional when they get into the redzone. They can't run the ball successfully down there and the defense knows where the quarterback is going to be when he throws.  They also don't have a big back or big receiver who can push himself free in the tight quarters down there. The Vikings got the ball into the endzone the two times they got the ball in the redzone, all season long the Patriots haven't been able to punch it in when they absolutely had to. There really isn't anything else I can add that
hasn't already been said.

PFc: If there was one disappointing aspect of this game for Patriots fans it's that the team seemed to regress with some sloppy play. There were nine penalties, two bobbled snaps on kick attempts, and poor clock/timeout management. Did you find this to be the case as well?
SG: I think they were guilty of all those things plus a lot of mental errors as well. Troy Brown dropped two balls in crucial situations and that's not like him. There is just no excuse for sloppy play like that, especially when you are playing a good football team like the Vikings. They did some things they hadn't been doing earlier in the season and to be honest it's not a good sign.  It's hard for me to tell if this is a carry-over effect from the first two games or if some of the players are starting to press a
little bit. It may also be that some of the players are having problems with concentration. The one thing we all know is that they
are not that good a football team where they can overcome their own self-inflicted mistakes.
PFc: If there was a bright spot in the game it was Kevin Faulk. He picked up blitzers on a couple of big plays, including the touchdown pass to Terry Glenn. If there is one consolation in the three games thus far it has to be that the Patriots have appeared to have finally found a running back?

SG: If the Patriots are going to be able to successfully throw the ball then their running backs have to be able to block oncoming rushers. I think Kevin Faulk is starting to "get it" now, that blocking is just important an aspect of being an NFL back as running the ball or catching it.  I have always been impressed with his running ability, as well as his ability to catch the ball. He made a nice catch and run on the Patriots last drive, and had the presence of mind to get out of bounds to stop the clock. But a lot of times a young back will have problems recognizing pass protection. Right now Kevin seems to be getting
better at that with each passing week, and if he can develop that whole package he can answer a lot of questions regarding their backfield.

PFc: Willie McGinest went down early with a leg injury yesterday and Patrick Pass was activated from the practice squad to take J.R. Redmond's place on the roster as Faulk's back-up. Does it concern you that this team is only an injury or two away from having some serious depth problems?

SG: They have problems as it is and if they were to start losing people it's going to get even worse! When Troy Brown got shaken up Kevin Faulk added punt returns to his duties, so now you have your #1 running back playing on two different kick return units. If either he or a Terry Glenn were to go down the problems on offense would be staggering to comprehend.  There just isn't a lot of depth on this football team right now, and part of that may be Belichick's decision over the offseason to just go
with what he's got. Apparently he's going to play his best players exclusively until they can't go anymore, and then see what they can do in the draft and free agent market next year.
PFc: The Patriots have played their first three opponents (who are now a combined 9-0) close and have had opportunities to win but yet find themselves 0-3. The schedule doesn't get any easier and one has to wonder what the mindset of this team is right now?

SG: I think they're frustrated, but I don't think they've given up yet because there still is a lot of football to be played and a lot of things that can happen until the end of the season. Right now they need someone to step up and start making plays in key situations, someone who can take the game under control and say: "I'm going to be the go-to guy and I'm going to help us win". They need a win under their belt badly because with another couple of losses this becomes a snowball rolling downhill and it's going to be hard to stop.

PFc: You played on that 1981 Patriots team that lost their first four games and seem to suffer from shellshock as they wound up going 2-14.  Is this team starting to show some eerie parallels to that one?

SG: In 1981 it seemed each week we played just well enough to lose. We finished 2-14 but we were in every single game we played. We just couldn't make plays to win games that year, and I see that starting to happen with this team and right now it is not a fun situation for the players or the fans. That's why they have to break out of this winless streak soon before this play-just-well-enough-to-lose cycle becomes permanently attached to them.

PFc: A date with the Dolphins in Miami is next on the schedule. Last year the Dolphins swept the two games against the Patriots and they remain a tough defensive team that are a formidable opponent, especially on their home turf?

SG: There's no question that the Patriots have put themselves in the situation where they have to go down to Miami and find a way to win that game some way, some how. Turnovers have always hurt the Patriots quite a bit playing the Dolphins in Miami and when you are struggling they can really put you down for the count.  It's been strange in that the Patriots have not been turning over the ball this year. When you are losing ballgames you can usually point to penalties and turnovers, but in this case turnovers haven't been the problem to this point (only two in three games). Hopefully they can keep that positive aspect of their game intact because Miami doesn't score much and thrives on having their defense set up scoring opportunities with turnovers.
PFc: Our question of the week comes from Ken from Marshfield, who heard the rumor about Drew Bledsoe being dealt to Seattle at the end of the season. Ken wonders if there is some truth to the rumor since Bill Belichick seldom praises Bledsoe during his press conferences?

SG: I haven't heard or seen anything that would indicate any kind of a rift between Bledsoe and Belichick, and I would be really surprised if that was the case. Belichick doesn't go out of his way to sing the praises of any of his players so I wouldn't read too much into that.  I've heard the talk on the radio about Bledsoe being moved but I don't see Drew Bledsoe going anywhere. You just don't get rid of somebody of his caliber without having someone in mind or somebody already in the fold and they don't have either of those. I guess you have to take those talk shows for what they are worth.
PFc: I noticed your grade for Week #3 is the lowest you've submitted so far this season. Are your becoming more stringent in your grading process?

SG: I thought they played pretty average this week overall. There were some good points and some bad points but right now they are playing very average football. The fact is you don't win in the NFL if you're only playing average football.

Grogan's Grade for Week #3: C