By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
September 13, 2005

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots streak of not allowing a TD on an opening drive in 31 consecutive games game to an end when the Raiders started the game by marching 72 yards for a quick touchdown. While the Patriots and all of New England were in shock, were you caught by surprise as well?

Steve Grogan: To be honest I didn't even realize that they had gone that long without giving up a touchdown at the start of a game! That kind of surprised me more than the Oakland touchdown did. A streak like that is really impressive, but all things have to come to an end eventually. They started this game a little sloppy on defense and the Raiders took advantage of that. But as we have come to expect from this Patriots' team they regrouped and made some adjustments and played really well the rest of the game.

RRM: Penalties greatly assisted the Raiders on that opening drive, and the Patriots were whistled for a total of seven penalties in the game which is quite a few for a Bill Belichick-coached team. Were your surprised at the number of penalties they committed in the season opener?

SG: When you turn it up to game speed for the first regular season game it is so different from what you experience during the preseason. A lot of times guys will get a little bit out of position and start using their hands and the next thing you know the yellow flag is on the ground. I don't think it's a huge issue, but I assure you they'll address that and get it taken care of for next week.

RRM: Heading into this season there was so much focus on how the Patriots would replace Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson in the middle of that defense. How do you think the two new guys in the middle fared their first time out?

SG: As I was watching the game I focused in on the two new inside linebackers, Chad Brown and Monty Biesel, that had taken the place of Bruschi and Johnson. I thought they did a decent job overall, but not a great job of defending against the run. When the Patriots switched out of the 3-4 and went with a four-man defensive line the Raider offense just seemed to grind to a halt. I really thought the Patriots' defensive line played great, especially Richard Seymour. He had a huge game and he just seemed to be everywhere.

I know Vince Wilfork played well and he came up with that huge interception (although the return wasn't very good), but it was the push provided by Seymour that made that play possible. He really makes everyone on that Patriots' defensive line better. If the defensive line can continue to play like that then you can withstand a little bit of a dropoff at inside linebacker. But I think the two guys they have filling in at the inside linebacker positions will learn the system as the season goes along and they will get better with experience.

RRM: While his team wasn't in midseason form at the start of the game head coach Bill Belichick sure was. More than one person who was at the game told me he just sulked and scowled on the sideline during all the pregame ceremonies that were loud enough to split an eardrum!

SG: That doesn't surprise me knowing Bill Belichick. He just wanted to get to work and couldn't wait for all of that stuff to get over. All I could think of while I was watching that was as a player that would have driven me crazy. You come out of the locker room ready to play football and then you have to stand around for 15 to 20 minutes while they unfurl the championship flag and do everything else. It definitely takes some of your momentum away at the start of the game, but I thought the Patriots did a good job in dealing with it.

RRM: One of the plays that stood out to me was the score that put the Patriots ahead for good in the second quarter. Tom Brady took a three-step drop and hit Tim Dwight on a quick out near the goal line for the touchdown that made it 17-14 and the Patriots never trailed again. Although that play may look routine isn't there a lot more involved than the average fan might realize?

SG: On that play the quarterback only has a split second to decide whether he has enough room to get the ball in there, and if he misreads it or doesn't put enough zip on the ball it could mean six points going the other way. Actually it's not a play you normally see in that part of the field because the cornerback knows he has back up help with the endline so he is not off the receiver by some six or seven yards, or backing up on the snap of the ball like he is anywhere else on the field. He can just squat right there and try and read the play. It was a great timing throw by Tom Brady who really put some mustard on that throw. But to be honest I thought the Raider defensive back Derrick Gibson didn't play it very well.

RRM: Tom Brady picked up right where he left off last season, completing 24 of 38 for 306 yards and two touchdowns. What more can you say about him?

SG: Brady looked pretty impressive in this game. But a lot of the credit has to go to the Patriots offensive line. They did a fantastic job of protecting him (zero sacks) although they didn't run the ball all that well until late in the game when they had to. But they protected him extremely well, and when he has time to throw the ball he has receivers that will get open. He will distribute the ball to a lot of different people, which is exactly what he did in this game. Eight different players caught passes for the Patriots, and when you have that many different options the task for the defense becomes extremely difficult. In contrast the Raiders have Randy Moss who is a great player and he turned in some great plays, but I thought the Oakland quarterback Kerry Collins got locked in on him a little too much during the game and was looking for no else but him at times. Tom Brady never does that, instead he throws it to the guy that's open, and that's why they keep winning. Peyton Manning may set all the records, but if there is one game you have to win Brady is the one you want out there.

RRM: It's true that the Patriots offensive line didn't get a lot of ink in this game, and they continue to perform at a consistently high level despite the change in personnel. I thought it took several years to produce a cohesive offensive line in the NFL?

SG: They've have had three entirely different offensive lines now going back to their first Super Bowl team under Belichick and they just keep moving people in and out without missing a beat. You still have to be around each other a lot to be able to work as a group, but I think Dante Scarnecchia has become so good at communicating with his offensive linemen on what needs to be done that it doesn't take these guys nearly as long as it does with guys on most other teams.

RRM: The shot of Brady getting in Cory Dillon's face on the sideline drew a lot of attention. Dillon put it into high gear after that and scored two touchdowns, so whatever he said must have worked?

SG: I wish I could read lips better than I do, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't so much Brady getting on him as just trying to fire him up. At that point in the game Dillon felt like he wasn't contributing and I think Brady was just trying to let him know that they were going to need him and he'd better be ready to go. I really don't think he was upset with him, and I'd find that hard to believe because I've never seen him chew somebody out. It was more about exhorting him to keep his head in the game because they would be calling his number. That's one of the responsibilities that comes with being the leader of the offense, and Brady has shown that he is a good leader both on and off the field of play.

RRM: The new Tom Brady commercial with his offensive line following him around is pretty funny, but I was startled when they showed he had a reserved parking spot in the lot outside the stadium. I take it you didn't have one of those when you were the starting quarterback here?

SG: No, I never had one of those and to be honest I don't think I would have taken it if it was offered to me. I was kind of surprised to see that Brady had one of those, but he probably doesn't even park there knowing him. If you're trying to be a team player you don't have them stick your name on a reserved parking spot next to the head coach and expect to walk into the locker room and expect to be one of the guys. It just doesn't work that way, believe me.

RRM: I'm sure you have been asked this before but whenever the Patriots and Raiders clash as they did last Thursday night does it evoke memories you have from your encounters with them?

SG: I have to admit all those old memories are rekindled whenever the Patriots play the Raiders. We had a history with the Raiders from the late- 70's thru the mid-80's that you normally don't have with a team that isn't in your division. We beat them pretty badly in the fourth week of the season in 1976 (48-17) which started our run into the playoffs which was the first time in over 10 years the Patriots had reached the postseason. Then we got beat in the playoff game out in Oakland 24-21 with the infamous Phantom Roughing the Passer call on Ray Hamilton. After that we started playing them in the preseason quite a bit and there was the Darryl Stingley game in 1978 where he got paralyzed on a hit by Jack Tatum. We really saw them a lot over a 10-year period and had a pretty good rivalry going with them.

RRM: Back in the 70's the Raiders were known for being the roughest and nastiest team in the league, and while reputations like that are hard to live down that was their actual persona back then, right?

SG: That was all real. They had some real outlaws on their team and they weren't afraid to turn them loose on Sundays. I remember after we beat them in the 1985 playoff game their linebacker Matt Millen punched our GM Pat Sullivan after the game and that started a big melee. It was never just an average game when you played those guys, that's for sure.

RRM: I know you were glued to your TV set Sunday afternoon at 1 PM taking in the New Orleans-Carolina game since the Panthers are the Patriots next opponent. What's your take on the big rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII?

SG: I have to confess after getting done mowing the lawn all I caught was the very end of that game. Carolina is a good football team and they should have won that game, and they'll have a chip on the shoulder when they come out to face the Patriots next Sunday. In a way they are a very similar team to the Patriots in that there is no one phase of their game that stands out; they are just a very solid, all-around football team. They are well coached and they don't make a lot of mistakes, and they have a quarterback in Jake Delhomme who is a good team leader. I know they lost their star defensive tackle Kris Jenkins for the season last week and sometimes when a key player goes down like that it brings you together as a team. This should be a very hard-fought game but I do believe the Patriots will prevail.

RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the season-opening 30-20 win over the Raiders?

SG: I can't give out A's because they really didn't run the ball well on offense, and on defense they had some problems covering in the secondary. But overall it was a good effort for an opening game so it will be B+'s all around to start the season. I thought the return teams deserved some mention. They did a good job giving the Patriots decent field position, but you come to expect that kind of performance out of them. The Patriots put their best players out on the field as part of their return teams and they get good yardage because of it. Tim Dwight had that nice 27-yard return and he has that combination of great speed and reckless abandon that you like to see in a punt returner. This was the first time I got to see the rookie Ellis Hobbs return kickoffs, and he obviously has great speed and appears to have pretty good field vision. Both of them should be big factors for the Patriots this season.

Grogan's Grades for Week #1

Offense: B+
Defense: B+
Overall: B+

A veteran writer on the Boston sports scene, R. R. Marshall has written features for both local and national sports publications for more than a decade. His popular Q & A columns on the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, and Boston College Eagles appear year round in both the electronic and print media. He can be reached at [email protected]