By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
September 11, 2007

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, a year ago at this time Patriots' fans were bemoaning the lack of wide receivers for Tom Brady to throw to. Now here it is a year later and Brady passes the Jets silly in a 38-14 laugher in the season-opener. I guess the new question becomes how is Brady going to keep all his new targets happy by getting then enough throws?

Steve Grogan: It's going to be tough, and hopefully they'll all understand there will be some games where they touch the ball and there will be others when they don't. Kevin Faulk was a huge part of their win in their third preseason game and it looked like he'd be a big part of the offense, and if you blinked you missed him being on the field Sunday. The Patriots offense has so many weapons right now it's nothing short of amazing when compared to a year ago. This receiving corp is so deep they released their leading receiver of a year ago in Reche Caldwell, and how many times do you see a playoff team do something like that? If this is a preview of what is to come this is going to be a fun offense to watch.

RRM: There was so much speculation regarding all the baggage Randy Moss was bringing to this close-knit Patriots' team, but much like the situation with Corey Dillon it appears it won't be a factor in New England. Is that what winning does?

SG: Moss certainly made everyone forget about all that stuff for the time being anyway. It's something about playing for a winning team, playing for a team that has some established veterans that can police the locker room that makes a guy like that want to be a part of it. What he did against the Jets was extremely impressive, and with him on the field now after not seeing him the entire preseason I don't know how you stop this offense.

RRM: The other knock on Moss was that he hasn't aged well the last few years and wasn't the deep threat he once was. I guess after making nine grabs for 183 yard including a 51-yard touchdown where he took on triple coverage I guess that theory can be laid to rest as well? SG: Even if he isn't the Randy Moss of five years ago he's still one of the best around, and anyone that can catch nine balls for that many yards you have to be pretty darn good. Like you mentioned when you run past triple coverage and score a touchdown going away you're a pretty special athlete.

He kind of coasted into the endzone and it looked like they still had a shot at him after he caught that ball, but he was still pulling away from them while he was coasting. He's going to be impressive, there's no question about that. If they want to start doubling and tripling him they've got some other guys that can do some damage.

RRM: One of those other guys was Wes Welker who caught six passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. It appears he has aptly taken over Troy Brown's role as the inside receiver in the slot, as he had several clutch catches (along with one drive-killing drop) in his first game with New England?

SG: Welker is going to be an important piece of this offense. He is perfectly made for the role they have for him, and although I don't think he will be able to play defense like Troy Brown did he will certainly be able to get open and make some big plays for them. He is going to do some good things for them, and it seemed like he was the most comfortable of the new receivers because Brady was throwing to him early in the game. Then Brady found Moss a few times and discovered he liked throwing to the big, tall guy that runs really fast and he forgot about Welker!

RRM: Tom Brady could have played this game in a tuxedo because the Jets hardly laid a finger on him the entire game. Is this Patriots' offensive line underrated?

SG: I think what you saw on Sunday was that the Patriots have a pretty decent offensive line. They did a wonderful job protecting Brady; I think he only went to the ground one time that I remember. Logan Mankins, Stephen Neal, Dan, Koppen, Nick Kazur, and Matt Light aren't mentioned that often but they have formed a pretty impressive unit and have to be considered one of the better offensive lines in the league. The other factor is teams are now afraid to blitz the Patriots because Randy Moss and Donté Stallworth can just run by them, so it the defense starts blitzing people you are going to see the long ball even more than you saw it on Sunday. The Jets were afraid to bring any pressure and the Patriots went down the field and beat then anyway! Having those two guys on the outside is going to open up everything else, and it's going to be a lot of fun to watch.

RRM: Asante Samuel returned from his holdout and even thought he didn't start the game saw considerable playing time. It just proves my point, who needs the NFL preseason?

SG: If a guy is ready to play it doesn't matter if he's been there two days, two weeks, or two months, Bill Belichick is going to put him on the field if he'll help him win. If you've been around for awhile and especially with the all offseason work they players do nowadays it doesn't take you long to come back. Samuel got out there for a good stretch and did a pretty nice job.

RRM: Did you find it interesting that Samuel didn't play for the first four plays and then stayed out there for most of the game?

SG: Exactly. I guess the Patriots really showed him by sitting him for four plays, didn't they [laughs]?

RRM: Some of the details of Samuel's contract leaked out. Apparently he won't be franchised again if he participates in over 60% of his team's defensive snaps or if the team wins 12 or more games. You have to like his chances of reaching those incentives?

SG: I think that's fair to him. Those are reachable goals, and the 12-win provision keeps them from not putting on the field so he doesn't reach the 60% participation clause. Of course the big thing for them is to work out some kind of long term deal so he can come back here and play.

RRM: Jets fans showed their true colors when they cheered/jeered Chad Pennington after he limped to the bench after getting wrapped up in a pile after a New England sack. Aren't you glad you didn't play in New York?

SG: It's unfortunate when that happens, not only in New York but other NFL cities where the quarterback has been embattled and not had the kind of success the fans expect him to have. It's not right to treat a player that's trying his hardest that way, but unfortunately it's the nature of the game. I think they are a little early in the process in New York for the fans to give up on their quarterback so soon. I really thought it was uncalled for, and I'm glad Phil Simms said something about it.

RRM: Ellis Hobbs' 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half effectively broke the Jets back in this game but there is a reason that record had not been broken for eons. YOU AREN'T SUPPOSED TO RETURN A KICK THAT IS EIGHT YARDS DEEP!!

SG: Normally you would say if you are less than four yards deep in the end zone but it's a fairly line drive kick it's okay to bring it out, but anything more than that take a knee. You could just hear the Patriots' coaches yelling no, no, no, oh; go, go, go! It was a great play by Hobbs but he got lucky. He'd better not try that very often because as good as is he is returning kicks he'll get his team in trouble more often that naught doing that.

RRM: About the only thing that went wrong for the Patriots was Matt Cassel dropping a snap on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal attempt that cost his team three points. Cassel spent the rest of the game on the bench with punter Chris Hanson taking over as the holder, but is it tough to make a switch to a different holder in midgame like that?

SG: If you've been doing the holding on kicks for awhile like Hanson has done then it's no big deal to switch in the middle of a game. Cassel I'm sure is disappointed because he lost his chance to be on the field a few times a game, and now it looks like he'll be back on the sidelines with a clipboard.

RRM: I'm sure that's something as a former NFL holder you can relate to?

SG: Absolutely. I've been there, done that! It was my rookie year with the Patriots in 1975 and it was my first time as a holder and I dropped the snap and that was the end of that. They found a punter who could do it better than me, and since there are no such things as second chances in the NFL I never did it again. I remember at the time I was thinking this would have at least allowed me to be a part of the game and after that I figured I'd be saddled on the bench for years. Instead Jim Plunkett got hurt soon after that and suddenly I was playing, but I don't think that is what is going to happen to Matt Cassel because they aren't getting close enough to Brady to even touch him.

RRM: Apparently Richard Seymour won't be immediately missed at defensive tackle or at fullback in goal line situations, as Junior Seau took over and plowed out some room for Heath Evans to score a touchdown. Why does Bill Belichick favor using defensive players in the backfield as opposed to say an offensive lineman that are proficient at blocking?

SG: I think they only had a couple of tight ends active for the game, so Mike Vrabel filled in at tight end and Junior Seau came in to block in that short yardage situation. The reason they don't use offensive linemen is that linebackers are better overall athletes than offensive linemen. As a result they give you more options. If you have a big offensive lineman back there at fullback the defense knows he probably isn't going to get the ball and he's not going to be used as a receiver. But if you put a guy like Seau back there that's an athlete they have to respect because of what he can do. On that touchdown he just threw his body in midair to take out a defender, and it looked like he really enjoyed playing on the other side of the ball.

RRM: CBS was nice enough to show a flashback of your game against the Jets in 1979 where you bombed them into submission 56-3 with a still-team record five TD passes. I guess Brady and you have something in common, beating up on the Jets!

SG: I must have left the room and missed that one. That was a day when you had to wonder what their defensive coordinator was thinking. He just kept playing single coverage on Stanley Morgan and Harold Jackson and they just kept blowing past their corners, and all I had to do was throw the ball downfield for scores. I was thinking about that when Brady hit Moss on the long bomb and also how people always said Brady can't throw the deep ball. I think we are going to find out he can throw the deep ball, he just hasn't had anyone to run down the field and throw it to. We will see some more long throws for him from now on, you can count on that.

RRM: This is the first chance I've gotten to talk to you this season so I have to ask you about Rodney Harrison's 4-game suspension for using HGH. Despite his popularity do you think this will forever tarnish his reputation among Patriots' fans?

SG: I guess I would say I was surprised when I heard the news, but I wasn't shocked. Because the money has gotten so big with today's players and they want to stay around as long as they can they are going to do anything they can to stay on the field. In his case I don't think it was something Rodney was doing a long time but he needed to get back on the field after his injury. He needed not only the income but also the rush that comes from being a part of the whole thing. He knows his career is coming to an end and he figured he could do it without getting caught and get back quicker, but it all came out in public. It's unfortunate but it's the nature of the sport today largely due to the tremendous amount of money involved. In my day you just took six more aspirin instead of just two, but now they have all this other good stuff that helps you get back quicker.

I don't think this will hurt his reputation with the home fans. I think the fact that he admitted he did it to try and get back on the field will make people look at it a little differently than if he was using it to try to improve his performance. He just wanted back on the field, and I think the fans can relate to that and let him serve his suspension and then let him get back to playing football for this team.

RRM: The Patriots will face a big name opponent this Sunday in the form of the San Diego Chargers. Are you expecting another barnburner like their playoff game from last year?

SG: It should be a much better game than we saw against the Jets because the Chargers are a far more talented team than New York. The Patriots will be at home for their season opener, it will be under the lights on national television so there will be a great atmosphere at Gillette Stadium. I just think the Chargers will be getting used to a lot of new things with a new coaching staff and based on what I saw in their game against the Bears they won't be up to the task.

RRM: I imagine the game plan will be pretty much the same; stop LaDainian Tomlison first and force their young quarterback Philip Rivers to beat you?

SG: I would think so. Rivers is a good quarterback but I don't think he's one of those upper echelon guys yet, in my mind anyway. I'd try to take away LaDainian and see if they can beat you with their other people. The other part of the story will be how this revised New England offense will do against a very strong San Diego defense. The Jets aren't necessarily one of the top defenses in the league so this will be a great test for the Patriots' offense.

RRM: Isn't it a little too early in the season to have a game of this magnitude?

SG: It's early in the season so a loss isn't going to ruin the season for either team, but I think it's nice to have a good test like this early one. That way you'll know where you have to go after this one. Then you get another major test at midseason with the Colts and you'll see how far you've progressed, and then you prepare yourself to roll into the playoffs.

RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the season-opening 38-14 demolition of the Jets?

SG: I'm going to give them an A, and the only thing that kept me from giving out an A+ was Matt Cassel dropping that snap on the field goal attempt. I was impressed with this Patriots team before the season started; I'm even more impressed with it after their first game. Defensively they did so many great things like pressuring Jets quarterback Chad Pennington. Jarvis Green and Mike Vrabel each had a couple of sacks. Green is a good football player that has been stuck behind some other great football players like Richard Seymour. Now with Seymour out for the first six games Green has a chance to really get his name out there and he did a great job in this game, so I will expect his fine play to continue. They've got so much talent on both sides of the ball that it's scary. Now let's see them use it against one of the elite teams in the NFL.

Grogan's Grades for Game #1

Offense: A
Defense: A
Overall: A


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