By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall - Presented By Frank 106.3 Frank FM
November 16, 2012

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Tight end Troy Niklas’ “crazy” story makes him a Patriot and a father, too
Patriots notebook: Season starts with Houston at Foxboro

R.R.Marshall: Steve, if Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hadn't drilled New England's Devin McCourty right between the numbers with his final pass we might not be talking about a six point Patriots victory. Not acceptable we expected coming off their bye week?

Steve Grogan: No, you listened everybody during the week on the radio and TV and they all had this in the Patriots win column, "easy win", "cakewalk", "don't worry about it", and it turned out absolutely, totally the other way and Buffalo probably should've won the game. They shot themselves in the foot with penalties and one bad throw at the end, and otherwise Patriots fans wouldn't have been too happy.

RRM: The Bills committed 14 penalties and three turnovers and yet the Patriots were still forced to hold on for dear life at the end as we saw. What was missing from making the Patriots win a blowout over the Bills?

SG: I think offensively they played well, outside of a few dropped balls. If you score 37 points, you figure you've got a pretty good chance to win the ballgame. I just thought defensively there was poor tackling. Buffalo's got a couple of good running backs, and the Patriots defense just didn't wrap them up a few times, gave them some big runs and they just didn't get any pressure on Fitzpatrick. When you're good enough to play in the NFL and you don't get much pressure, somebody's going to get open and you're going to find them with the ball and that's what he did on Sunday. I thought he played extremely well.

RRM: We always say with Divisional games that opponents become so familiar with each other and it's hard to prepare for them. But yet I can't help but wonder if there's some kind of intangible at work here that we don't see because I mean, what is it about these Buffalo and New England matchups that give us such crazy games like this?

SG: I can't explain it. It's just always been a great rivalry. The Patriots have always been able to beat them at home in Foxboro - not always, but…what is it…the last 11 years they've done a great job of it. But there's been some wild games and it's just because I think they do know each other so well that for Buffalo, it's a big came to come in here and try to beat the Patriots. For the Patriots, usually Buffalo's not that good, so I think there may be a little bit of a mental letdown in preparation knowing that Buffalo is not a playoff caliber team and they should come in and the Patriots should beat them easily. I think that gets in the back of the player's minds and consequently we have some really wild games.

RRM: While I understand why Bill Belichick opted to go with a three-man rush on the final drive so that he'd have an extra defender back there to defend against the Bills' allusive skill people that you alluded to, but don't you agree that Ryan Fitzpatrick becomes a below-average quarterback when forced to throw under pressure?

SG: Yeah, when he's under pressure he gives the ball up a lot. And when he doesn't get pressure, he's extremely accurate and runs that offense very well. I know Bill was probably just thinking, 'let's not give them the big play to win the ballgame,' and that's what they did. They just kind of backed off and let him take it down the field hoping the Bills would make a mistake and the Patriots would make a play, and fortunately the Patriots made a play.

"He probably talks a lot of trash while he's out there and consequently if I was playing against him, I might think he was a punk. But he's on our team, so I think he's a great player." - Steve Grogan (FILE:USPresswire)

RRM: Old Harvard man Fitzy endeared himself to the Patriots' fan base when he called Brandon Spikes a "punk" in his postgame comments. But I understand that's actually a compliment for a defensive player?

SG: [Laughs] probably most defensive players don't mind being called a punk. It means they've done a pretty good job against whoever's calling them that. I didn't think the shot that Spikes gave to Fitzpatrick was all that bad. It was penalty, but…

RRM: I was going to say that don't you agree that the only reason that the flag was thrown was because the guy's helmet popped off?

SG: I think more than likely that's probably the reason why. If the helmet hadn't have come off, then it probably wouldn't have been a penalty.

RRM: I'm sure you played against your fair share of punks in your time, would you put Brandon Spikes in that category?

SG: I think Brandon Spikes is an emotional player. He probably talks a lot of trash while he's out there and consequently if I was playing against him, I might think he was a punk. But he's on our team, so I think he's a great player [laughs].

RRM: Well once again the Patriots offense rolled up plenty of yardage but failed to put the game away when they had the opportunity. I still look back to that first and goal at the 1 yard line with about 2 ½ minutes to play and you have to settle for three points and you really start to wonder if this team just doesn't have the killer instinct right now?

SG: It makes you wonder, but I think they've got the killer instinct, I just don't know about the play selection when they got down in there. You ought to be able to pound it in from the 1 yard line with no problem with the kind of running game they have out in the middle of the field. But they can't afford to let it happen too many more times like that because when you get down in there, you have to score 7 - especially in a tight game.

RRM: Steve you can't help but wonder if the Patriots inconsistency on offense in these key situations stems in part to the offensive line which lost both Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly and had to kind of fill in on the fly. All it takes is just a missed block here, or an illegal motion penalty there, to basically put yourself behind the eight ball in these situations?

SG: Oh yeah, it's always just some little thing. Somebody misses an assignment, somebody gets a penalty, that kills you down in that area. That offensive line was banged up on Sunday with a lot of guys playing that hadn't played in a while or playing different positions that they hadn't played consistently, so that probably had something to do with the fact that they couldn't get in the end zone in the situation you were talking about.

RRM: Well the indispensable Danny Woodhead provided several key plays and had his first ever two touchdown game to help put the Patriots in control game late in the second half. I couldn't help to juxtapose that to the Jets fall to Seattle 28-7 on Sunday. I couldn't help but wonder if Rex Ryan would like to have him back right now?

SG: I would think he'd probably like to have him back. The kid's a good player. He just seems to make plays at key times during the game. He doesn't play a lot during the game, but when he's in there, he's got game breaking ability and I think probably because of his size and the way Ridley's been playing, they don't want to use him any more than they need to. But he is a fun player to watch and he certainly has been a factor in several games. Sunday he was a huge factor.

RRM: The Patriots host Indianapolis on Sunday at 4:25 against the Colts and their rookie of the year candidate quarterback Andrew Luck. Do you expect to see another aerial show at Gillette Stadium on Sunday?

SG: I would expect to see the ball in the air a lot on Sunday and it's going to be a huge test for the Patriots'secondary. I think Andrew Luck, even though he's a rookie, is a better quarterback right now than Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Fitzpatrick gave them fits. So it will be an interesting contest and it looks like again, the Patriots are going to have to keep scoring 35 points or more to have a chance to be in the game and unless the defense decides they can pressure Luck, they're going to have problems. If they sit back and let him throw, he's extremely accurate and has some talent around him. He also has the ability to get out of the pocket and makes some runs with his legs, so it's going to be a test.

RRM: Steve, all the focus this week is going to be on Luck and the Colts' offense, but Indy's also had to overhaul their defense on the fly as well and I think that's really the key to their success, or a good part of it the first half of the season. If that's the case, it would behoove Tom Brady and the offense to really become the deciding factor in this upcoming game?

SG: Yeah, you're not seeing the same four man line, two outside rushers, that you've seen from Indianapolis for a decade now. From what I've read they've gone to the 3-4, Robert Mathis is playing linebacker now instead of down lineman, they're both standing up now and that can cause some problems in the blocking schemes. You never know what direction they're coming from when they're going from the 3-4. So the offense is going to have a challenge. But they're playing well offensively. I don't see anybody shutting them down and keeping them from scoring 30 points. I think the whole key for the rest of the season is going to be the defense and how well they can play.

RRM: Some news broke last week, do you think the Patriots adding the cornerback from Tampa Bay in Aqib Talib. Will he bring some stability to the defensive backfield and become the so called 'answer' we've been looking for back there?

SG: Well there's no question that he's a great player. He was a number one draft pick from four years ago. He can play a lockdown corner, he's had some problems on and off the field and the question is, can Bill Belichick keep him on the straight and narrow and can he pick up the system quick enough to be a factor? But he has the skills to help the defensive secondary, there's no question about that.

RRM: It's funny because supposedly he comes in as a "lockdown" corner and the image I have in my mind is Bill picks out the top receiver on the other team and assigns him to follow him wherever he goes or whatever side of the field he's on - but that's not how things work in the Patriots system?

SG: Yeah, that's not the way the Patriots usually play defense. Partly because they haven't had a lockdown corner I don't think since maybe Asante Samuel. I don't think you want to change the scheme, but they'll still play a lot of their two deep coverage with man underneath, and if he can play good man coverage underneath, that will help them.

RRM: Okay, drumroll please. As we get the second half of the season under way, what are Grogan's Grades for the Pats' 37-31 narrow escape from the Buffalo Bills?

SG: It's so hard to grade this team because they play well on offense, which I'd probably give them an A-. They're so inconsistent on defense, I think in this game I give them a C-. Special teams I think was average so maybe a B- as an overall grade.

RRM: I'm going to challenge you and special teams and that's because Gostkowski made all of his kicks and they also did a pretty good job of containing Buffalo's return game. I think they're rated in the top five in returns and they really didn't yield anything in punt or kickoff returns, which I thought - just one bad play could turn the tide of the game in a game like this?

SG: [Laughs] Well you've got a point, okay, I'll change my grade - I'll give them a B+. Defense, give them a C. They weren't a C-, they were about average from what we've seen them play so it still brings the grade somewhere in the B- range for overall.

Grogan's Grades: Week 9