By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
November 01, 2005

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, Halloween came a night early for Patriots Nation as their beloved World Champions came diSG:uised as a pretty mediocre football team. How do you begin to describe what amounted to a pretty fortunate 21-16 win over the Bills on ESPN's Sunday Night Football?

Steve Grogan: I'm not sure what the problem was on Sunday night. They just didn't play very good football against a team they really should have dominated, and that's not what I expected to see from them coming out of a bye week. I thought the Patriots played some lackluster football and were fortunate to come away with a win. When I saw the time of possession in the first half was so one-sided in the Bills' favor it was actually amazing that the Patriots were still in the ballgame. Fortunately Tom Brady played much better in the second half and they got two nice scoring drives offensively, but they certainly left you guessing most of the evening.

RRM: It was hard to fathom but it seemed this team was emotionally flat at the start of the game. Was this because Buffalo was so emotionally high to play the defending champs that they made the Patriots look flat by comparison?

SG:: I'm sure the Bills were sky-high emotionally to play the Patriots but at the same time they are not a good football team. The Patriots are just much better, and I think some of it had to do with the Patriots not taking Buffalo as seriously as they needed to. They were also coming off the bye week, and sometimes when you don't play for two weeks you lose some of your focus. You would think with all the excitement over Tedy Bruschi's return this team would have been more focused, but for some reason they just were not.

RRM: We also saw some lapses in concentration by this team that were very uncharacteristic. The most glaring was letting the play clock wind down at the end of the first half which wiped out an Adam Vinatieri field goal. What happened there?

SG:: That was just inexcusable. That's the kind of thing an undisciplined football team does, and it's certainly not what you would expect of the defending world champions. Somebody on the Patriots' coaching staff should have seen that and called a timeout. The kicker is focusing on his kick and the holder should be watching the clock, but there are also 40 guys on the sidelines that should have seen that and started hollering for a timeout. I can't explain that one; that was just the epitome of stupid football.

RRM: The Patriots have been looking for the key turnover all season long and it was finally provided by Rosevelt Colvin. I guess it was worth the wait?

SG:: Late in the game when someone needed to make a big play Rosevelt Colvin forced a fumble from Kelly Holcomb, and that's what set up the game-winning touchdown. That was a huge play, and if they don't get that one they probably lose the football game. I think with Colvin the more he plays the more comfortable he'll get and the more plays he'll make. He really hadn't gotten a lot of playing time up until this point and considering the injury he had he may just be getting back to the point where he is approaching his old form. Hopefully now the more he plays the better he'll get, and that would provide a real shot in the arm for this defense.

RRM: The Patriots were shut out at halftime for the first time since the opening game of the 2003 season. Why did it take so long for Tom Brady and company to get it into gear?

SG:: The biggest problem was they couldn't stay on the field! They only had the ball for seven minutes in that first half, and part of that problem was the Patriots' defense couldn't stop Buffalo. Fortunately the Bills weren't getting in the endzone but they were generating 10 to 11 play drives that were just eating up the clock. It's hard for an offense to generate any kind of rhythm when it's sitting on the sidelines, and the Patriots' offense would come out and run three plays and be off the field and the defense would go back out for another eight minutes. They did have some nice plays by Patrick Pass at the start of the game, one coming on a run and another on a screen pass but both were nullified by holding penalties. It was just some horrible football.

RRM: Patrick Pass was having another pretty good game for himself until he pulled his left hamstring running a sweep. Unfortunately he reached for his injured leg with the hand that was holding onto the ball and he left the ball on the ground. Vince Lombardi must have been rolling over in his grave on that one?

SG:: I was amazed when I saw that happen. That ball is more valuable than your leg, and you just hold onto that thing for dear life no matter what happens! I'm just guessing here but Patrick Pass hasn't really carried the ball that much since his college days, and if he's carrying it in practice and drops it then it's no big deal. Those are the conditions he's been used to for five years, and suddenly he pulls a hamstring and he can't make the distinction between being in practice or an actual game. That's the only thing I can think of that can explain his reaction. You see guys get hurt all the time but they don't let go of the football. I felt badly for him because he was really ripping off some nice runs before he got hurt. You have to hope Patrick Pass isn't hurt too badly because with Kevin Faulk already out and Corey Dillon playing hurt the running back situation isn't looking especially solid for the Patriots right now.

RRM: Tom Brady finally got the Patriots moving in the second half by utilizing the old pump fake to free up some of his receivers deep downfield. As a former quarterback could you tell us why this maneuver can prove to be so effective?

SG:: When you have a really aggressive safety, one that really wants to jump on your first movement, that's when the pump fake is a very effective weapon. Buffalo had Lawyer Milloy and Troy Vincent back there and we know what an aggressive player Lawyer can be, so if you can look him off and just get him to hesitate for a step with that pump a lot of times that will open up where you want to go. It worked well and they had several passing plays go for over 20 yards. There was one to Daniel Graham and a couple big ones to Deion Branch. The funny thing was Brady seemed to be throwing the ball short all night long, and I'm not sure why that was happening to him but he certainly didn't look like his usually accurate self.

RRM: The Bills made attacking the left side of the Patriots offensive line a priority in this game. It seemed Aaron Schobel was having so much success getting by Patriots' rookies Nick Kaczur and Logan Mankins he would become a permanent member of the New England backfield?

SG:: Here is another instance where you have to point your finger at the Patriots' coaching staff. They should have found some way to get some help to those two players. Whether it was a tight end or an extra back they should have made some changes to address that situation because Tom Brady was under a lot of pressure trying to throw the ball.

RRM: That's an excellent point, but for some reason the Patriots' coaches don't seem to like putting a tight end on the left or weak side of the offense. Any clue as to why that is when the problem is so glaring?

SG:: I just don't why that is. One of the first things I learned when I came into this league was if you were having trouble with the defensive end on your left side the easiest way to stop that was to stick a tight end over there and shorten the distance he can line up out there to get to the quarterback. For some reason the Patriots left that side open all night and it gave them a lot of trouble. Things won't get any easier next week since the Colts have a tremendous pass rusher in their defensive end Dwight Freeney, so they are going to have to know where he is on every play.

RRM: This game will go down in team history as the return of Tedy Bruschi to the Patriots. What was your take on his first game back?

SG:: It was nice to see Tedy Bruschi back for the Patriots. I thought he brought a lot of energy to the defense, which played a lot better in this game although it seemed like they couldn't get the Buffalo offense of the field in the first half. He played a lot more than I expected him to and I guarantee you he was sore Monday morning. He did all the things you expected him to do. He made plays right from the start and he got his teammates in the right positions. It seemed he was all over the place out there even on the special teams.

RRM: Bruschi's return saw both him and Mike Vrabel starting at inside linebacker, with former starters Chad Brown and Monty Beisel moving to the bench. Apparently Bill Belichick has lost patience with his two inside linebackers that started the season and isn't going to allow them any more on the job training?

SG:: Beisel played a little bit and spelled both Bruschi and Vrabel at times and played pretty well I thought. Chad Brown didn't even dress for the game which leads you to believe they weren't too happy with the way he was playing. They really don't need another outside linebacker with the players they have, plus Vrabel can move out there if they need him. Brown just never seemed to pick up the system like they hoped he would and over the bye week Belichick apparently decided to make that change.

RRM: Many feel that the way the Patriots' offense and defense have struggled is related to the departure of Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel from their respective roles as coordinators. Do you think this is a factor in the struggles of the team this year?

SG:: I really don't think it has that much to do with it. Bill Belichick has been working with Eric Mangini and the defense for a few years so they should have stayed in synch. There are some major injuries to deal with and as a result they just can't do as much defensively to confuse an offense because they have to protect that secondary. The offense seems to come and go between games and even between halves sometimes. It's been a tough problem to put a finger on.

RRM: In all your years in football did a fan ever run onto the field and take the ball from you like what happened to Brett Favre in Cincinnati?

SG:: No, I can't say that ever happened to me. I saw that play and it had to be one of the strangest plays I've seen in a long time. To have a fan run some thirty yards and come up from behind you and take the ball right out of your hand as you're throwing it is just incredible. The security is so tight in the National Football League now as far as getting even close to the sidelines I can't even imagine that happening. I remember in my first Monday Night Football game back in 1976 we were playing the Jets and we had several fans that had a little too much to drink run onto the field. They didn't interfere with the game, but it does make you wonder about what those people are thinking.

RRM: Next Monday night the undefeated Indianapolis Colts come to town for a prime time showdown against the Patriots. Why is it I feel a little nervous about this one?

SG:: I don't think you're alone with that feeling. If the Patriots play as poorly against the Colts next Monday night as they did against the Bills this week you can turn the game off at halftime and go to bed because it won't be close. If I'm the Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini I'm scared to death this week! You just gave up 130 yards to Willis McGahee and he's not as good a running back as Edgerrin James. They let Kelly Holcomb complete 20 of 33 for 263 yards and he's definitely not Peyton Manning. Unless the Patriots get some things ironed out or they come up with a new scheme for the Colts this could be a very unpleasant experience for them.

Defensively the Colts are much better this season so the onus is really going to fall on the Patriots' offense in this game. The ideal scenario would be for the Patriots' offense to control the ball and keep the Colts offense off the field, or they're liable to run up 500 yards on them. I've learned never to write this Patriots team off, but they certainly have to play a lot better than they did against the Bills if they are to have any chance against the Colts.

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the narrow escape victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week #7?

SG:: It was just frustrating watching them play this game, and I'm going to give them a C- because I thought it was just a horrible effort on their part. They should have handled Buffalo easily and since they didn't they play up to their capability they receive a below average grade. It's obvious this team still has some problems in the secondary and without Richard Seymour up front I thought they were getting pushed around pretty well. I thought both Bruschi and Vrabel played well and there were a few others worth mentioning. Asante Samuel played pretty well and came up with the second interception of the season for the Patriots. He knocked a few balls down and had a couple of big hits as well. Eugene Wilson had a couple of big hits that I thought helped to set a tone, but they are going to need more of that.

Hopefully what we saw against Buffalo was not a sign of things to come, because if they continue to play this kind of football it's going to be a long haul the rest of the way. But everything in their past history indicates they are able to overcome performances like this so we'll keep our fingers crossed and tune in on Monday night at 9 P.M to see what happens next.

Grogan's Grades for Week #7

Offense: C-
Defense: C-
Overall: C-

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]