By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
December 20, 2005

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, last week we said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should provide a good test for a revived Patriots' team. Judging by the 28-0 shutout they posted on Saturday it appears they are ready to start the postseason right now. What was your take on the game?

Steve Grogan: I would say they past the test with flying colors! It was a very impressive performance by the Patriots. The previous two weeks we had seen the Patriots dominate the Jets and Dolphins, two teams which weren't very good, but to expect them to go out and totally dominate against a playoff caliber team like Tampa Bay was totally unexpected but sure fun to see! I thought the Patriots caught Tampa Bay at a good time. This was their third straight road game and they were coming off a big win on the road at Carolina the week before. Then they came up here into some cold weather which they are not used to, and with the Patriots playing really solid defense right now it didn't make for a good combination for the Buccaneers. The Patriots have all their weapons on offense back and they are moving the ball well, and when you combined all of that this game just turned into a blowout.

RRM: I heard some people trying to deride Tampa Bay after the game, trying to say they weren't a really good team. Isn't that a little harsh?

SG: I think so; they aren't nearly as bad a team as they looked on Saturday. Their quarterback Chris Simms is young and he is still making some mistakes, but you can already tell he is going to be a good player in the future. The Patriots showed him a lot of things he hasn't seen before and really confused him. Tampa Bay is basically a running football team, and if they can't run they are in trouble offensively. The Patriots just totally shut down their rookie running back Cadillac Williams (only 23 yards on 14 carries) and took away their running game, and that allowed them to bring the rushers off the corners and get in Simms' face. It looked to me like he was on the ground most of the afternoon, and as a former quarterback I can tell you it's pretty hard to complete passes when you're flat on you back!

RRM: Are your surprised the Patriots have played so well the past few weeks with essentially a patchwork offensive line?

SG: Yes, and no. We've seen over the last few years that the Patriots just plug guys in and out of that offensive line and continue to get the job done. It continues to amaze me, because if you talk to any offensive lineman he'll tell you the more an offensive line plays together the better they are. For some reason the Patriots have a way of shooting that theory down; they can plug somebody in and not miss a beat. Right now the two guards are the only ones who were at the positions they started at and everyone else is either moved from one side or the other or filling in for someone, and you're just not supposed to be able to do that and still perform at a high level as a unit in the NFL.

You have to give Tom Brady a lot of credit for making his offensive line look good because he is able to get rid of the ball quickly enough to keep a lot of the trouble away from him. He certainly has taken his share of shots lately, and my only criticism to the game on Saturday was I didn't think they ran the ball that well. They ran it just well enough to complement the passing game, but this time of year you want to be able to run the football. After two good performances against the Jets and Bills that was a bit of a disappointment, but Tampa Bay is a good defensive team so you have to give them some credit as well.

RRM: We you surprised to see a veteran like Willie McGinest trying to lateral the football when he was returning that fumble by Chris Simms late in the second quarter?

SG: I think every defensive player dreams of being able to do that, and McGinest was dreaming instead of thinking out there on the field. Mike Vrabel caused that fumble when he sacked Simms, and that turned out to be a big play because it set up the touchdown right at the end of the half to make it 21-0. I really thought that score put one of the nails in the coffin for Tampa Bay.

RRM: On that touchdown Tom Brady found David Givens open in the right corner of the endzone on a play that had a little more going on than the average fan could see. Why don't you take us through the sequence of what happened on that touchdown?

SG: The Patriots had someone going down the middle on that play and it looked to me like Brady was staring down the middle, and at the last second without even really looking at Givens he knew he was going to be in the back corner of the endzone so he just turned and threw it on a dart line to him. That's the way you have to throw that ball down in that area; you can't hang it up in the air. The Tampa Bay corner was falling off just enough that if the ball had hung he would have made a play on it. Brady held that safety inside the hash marks by looking down the middle like he did, and that allowed Givens to get wide open for the score that really iced the game.

RRM: If anyone had any doubts that Tedy Bruschi was back to his old form they were laid to rest with his performance in this game. Bruschi had 11 tackles and two sacks and really looked like his old self in this one?

SG: There was one play that really stood out to me, and that was the sack where he came in untouched. You could tell he had coverage on the back and the back looked like he was blocking. Bruschi started to come forward and as he did the back released into the route. He knew it was too late for him to go back and cover him so he just kept coming, and there was nobody to block him and he got there in time to make the play. A young linebacker would have panicked knowing he had pass coverage on the back, and then it would have been too late to either cover the back or get to the quarterback. A smart, veteran linebacker like Bruschi knew his only option was to take the hole and keep coming, and he turned in a big play.

RRM: It looks like the Patriots have a new player to throw the ball to in goalline situations in Tom Ashworth. When you see how successful Bill Belichick has been in utilizing players like Mike Vrabel and Ashworth in other ways why is it that that the other coaches don't follow suit?

SG: I think Bill Belichick looks at guys as football PLAYERS and not necessarily as only linebackers or offensive linemen, etc. Tom Ashworth played tight end for a couple of years when he was in college at Colorado, and Belichick knows that about him and reasons why can't he use him to do the same kind of thing now? Usually it works out for him, but other coaches are afraid to take those kinds of chances.

RRM: Not only do we have the top punter in the league in Josh Miller, we found out we also have a potential Emmy nominee (and I say Emmy instead of an Oscar like most because this is television and not motion pictures) for the acting job he did to draw the roughing the kicker call in the second quarter. What did you give him, a 9.5 for that one?

SG: To be fair Miller did get hit. Now, it wasn't quite as terrible as he made it look but that's the way punters are trained to act whenever they get contact. I did think his technique was excellent on the tuck and roll afterwards, so I think that score is appropriate [laughs]! Actually that what an important play because it allowed the Patriots to keep possession of the ball and they ended up scoring on a Corey Dillon three-yard touchdown to go up by two scores 14-0. So give Miller some credit; he did his job.

RRM: How much can we read into this victory? Are the Super Bowl Patriots back?

SG: I think they are certainly getting very close to that point. Many of their players are getting healthy and back to full strength, and their young defensive backs are getting more experience and gaining more confidence. The Patriots are playing really solid football right now as we head toward the playoff stretch, and if they continue to play this way for the next couple of weeks I would say there isn't anybody better than them heading into the playoffs and they have a great chance of winning the whole thing again.

RRM: I'll ask the question everyone wants to know the answer to; what did the Chargers' defense do to finally stop the Colts that the Patriots were unable to do?

SG: From what it looked like to me (and you can't see the full field on TV) the Chargers were doing the same kind of things the Patriots try to do to the Colts. They were trying to get really physical with their wide receivers on the outside, jamming them at the line of scrimmage and bumping them down the field, and then trying to get pressure up the middle and right into Peyton Manning's face. They were successful in doing that, and not many teams including the Patriots have been able to do that. When you get pressure on Manning up the middle and force him to leave the pocket he definitely is not as good a quarterback as when he can stand back there and pick out his targets.

RRM: While the '72 Miami Dolphins are ecstatic since their status as the last undefeated NFL team will remain intact, does this loss by the Colts damage their psyche at all heading into the postseason?

SG: I don't think this loss and losing their undefeated season is going to hurt them that much. It will be a little bit of a wake up call for them, but their sights are set on finally reaching the Super Bowl this season. I think what lost them this game more than anything was their defense. They allowed San Diego to run the ball for over 200 yards, and that's with LaDainian Tomlinson getting hurt during the game. Everybody has been talking about how the Colts' defense is so much improved this year, and while it is better it still is not one of the elite defenses in the NFL.

RRM: For those younger fans that might not be aware of it this is the 20th anniversary for the 1985 Patriots team that was the first club in the history of the franchise to reach the Super Bowl. I understand that the club is organizing a reunion of the team for the last home game of the season?

SG: Yes, we got official word from the Patriots last week that there are about 40 of the players coming in and they'll have a special dinner for us on Saturday night at the stadium. Then we're all going to get introduced at halftime at the Miami game on January 1. I'm really looking forward to seeing a lot of my old teammates; it should be a lot of fun.

RRM: With a meaningless Monday Night Football encounter with the Jets the day after Christmas next up on the Patriots' calendar do you feel Bill Belichick will begin resting his players for the postseason?

SG: I expect Bill Belichick will be starting everyone but then you will see some of the older veterans coming out of the game after halftime. Tom Brady will probably play three quarters and then we'll see Doug Flutie in at quarterback. I really don't think Belichick or his players know how to take things easy. They are there to play football and they are there to win and none of them want to sit down and watch the game from the sideline, and they probably won't sit down until somebody makes them.

RRM: With absolutely nothing to play for how does Bill Belichick keep his players motivated for this one? Does that fact that is a Monday night, national TV game help at all?

SG: I think Indianapolis showed on Sunday that it is not easy to stay motivated when you have everything locked up. This might very well turn into a preseason game where some of the starters only play a half or into the third quarter. It is hard to get people's minds in the game when you are playing it that way, so it will be interesting to me to see how this will play out. It being Monday Night Football will help a little bit, and there should be a little more excitement because of that. But it will be a challenge, no doubt about it.

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 28-0 whitewashing of Tampa Bay in Week #14?

SG: When you score 28 points on offense and don't give up any on defense it's hard to be too critical, so in the spirit of giving at Christmas I'm giving out all A's for this one. We should also give out some game balls, and one has to go to David Givens (six catches for 137 yards and a touchdown). It's amazing how much he's taken for granted around here. Deion Branch is the name people always associate with the Patriots' receiving corp, but Givens always seems to be the guy that comes up with the big play. The offense really suffered when he was out, so it is good to see him back and healthy. On defense Vince Wilfork deserves a game ball. I thought he had his best game of the season. He did a great job plugging up that middle and really neutralizing that Tampa Bay running attack. Merry Christmas every one!

Grogan's Grades for Week #14

Offense: A
Defense: A
Overall: A

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]