By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall - Presented By Frank 106.3 Frank FM
December 17, 2013

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No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski not at the start of the team's OTA's today
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New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill

R.R.Marshall: Steve the Patriots were caught going to the well once too often, as their valiant comeback attempt in Miami came up just short with a 24-20 loss to the Dolphins. I guess not even Tom Brady can pull a rabbit out of his hat every time?

Steve Grogan: He's done it so many times this year that you just expect it to keep happening, but on Sunday he just couldn't get it done. It looked like Danny Amendola almost had that catch in the end zone that would have won it. The defensive back made a really good play, and they came up just a little short.

RRM: I was going to say, if Amendola had come up with that ball, this game takes on a totally different perspective. But anybody that says luck doesn't play any part in the game of football just doesn't know what they're talking about I guess?

SG: Well, you have to have skill to play the game, but you also have to have some luck. The Patriots and Tom Brady have had a lot of luck during this season, but on Sunday, they ran out of it right there at the end. But there were a lot of things that took place during the game that could have put them in a different position at the end of the game. You can't blame the last drive, I think they missed some opportunities earlier in the game that would have given them the victory.

RRM: From a quarterback's perspective, what was your take on that last sequence of plays inside the twenty yard-line? Would you have liked to have seen them get a little closer instead of trying shots into the end zone?

"I think they had to take shots in the end zone. But when you just throw fade routes, it seems like they were just throwing fade routes, those are really difficult to hit down there, especially if you don't have a big wide receiver, which the Patriots don't right now." - Steve Grogan when asked about the final drive of the game.
(USA TODAY Images)

SG: Well, with the time on the clock, I think they had to take shots in the end zone. But when you just throw fade routes, it seems like they were just throwing fade routes, those are really difficult to hit down there, especially if you don't have a big wide receiver, which the Patriots don't right now. I would have liked to have seen Shane Vereen out of the backfield trying to beat a linebacker rather than one of those smaller wide receivers trying to beat a defensive back just running for the corner of the end zone. I'm sure they thought they had their best opportunity to do it that way and that's why they called those plays.

RRM: This is the second straight game where an undermanned Patriots defense did not force a turnover, and we've seen how difficult it is for them to win when that doesn't happen and that was the case again Sunday?

SG: The defense played really well in the first half. They didn't have any turnovers for the game, and that makes it pretty difficult. It was a well played game by both teams, no turnovers until the Brady interception right there at the end. But the defense, even though they played so well in the first half, they gave up a big score right at the end of the half, which I think took some of the wind out of their sails. Then in the second half, the Dolphins seemed to figure them out a little bit. They did get good pressure on Ryan Tannehill most of the day, but he made some big throws when he had to and you've got to give Miami some credit. They're a team that's playing well right now and they're tough to beat at home.

RRM: After singing the praises of Pro Bowl kicker Stephen Gostkowski, not only did he miss a long field goal that changed the complexion of the game late, but he also booted a kickoff out of bounds that helped set up Miami's game-winning touchdown drive. I mean you talk about uncharacteristic mistakes, there it is late there.

SG: You don't see Gostkowski do something like that, hardly ever and I don't know what happened or why it happened, but it was a huge key to the game. When you give them the ball at the 40-yard line when they're trying to come back to go ahead, I'm sure he's -- pardon the pun -- kicking himself today about doing it. But you just can't have those kind of mistakes and expect to win against a team that's playing well.

RRM: Apparently, it doesn't look like it on the surface, but he's a really intense guy. The camera caught him on the sideline after he did that knocking over the water bucket. You've been around kickers more than all of us have and they all have their different characteristics, but I guess "happy-go-lucky" wouldn't describe him, he's a very intense guy.

SG: Well, most kickers are competitors or they wouldn't be out there, they wouldn't be holding that job. They have to try and keep an even keel, but they're like everybody else. When things go wrong, they can get upset. Gostkowski was a baseball player, and a pretty good one at that, so you know he's got a competitive streak and I'm sure he was extremely disappointed with himself with what he did. But it happened, and he has to move on and I'm sure he'll move on and make sure it doesn't happen again.

RRM: The loss not only meant that the Division Title is still in play, but the Patriots missed a golden opportunity to grab the number one seed for the AFC Playoffs after Denver's loss on Thursday night. But does that loss, plus the Bengals loss to the Steelers on Sunday night, kind of show what a strange season it is as far as the AFC is concerned? We might have a totally surprise winner emerge from this?

SG: That could be the case. The Patriots were in the driver's seat, all they had to do was win out. It looked like they could do that, to have the No. 1 seed, play at home, and unfortunately they lost that Sunday when they lost. Then it looked like if Cincinnati could win a game, the Patriots would drop down to third and they would have had to play the first week of the playoffs. But Cincinnati went out and laid an egg against the Steelers Sunday night, which helped the Patriots. I think they're still in good shape as far as winning the division is concerned, they'd really have to fall on their faces to have Miami come back and win the Division. But it sure would have been nice to have that number one seed, and it doesn't look like they'll get that now.

RRM: I thought an overlooked factor in the game was the way the Patriots had to mix and match offensive linemen throughout the game. Tom Brady got whacked around quite a bit, which affected some of his off throws. But when you've got Logan Mankins, an All-Pro guard having to play tackle, they've been able to offset the loss of key skill people all season long, but if they can't keep their offensive linemen healthy, the future doesn't look good for this team?

SG: It's tough. They've got so many guys going down with injuries, and now the offensive line is starting to feel that. When left tackle Nate Solder went out, I thought Mankins did a pretty good job of filling in for him. They kept their backs in more to help the offensive line, which was probably smart, but then that takes away some of your offensive weapons when you're using them as blockers instead of getting them out into the patterns. Injuries have been a huge problem this year for this team and it looks like if they get many more, it's going to be really difficult to go very far in the playoffs, particularly within the offensive line. Guys have to really play together for a while to have a good feel for what they're trying to do (passing off guys, picking up stunts) and with all the changes they've had there, it's amazing that they've been playing as well as they have.

RRM: Well there were some positive aspects to take out of this game, like the proficient Patriots' ground attack, and the fact they were able to move the ball consistently, throwing the ball to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. However, they managed only one touchdown in four trips into the red zone, and I imagine a large part of that is adjusting to absence of Rob Gronkowski?

SG: I would say a lot of that has to do with Gronkowski not being in there. They're going to have to feel their way along and see what they've got and who they can get the ball to down in that close in area. Like I said before, they don't have that big receiver where he can just throw the ball up in the air and let the guy go over the defensive back. So it's going to be a lot tougher now than it was when Gronkowski was playing.

RRM: Although, I think we have to give a shout-out to tight end Michael Hoomanwanui with that great one-handed catch. I don't think I've seen a better catch from any other Patriots receiver this year?

SG: No, it was an unbelievable catch. I don't think he even saw the ball until it was about two feet away from him. He wasn't expecting it, stuck his hand out, and pulled it in. You don't see many better catches than that, even from a guy like Gronkowski. Maybe if they can get him more involved a little bit, that will be a big help.

RRM: Well, New England almost pulled out road wins against physical teams like Carolina and recently Miami, and certainly this week's opponent in the Baltimore Ravens qualify from that aspect. I would think this will be an even tougher task for them than the game in Miami, although the Baltimore offense isn't as proficient. But if I had to pick one team to play on the road, this one wouldn't be on the top of my list?

SG: Not hardly, I would agree with you on that. The Patriots and Ravens have kind of developed a rivalry playing each other, it seems like every year or in the playoffs. They play well at home and they are physical. They're not having a great offensive year but they're going to come out and knock you around. I think they'll be tougher than Miami playing at home. They're going to have to button down everything this week, make sure they make no mistakes, and somebody's going to have figure out a way to make a big play now and again.

RRM: I imagine we'll see much of the offensive game plan as we saw in Miami. Try to really pound the run game early. Try to negate any blitzing that Baltimore will do until you wear them down a little bit, and keep trying to hit the two little guys down the seams?'

SG: You should expect that. Again, I think what they're trying to do right now with what they've got to work with offensively is shorten the game and keep the other offense off the field. They did a pretty good job of that Sunday and they're going to have to do a good job of it next Sunday. I think it will be a little more difficult than it was against Miami. But they are pounding the ball well, they're running it well, and they're not turning it over, they're not fumbling. Stevan Ridley's come back and learned how to hang onto the ball, at least to this point, so I would expect to see a lot from their running game next week.

RRM: The Patriots and Ravens have had two contentious AFC Title meetings the last couple of seasons, and it really appears there is a strong dislike between these two teams. Where would you rate this rivalry with others you have seen or participated in as a player?

SG: It's not like a Division rivalry where you see each other every year I don't think, but it is a rivalry because, as we've said, they've played each other so often over the past 7-8 years and both teams have had success, and both teams have had failures. So you can expect these two really good football teams to come out and battle each other like crazy because they know their playoff lives are on the line.

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 24-20 defeat to the Dolphins?

SG: That's another hard one, but I would go with a B- across the board. I thought offensively and defensively they played O.K., but I'd give the kicking game a C-.

RRM: So plenty of room for improvement?

SG: Absolutely.