By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
September 26, 2006

No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski not at the start of the team's OTA's today
NFL notes: Don't be surprised if Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers rise up for Patriots
New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates

R.R. Marshall: Steve, there aren't a lot of smiles out there in Patriots Nation after their club fell from the ranks of the unbeaten after a 17-7 loss to the Denver Broncos. What went wrong Sunday night?

Steve Grogan: It's not so much what went wrong as what didn't go right! I thought the Patriots played pretty well on defense, but on offense it looked like they were just grasping at straws seeing what might work and they never got into any kind of rhythm offensively. Apparently the game plan they had didn't match up too well against what the Denver defense was doing to them. When that happens you wind up doing a little bit of everything until you find something that works, but the Patriots never found anything that worked. I think they didn't have a very good game plan and that goes back to the coaches. The Patriots converted only 4 of 16 third downs and I thought that was mostly due to their inability to decide what they wanted to do on first and second down to get into some short, manageable third down situations which you have a better chance of converting. Denver is certainly a playoff-caliber team that has always given the Patriots problems because for whatever reason they match up well against them. I guess we should be grateful that they aren't in the same division.

RRM: The Patriots ran a lot of plays with a two tight end set with Ben Watson and Daniel Graham, so they obviously wanted to utilize them quite a bit. Unfortunately it didn't seem to be very successful?

SG: That set works really well if you are running the ball effectively out of it, but they weren't able to run the football. That really hampers your ability to throw the ball out of that set because the defense doesn't have to respect the run. Denver also has very mobile linebackers and they were able to cover both Watson and Graham and keep them from doing much damage. If they had been able to run the football it might have been different, but once Corey Dillon went out of the game the running game disappeared with him.

RRM: Are you concerned about Dillon being out for an extended period and the effect it would have on the offense?

SG: Corey Dillon's absence was very noticeable because when he left the game with an injury that put the big burden on Laurence Malroney. He has a world of talent but he's a rookie and still learning what's going on. I think they will be able to survive Dillon's absence if it turns out he's gone for a stretch much better than they did a year ago. Maroney will get the bulk of the work and they will mix Kevin Faulk in there a little more instead of being used on just third down. They also have Heath Evans playing fullback, and remember he came in last year after they picked him from Miami and he played a little at tailback for them and showed some flashes.

RRM: As one-sided as this contest eventually became I felt that if Troy Brown had been able to haul in that long pass off of the flea flicker this game might have gone down to the wire the way both defenses were playing. Do you agree?

SG: Denver got two big plays out of their wide receiver Jevon Walker that went for touchdowns. If Troy Brown had caught that ball would that have put them back in the game? Maybe. The thing is he didn't catch it and they didn't have any answers after that. That's kind of been the recurring theme since the season started; the defense gives up a couple of big plays and the offense has to counter. Fortunately in the first couple of games it didn't cost them, but the offense couldn't generate any big plays against the Denver defense and it ended up costing them a home loss.

RRM: The media made a big issue of Brady's demeanor each time he left the field after an unsuccessful series. His head was down and his shoulders were slumped, as if he was personally taking the responsibility for the failure of his offense. Is that how you saw it as well?

SG: I think they are reading way too much into that. Brady's the kind of kid that when things aren't going well when he's going off the field with his head down he's thinking about what's taking place and what he needs to do. That entire issue is way overblown. Many of the TV media people were saying that he was missing a lot of his throws and had a bad game and man, I didn't see that at all! When you throw for 300 yards and you have to throw it 55 times you're making a lot of your throws. What's happening out there right now isn't his fault and he knows that, but he is such a competitor he wants to get his offense going.

Right now Brady's getting a lot of pressure in his face and the first two weeks they had a running game that took some of the pressure off the passing game (although he was still getting hit a lot). He got hit a lot Sunday night, and this time there was no running game (only 50 yards rushing). When you're throwing 55 times a night and you are getting knocked down on half of them it rattles your aim a little bit, and to be honest with you they just aren't getting guys wide open as they have in the past. They definitely have a lot of work to do.

RRM: John Madden pointed out that Tom Brady is only the third quarterback in NFL history to lead the league in passing and not have his two top receivers return the following season. As a quarterback, is it that crucial an issue?

SG: I think it is. I think Tom Brady is still trying to find himself with these new guys. I thought the rookie Chad Jackson being out with that bad hamstring hurt them, because it looked like they had a little something going last week and now he's out again. Doug Gabriel had a nice home debut grabbing four balls on that scoring drive, so maybe that's a combination that can become something in time. It just takes time for any quarterback to get used to working with a new receiver, and Brady is trying to get used to a whole bunch of them. But the timing isn't there right now because they haven't worked together that long and it is not an easy task, believe me.

RRM: What's your opinion of John Madden? A lot of people think he has lost his fastball so to speak; do you still enjoy his commentary?

SG: He repeats a lot of things Al Michaels says, and he also repeats a lot of things he has just said. Other than that he can be entertaining. He does come out with some good stuff occasionally. He still knows the game inside and out, but I guess you could say he's working on his slider now instead of his fastball [laughs]!

RRM: I think a lot of fans are confused right now about just how good their team really is. The Patriots' two wins were close games against nonplayoff teams and now Denver handles them easily. What is your perspective on where this team is right now?

SG: I think that's a natural reaction because it is early in the season. Particularly at home when you play against a team of Denver's caliber you expect to play with some emotion and enthusiasm and at least hang in there and battle them to the end, and I didn't see that from the Patriots' offense. They just didn't seem to be really into the game. I think right now this Patriots' team is trying to find themselves offensively; they're trying to find their identity. They have a great quarterback but they're trying to find out what else they have and who they can attack with.

RRM: Is it still too early to say that Patriot' management made a mistake letting both Deion Branch and David Givens go, or will that be a determination best made later in the season?

SG: I think the jury is still out on that. You have to make that judgment later in the season after we see how everything shakes out. I still feel they have enough talent at wide receiver to generate an effective offense, I really do.

RRM: If these wide receivers continue to remain either hurt or ineffectual what is the alternative?

SG: There really isn't one. I think eventually some of these new faces in the wide receiver corp will step up. I think once Brady gets used to playing with some of them the timing will be better and the throws will be on time and where they need to be. If you think about it that would have to be the case because there are no great players sitting out there on the street corner waiting out there for someone to call them.

RRM: Finding someone off the street, you mean like how the Seattle Seahawks found Deion Branch off the back streets of Boston?

SG: Of course, there are always exceptions [laughs]!

RRM: Do you happen to know what Stanley Morgan is doing nowadays?

SG: I don't think Stanley would be the answer right now. I'm willing to come back if they need me, though.

RRM: For the second straight week Pats rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a field goal attempt blocked. As they say once is an occurrence, twice is a trend?

SG: I thought the kick that was blocked a week ago looked to me like it was due to poor protection. This time it looked like his plant foot slipped and the kick came out low. Those are excuses, and you can't do that in the National Football League. They have to find a way to protect him and he has to find a way to keep that foot from slipping and get the ball through the uprights. The fans and media are not going to give him any benefit of the doubt because he is replacing a local hero in Adam Vinatieri, so he has to get things figured out in a hurry.

RRM: This was only the second home game of the season and the turf in the center of the field at Gillette Stadium is already a mess. Does the New England Revolution do that big a job tearing up the field with their soccer cleats or does the team like keeping the field that way as a homefield advantage?

SG: I'm not sure why they want it way because I don't think that helps anybody. When you can get any decent footing your offensive linemen can't get set and their kicker couldn't get any footing as we saw. I don't understand why they haven't gone in and torn that up and put sod back down in those areas; it just doesn't make any sense to me.

RRM: I have a very ominous feeling about the game this week against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that is simply loaded with offensive weapons. Please tell me I'm wrong?

SG: I think this is going to be a big challenge for the Patriots. Their offense is struggling and the defense is going up against one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL. I know Cincinnati had a big win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday, and the Steelers are another team that is struggling on offense. They didn't put any points on the board against Jacksonville a week ago and they had a hard time moving the ball against the Bengals, so the Patriots aren't the only quality team having trouble doing that. The Bengals scare you with their quarterback Carson Palmer and their two wideouts in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh that can make some big plays, and this secondary has been giving up big plays. I think their best bet would be to focus on shutting down their passing game and make you beat them with the run, which is sort of the opposite of the way they usually play.

The only thing you can look at as possible advantage for the Patriots going into this game is that the Bengals just played their biggest rival in the Steelers and got into a really physical game and they came away with an emotional win on the road. That raises the possibility of a little letdown, and right now that's the only thing you can hope for.

RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 17-7 home loss to Denver in Week #3?

SG: I thought the Patriots' defense played a pretty decent game against the Broncos. They gave up a couple of big pass plays for the second week in a row which was disturbing, but other than that they shut the Broncos' offense down pretty well. The second touchdown by Walker was a really poor play by the Patriots safety James Sanders. He had the wrong cut off angle on that play and it allowed Walker to cut back towards the middle of the field instead of forcing him to the sideline. You just can't allow that to happen. The offense was pretty lousy and gets a failing grade for the week for the reasons we discussed. If they expect to stay in games they are going to need to figure out a way to put some points on the board and quickly. The coaches have to figure out what the players they have can do, and do well, and try to design an offensive game plan that will allow them to do those things. The sky hasn't fallen yet and Chicken Little isn't running around squawking, but he is warming up because it sure is getting pretty dark overhead.

Grogan's Grades for Week #3

Offense: F
Defense: B
Overall: C-