By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall - Presented By Frank 106.3 Frank FM
September 24, 2013

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, it was "no Gronk, no problem," on Sunday at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots had little trouble brushing aside the Bucs 23-3. Was this a case of practice makes perfect for the Patriots, who had an extra three days to prepare for Tampa Bay?

Steve Grogan: I think the extra days probably helped them kind of refresh their legs, get a few guys nicks healed up a little more but I think more than anything, the defense played a great football game and offensively they were a little more in sync than they have been the last couple weeks. So it was a nice win.

RRM: There were some anxious moments at the start as the Patriots posted three consecutive three and outs to start the game, but once they shrugged off that sluggish start, the offense roared to life and put 23 unanswered points on the board, both running and passing the ball equally effectively. Are these rookie wide receivers getting with the program finally?

SG: I think the rookie wide receivers are starting to figure it out a little better. I think up front they ran the ball a lot better, which takes some pressure off of the passing game and of course that eats up clock and keeps your defense off the field and keeps them fresh, so there's improvement from week-to-week and I think we're going to continue to see improvement and they're going to need it because starting this week the schedule gets a whole lot harder.

RRM: While, the young wide receivers showed improvement, the three headed backfield of Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, and Brandon Bolden dented a good Tampa Bay run defense for over 150 yards on the ground. Didn't you feel perhaps that this was one of the most important aspects to come out of this victory on Sunday?

SG: Oh, I think there's no doubt that the fact they were able to run the ball not with just one guy, but with three guys, that let's you know that your offensive line is doing a good job up front. They're blocking for whoever is carrying the ball so they're going to need to have that running game, this year in particular because the passing game is coming around but it's still not what Tom Brady would like to see it be. The more they can run it and take pressure off the passing game, it's just going to make it a whole lot easier.

RRM: This leads to an interesting philosophical question, do you want a multi-pronged approach in the backfield with different complimentary backs, the slasher, the group back, or do you want the star, like Adrian Peterson, that can bust it on any one play and gets all the headlines? It seems in the NFL nowadays, the answer seems to be more what the Patriots are doing instead of the one back star system?

SG: In my opinion I think it's much easier if you have the one back that can do everything, but there's nothing wrong with having three backs with each of them having their own particular focus of the game. We did that back in the mid 80's with Tony Collins, Craig James, and Mosi Tatupu and it worked for us, got us into a Super Bowl. So it doesn't really matter one way or the other. As long as your guys up front are blocking, anybody can carry the ball.

RRM: An old friend, the screen pass, found its way back into the Patriots arsenal as it sprung two big plays for the Patriots. Why do you think this play has been missing from Josh McDaniels' game plan and do you expect to see more of it going forward?

SG: I think that some coaches are comfortable calling the screen and others aren't, I don't think that's something McDaniels is apparently real comfortable with. But now that they've had success with it, I would expect to see more of it in the game plan, no question about that.

RRM: It wasn't talked about much, but surprisingly Bill Belichick passed on an easy field goal with a little over 2-minutes to play and given the NFL tie breaking procedures with total points, you have to wonder if the friendship with Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano was perhaps taken a little bit too far in this instance? What was your opinion on this?

SG: I think it had something to do with his friendship with Schiano, not kicking the field goal, but I think it's too early in the season to start worrying about tie breakers and the playoffs. You do what you feel is right in that situation this time of year, and as the year gets closer to the end and you see more and more about where the landscape is for playoffs, then maybe he would have gone ahead and kicked that. But right now I don't think there's any call for it.

RRM: Be honest, if that was Rex Ryan was on the sideline, you don't think Stephen Gostkowski would have been trotted out there?

SG: I think Rex Ryan, they're kicking it, no question (Laughs) but when your friend is over on the sidelines and you've got a good relationship with him, you don't rub it in on him.

RRM: Not talked about much going into this game was the fact that the Patriots would be without special teams player extraordinaire Matthew Slater, who should be out for at least four games, yet I thought this was the finest overall performance by the special teams, both returning kicks and covering kicks. Can we expect them to overcome this loss as seamlessly as they did this week?

SG: Slater's a great special teams player and he'll be hard to replace, but they've got guys that can pick up the slack and do the job almost as well as he can. I thought Gostkowksi looked real comfortable Sunday kicking the football. The two long ones, it's good to see. I think they're really solid in their special teams right now and that's going to be important.

"I think this is a defense that, like the offense, is improving every week and going to get better and better as the season goes on." - Steve Grogan
(USA TODAY Images)
RRM: This is the Patriots third straight superlative effort on defense and this one, I don't think, can be as discounted as the previous two wins because the Bucs had some really good weapons on offense in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin. Have you seen anything thus far to discount what the Patriots have done to their opponents on defense for these first three games?

SG: I see nothing to discount with what they've done. I think they've rounded into being a very good defensive football team. They're very confident, their secondary is playing well, they're getting pressure on the quarterback, they're pretty much doing a decent job stopping the running game. I think this is a defense that, like the offense, is improving every week and going to get better and better as the season goes on.

RRM: Well this Sunday, as you mentioned, the schedule gets a lot tougher as it's another primetime engagement for the Patriots as they head down to Atlanta to take a on a Falcons team that is struggling at 1-2 and facing some injuries of their own. But this time they face an elite quarterback in Matt Ryan, who has some good wideouts, so will this be the litmus test for this revamped Patriots defense that everyone's been waiting for?

SG: It think this will be a great test for the defense. Atlanta, as you mentioned, is struggling a little bit right now but they've got weapons on offense and I would expect them, playing at home, to have all those weapons ready to go. So the defense is going to have a real test and I think the offense is also going to have a test against an Atlanta team that always plays pretty good defensive football. This is a playoff caliber team, the Atlanta Falcons, and it's always good - at least early in the season around this time of year - to test your football team and see how you're stacked up compared to somebody else that's supposed to be in the same position you are.

RRM: All the rookie players on the Patriots will be exposed to a Sunday night atmosphere in an artificial indoor surface for the first time. The game speeds up a little bit for them and there's a little more pressure, do you expect that this could become a problem for these young players?

SG: It's a possibility that it becomes a problem, but I think so many college players nowadays have been in situations like this, big games on television, that it's not nearly what it was twenty years ago when there were only a couple games on every week in college. So there may be some pressure there, but I don't expect it to be a major factor.

RRM: Well after a couple of too close for comfort games, everyone expected this game with Tampa Bay to be close, yet it turned out to be a blowout. How do you see this next game with the Falcons unfolding?

SG: I think this is going to be another game, both teams score in the 20's, low 20's somewhere. It's all going to come down to turnovers, who can make the big play at the right time? But turnovers are going to be a key to this game next week I think.

RRM: It's hard to fathom what's going on across the league after three weeks. We have the Dolphins tied with the Patriots at 3-0 atop the AFC East Division. Then you have a team like the New York Giants that are 0-3 and I imagine despite his two Super Bowl victories, all the "Fire Tom Coughlin" talk will start up again. Given what Coughlin's gone through, do you believe this might be the ouster his detractors are looking for?

SG: I hope it's not. I think the man's done a great job down there taking them to two Super Bowls. I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt if he has one bad season. But I would expect them, with the talent they have on that team, to turn things back around and get themselves back in the hunt. They've just got too many good players down there not to be better than they are right now.

RRM: You played on a Patriots team that once started the year 0-4, and if the Giants lose this coming Sunday, that's where they'll be. You say all the right things to the press, but didn't you basically know the season was over at that point?

SG: I think after 0-4 you've got a pretty good idea that it's over, yeah. It's a long season and you always try to find the silver linings, but as a player, you figure you're 0-4, your chances of being in the playoffs are not very good. So you play for pride then.

RRM: We take great pride as New Englanders in having faith in Bill Belichick and the Patriots. But if they had started 0-2 this year, you just know there would have been a lot of talk this year, "is Bill past his prime?"

SG: Oh Sure, that's just human nature of football fans and football press. They're looking for all the negativities and that's natural. It's happened before, it's going to happen in the future. it's part of the game.

RRM: Well, let's cast aside the negatives, and look at the positives. What are Grogan's Grades for the bouncing of the beleaguered Bucs?

SG: I'm going to go with a B+. I think I'll give the defense an A, and the offense a B, and average it out to a B+. Don't want to give them too good a grade this early in the season against an opponent that didn't look like they had all their weapons ready to go, but it was a good performance.

Grogan's Grades For Week 3

Offense: B
Defense: A
Overall: B+