By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
October 03, 2005

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, it had been 35 years since the San Diego Chargers had last beaten the Patriots and judging by what happened Sunday I assume they figured that was long enough. Where do you possibly begin to explain what happened after an embarrassing 41-17 loss at home?

Steve Grogan: It may have taken them 35 years to beat the Patriots but they made up for it on Sunday. The Chargers played a great game, and they played a lot better on defense than I expected them to. Last week I said the Patriots had to take San Diego's great running back LaDainian Tomlinson out of the game and they failed miserably at that task, and consequently it opened up a lot of things for their quarterback Drew Brees and he was able to take advantage of them. I think the Patriots respected San Diego, but sometimes coming off an emotional win like last week in Pittsburgh it's really difficult to get a team back in focus the following week. I saw some signs in this game indicating that may have been part of the problem, and the good news is that's the kind of thing that can be corrected.

RRM: I think most fans knew that the home winning streak had to come to an end at some point, but most of Patriots Nation seems to be in shock after watching their team get pulverized in the second half to the tune of 24-0. Do you get that sense as well?

SG: I think the fans expected the Patriots to win this game after the big win over the Steelers last week, and they didn't give the Chargers enough credit for being a good football team. They were a playoff team a year ago and they have a really good tight end in Antonio Gates, the great running back in Tomlinson, and their quarterback Drew Brees does what he needs to do. I really believe we've become so used to the Patriots winning at home with that 21-game home winning streak and all that when they went into halftime tied at 17-17 you just expected them to come out in the second half and take over the game like they always do. When it didn't happen it's panic time for the fans around here, but it's still very early in the season and there's plenty of time for this team to get back on track. I really think that they will, and it's just way too early to start worrying about this football team. They're going to be okay. Really!

RRM: Bill Belichick's postgame press conference seemed like more of a eulogy this week. Could you tell he wanted to be anywhere else besides that podium after the game?

SG: You could definitely tell he was disgusted with his team's performance, and the way Bill is about not wanting to give out information it just seemed to get harder for him not to really say anything as time went by. You could just see he wasn't going to give any information to the press, but it was apparent he was not happy with any aspect of that football game and he was saving all of his comments for his players only.

RRM: Richard Seymour was very candid in admitting that they knew what was coming from the Chargers but couldn't stop it. How do you account for the poor performance by the Patriots' defense in this game?

SG: You have to give credit to the Chargers because they executed very well, but the Patriots' front line didn't do a very good job in taking pressure off of the secondary. When you have a secondary that is both very young and depleted you want your people up front shutting off the run and getting some pressure on the passer so he doesn't have all sorts of time to sit back there and find an open receiver like Drew Brees did in this game.

The responsibility doesn't fall on the shoulders of just one person, but somebody is going to have to step up and become the leader of that defense. I think that is what Richard Seymour is talking about. The Patriots front three of Seymour, Vince Wilfork, and Ty Warren are all #1 draft picks and great players, but all three got pushed around by the San Diego offensive line and they just can't allow that to happen.

RRM: What I find most troubling is that in two of their last three games the Patriots have been beaten physically, and that is something that is just not supposed to happen. How do you feel about this?

SG: It concerns me a little bit as well. I thought the Patriots' defensive front played really well against Pittsburgh the week before. However, against Carolina and then again against San Diego they just got manhandled. In my opinion they are just too good up front to let that happen. They have to figure out a way to get these guys doing what they are supposed to be doing, controlling the line of scrimmage. Their three top linemen should be stuffing enough people where it shouldn't matter who you have playing linebacker on this team. Teams just shouldn't be moving the ball against them like they have been, and they have got to get that straightened out in a hurry

RRM: The defense took much of the blame for this loss and deservedly so, but it didn't help matters for the Patriots' offense to totally disappear in the second half after rolling up nearly 250 yards of offense in the first half. What happened to them?

SG: Watching them it seemed like they weren't able to get into a rhythm, and when your defense isn't shutting people down and you aren't getting the ball back it's hard to get into any kind of rhythm. San Diego did something with their coverage in the secondary in the second half because it wasn't like Tom Brady was missing wide open receivers. There just wasn't anybody open, and that is a both a function of what the defense is doing and the play calling. It made for a long second half for the Patriots.

RRM: You didn't give Drew Brees much credit for being a good quarterback last week. After he went 19 for 24 for 248 yards and two touchdowns would you care to amend your statement?

SG: A lot of quarterbacks would look good with that kind of running game and that kind of pass protection like Brees had. That's not to say he's not a good quarterback because he is, but in my opinion he's not in the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks just yet.

RRM: You've seen many of the all-time great running backs up close in action. Where does Tomlinson rank in your opinion?

SG: Having only seen him play a couple of times it would be hard for me to put him on the same level with Walter Payton or Barry Sanders. But if he continues to run the way he has been for another five years you would have to rank him among the best runners of all-time. He's got the quickness, the speed, and the power as well as being able to catch the ball out of the backfield. You don't often find that combination in one running back and he's a special one, no doubt about it.

RRM: There was a lot of speculation at the start of the season on how the team would get used to having new offensive and defensive co-coordinators. Have you seen this as a factor in both of their losses in the early going?

SG: It may be a little part of it, but I don't think it's a major issue. I thought about this after the game and I realized this loss reminded me of the season opener at Buffalo in 2003. Lawyer Milloy had just been released and the Patriots were blown out 31-0. They just played horribly because their emotional leader was gone, and it was kind of the same thing against San Diego. This was the first week this team's emotional leader Rodney Harrison was gone, and I'm not sure they knew how to react without him. There's no denying they played poorly but it will be considered a learning experience and I think they will eventually get things sorted out. Bill Belichick will somehow find a way to turn what happened into a positive, and he'll make sure they are ready to play next week.

RRM: I'm sure you've been on the other side of a one-sided loss like this once or twice during your career. Is it easy to shake something like this off and just go about preparing for the next game?

SG: I think a veteran player will understand it was just one of those games where they didn't play well, they didn't match up well, and they just didn't execute as well as San Diego. For a younger player who hasn't experienced the success many of the veterans on this team have had there's some doubt in the back of your mind. You start wondering if your job is in jeopardy or if things like this are going to happen every week. You go around thinking about all those things until you get another chance to play, and nothing will chase away those doubts faster than going out and winning a game.

RRM: This week a trip to visit the Atlanta Falcons who dusted off the Minnesota Vikings 30-10 on Sunday, amassing a team record 285 yards rushing in the process. Who said the life of a defending champion would be easy?

SG: The Falcons like to pound you with the running game and when you have two good backs like they do they present a formidable challenge. These are two entirely different types of backs. T.J. Duckett is a straight-ahead, piledriver type of back while Warrick Dunn is the quick, elusive kind of runner. When a team can throw that kind of a change up at you and throw Michael Vick into the equation you know your run defense had better be up to the challenge. This week we will find out if the Patriots will be tough enough to stop it.

RRM: You mentioned Michael Vick who just may be the best running quarterback to ever play in the NFL. While he is playing with some injuries don't you have to prepare for him differently than you would any other quarterback?

SG: Michael Vick presents a unique challenge for a defense, and I don't know how they will plan to stop him. In the past they would take a player like Tedy Bruschi and he would be assigned to shadow Vick wherever he went on the field. He did a pretty good of it, but I'm not sure they have anybody there now that can do that. Vick is going to make some plays but you have to design your defense to try and force him to beat you with his arm rather than his legs. I still don't think he throws that well but he can absolutely kill you if you allow him to run around. I know he is coming off of a hamstring injury and last week he banged up his knee a bit so if he isn't 100% that will suit the Patriots just fine.

RRM: Have you gotten tired of the Burger King ads yet? I think I speak for a lot of fans that would love to see him get clocked before he has a chance to do his stupid touchdown dance!

SG: I remember the first time I saw the commercial I couldn't figure out what I was seeing. Who was this king guy running with the ball? To be honest I thought it was just stupid, and now it has gotten way overplayed. It would be great to see a strong safety clothesline him and have three or four more players dogpile him [laughs]. Welcome to the NFL Mr. Burger King!

RRM: I really can't avoid this any longer, what are Grogan's Grades for the 41-17 debacle against the San Diego Chargers?

SG: I have to give them a D, and the only thing keeping them from a failing grade is that they played halfway decently in the first half. But the second half really did them in. I can't even think of one player to single out for playing well in this game. I do think they will regroup this week and come out with a chip on the shoulder to play the Falcons. Hopefully we'll have more pleasant things to talk about next week.

Grogan's Grades for Week #4

Offense: D
Defense: D
Overall: D

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]