By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall - Presented By Frank 106.3 Frank FM
January 04, 2012

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, if you appreciate the concept of symmetry the Patriots blew a 21-0 lead in Buffalo back in September and wound up losing to the Bills, and then in the final game of the regular season they fell behind 21-0 only to score 49 unanswered points to win going away. After 16 weeks it appears that this Patriots' team just has its own way of doing things, don't you think?

Steve Grogan: That would be an understatement. They never make it easy on themselves early and then they figure out how to get it started on offense and the defense always plays better in the second half, but early in the game it's a real struggle for them. They can't keep doing that and expect to have success in the playoffs because it just isn't going to happen.

RRM: It's amazing how this Patriots' defense can look so awful at times and then totally shut down a team like they did against Buffalo in the second half. This has to be more than just halftime adjustments?

SG: You're right, but then again I'm not exactly sure what it would be. It's curious because all four of the Patriots interceptions against the Bills came in the second half, so how do you suddenly start figuring out how to make plays against the receivers unless you're playing so cautiously in the first half that you're letting the other team take advantage of you. Then in the second half you decide to become more aggressive and make the plays. They have that bend but don't break mentality on defense, but they're bending and breaking in the first half and then in the second half they bend but don't break. They're a hard defense to figure out, but with all the different names back there in the defensive backfield it's hard to develop any consistency.

RRM: Bills' wide receiver Stevie Johnson was torching the Pats secondary in the first half and then was benched by Buffalo head coach Chad Gailey for an impromptu end zone celebration penalty (he flashed a Happy New Year sign after scoring a touchdown). I guess Patriots Nation should send Chad a great big thank you for that because it really crippled the Buffalo offense for the rest of the game?

SG: Yes, it did but you have to put your foot down sometimes. It's like raising a bunch of kids. You warn them and warn them and then one of them acts up and they all get punished because of it. Apparently he had told Johnson that it needed to stop and it didn't, so he put him on the bench and he stayed there. These players today just don't get it, that rules are rules and if you break them again and again there has to be consequences. It did hurt the Bills not having him out there but I commend the coach for not backing down to try and win the game.

RRM: If there was one sequence that showed the momentum had switched to the Patriots it came on the play right after Tom Brady just missed connecting deep with Chad Ochocinco. Brady dumped a short screen pass to BenJarvus Green-Ellis who then ran through what appeared to be the entire Bills defense for a 53-yard gain. Where has that the old Patriots' weapon, the screen pass, been all season?

SG: With their offense line being so banged up lately we haven't seen much of the screen pass, but that was a great screen. I didn't think Brady was going to get the ball off. He faked to the left and it looked like Buffalo had someone that was about to drag him down and somehow or another he went to his right and got the ball off to Green-Ellis and he was off to the races.

You're right, that was a big play and they need more of that from their running backs. Why we haven't seen that kind of play that much is probably because the tight ends are doing a good job of catching those short passes and running for a lot of yards after the catch. They don't need to rely on the screen pass as much as they did in the past, but it is good to dust it off once in awhile just to show the opposition you still have that in your arsenal if you need it.

RRM: The media likes to point out that the Patriots don't have a deep threat to stretch the field against opposing defenses. That one sequence we just discussed seemed to demonstrate that they can get along just fine without one?

SG: They don't need to stretch the field because they have several guys that can catch and run with the ball. Some teams have one guy that can do that, this team has three or four guys you can throw the ball to behind or at the line of scrimmage and they can turn it into a 30 or 40-yard gain. They really don't need to throw the ball 40 yards down the field too often.

RRM: The talk all week long was about Tom Brady's sore left shoulder and he did exhibit some trouble with the accuracy on some of his throws. Will this become a factor heading into the postseason?

SG: I don't think so. The way he played yesterday it didn't appear that shoulder really bothered him at all. He also has an extra week to get healed up and rested, so I would think that should put that issue to bed.

RRM: Randy Cross pointed out on the CBS telecast that there's a difference between playing injured and playing hurt with NFL players. Is that a mind set that all NFL players have?

SG: That's correct. If you're an NFL player that's the mentality you play with. You have to play many times when you're not feeling particularly well and that starts the first day of training camp [laughs]! You feel worse as the season goes along, but you learn in time that there is a difference between playing hurt and playing injured, and I think Brady's certainly hurting a little bit right now but he's not injured.

RRM: Brady became only the third quarterback to surpass the 5,000 yard passing mark in a season which is a tremendous achievement, but given the number of quarterbacks that reached the 4,000 yard passing plateau this year do you think it's about time the NFL hierarchy does something to restore the balance between the offense and defense in the league before we're left with a glorified Arena Football League?

SG: I agree, it's getting a little bit out of control. I heard Bill Parcells comment on one of the pregame shows that in the past quarterbacks wouldn't want to hang their receivers out by throwing the ball down the middle and exposing them to a big hit. Now they are making those throws because they know they are either going to get a catch or a 15-yard penalty because no matter how you hit them the referees are throwing the flags.

As a former quarterback I hate to side with the defense but it's gotten to the point where the defensive backs don't know what to do. Similarly defensive linemen aren't sure when or where to hit the quarterback, and it's opened up the game to the point where everyone is throwing for over 4,000 yards a season and points are going up on the scoreboard like crazy. I'm old school I know but to me that's not the way the game is supposed to be played.

RRM: Brady also threw a touchdown pass in his 32nd consecutive regular season game, currently second only to Drew Brees who ended the season with a 43-game streak. The all-time record of 47 games is held by the great Colts' Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas who set the record over 50 years ago, and has to be considered on a par with the great Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in baseball. As a former quarterback can you relate to us just how extraordinary this record is?

SG: For Unitas to accomplish that during the era he was playing in is truly amazing to me. It was a totally different type of game back then. It doesn't surprise me that there are some players closing in on the mark because the ball is in the air all the time now, but back then they were only throwing the ball maybe 20 times a game. Now they're throwing it 40 to 60 times a game so there's a huge difference. Why that particular record has lasted longer than any of the other records is really a testament to Unitas' ability.

You go back to the 1960's or 1970's when the receivers could be mugged all the way down the field and you can see how difficult it was for them compared to the free run they get in the modern era. Joe Namath was one of the top quarterbacks of his era but his career stats would probably be in the bottom tier among the numbers generated by the quarterbacks of today. Namath was one of the best to ever play the game, but it was a different game then. Everyone throws the ball five yards and the receiver runs it for 30 more yards while no one is running the ball much any more. The game is certainly evolving to a different level than it was 20 to 25 years ago. All of the great passing records are going to fall during this pass happy era, and that's kind of sad in a way I guess.

RRM: It would seem to be a given that the longer the Patriots can avoid Baltimore or Pittsburgh the better their chances of reaching Super Bowl XLVI. Their three possible opponents in their first round playoff game will come from either Pittsburgh, Denver, or Cincinnati, any preference in that bunch?

SG: I would probably scratch Denver from that list! They've lost three straight games and I can't see them beating the Steelers even if they are banged up. Cincinnati would be a nice match up for the Patriots, and then they could take their chances with either Baltimore or Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game. I'd rather play Pittsburgh than Baltimore because that Ravens defense while not as good as it used to be is still pretty darn good and could give the Patriots some problems. But that's what the playoffs are all about.

RRM: Do you see any possible upsets in the AFC wildcard round this weekend?

SG: I know Ben Roethlisberger has the bad ankle and apparently the Steelers have lost their running back Rashard Mendenhall but Pittsburgh remains a far better team than Denver and I don't think the Broncos have much of a chance in that game even though they will be at home. The Houston Texans are down to the veteran Jake Delhomme at quarterback, but I think playing at home they will have the advantage even though Cincinnati has the edge at quarterback.

RRM: I can't conclude this column without sending my warmest regards to New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. The past three years he has arrogantly boasted that his team is going to the Super Bowl and the media gives him a free ride because he is so colorful and provides such great quotes. Hey Rex, after your team folded like a house of cards down the stretch enjoy watching the postseason on the tube!

SG: I think good old Rex had to eat some humble pie on Sunday after their game against the Dolphins. From what I saw he was man enough to step up and take the blame, but that was certainly not the Jets team we've seen the last couple of years. Part of it was they had some injuries, but maybe now Rex will learn to be a little more modest about things going forward. I don't think the Jets will need to blow things up and start over but they have to get some younger people in there and they need someone to run the ball for them. They also need someone to work with Mark Sanchez and get him to play a little smarter.

I don't believe Sanchez is turning out to be what everybody thought he was going to be. I think he made a huge mistake coming out of USC a year early. Looking back he really could have used that extra year of seasoning. From what I heard the current USC quarterback Matt Barkley decided to stay an extra year based on talks he had with Sanchez, Carson Palmer, and Matt Leinart. I think the kid made a smart decision based on what we've seen from the other USC quarterbacks that left early.

RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 49-21 romp over the Bills in the regular season finale?

SG: Once again it's a hard game to grade after watching that first half and then seeing a totally different team in the second half. The offense gets an A for putting up 42 points of the 49 the team scored, and the defense gets a B for shutting the Bills down in the second half and putting up 7 points of their own. It's not often you get four interceptions in one half of football. That comes out to an A- overall. Another important thing to come out of the game was that no one got hurt. Now if they get Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer back in two weeks so that their offensive line is intact for the postseason that would be a big boost for this team. Now they get to sit back and watch the first round playoff games and get prepared for what should be an interesting postseason run by this team. Happy New Year!

Grogan's Grades for Game #16

Offense: A
Defense: B
Overall: A-