By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall - Presented By Frank 106.3 Frank FM
December 03, 2013

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R.R.Marshall: Steve, it appeared the Patriots' defense didn't make the trip out to Texas with the rest of the squad, but fortunately Tom Brady and the New England offense showed up for the final 30-minutes to pull out a 34-31 win over the Texans. Did you see enough in the first half to conclude that New England left a lot of their emotions on the field in Foxboro after that overtime game against Denver?

Steve Grogan: I think it was pretty obvious that they were still hung-over from last week's game with all the emotions that went into that one. They were really sluggish in the first half on Sunday on both sides of the ball. The offense finally got it rolling in the second half, but the defense is a little bit of a question mark right now with some guys still banged up and some young guys playing in the secondary again. There was no pressure on the quarterback. They let Case Keenum pretty much have his way with no sacks on him. I didn't think the defense played that well Sunday but the offense pulled it out, and that's what counts.

RRM: You touched on a good point. Houston quarterback Case Keenum looked like a seasoned pro at times, picking apart the New England secondary. Granted with all these injuries, as you mentioned, you have to take some of that into account. But what kind of raised my eyebrow were a lot of, what seemed to be, missed assignments out there by some of the defensive backs?

SG: Yes, it did look like there were some missed assignments and that's inexcusable, and I'm sure Bill Belichick will make sure that gets fixed. Houston was expected to be a very good football team this year so they do have some good players, although they're playing with a young quarterback and they've lost some guys to injuries too. But you still have to be able to pressure the quarterback at times and I just didn't think they did that Sunday. They let the young kid sit back there and have a pretty good day, and that's not going to work going into the playoffs.

RRM: Once the offensive line was able to settle down into pass protection, Tom Brady looked like his All-Pro self, completing 29-of-41 for 371 yards and two touchdowns. Was this the best game you've seen him play this season from start to finish?

SG: I don't think start to finish…although last week was a pretty impressive game against the Broncos. I thought he played well Sunday. Julian Edelman came up big for him and he looks like he's become kind of Brady's go-to guy when they take Rob Gronkowski out of the game. But I thought Brady played a pretty flawless game yesterday. It was very impressive in the second half.

RRM: Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski were the two big receiving targets, with both getting over 100 yards and I couldn't help but notice this was Edelman's 70th reception of the season, where he's had 69 total over his first four years. Anyone who scoffed when they let Wes Welker go and elevated Edelman to the slot receiver position, I guess Bill Belichick gets the last laugh in that regard again?

SG: I'm sure Bill Belichick saw something in Edelman that he knew that most of us didn't, and we're seeing it now. Edelman's really taken over that Wes Welker spot, more than Danny Amendola, the guy we thought would take over that spot. He's just got a knack for getting open, kind of like Welker, he catches the ball pretty well, he makes people miss. He's just having a great year. I think Belichick probably saw that and it's part of the reason he let Welker go.

RRM: We'd be remiss without mentioning big Gronk, who notched his 47th career touchdown which sets a record in as short of a career as he's had?

"They made some adjustments at halftime and started hitting him down the field in the second half and it's amazing how a guy of his size can open up the field and get down the field as much as he does. He's a great player." - Steve Grogan talking about tight end Rob Gronkowski. (USA TODAY Images)

SG: He's playing well now that he's back and I think feeling healthy. He made a great catch on the touchdown on Sunday, he had to pick that one off his shoelaces and still get in the end zone, that was pretty impressive. Then they made some adjustments at halftime and started hitting him down the field in the second half and it's amazing how a guy of his size can open up the field and get down the field as much as he does. He's a great player.

RRM: Why do I have a feeling you would have liked throwing to him if he was around during your playing days?

SG: I don't think I'd ask coach to leave him on the bench, that's for sure.

RRM: Well the kicking game came into play in a huge way in this game with Stephen Gostkowski originally missing a 55-yard field goal attempt, but he shrugged that off and then hit two consecutive 53-yard bombs to provide the winning margin?

SG: Yes, he's pretty impressive. Especially when the game is on the line, he seems to really rise to the occasion. It's tough to put a kicker in a situation where he's got to kick three field goals, the only three field goals of the day, and they're all over 50 yards. That's tough to ask a kicker to do. He missed the first one Sunday, but he rode in the final two and that was the difference in the game.

RRM: When you take into account his long distance accuracy and his ability to get touchbacks on kickoffs, somebody mentioned that he'll probably be the All-Pro kicker this year and I can't think of too many kickers in the NFL that I'd take over him?

SG: No, I can't think of anybody I'd take over him either. He's a professional, doing his job, he comes to work every day and gets it done. You can't find too many faults with him I don't think.

RRM: Patriots rookie punter Ryan Allen has been another solid contributor this year and his ability to consistently put the ball inside the opponents' 20-yard line has been a huge factor in the Patriots' success. I remember we were talking back in September, 'Why did Belichick jettison a known commodity in Zoltan Mesko?' Well, I guess now we know?

SG: It was an interesting decision when they let Mesko go, and I think it surprised everybody. But Allen's done the job and he seems to be getting better every week. He's making a lot less money than Mesko was, so I'm sure that had a lot to do with the decision and it's paid off for Belichick, particularly the defense. He's helped that defense by pinning people back and making them have a long field against a defense that's kind of struggled at times this year. Anytime you have a punter that can do that for you, your defense is very thankful.

RRM: You talk about punt placement but I don't know if people realize, it was under 20-seconds to go and he was able to place that punt, it hit on the five yard line and just kind of died a little bit and bounced back and they just let the ball roll and because the ball was still rolling, the clock was still ticking and it almost led to an altercation between a Texans player and the Patriots?

SG: I was a little surprised the officials didn't go ahead and blow the whistle and call it dead, they kind of let it sit there for a little longer than you would expect to normally see. But it's discouraging for a team that thinks they might have a shot at taking a throw down the field to try to get back in the game, to see a punter pin them back like that and then run time off the clock, that's very discouraging to a team.

RRM: This is a pet-peeve of mine, but at the beginning of the game, Julian Edelman made a fair-catch inside the Patriots' 10-yard line. I was always taught growing up that if you're standing on the 10-yard line if the ball's over your head, you let it go and if it's catchable, then you fair it. Why is it now en-vogue in the NFL to fair catch a ball and make the catch at your own 5-yard line. I just don't understand what that gains you?

SG: I know what you're talking about and I think what you just mentioned back in the old days works, and I've been thinking about that a few times as I've seen guys catch balls inside the 5-yard line. I think all that philosophy changed when people started punting the ball and dropping the nose and hitting it with backspin, which they never did in the past. They always hit the spiraling punts and hoped that the nose hit and died right on the spot. Now they're kicking the ball like a kickoff almost, where the ball's going end-over-end and it just dies when it hits, or it backs up when it hits, and I think that's changed the philosophy of what they're doing with the fair catches and why they catch the ball inside the 10-yard line because so many guys are getting good at dropping it inside the 5-yard and having it stay right there. So that's my only theory on that. The game's changed because of the way punters are hitting the ball down inside the 10-yard line.

RRM: Certainly Allen is a master at it as we saw on Sunday.

SG: He is.

RRM: Well, the Patriots did not draw a penalty the entire game and I believe there were only two flags on Houston all day. Did the refs take the day off too?

SG: [Laughs] I think they were still hung-over from their turkey and pie on Thanksgiving. But no, it's fun to watch a game that the officials aren't really too involved with and that's what happened Sunday. It was a fairly cleanly played game and I think the officials let them play. The game goes so much faster and it's so much more fun to play in and to watch when the flag's not on the field all the time.

RRM: Well certainly the sight of Stevan Ridley in sweats on the Patriots sideline cradling a football was both priceless and somewhat poignant. Is this the equivalent of making your child stand in the corner as punishment?

SG: [Laughs] I think that would be a good analogy. We're sending a message not only to Stevan Ridley, but we're sending a message to everybody that's going to carry the ball for us that if you lose it too many times, you're going to be standing over on the sidelines. I'm sure Ridley was a little embarrassed and probably would have rather been left at home. But Bill Belichick knows how to get people to do things the right way, and I guess this is the way he thinks he can get Ridley to concentrate on hanging onto the football more. If you watched the other running backs on Sunday, you didn't see them carry the ball much with one arm. You saw two arms on the ball most of the time.

RRM: I was going to say, James Develin looked like the whole team had a chance to rip the ball out of his arms and he wasn't going to give it up for anything?

SG: No he wasn't.

RRM: Well Steve, despite the defensive lapses, the Patriots did manage to snap a three-game road losing streak, which I guess is the thing you really come away with as the big takeaway from this game?

SG: Yes, that's important. They may have to go on the road in the playoffs and so you have to figure out a way to win some games on the road and they've been struggling with that lately. The defense struggled, but the offense played extremely well in the second half and I think this is a team that you'll see gear up and get people ready to go in the playoffs. Right now it looks like they'd be the #2 seed, but you never know what's going to happen to Denver. So they just have to just keep playing hard and win as many games as they can.

RRM: Well the Patriots return home this Sunday to take on the Cleveland Browns who managed to find a way to lose at home to the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars and thus eliminate themselves from the postseason yet again which I'm sure endears themselves to the Cleveland populus. Talk about your classic 'Trap Game' for Bill Belichick and company this Sunday?

SG: Absolutely. This is a team that has won some games this year that you wouldn't have expected them to win, and lost some games that you wouldn't have expected them to lose. They're playing with quarterbacks that they just grab and bring in off the street, they've had so many injuries at that position. I know they've been struggling with the quarterback position. But they've got some good players at certain positions and, again, it's the NFL. If you're not ready to go out and do battle against anybody and give them your best effort, there's a chance it could jump up and bite you.

RRM: Well it looks like Rex Ryan and the Jets have finally been flattened and left on the side of the road for dead once and for all by the Miami Dolphins, which will set up a big game in Miami two weeks from now. Any chance that the Patriots players will get caught looking down the road just a bit?

SG: I don't think so. I think this time of year, again, we keep talking about how Belichick gets his team ready to go in December and heading into the playoffs. I wouldn't expect them to look past Cleveland. I think the interesting part of your comment there was, is Rex Ryan going to keep his job in New York? They started off pretty well this year and there were a lot of question marks, but they've struggled lately and it will be interesting to see if he's still around.

RRM: Now be honest with me, were you as a player or were any of your teammates ever guilty of looking down the road at a big game?

SG: I'm sure there were times when all of us, it's just human nature to look past somebody that you think you're going to do pretty well against and look down the road at what's coming up and figure you've kind of got a week to cruise a little bit and let yourself not have to focus so much. Everybody's guilty of doing that, I'm sure. But this is a game that Bill Belichick, and I'm sure Tom Brady and the leaders on defense are going to make sure the young guys understand that, it's December now, and everybody's got to come to work every day and be ready to go.

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 34-31 narrow escape in Houston?

SG: Well, they keep putting me in a situation where they got failing grades in the first half, and then the offense gets passing grades in the second half, so it's really tough to grade this team. But I would say that it's probably a "B" because they played so poorly offensively in the first half and then played so well in the second half. The defense was just kind of average, probably a "C". So I'll go with a "B" across the board. I'd give special teams an "A", they did pretty well. I'd give the offense probably an "A-". But overall I'm going to average that out to a "B" across the board.

RRM: That sounds good.

SG: There you go.

GROGAN'S GRADE: PATRIOTS AT HOUSTON:

OFFENSE: A-
DEFENSE: C
SPECIAL TEAMS: A

OVERALL: B


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