By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
November 22, 2005

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots kept us at on the edge of our seats once again before pulling out a 24-17 win over the New Orleans Saints. I guess no one ever imagined it would have taken until November for this team to win two games in a row.

Steve Grogan: It did take quite a while, but this team has shown a lot of perseverance to get their record to 6-4 despite all of the injuries. It's funny but even though this game got close I never felt like they were in trouble. I always felt that they were going to win the football game until about the last three minutes, and suddenly it got very close. There's no doubt that this team is treading water right now. They are trying to get some people back healthy so they can have their better players on the field, but while they're treading water they're winning football games and that's the most important thing. Defensively the Patriots' front seven again played very well and the patchwork secondary gave up a ton of yards but not too many big plays. Offensively they got off to a great start at 14-0 but then it seemed they just sat back and cruised the rest of the game. That seems to be the formula right now, and while it's working it sure makes for some real nailbiters.

RRM: You raise an interesting point, just what did happen to the Patriots' offense after they built that 24-7 lead?

SG: I thought they got away from their short passing game a little too early in this game. They ran the ball pretty well behind Heath Evans and Patrick Pass but it seemed every time they threw the ball in the second half Tom Brady was throwing it 40 yards downfield. They didn't throw to their tight end Ben Watson in the second half after he had that big first half (4 catches for 66 yards), and they didn't try any of that short stuff to Deion Branch either. As a result Brady barely completed 50% of his passes, and that's just not your typical New England Patriots' offense. It looked they were trying to put that final nail in New Orleans' coffin but all it did was give the Saints an opportunity to come back, and they nearly did!

RRM: The Saints have been plagued by self-inflicted wounds this season in the form of penalties and dropped passes. That trend continued in this game as the Patriots got a lot of help from their opponent in this game. Does this fall under the don't-look-a-gift-horse-in-the-mouth category?

SG: That's exactly right. The Saints killed themselves by committing 11 penalties and they dropped a lot of passes. Their young tight end dropped a bunch of them, and nothing can serve to frustrate you more as a quarterback than having your receivers drop balls when they are wide open. A quarterback needs therapy after a while because you just don't want to throw the ball to anybody because you're not sure who's going to catch it! Aaron Brooks is a good but not great quarterback, and he'd be so much better if he'd use his running ability to run down the field. When the Patriots got pressure on him in the pocket he would just fade back and throw the ball out of bounds. A guy with his kind of mobility should be running the ball a lot more than he does.

RRM: If there was one key stat that was overlooked in this game it was the Patriots rushing for 132 yards while they held the Saints to under 100 yards (87) on the ground. At least the Patriots' ground defense is alive and well.

SG: It's all about controlling the game, and if you look at the stats from this game both teams were around 50% on third down and the Saints had about 100 more yards of total offense than the Patriots, mostly in passing yardage. But the difference was the Patriots were able to run the ball more effectively and it allowed them to control the flow of the game, and that's one of the main reasons why they won. They've held their opponents to under 100 yards rushing for two straight games and that's been an important factor in their success.

RRM: You fell right into my trap! If you are running the ball so effectively why not run the ball three times with 2:19 left and drain New Orleans of their remaining time outs before punting the football back to them instead of putting the ball up like they did?

SG: That's what ‘the book' says to do, and instead they chose to throw the ball deep. I don't know what they were seeing, but for the first time in a long time I would seriously question what they were trying to do, particularly at that point in the game. The whole second half the focus of the Patriots' offense was to throw the ball deep, which I found a little strange because quite frankly they are not the best in the game at doing that. I certainly liked to go for the deep strike when I played, but there are times in the game to do that. Prior to the play when they hit Andre Davis for the 60-yard touchdown I was thinking it was a good time for them to go deep because they had just come out of a good defensive stand and the situation was right for it. But as you said you're up by seven points with 2:19 left and you've been running the ball pretty well and you have to take time off of the clock. Their entire second half game plan just had me scratching my head.

RRM: It was nice to see Andre Davis score a touchdown after being released by the Patriots only a few weeks ago. Will that score help keep him around for awhile?

SG: I think Davis has some talent and belongs in the NFL. I'm sure he was having trouble learning the new system here in New England and that's one of the reasons they didn't keep him around initially. But with David Givens and Troy Brown both out he's here to stay now and will get some substantial playing time. Unless Givens and Brown both come back at the same time I expect him to stick around for a while this time.

RRM: Tom Brady was sacked three times by the Saints and took some pretty good shots in this one as well. As a quarterback do you say anything to your offensive line about the lack of protection?

SG: Contrary to what you may think you don't say anything to your offensive linemen in the huddle after you've been planted because they're getting hit on every play. If you have to get hit as a quarterback every once in awhile that's just part of the game. You look at that Patriots' offensive line with three starters missing and it's amazing Brady isn't getting beaten around more than he is. It's been kind of scary to watch Brady get hit as much as he has been this season, but he's been hanging in there. I'm sure he was a little sore on Monday from getting banged around a little more than normal, but he's a kid that hasn't taken a lot of huge hits over the course of his career and he's taken good care of himself. I think he'll be fine.

RRM: I don't think enough importance has been placed on the loss of Patriots' starting center Dan Koppen. The average fan just has no idea how vital a role the center plays on an offense, do they?

SG: A good center is crucial to the play of your offense. He makes a lot of the line adjustments and calls. You see Brady pointing people out, and then the center takes it from there and makes all the calls. The quarterback has a feel for when the center is going to make his calls so he will pause during his snap count to give him time to make his calls and maybe an extra half of a second for it to register in the heads of the offensive linemen. If you don't have somebody that really understands your blocking schemes or how you are going to slide in protection and who is going to pick up who, you are going to run into some serious problems.

Koppen came in here as an unheralded 5th round draft pick and all he has done is win two Super Bowls his first two years in the league. No team had ever won a Super Bowl with a rookie center before Koppen did it with the Patriots two years ago, and that's a pretty impressive way to begin your pro career. You don't hear his name often, and while it is a joke around the NFL it's true that it is actually a good thing for an offensive lineman. You never hear people talk about him; he just goes out and does his job as good as anybody at his position in the league. When you lose a guy like that it can cause some serious problems. To this point it hasn't, but we'll have to wait and see what happens the rest of the way.

RRM: The future of the Saints is still very much up in the air with the devastation in New Orleans and extensive damage to the Superdome. Would you like to see them stay in the Big Easy?

SG: I'd like to see them stay. The city of New Orleans has supported them well, and when they first came into the league way back in 1967 they went through some rough times right through the Archie Manning years in the 1970s. But even through all those losing seasons the city supported them and now they've had some success over the last decade and I just think it would be nice to see them stay where they have been for so long. But I'm one of those people that don't like change, so that's just my opinion.

RRM: I never thought I would miss the CBS broadcasters but listening to Ron Pitts and Tim Ryan call the game for FOX made me long for their return. Who do you like to listen call football games on TV?

SG: They weren't very good, but it just showed you that FOX didn't consider the Patriots-Saints game worthy of sending some of their top flight crews. I kind of like Phil Simms because he keeps things lighthearted at times and he doesn't take himself too seriously like many of the other broadcasters do. He has gotten much better over the past few years and he makes good, insightful comments. Troy Aikman isn't bad (especially since they took Chris Collinsworth out of the booth!) but we don't get to hear him too often doing Patriots' games.

RRM: You seem to be partial to former quarterbacks?

SG: No, that's not true. I hate Joe Theismann as a matter of fact [laughs]!

RRM: That's OK, everybody does!

SG: He's just horrible; he really detracts from those Sunday night games and I'm glad the Patriots don't have any more left on their schedule.

RRM: The passing of Bill Belichick's father was certainly sad news. How will this affect both him and the team this week as they prepare for their game against the Kansas City Chiefs?

SG: It will definitely have an effect on the entire team. Bill Belichick won't be around for part of the week during practice and assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia will be running things in his absence. As a player it does throw off your routine a little bit, but when coach Belichick returns at the end of the week after he's laid his dad to rest it will rally his team and they'll want to put on a great performance for him. I think you can expect this will provide a big emotional boost for this team and you will see a very emotional, focused effort from the Patriots on Sunday.

RRM: In recent weeks the Patriots have been doling out 300-yard passing games like leftover Halloween candy. Is Kansas City's Trent Green the next recipient of their largess?

SG: Trent Green is a pretty darn good quarterback, and with the Patriots patchwork secondary they definitely have their work cut out for them this Sunday. Kansas City is always a tough play for a visiting team to play because the fans are so loud, and while their teams have not been of championship caliber they have been consistently good for a number of years now. With Priest Holmes out, Larry Johnson has taken over the rushing duties for the Chiefs and they will have to keep him under control. Whether they can win with the same formula of limiting the rushing attack while giving up a ton of passing yardage will be severely tested against this team.

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the precarious 24-17 win over the Saints in Week #10?

SG: I'm going with a B this week. It was a good, solid performance that resulted in a win so it's Bs all around for the team. I thought Willie McGinest turned in one of his better games for the Patriots. He might not have had a lot of sacks but he was disrupting the pocket a lot. Mike Vrabel showed he is adjusting to the position switch to the inside by coming up with a game-high 11 tackles. He even threw in a touchdown catch for good measure, and it's funny because you would think by now they would be looking for him in those goalline situations but he keeps sneaking up on them, and it's hard for a guy that big to sneak up on anybody but he keeps doing it [laughs]! I saw a little improvement in the defensive secondary. They made some plays here and there, and Eugene Wilson made the play at the end like he was supposed to so that's a good sign as well. I checked the paper today and there are only five teams in the AFC with a better record than the Patriots so despite everything that has happened they are still in the upper echelon. We'll see if they can remain there by pulling out a tough win in a tough place this week.

Grogan's Grades for Week #10

Offense: B
Defense: B
Overall: B

R.R. Marshall's 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]