By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
December 05, 2006

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STEVE GROGAN ON PATRIOTS-LIONS ? GAME #12 with R.R Marshall R.R. Marshall: Steve, although the Patriots escaped with a 28-21 win against the lowly Detroit Lions on Sunday they looked flat as a pancake with their effort. Did you see the same thing we all did?

Steve Grogan: All week long the Patriots talked about not allowing a letdown to happen to them and then they came out and the team was flat, the crowd was flat, and the entire atmosphere was flat. That also had to be the worst broadcast of a football game I?ve watched in a long time. It wasn?t just the announcers, but also the director. The replays never came at the right time; it was just the worst! So between the team, the fans, and the broadcast being flat it was a long, long afternoon. You could just tell right from the start there wasn?t a lot of emotion from the Patriots. The Patriots did come from behind in the fourth quarter and did what they had to do to win, but it did not surprise me that they played like that because you could see it coming.

Right now penalties and turnovers are really hurting this team. Offensively they kind of sputtered and stopped and then started. Once they let Tom Brady go to the hurry up offense they looked like the Patriots of old, marching right down the field to put a score on the board. They have to stop committing penalties and turning the ball over, because if that had happened against a better team other than the Lions they wouldn?t have come away with a victory. Considering they turned the ball over five times against the Bears last week I was expecting a much sharper performance from them, and after what we all witnessed it was just very disappointing.

RRM: You just knew that Bill Belichick and his coaching staff were hammering home the point that despite Detroit?s 2-9 record they were not a team to be taken lightly. I guess it turned out to be a tough sell for the players?

SG: The coaches say that, the players say that to each other, and you work on it all week long but sometimes it just doesn?t work. I read in the papers last week how they were focusing on not letting this be a trap game, and yet it?s just human nature to look at a team like Detroit and say these guys aren?t very good. You start saying to yourself we?re going to go out and just go through the motions and we?ll wind up winning as usual. What you can?t convince yourself of in the back of your mind is that every team in the NFL has some pretty good players and they want to play well against the good teams like the Patriots. Detroit came out and played probably one of their better games of the year, and that?s what kept them in it for so long.

RRM: The thing I was most disappointed in was that the Patriots didn?t come out and seize control of the game at the start of the third quarter like they usually do. You would think after they had slept walked through most of the first half and yet somehow came away with the lead they would have been ready to play after that. Instead Detroit dominated that entire third quarter?

SG: It?s like the Patriots came out and said okay, we are where we need to be so we don?t have to work very hard. It?s just human nature not to be at your emotional peak when you are facing a team like the Lions, and fortunately the Patriots are good enough to overcome being that flat. But if it had been a halfway decent football team we?d be talking about what happened to them instead.

RRM: After turning the ball over five times against the Chicago Bears the Patriots added three more turnovers against the Lions on Sunday. How does Belichick get his players to start holding onto the football?

SG: You put a ball in their hands 24 hours a day. They eat with it in their hands and sleep with it in their hands, but you usually see that done at the lower levels. It?s really just a matter of concentration. Even the one Ben Watson fumbled in this game he had both hands on the ball as he started to the ground which is what you are supposed to do. Then he took one hand off to brace himself as he started to hit the ground and that?s when the ball came out. I think in general throughout the league there has been an emphasis on stripping the football. The first guy in is trying to make the tackle and the second guy in is trying to rip the ball out of the ballcarrier?s hands. Sometimes even the first guy in tries to rip the ball out and in some cases misses the tackle because he?s trying to do that, but there?s certainly been a concerted effort to play the game that way on defense in the NFL.

RRM: I?m sure you?ve heard this question before, if a team is doing so well with the hurry up offense why don?t they use it all the time?

SG: That?s actually a good question. Many times a defense plays more conservatively, plays more zone, and just drops back because everything is sped up on the field and they don?t have time to make all their calls on the field. That makes things a little easier for the offense to hurry up and throw the ball, and over the years a lot of teams have made that their primary offense and been very successful. The Buffalo Bills when Jim Kelly was there ran the hurry up offense pretty much the entire game but it does put a lot of pressure on your offensive linemen to keep that pace up, and those big chunky guys can have a hard time doing that the whole game.

RRM: I was curious to see how the Patriots? defense would play without Junior Seau. Even though Detroit didn?t generate a lot of rushing yards there were times when Kevin Jones found some running room inside against the Pats. Should that be an area of concern?

SG: They did have a few problems in that area but it was Mike Vrabel?s first game back at playing on the inside. I thought Vrabel made a couple of big plays and did a nice job overall, but when you switch positions like that it takes a few weeks to get your sea legs under you so to speak. It takes awhile to get that instinct back for playing inside, and fortunately for the Patriots they aren?t playing teams that will kill them running the ball inside. I really expect Vrabel to pull it together in a few weeks, but you do have to give him some time. Fortunately when he got hit in the head and had to leave the game it was very late in the game, if it had been early in the game they would have been up a creek.

RRM: Asante Samuel picked off another pass to give him a league-leading seven thefts this season. Can you spell s-a-l-a-r-y d-r-i-v-e?

SG: It?s amazing how players have great years when their contracts are running out. No wonder Vince Lombardi had all of his players on one-year contracts! Asante Samuel is doing a nice job right now at the corner position for the Patriots. He started to pick a couple off and that built his confidence, and playing corner has so much to do with confidence. Right now he?s not afraid to go for the ball and he?s going for it and catching it. With the state of the Patriots secondary they desperately need a steadying influence back there and Samuel has provided that for them.

RRM: Samuel stands only 5-10 and it seems more and more cornerbacks in the NFL are short in stature. Have you noticed that trend as well?

SG: It does seem that the corners keep getting smaller while the receivers keep getting bigger. Go figure that one out! You have more and more guys playing wide receiver that are 6-4 or better, and you never saw that in the past. If I had a 6-4 guy matched up on a 5-9 guy I know I?d throw it up there high and see who could jump the highest [laughs]!

RRM: The Patriots running attack really seemed to sputter once Laurence Maroney left the game in the first quarter. Have they become that dependent on him for their ground game?

SG: Once Maroney went out they really quit trying to run the football, and I?m not sure if it?s because Corey Dillon can?t handle the load himself any more or he?s banged up to the point where they only want to use him in short yardage and goal line situations. Patrick Pass who has been sitting around for half the season comes in and he turns it over, so it wasn?t a very productive ground game despite Dillon?s three rushing touchdowns. There just hasn?t been any consistency with their run offense, it was like okay, Maroney is hurt so let?s start throwing the ball all over the place again. It drives me crazy, it really does.

RRM: If you look hard enough there were some good things to take out of this game, like Tom Brady hooking up with wide receiver Reche Caldwell eight times for 112 yards. Has Brady finally found his go to receiver?

SG: At least on this particular Sunday afternoon he did. Detroit was playing some zone defenses that opened up the intermediate routes which the Patriots haven?t thrown a lot of for whatever reason. Brady seems to be becoming more comfortable with Caldwell, although on the interception he threw it appeared he expected one thing and Caldwell did something else. So there?s still a little bit of learning going on there but it was nice to see the Patriots being able to throw the ball down the field as much as they did in this game.

RRM: Apparently Brady actually showed Caldwell how to run the routes by running the patterns himself. Is that standard procedure for a quarterback?

SG: I heard that and I thought it was a good idea. If you show the receiver how to do it sometimes that beats just diagramming it on the blackboard. Until someone actually goes out on the field and says this is how I want it done they won?t do it exactly right. I?m sure Brady didn?t run the pattern at quite the speed Caldwell could do it, but he got his point across.

RRM: Somehow I just can picture you out on the practice field showing Stanley Morgan or Harold Jackson how to run a pass pattern?

SG: I guess I had smarter receivers and I didn?t have to do that for them [laughs]!

RRM: It had to open your eyes a bit to see Detroit quarterback Josh McCown playing at wide receiver for the Lions. If they had played three and four wide receiver sets in your day I can just see you lining up in the slot ready to head downfield!

SG: I probably would have had a lot more games played, that?s for sure! I actually played at wide receiver in a college all-star game my senior year but fortunately it didn?t give the Patriots any ideas about changing my position. Where?s the NFL going these days? They?re playing their second string quarterback at wide receiver while they?ve got a high round draft pick sitting on the bench. Go figure? To be honest McCown made a couple of nice catches, but I hope it doesn?t give Bill Belichick any ideas about having Matt Cassell running around out there catching balls.

RRM: After this sloppy effort will Bill Belichick make it harder for the players this week in practice?

SG: I think he?s going to have to. They?ve got a stretch of games coming up against teams that don?t have great records, and they have to get these problems straightened out and play well against them. Usually this is the time of year a head coach likes to ease off a bit and give his players a day off here and there, but after this game he can?t possibly do that now.

RRM: It?s official, Ohio State will meet Florida for the national championship in January. Should it have been Florida, or should it have been once beaten Michigan in the title game?

SG: That?s a tough one. Michigan dropped in the BCS rankings just because they didn?t play an extra game which Florida got to play because of their conference championship game. I think because Michigan had already played Ohio State and Florida had played a pretty tough schedule I think it was a pretty good move to put the Gators in the championship game. But I?m sure there are many that will disagree with me.

RRM: With situations like this happening seemingly every year the need for a playoff system becomes more and more evident in college football. Do you think we?ll ever see it?

SG: Somewhere way down the road that will happen eventually, but right now they are so concerned over not messing up the bowl system that you?re not going to see it for the near future anyway.

RRM: The Patriots get to escape the cold weather of New England for a warm afternoon in Miami this Sunday. What is your take on the game?

SG: For whatever reason Miami has matched up pretty well with the Patriots the past few years. Defensively they always play the Patriots tough and I expect this to be a pretty good battle. Hopefully this game against the Lions will serve as a wake up call for them on how to play against teams that don?t have a great record. Even though the Dolphins lost Sunday I?m sure their head coach Nick Saban is telling them that if they win their last four games a 9-7 record will get them into the playoffs, so they will be motivated.

I don?t think the hot weather in Miami is as a big an adjustment as many make it out to be. At this time of the year you are so beat up that when you go down to that warm weather and play on real grass it just feels really good to play in a place like that. It used to be that way for us anyway, but now that the Patriots practice inside all the time I don?t know how big a deal it really is.

RRM: What are Grogan?s grades for the lackluster 28-21 victory over the luckless Lions?

SG: I was really disappointed with the way the Patriots played after all the talk about correcting the mistakes the week before. The best I can do for this effort is only a C-. The offense was inconsistent and turned the ball over three times. Corey Dillon tied the team record with three touchdowns but outside of those three scores he didn?t have much of a day, and then there were all of those penalties besides.

I just didn?t get the feeling that the Patriots? defense controlled the flow of the game like they needed to. They picked off Detroit quarterback John Kitna three times but he also threw for over 300 yards against them. They did do a good job of neutralizing their big play receiver Roy Williams, but they let the Lions control the ball for long stretches of time and that wasn?t a good thing. Mike Vrabel turned in two key interceptions that helped turn things around for the Patriots, and if they didn?t force all of those Detroit turnovers things could have been disastrous. I expected the Patriots to be dominant in this game, but they didn?t dominate on either side of the ball. I just came away from this game with a bad taste in my mouth, and hopefully it gave the Patriots? players a bad taste in their mouths as well.

Grogan's Grades for Game #12

Offense: D+
Defense: C
Overall: C-