By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
October 17, 2005

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots put on a gallant second half charge but a 25-point deficit was too much to overcome against a pretty fair Broncos team. What did you take out of the 28-20 loss in Denver?

Steve Grogan: The fact that the Patriots were able to get back in it and make it a game in the second half I thought was somewhat impressive. But that second quarter where they were outscored 21-0 just killed them. I thought they played pretty good football in the first quarter and played Denver even in coming away with a 3-0 lead. Then it all came apart for them in that second quarter. It was pretty obvious the Patriots made some adjustments at halftime but Denver also got a little too conservative after getting that big lead. It was another disappointing game, but at least they made a nice comeback in the second half.

RRM: The Patriots defense yielded three big plays of 60 yards or more right through the middle of their defense. That's a no no even on the Pop Warner level, right?

SG: I was trying to figure out exactly what the Patriots were doing on defense when they gave up those big pass plays. It looked like they were playing man coverage with nobody protecting in the middle, which is surprising when you know you have some problems on the outside with your cornerbacks. You would think they would have a safety hanging around the middle to help out, but they didn't and it hurt them badly. This team is giving up a lot of big plays which is not what you are used to seeing from a Bill Belichick-coached defense. His defense will bend, and bend, and bend until someone comes up with the big play. Now they are bending and then giving up the big play, and that must be frustrating him to no end.

RRM: Patriot cornerback Duane Starks was toasted early and often in this game by Rod Smith and his teammates in the Denver receiving corp. Starks gave credit to the opposition for making plays, but isn't it time he started making a few himself?

SG: That's true! Starks has to learn that if he lets the receiver gets past him even with an older player like Rod Smith you're probably not going to catch up. Cornerbacks are on an island out there and all of their mistakes are certainly magnified because everyone can plainly see them. There's just no hiding the fact that the Patriots are hurting at the corners right now and opposing teams have gone out of their way to go after them. It certainly paid big dividends for Denver in this game because those plays broke the game open.

RRM: After failing to force a turnover against Denver the Patriots' defense has now gone 14 straight quarters without an interception or a fumble recovery. Is it a sign of more tentative, conservative play on defense by the Patriots?

SG: If they are playing conservatively they definitely aren't keeping the play in front of them because they're blowing by them in a hurry [laughs]! I don't know if it's dumb luck or they're reluctant to take chances in the secondary because they know they have problems back there. You would think a fumble would happen just from hitting someone the right away occasionally, but it's just not happening for them right now. It might not be anything they are or are not doing; it's just their opponents being really careful with the ball.

RRM: Doesn't that make life harder for your offense because the defense is never giving them the short field to work with?

SG: That's exactly right. We've talked about this previously, but the Patriots' offense is going to have to score 28 to 35 points a game to win. They only scored 20 against Denver and that wasn't enough. Unfortunately that's just the way things are going to have to be until they get some experience in their defensive backfield and start learning how to play together.

RRM: With his 299 passing yards in this game Tom Brady is averaging over 300 yards through the air per game in what could be a record-breaking season for him. But is that in the best interest of the Patriots' offensive attack?

SG: Believe me I speak from experience, that's not the kind of record-breaking experience he wants to have. When you're racking up that many yards passing it means you're putting the ball in the air a whole lot more than you want to, and Tom Brady has been paying the price through these first six games. Denver didn't sack him in this game but he got banged around a lot, and he has gotten hit quite a bit over the last few weeks. That really takes a toll on your body and it starts affecting the way you play. You saw him throw a few balls in the first half that were either short or behind receivers, and that was because he wasn't able to step up and let the ball go like he normally does. They not only have to find a way to protect him better but they have to run the ball more effectively and take some of the pressure off of him.

RRM: If there was a bright spot on the afternoon it was the play of Patrick Pass, who accounted for 153 yard of offense playing for the injured Corey Dillon. What did you think of the game he turned in?

SG: He's never had a chance to play a game as the feature back and he made the most of his opportunity. He averaged over six yards a carry and made some big plays catching the ball out of the backfield. He really showed me some speed I didn't think he had. It was nice to see because they are really going to need him with Kevin Faulk out for what appears to be quite awhile. Patrick Pass is going to have to play that way every game from here on out if this offense is to really get into gear after the break.

RRM: Dillon was about as late a scratch as you could have, suiting up and then spending the entire game on the sideline. Do you really think Bill Belichick had any intention of playing him in this game?

SG: I don't think Bill Belichick had any intention of ever playing Corey Dillon in this game. Now if something had happened to either Pass and/or Amos Zereoue he may have been forced to put him in, but it would have to have been a desperation situation for that to have happened. I guess he had an ankle injury that was a lot worse than the team let on, but leave it to Bill Belichick not to let the opposition gain any advantage by disclosing the true nature of his players' injuries. I know it drives the media crazy, though!

RRM: Patriots rookie Logan Mankins got ejected from the game at the end of the first half for throwing a decidedly low blow at a Denver player. I would think that's not the kind of reputation you want to start in the NFL if you are a first-year player?

SG: You really don't want to earn a reputation for doing something like that, and believe me players talk and word spreads around the league when something happens like that. That's about as cheap a shot as you can take in the NFL, and I was kind of surprised to see Mankins do something like that. You can be sure that he will be spoken to on the matter by his coaches and his teammates. It was just a stupid thing to do, and to get yourself tossed from the game made things even worse.

RRM: Sometimes the bye week comes at an inappropriate time for a team, but that's certainly not the case for the Patriots this season. Will the bye week go a long way in curing many of this team's ills?

SG: Listening to the Patriots' players talk after the game they are all certainly happy that the bye week came this week. It will definitely allow a few of their injured players some time to recover and get healthy and back out onto the field when they come out of the bye week. They've certainly had some big name people sitting on the sidelines in recent weeks, so if they can get them back it's still very early in the season and there's a lot of football left to be played. Their record stands at 3-3 coming out of an opening stretch of games that just might have been the toughest six weeks of football that the Patriots have ever had. Under those circumstances 3-3 looks awfully good to me right now, and if they get several of their key people back after the bye week they should be in good shape.

RRM: While a 3-3 start is not exactly what we're used to around here can't we take some satisfaction in that we're tied for first with Buffalo in the AFC East?

SG: First place is definitely the place to be, and fortunately all the teams in the Patriots' division have had their own problems to deal with. The Patriots could have been in a tough spot if one team in the division had gotten really hot to start the season and were 5-1 or 6-0. That would have been a lot of ground to make up. Now they have just have to get down to business against their divisional rivals and play like we know they are capable of.

RRM: What's Steve Grogan going to do with no Patriots game to watch next Sunday?

SG: If it's a nice day I'll probably either go play golf or wrap up all the outside jobs that need to get finished before winter sets in. There was a nip in the air this morning so it's not going to be too long before you can't do anything outside, so that's probably what I'll be doing.

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 28-20 setback in Denver?

SG: I'm tempted to start grading by quarters the way this team has been playing lately. I'm going to be a little lenient on the offense because they did come on strong in the second half, so they'll get a B. The defense just gave up too many big plays in the second quarter and at the start of the second half so they deserve no better than a C. They did play much better in the second half, but this team hasn't played a full game lately and that's been a big part of the problem. They just have to get more consistent or it is going to be a long year.

Grogan's Grades for Week #6

Offense: B
Defense: C
Overall: C+

Don't forget Pats' fans, just because the Patriots are off next week doesn't mean we are. Be sure to be back here next Tuesday for Steve's column during the bye week!

___________________________________________________________ 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]