By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
November 15, 2005

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots gave their fans a few anxious moments before pulling out a 23-16 win over a very determined herd of Dolphins in Miami. Were you sitting at the end of your chair like the rest of us at the end?

Steve Grogan: We've seen this scenario so many times now I think I'm getting used to it. It looked like the kind of game to me where both teams were trying not to lose instead of trying to win. For most of the game both clubs were very conservative and didn't take many chances, and then towards the end of the game all heck broke lose and the ball went up and down the field like crazy. As we all know by now anytime Tom Brady has the ball with time left on the clock you have a chance. To be fair Miami is not a very good team yet. They are coming along and have some talent on defense, but if the Patriots were playing a better team yesterday they probably wouldn't have escaped with a victory.

RRM: Although they gave up 360 yards in the air to Miami quarterback Gus Frerotte, wasn't it encouraging to finally see the Patriots' defense come up with their first two defensive stands in the redzone this season?

SG: They actually stopped them twice inside the 10-yardline, once thanks to the combined efforts of Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi and then at the end of the game where they finally buckled down and stopped them. On that first stop in the redzone Seymour put a lot of pressure on Gus Frerotte that caused an incompletion, and then on the very next play Bruschi deflects what would have been a sure touchdown pass to Wes Welker. If those two guys aren't there the Dolphins probably score and the Patriots don't win this game. It was amazing to watch what happened having Bruschi and Seymour back with their experience and skills, and how the confidence of just having them on the field filtered down to everybody else. You just feel like you have a better chance to win when you have guys like that on the field, and you can take a few more chances as well.

Seymour looked a little rusty after being out for over a month and he admitted he is not yet 100%, but Bruschi looks like he's already settled back into his old form. The good news is the more he plays the more comfortable he is going to get. He had those couple of diving blitz attempts that had CBS color commentator Phil Simms scared to death, but Bruschi has always done that. It's just part of his game and he's going to continue to do that.

RRM: On that last stand by the Patriots at the end of the game Ellis Hobbs was out on an island defending against the fade route and the rookie came through big time on two straight plays. Could this position finally be solidified at long last?

SG: Hobbs played both of those passes extremely well, but at the same time I don't know what Miami head coach Nick Saban and his assistants were thinking. At that time of the day the sun is coming right at that corner of the endzone, and after the first one you could see the receiver look to sidelines and put his hands in front of his face and say, "I can't see." Then they called the play again on the very next play, so they really helped the Patriots out there. But Hobbs defended both of those plays on that final stand about as well as a corner can, so you can't help but hope that just maybe things will slowly get a little better with the Patriots' secondary.

RRM: This might seem like a silly question but will that game-ending stand in the redzone give the Patriots' defense the much needed emotional boost they so desperately needed?

SG: Sure it will. The first stop was nice but they also caught a break with Olindo Mare missing the short field goal attempt. But at the end of the game when Miami is running four plays inside your 10-yardine and you stop them four times then you know you can do it, and if you are in a situation where you have to do it again you know you've done it before. This will be a real confidence builder for the defense, no question.

RRM: No sooner do the Patriots get some of their injured players back on defense than the bodies start piling up on the offensive side of the ball. How confident would you feel as a quarterback going back to pass knowing you've lost three starters on your offensive line?

SG: Not very [laughs]! Throw in the fact that your best tight end (Daniel Graham) and your second best receiver (David Givens) are both down and that usually means things aren't going to bode well for you, but Tom Brady finds a way to get it done. It really is amazing with all the people out that this team continues to compete at the level they have been. When Dan Koppen went out in the third quarter I really thought Brady's pass protection would suffer but he did his most effective passing in the game from that point on.

RRM: If this is just your average team in the NFL missing seven starting players would they be as competitive as the Patriots are now?

SG: It wouldn't even be close. The way Bill Belichick and his coaching staff are able to plug these guys in and "coach them up' is really nothing short of amazing. There are limits to how much you can do as Peyton Manning and the Colts amply demonstrated last week, but for this team to be 5-4 at this point in the season is just an impressive accomplishment. The good news is the schedule gets a little easier for them from here on out. The teams they played prior to this game had a combined winning percentage of over .600 and the teams they are slated to play for the remainder of the season are (combined) just under .400, so things should be in their favor.

RRM: Tim Dwight and Tom Brady combined to make the play of the day on a 59-yard hook up that set up the game-winning score for the Patriots. Since the pass came so close to being intercepted don't you have to question going for the big play with so much time left on the clock?

SG: That was a little risky at that time of the game, but he's Tom Brady so he gets away with it! With anybody else that ball is probably picked off and the game is over, but Brady seems to get every break and guys make plays for him. That really was just a great catch by Tim Dwight. He just took it right out of the defensive back Reggie Howard's hands and then just kept going. I really liked the play call because if Miami is going to bring guys out of the middle of the field like they did and challenge all the short routes why not take a shot down the field? That's how I always like to do it!

RRM: Corey Dillon played all of one play yesterday before retiring for the afternoon. What happened to him?

SG: Dillon was already favoring his left ankle and he ended up doing something to the calf on the other side. The early reports I heard didn't sound very encouraging and it looks like he'll be out for a couple of weeks.

RRM: In Dillon's absence midweek pick up Heath Evans took over and ran with abandon against his former team. My question is where has this guy been hiding?

SG: The way Evans was breaking tackles and running people over he reminded me of Larry Csonka, the former Miami fullback who played during my day. Evans just put his head down and ran over people, and it is a lot of fun to watch someone run the football like that. He's a younger guy who never really had a chance to be the ballcarrier. He spent most of his time as a blocking back and special teams player, but he got his chance on Sunday and he made the most of it.

RRM: Watching Evans run the ball I couldn't help but wonder if coaches would ever go back to letting the fullback run the ball more often like they did during your playing days. Why is the emphasis on one back carrying the ball in the current NFL?

SG: Evans will continue to get the ball but they are going to line him up as a tailback. It makes no sense to me why coaches got away from having both a halfback and a fullback in the backfield. If you're not going to play a fullback back there why not just play an offensive guard who can block for the running back? It's a lot tougher for a defense when they don't know which of the two backs are going to be carrying the ball on any given play. When I was playing our fullback Sam Cunningham would either carry the ball or block for our halfback Andy Johnson. Likewise Andy would block for Sam when he carried the ball, but now you couldn't get a Corey Dillon or Edgerrin James to block for a fullback because those guys are too valuable to put their head in their and block for somebody. That's just the way it is.

RRM: What was the deal with Zach Thomas trying to ice Adam Vinatieri at the end of the first half? Doesn't he know who he's dealing with?

SG: He's trying to ice the guy with ice water in his veins so it really made no sense. I guess he figured they had the time out available so they might as well use it, but Vinatieri gave him the answer he should have by splitting the up rights.

RRM: Bethel Johnson began the game with a nice return but it was wiped out by a holding call, which in turn led to a listless battle of field position for most of the first half. Is it just me, or does it seem the officials' new pet call this season is holding on kickoff returns?

SG: Every year the officials find something new that they like to call a lot and this appears to be the one they have settled on this season. It seems like every week no matter what game you're watching four to five kick returns get flagged for either a hold or a block in the back. You very seldom see it on the replay to see if it's a questionable call so it's hard to judge whether they are warranted or not. It sure is making the games longer and it has taken the excitement of the kick return out of the game, and that's a shame because it's the fans that lose.

RRM: This week the Patriots return home to host the New Orleans Saints who will be coming off a bye week. The Pats are heavily favored, but do you think they are able to blow out any team right now?

SG: The way things have been going this year all the games have been close so there's no reason to think this one will be any different. Aaron Brooks presents a challenge because he can run around a little bit and while he's no Michael Vick he does throw well on the run and can cause you some problems if you don't keep him in the pocket. They have a dangerous deep threat in Joe Horn and you know they will try to test the Patriots' secondary so the game plan will remain the same. If the Patriots are going to consistently give up 300 yards through the air they'll have to shut down the running game and hope to score enough points to win.

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 23-16 win over the Dolphins in Week #9?

SG: I have to go with a B for a good solid performance. It wasn't an outstanding performance, but it was good enough for a win. The defense took a step in the right direction but it's hard to get excited over their progress since the Dolphins really blew several scoring opportunities. Ellis Hobbs gets a game ball for his first start at corner and coming up with some good plays in crunch time. He's a kid who was a high draft pick but hasn't played much and he really played well. I'll give Heath Evans one because he really provided a spark in the first half when they really couldn't get anything going on offense. We'll see if any of the momentum they generated with the victory in Miami carries over to this week, and right now they really need any intangible they have going for them. Let's hope I can hand out so much higher grades next week.

Grogan's Grades for Week #9

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 rrm19671975@yahoo.com.
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