By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
September 25, 2007

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, after a poor first quarter the Patriots got their act together and scored their now customary 38 points to down division rival Buffalo 38-7. I guess it says a lot about the disparity in talent when the Pats only have to play three quarters to register a victory?

Steve Grogan: It wasn't quite that way, but the Patriots did start off slowly. They had a couple of bad days in practice during the week which is somewhat typical when you play a team of Buffalo's caliber. Then when the Bills lost their starting quarterback they probably started thinking they had this one locked up and they could just sleepwalk through this game. It really took them until about halftime before they finally woke up and started playing up to their capability, and then they just dominated play the rest of the way.

RRM: You don't often see Bill Belichick using both of his challenges in the first quarter as he did on Tom Brady's fumble on the goal line and then on whether Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards right foot was on the end line. If either call had gone the Patriots' way maybe the game would have been over even earlier?

SG: For a head coach to burn both of his challenges that early and that close together and not get either one of them kind of takes the wind out of your sails. Usually Belichick won't challenge a call unless he thinks he has a pretty good chance of winning, but in this case he didn't get either of them. You knew the Patriots were a better team than Buffalo and you knew they were eventually going to wake up and do something to win the ball game. It just took them longer than it should have.

RRM: You mentioned the sloppy week of practice put in by the Patriots. Does that always translate into a slow start like we witnessed in this game?

SG: There are times when you have a bad week of practice and you start thinking you're in for a lot of trouble this week, and then you go out and play a great game. Then there are other times you go out and you look like the Patriots did in the first quarter on Sunday. Reports are Bill Belichick rode his team extremely hard in practice and I think he did that because he knows what he has in this team, that he has something special, and he doesn't want to let anything get away from them that shouldn't get away from them. They shouldn't let Buffalo even be close to them, and I think he was probably a little worried about that.

RRM: Is it going to be harder for Belichick to keep his team focused if they continue to blow teams out week after week?

SG: I don't think so because they have a good nucleus of veteran players on both offense and defense that will not allow any of that to happen, especially with the younger guys. They will use that leadership ability to keep everybody focused on the next opponent week after week.

RRM: After the Bills starting quarterback J.P. Losman was knocked out of the game reserve quarterback Trent Edwards came in and all he did in his first drive as an NFL quarterback was take his team 80 yards for a touchdown. That has to be a rarity; you certainly didn't lead the Patriots to a touchdown on your first drive as a rookie quarterback, did you?

SG: Actually I think we went down for a score on my first drive and it came against the Jets. I threw a touchdown pass to Russ Francis if I'm not mistaken. It's funny but the first time you go out there as a rookie quarterback you're a little nervous but you're not thinking too much about what's going on so you play nice and relaxed. Then the next time you go out you're saying to yourself I have to do a little more and you start thinking too much and you end up in trouble. I thought the Patriots' defense rallied themselves together after giving up that touchdown. They were probably thinking they let the kid quarterback embarrass them on his first drive and they weren't going to let it happen again.

RRM: Does it take a full series for an NFL defense to adjust to a change in quarterbacks during a game?

SG: It's just like when they change the pitcher in baseball. You're not sure what to expect; you're not sure what he can do and how you need to stop it. After you see him for a drive or so you get a feel for his style and it makes your job easier. You could see the Bills had to simplify the offense for him, and I think they had a pretty simplified game plan coming into the game anyway because you don't want to do too many things to put yourself in bad positions against a tough Patriots' defense. If you get too complicated and spread people out too much all of a sudden you've got blitzers running free all over the place, and you don't want that to happen.

RRM: The hit applied by Vince Wolfork that knocked Losman out of the game didn't get a lot of attention locally, but I dare say if the situation had been reversed and Tom Brady had been on the receiving end we'd still be talking about it. Was it a dirty play?

SG: Are you kidding? People would be screaming bloody murder and would want to hang the guy from the nearest tree. It was hard to see on the replay but Wolfork did get hit from behind, and while I didn't think he needed to stick his elbow out there as he came down I don't believe it was intentional on his part. He probably could have fallen on his hand or his shoulder and not run into the Bills' quarterback, but his elbow made contact with Losman's knee and that's what caused the problem. You can't hit a quarterback low any longer and that's what drew the flag.

RRM: When a quarterback gets knocked out on a blow to the knee it's usually because he makes contact with another player's helmet. I don't think I've ever seen an elbow do that much damage before?

SG: It's a little unusual, but anytime you get a hit to the side of the knee like that and hit it right at the joint area your knee is not made to go in that direction. That's why I started wearing a knee brace later in my career, and looking back I wish I had done it earlier in my career. I think all quarterbacks should be wearing a brace on their forward knee because you always have somebody rolling into it as you step into your throw. I know it certainly saved me a couple of times after I started wearing it, and it probably could have saved Losman last Sunday.

RRM: Your good friend Stanley Morgan was finally recognized this year by being voted into the Patriots Hall of Fame, but if Randy Moss keeps scoring touchdowns like this I'm afraid his season-record for receiving touchdowns will be broken by midseason! But I guess that's good news for Patriots Nation?

SG: I'm sure Stanley understands that this is a pretty talented receiver that is out to break his record. That second touchdown he scored on the fly route deep down the sideline is a case in a point. There are not too many guys that have played this game that can be running the way he did, throw his hands up, and catch that ball that was a bit behind him while not breaking stride. He's just really something. Randy Moss is playing well and he's letting Tom Brady do things that he hasn't been able to do as a quarterback. He's never had anyone that can go down the field like Randy Moss can. We've heard for years that Tom Brady can't throw the deep ball. Well, you know what? He looks pretty good throwing the deep ball right now!

RRM: Some media mavens are saying that Tom Brady didn't need Randy Moss; it was Randy Moss that needed Tom Brady. Agree or disagree?

SG: I think that's actually a pretty accurate assessment. I think Randy Moss was at the point in his career where he needed someone like Tom Brady to rejuvenate him and show people he could still play. Tom Brady is going to win football games with whoever they put out there to catch the ball from him, period.

RRM: Laurence Maroney had a big game with over a 100 yards rushing against the Bills and looks to be fully recovered from his shoulder injury from last season. How did he look to you?

SG: He looked in peak form to me. It was nice to see the running game get cranked up on Sunday, and Maroney is starting to show the flashes of speed that we know he has. It's a nice combination between him and Sammy Morris. Maroney has the quick, blazing speed and Morris who just bangs it up in there. They both compliment each other perfectly, and they will give opposing defenses fits trying to defend against them.

RRM: Analyst Rich Gannon on the CBS telecast said Maroney's running style is too upright and that he's trying to alter it. Could you explain to us exactly what he means and how one goes about trying to change that?

SG: When you are fast like Maroney is you have a tendency to run more up and down because you run faster that way, but it also opens you up for more hits to your upper body. You'll hear them talk about running behind your pads and it means getting your head and shoulders forward so the first thing people are going to hit are your shoulder pads. That can be quite a change for some runners; some runners can't make that adjustment. It's like telling a sidearm quarterback that he has to start suddenly throwing the ball from over the top. It's very difficult to do right away, but as long as he's concentrating on it and knows he has to keep working on it he will eventually get to that point. But I don't think you want to change him too much because it could take away all that speed that he has.

RRM: Rodney Harrison is due to return to the team next week after serving his four-game suspension for the use of HGH. Do you think the report that surfaced last week indicating he had used the banned substance as far back as 2003 will further tarnish his reputation among New England fans?

SG: When the news first broke he said he used it to try and get back on the field, which I can understand. But if this report is accurate and he's been using it for other things over the years then I'm a little disappointed in him and I'm sure there are a lot of people out there that might change their opinion of him. Rodney Harrison is still a great football player and I'm not sure how many times he got it or what he was using it for, but if it was right before a playoff game and that was another only time maybe you'd give him a second pass, but I'd need more information. I do think people are beginning to have doubts on him because of this latest news.

RRM: What about among his teammates in the locker room? Will this diminish the respect they have for him?

SG: I don't think the players will talk about it amongst themselves and I don't think it will have any effect on him still being a leader in the locker room. Players understand that players are going to do whatever they can to stay good and remain good, and sometimes you don't want to know any more than that.

RRM: This week the Patriots head out to the Midwest for a Monday night battle with the Cincinnati Bengals. With the Bengals having dropped two of their first three games this has to be a big game for them considering the Pats are coming to town?

SG: This is a big game for the Bengals. Cincinnati has an offense that should be putting up 40 points a game like the Patriots are, so this could be a real shootout. They are only 1-2 so far like you mentioned and while their offense is playing well their defense is struggling. They gave up 51 points to the Browns and you wonder how that could happen because their head coach is Marvin Lewis is supposed to be a defensive specialist. I'm sure they'll have a tough week of practice and be on an emotional high to play the Patriots, but the way the Patriots are playing right now there aren't many teams in the league that have a chance against them. If you can hang with the Patriots you know you can play with the best, so I would expect Cincinnati to give them the best tussle they've had so far this year.

RRM: Bengals' quarterback Carson Palmer is considered among the elite class of quarterbacks in the NFL. Do you rate him on the level of a Brady or a Manning yet?

SG: I think he has some pretty good talent. He also has some very good receivers around him, and as we've been finding out a lot of quarterbacks can play when they've got great wide receivers to throw to. Tom Brady has gone from being a very good quarterback to being the best to maybe ever play the game because he's got better receivers to throw the ball to this year. Carson Palmer can throw the ball very well, but he also has some very talented receivers and that certainly helps.

RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 38-7 drubbing of the Bills?

SG: I'm going with an A- this week. I have to take off a little bit for that slow start, and hopefully they won't let that happen too many times this season. It was an overall A type of effort, but they just took awhile to get to it. Once again Wes Welker contributed a few catches and he's fun to watch because he's like a pinball out there, but I think Bill Belichick is going to have a little talk with him about the lateral that he threw to Randy Moss [laughs]! The Patriots' defense allowed only seven points to the Bills, and with Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour due back soon I think they are going to get even stronger because they have other players out there getting game time experience and they will be able to roll people in and out and give guys a rest during the game. That should make the defense that much better, and that should be scary thought for the rest of the NFL.

Right now the Patriots look extremely strong on both sides of the ball, with the only weakness so far being their punter Chris Hanson who did not punt the ball well against the Bills. But he's only punted the ball four times in three games so it's a little too soon to make a judgment. Other than that they are playing well on special teams and on offense and defense. This week should be a good test for them because the Bengals are in the top 25% in terms of talent in the NFL, and you find out a little more about yourself when you play a team like that. It should be a fun game to watch with a lot of offense and I'm looking forward to it.

Grogan's Grades for Game #3

Offense: A-
Defense: A-
Overall: A-