By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall - Presented By Frank 106.3 Frank FM
January 06, 2010

Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower returning to practice field an encouraging sign
Why was Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy doing pushups at a bowling alley?
Patriots owner Robert Kraft owns no concerns that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are missing OTAs
New NFL policy lets players who don’t want to stand for anthem stay in locker room
Former Patriots rip NFL’s new anthem policy

MB: I think the loss of Wes Welker is the biggest blow, other than Tom Brady, the Patriots could sustain this week. Do you agree?

SG: Yes, I'd agree. He's really been the focus of their offense and it a shame to see a kid that works so hard and has done so much for this team to just have something like this happen on a fluke. He wasn't hit, he just made a cut and blew his knee out. Unfortunately, if that's not bad enough, he may miss most if not all of next season too.

MB: To see him on the sidelines obviously upset and crying it just breaks your heart. Do the Patriots have anyone to step up and try to fill those shoes?

SG: Well, I think that Julian Edleman showed yesterday that he is a similar type of player. He played in the slot, he had ten catches yesterday, he's a quick scatterbug kind of guy - but you don't try to replace a Wes Welker. You just try to find someone who can come close to what he can do and I think Edleman will be that guy. I think it'll also be the tight ends who will take up some of that slack because they threw more balls to the tight ends yesterday and got in some double tight end formations. They've got the talent out there to move the ball, and as long as Tom Brady pulling the trigger they'll be fine.

MB: Well all the Monday morning quarterbacks out there were suprised to even see them in the game. I think most people thought Brady would sit out. What do you think about that Steve? Would that have been smarter, in retrospect yes, but were you surprised to see Welker and Brady get playing time?

SG: No, I wasn't surprised. You heard all week that the Colts and the Saints. Two teams with the best records in football were not going to play their people and there were arguments about whether they should or shouldn't, and what happened to Wes Welker is a perfect example of why people don't play their starters. At the same time, going into the playoffs you want to maximize your momentum going in and you want your guys playing well, and I think that the Colts and Saints sitting their starters and losing the last couple games don't have that momentum. It's football, you play your people and you do the best you can and injuries are going to occur. You just hope they don't happen to you and unfortunately they did happen to the Patriots.

MB: I was surprised to see Brady go in the third quarter, but was that to get some snaps in with Edleman?

SG: I think that was probably it. I thought Brady played more than what I was expecting him to play yesterday and that was a risk or gamble that Belichick was willing to take to make sure they are ready to go next week in the playoffs.

MB: This was the first week Brady changes his clothes and splits before saying anything to anybody. He was totally silent in the locker room. Was he angry because the last play he was in on was a pick, is there anyway of knowing what he was upset about?

SG: I don't think there is anyway of knowing what he was upset about. I think it was probably the fact that they took him out of the game late when they still had the chance to win. He's a competitor, he hates losing and he probably thinks he should have stayed in the game and tried to win it.

MB: Let's talk about the actual matchup. This week's game was meaningless, win or lose. Next week they have to win, could they have drawn a tougher matchup than the Baltimore Ravens?

SG: Right now I don't think I'd want to play the Jets after watching them last night. Out of the two of them I think the Ravens are the best matchup for the Patriots right now. In fact, the Ravens are not the dominant defense they have been in the past. They still have a young quarterback that's playing okay, but not as well as he did his rookie year. I think they match up pretty well against this team. The Patriots secondary still looked a little suspect yesterday. They gave up a lot of passing yards and big plays, and Baltimore doesn't really throw the ball that well, so that's good. They do run it pretty well, and the Patriots defense has had some trouble stopping the run so that may be their main focus come Sunday afternoon.

MB: Belichick has a decent track record when facing a team for the second time, but what is the number one thing that concerns you? The first time the Patriots played the Ravens back in the beginning of the season, Baltimore had a great offense. What happened to that offense and what is the number one thing about them that concerns you?

SG: I really haven't seen them play that much and I haven't studied them to find out what's gone wrong with them lately. They're just not a team that scares you anymore. It used to be that if you could put 14 or 16 points on the board, you've played well against these guys. I don't see Baltimore playing that kind of defense right now. So yesterday's game was not a total indication because you had a lot of defenseive players for the Patriots that were out with injuries that should be back. I think our defense can play well enough against the Baltimore offense that they shouldn't have much of a problem.

MB: Isn't this the time of the season when we should be running on all cylinders, and what are we, 3-3?

SG: Yes but we are 8-0 at home and that's always a big thing in the playoffs. We're playing at home in the fist round and that's a good thing.

MB: Something I've been wanting to ask you ever since the last time we spoke was about the decision by the Colts coach to give up that game and throw away the perfect season. I get it, the Super Bowl is more important, but every player on that team has got to be livid. Can they be the team they were mid-season having gone through what they've gone through in the last few games? And how would you have felt as a player if the coach made a move like that?

SG: As a player I would be upset. I would have wanted to go for the 16-0 perfect season, and as we talked about before I think you have to have a little bit of momentum going into the playoffs. These guys have had no momentum, and its hard to turn it off and then turn it back on this time of year. They've done that in the past in Indianapolis. One time it worked, most of the time it dosen't work when they sit their starters down this late in the season so I'd be worried about getting my players back up and ready to play. It looked like they hadn't even talked to their player about this happening. Maybe if they had sat down and had a team meeting and said 'This is why we're going to do this,' the players would have understood. But it looked to me like they were just yanking players out of the game and didn't worry about winning the game and that seemed to upset the players a bit.

MB: You could see it in the press conference after the game with Peyton Manning. He was seething, but at the same time didn't want to seem like he was going against the coach because he realizes he's the team leader. But on the other hand I'm sitting there thinking that this guy is as mad as ever. These guys are professionals. They're competitors. They want to play. In my opinion that takes every ounce of steam out of that engine.

SG: Yes, I think they'll have a hard time getting back to where they were, that mid season form. Its just not going to happen.

MB: I think if they could do it again Steve I think everyone in the Colts organization would turn the wheels back. Not the GM, he says thats the way he wanted it, though maybe with truth serum he might admit that. I think after Goodell's phone call he would have changed his mind, so much so that the compitition commitee is now trying to figure out a way to make teams play.

SG:I would have been really upset if they didn't let me go for that kind of record. Like I said when you're a football player you want to play. Let the chips fall as they may and if you get hurt, you get hurt. A lot of times people get hurt more by playing "half-assed" than by playing full speed, and that's kind of the way the Colts have been playing. A half effort.

MB: One of the great things about the Patriots has been their ability as a team for guys to step up, to fill in those gaps when guys get hurt. You're going to need guys like Faulk and Edelman to fill those holes. One of the question marks all season long seems to have been Lawrence Maroney. How big a role does this guy play in the sucess of this team heading into the playoffs?

SG: I don't know if you can say that right now. The Patriots have three runningbacks: Maroney, Taylor and Sammy Morris that have all shown flashes of being pretty good ball carriers, so I don't know who'll get the majority of the carries right now. That's a good problem to have I guess, that they have people that can run the ball for them and this time of the year is when you need it. We'll see what Bill Belichick decides Sunday afternoon.

MB: As I sit here thinking about what you could give them as a grade, I'm not sure you can't give them an incomplete. It kind of seemed that way I guess but I'm going to say a C-.

SG: For the Offense, I gave them a B. Brady was OK, I thought Brian Hoyer was impressive. The lack of a running game hurt them again. As For Welker, that's just a tough loss, and Edelman will have to take up what he can - but he is still a rookie with little experience.

Defensively I gave them a C+. They gave up big plays in the passing game and also gave up way too much on the ground. I know they had some key players out, but they need to be more solid up front because the secondary can't cover opposing receivers for too long. Giving up 439 yards with guys is far too many, whether the starters are injured or not. I thought Butler's INT for a TD was special.

I gave Special Teams a B-. Gostkowski hit couple of nice long FG's. I thought the coverage was OK, the returns were negligable. Their kicker missed 2 FG's or it wouldn't have been as close as it was.

SG: Overall I gave them a B-, only because they played with so many guys hurt. They played a team that was in playoff contention, not a great team but a team that had themselves in the position of maybe making the playoffs. With so many guys out to put points on the board and to do some good things defensively, I may be being generous but I thought a B- was fine.

I'm looking forward to this week. I think they match up pretty well with Baltimore, and playing at home will be an advatage. However, tight ends along with the running game will need to step up with Welker out of the lineup.