By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
September 26, 2005

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, there are more than a few members of Patriots Nation who's collective hearts skipped a beat or two watching the Patriots pull out a 23-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. How did you hold up?

Steve Grogan: The game certainly had its share of twists and turns. It was a strange game to watch in terms of the play calling for both teams early in the game. There were lots of mistakes by both teams and it also was an extremely physical football game. I'm sitting there Sunday afternoon when Pittsburgh scored to tie the game with 1:21 left on the clock and I'm thinking that they scored too early. They gave Tom Brady and his guys too much time to work with, and sure enough it came back to bite them. I was a little surprised they allowed the clock to run while Adam Vinatieri was coming onto the field to kick the field goal. I would have let the clock tick down to eight seconds and called time out like most people would have, so when they did that it scared me a little bit. But we've all been there before with this team so I guess we shouldn't worry so much about them because they just have a knack for winning games like this.

RRM I have to admit that when the Patriots were driving for the go ahead score at the end of the first half only to have Tom Brady's pass deflected at the line of scrimmage and then intercepted by Pittsburgh's Chris Hope I started to wonder if there was no hope for this team (sorry, bad pun). Did you keep the faith?

SG I have to admit that thought crossed my mind as well. It was one of those uh oh, all those breaks we used to get are going the other way kind of things; what's happening here. But good teams shake those kinds of things off and get back to business, and that's exactly what the Patriots did.

RRM It seemed the Steelers were almost playing a prevent type of defense on that last drive. Did you wonder why there weren't blitzing Brady more with the game on the line?

SG They weren't for the very reason that the Patriots shouldn't have been blitzing when they got the pass interference penalty on that fourth down play on their four-yardline. When you blitz you leave your corners in one-on-one coverage and a chance for a big play, and that's what you do not want to give up in that situation. It cost the Patriots dearly but they were able to overcome that mistake, but it serves as an example of what can go wrong when you do that.

RRM What about that pass interference call on Patriots' corner Chat Scott that rescued the Steelers from an impossible fourth down situation and set up the game-tying touchdown? Didn't it look like a home town call?

SG It was definitely a questionable call. There seem to be a delay before they threw the flag, like they had to think about it for a second. I have to admit I'm not a big fan of the referee William Carollo who called that game. There's just something about him I don't much care for. He just strikes me as having an attitude. I know it's cliché but the calls do eventually wind up going both ways and they will end up balancing out before the year is over.

RRM Tom Brady caught fire in the final quarter, going 12 for 12 for 168 yards including the last drive that set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal. Isn't that the Tom Brady we're used to seeing?

SG In that fourth quarter Brady was as good as you can get, and that's the Tom Brady we‘ve all come to know and love. I think he's getting used to the new things they've put in on offense and whoever's calling the plays (I still don't have a clue), but he showed he's still got it. I know some fans were worried about him after last week, but he's going to be fine. Brady was getting banged around pretty good by the Steelers in the first half. They were rattling his aim and he overthrew a few people. The same thing happened last week to him in Carolina, but this time his offensive line settled down in the second half and started protecting him well. In the second half Pittsburgh didn't seem to bring as much pressure, and if they were the Patriots' offensive line was doing a great job picking it up. He looked really comfortable back there and he had guys open and he was delivering the ball on target. He just gets in a zone sometimes when the game is on the line, and I only wish I knew what that zone felt like! It looks like a lot of fun.

RRM A week after predictions of his demise as a great football player by the Boston media Corey Dillon responded by scoring two touchdowns against the Steelers. Perhaps he's not quite ready for retirement yet?

SG Dillon didn't have great numbers (22 rushes for 62 yards) but he ran the ball well enough so that the Steelers had to respect the run, which helped allow Brady to have so much success throwing the ball. Dillon also made a big contribution picking up Steeler blitzers and keeping them off of Brady. With so many of the great runners in this league (and I still hold Dillon among the NFL's elite runners) all they do is run the football. They don't pass protect or block for anybody else, but Dillon is just the opposite. He's out there throwing his body around every Sunday, and that's why he is here. If he was just strictly a one-dimensional runner I don't think Bill Belichick would have brought him to New England. He does it all, and he's an important component to the team's success.

RRM I'm sure you played with some backs that weren't the greatest blockers in the world and it became a painful experience for you at times! It has to make life tough on you as a quarterback when you know your running back can't pick up a blitz.

SG I won't mention any names but there were a few I wasn't too confident with protecting my blindside. But take Edgerrin James of the Colts or Ricky Williams in Miami. They're not going to go out there and throw their bodies around blocking for their quarterback unless someone happens to run into them on their way back there [laughs]. Unfortunately that's just the way a lot of the great runners are in today's NFL.

RRM Speaking of Ricky Williams, his Miami club knocked off Carolina on Sunday to up their record to 2-1. Are the Dolphins for real, and will the return of Williams from his suspension in two weeks boost them into contenders?

SG I think Miami is a better team than they have been in recent past years. I don't think they'll be a playoff caliber team when it's all said and done, but right now they are playing pretty good football. I know they get Ricky Williams back after next week but that may well make them worse! He's still a great player but after what he's done to his teammates it's going to be hard for them to accept him back. I think his return could cause some real problems on that team.

RRM Kevin Faulk had two huge fumbles in this game, but he persevered and turned in some big plays at the end. Does that mean all is forgiven by Bill Belichick?

SG You can rest assured those two mistakes will be pointed out to him. When you put the ball on the ground twice like Faulk did you don't forget it, and you can't wait for an opportunity to make up for it. Those two fumbles he had definitely could have cost the Patriots big time and I can assure you he is breathing a sigh of relief that they didn't. But Belichick had no qualms going back to him after that, and that shows how much confidence Belichick has in him. Faulk made a great catch in that last drive to set up the winning field goal. He had to reach behind him, catch it one-handed, juke the defender, and then he got another 10 yards. He will have the occasional fumble but he just produces big plays when you need them.

RRM The bad news to come out of the game were the injuries to Matt Light and Rodney Harrison. How do you feel their loss will affect the Patriots?

SG Harrison's injury definitely didn't look too good. Legs just aren't supposed to bend that way, and I would really be surprised if he is back anytime soon. But as has been the case they had guys come in and get the job done against a really good football team, and that is what is so amazing about these Bill Belichick teams. They have guys that are sitting on the bench that are always prepared, and when they get the chance they get the job done. Guss Scott played well in Harrison's spot and I thought the rookie Nick Kaczur did a good job subbing for Matt Light at left tackle. He stepped in and after he got his feet wet the offensive line didn't seem to miss a beat. I really think the offensive line should continue to play well without Light but the loss of Harrison could really be huge if he is gone for the rest of the season.

RRM Were you kind of surprised that the Steelers didn't try to exploit Harrison's position more than they did once he went out of the game?

SG Yes and no. It looked to me like both teams had decided they were going to come out and run the football to try and find out who was the toughest team. They banged on each other for most of the first half and I don't know if either team won that battle. Most coaches are reluctant to alter their game plans if they feel they are going away from their strength, so it really didn't surprise me they didn't go after Harrison's replacement.

RRM Pittsburgh's ‘Big Ben' Roethlisberger's streak of 15 consecutive regular season wins came to an end. Aside from the 85-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward in the first quarter I think you'll agree he really didn't play all that well against the Patriots.

SG Roethlisberger definitely threw a couple of balls he shouldn't have thrown. The Patriots defensive front just pressured him relentlessly and they found out he doesn't throw very well on the run. I think he is much better at running when he gets out of the pocket than he is throwing on the run. I thought the Patriots defense did a much better job keeping him contained in the pocket in the second half after he hurt them by getting out of the pocket and making some plays.

RRM What was the more impressive accomplishment to you, the Patriots holding the Steelers to only 79 yards rushing or limiting their air game to only 190 yards after losing two of their starting defensive backs early in the game?

SG Take your pick. The Patriots did an excellent job taking Willie Parker out of the game and holding him to only 55 yards on the ground. That allowed them to really go hard after Roethlisberger and when you have a good pass rush it makes life for your defensive backs so much easier. It was just an impressive overall performance by the Patriots defense against a very good team.

RRM Reports are Pittsburgh fans are not taking this loss well. Would you be angry if you were a Steelers fan?

SG If you were a Pittsburgh fan you have to be pulling your hair out over the stupid football the Steelers played. They committed some silly penalties and made some foolish plays. They hit that long pass to Antwaan Randle El and he tried to lateral the ball to a teammate and they ended up losing the ball to the Patriots and missing out on a great scoring opportunity. At times it seemed like it was two really good teams trying to do too much. But in the end it made for a fun game to watch.

RRM The Patriots return home to host the San Diego Chargers this week. They are coming off a big 45-23 win over Tom Coughlin's New York Giants on Sunday night and they have a lot of offensive weapons, including LaDainian Tomlinson who rolled up 192 yards and three touchdowns against the Giants. What's the game plan this Sunday?

SG I think the Patriots have to go into this game with a similar game plan defensively that they used in Pittsburgh. They have to take away the run and make the quarterback beat them. San Diego has a great running back in LaDainian Tomlinson so the main priority will be to neutralize him. If they can do that I don't think I don't think their quarterback Drew Brees can beat them by himself.

RRM The San Diego offense is designed a little differently with their top passing target being a tight end in Antonio Gates. What kind of challenge does that present to the Patriots' defense?

SG You don't see many teams where the tight end is the primary focus of their passing offense so the Chargers will definitely provide the Patriots with a different look. Normally you use a safety to look after the tight end which would have meant Rodney Harrison would have been the main cover guy assigned to Gates. With Harrison out they'll have their work cut out for them, but the San Diego defense hasn't been stopping many people so I'm thinking this is a team the Patriots should beat. They just can't let Tomlinson kill them.

RRM What are Grogan's Grades for the last-second win over the Pittsburgh Steelers?

SG This was a tough one for me. As I was watching the game they were going from an A to an F and back to an A, and anywhere in between. But I think even though the Patriots made a lot of mistakes, beating a team the caliber of a Pittsburgh on their home field isn't an easy thing to do so they deserve an A-. They made plenty of mistakes but they got it done when they needed to. The offense only gets a B because of their play in the first half where I probably would have only given them a C-.

I thought outside of yielding the one big passing play the defense played really well. They held Pittsburgh to only 269 total yards and the Steelers converted only three of 13 third down conversions. They just really confused Pittsburgh and shut them down. Richard Seymour had two sacks and really disrupted that Steeler offensive line. On special teams the Patriots got some good returns out of Elvis Hobbs and Tim Dwight but they also gave up some long returns and had more than a couple of holding penalties on some of their kick returns. It was a good win, but there's still plenty to work on for the game this week against the Chargers.

Grogan's Grades for Week #3

Offense: B+
Defense: A
Overall: A-

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]