PatsFans.com is proud to welcome former New England Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan back for the 12th straight season. Grogan played in 149 games with the Patriots from 1975-1990, and was named to the Patriots Hall of Fame in 1995. Steve will join us each week to provide his insight on the progress of the Patriots during the 2012 football season. He already joined the Buzz on Monday, now we do an additional expanded feature with another interview from local writer R.R. Marshall which gives you even more from the former New England signal caller.
R.R.Marshall: Steve, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Patriots held a double-digit lead late in the game, and couldn’t close it out. At least this one had a happy ending with a 29-26 win in overtime?
Steve Grogan: It’s happening too much. Whether it’s the offense not being able to control the ball in the fourth quarter, or the defense giving up points. They’re playing with fire too often and they didn’t get away with it a couple times on Sunday. They’ve got to find a way to play a complete-game which they haven’t done very much of this year.
RRM: The Jets took advantage of the Patriots’ secondary as we thought they might on their first touchdown drive, but then on their second to start the second half, they played smash mouth football by running the ball right up the middle. We haven’t seen that before, so now is this a new area of concern for this perplexing team?
SG: I hope it’s not. I think that’s the solid part of that defense is right up the middle. The front seven, particularly Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love inside have been very good at stopping the run….Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes in the middle, sometimes a team just kind of gets on a roll during one drive and has some success, which they did. I thought the rest of the day they shut down the run pretty well.
RRM: What a difference a pass rush makes? A sack by Dont’a Hightower late in the fourth quarter, then another at the end of overtime by Rob Ninkovich really were the big keys in the victory and you have to wonder where these key defensive players have been all season?
SG: Yeah, they’re getting sacks, with two in key situations. But a lot of the rest of the day Mark Sanchez had way too much time to throw the ball. They’re just not consistently getting pressure on the quarterback and I think that’s, with the secondary they’re playing with right now, that’s got to be a little bit of a concern for the defensive staff. They’ve got to find a way to get in the quarterback’s face even if they’re not sacking him, they’ve got to get in his face and rattle his gun a little bit so he’s not having the kind of time he had Sunday to find the open receiver.
RRM: You would think they’d want to get their defensive backs some help in bringing little bit of extra pressure, yet for some reason Bill Belichick just doesn’t like to dial things up?
SG: You know, the only thing I can figure out is that he’s so afraid of putting those guys in the secondary on an island by themselves by bringing the blitz that he’s not bringing pressure and trying to let linebackers get underneath coverage and help out a little bit. But you know, they struggled in the secondary last year early in the season and got better as the year went on, and I guess all we can hope is that the same thing’s going to happen again this year – that some of these young guys are going to get the experience that they need to make plays. It’s really difficult to play defensive back in the NFL right now because you can’t hardly touch a wide receiver within a flag being thrown. They had several defensive holding calls on the secondary on Sunday, a couple pass interferences for both teams, so it’s a difficult position to play the way the rules are written right now.
RRM: Poster boy Devin McCourty continued to be a lightning rod for this team. His kickoff return for a touchdown helped negate the Jets opening touchdown drive. Bun then his fumble late in the fourth quarter on another return nearly cost his team the game. We’re you surprised Bill kept him back there on kickoff returns for the rest of the game after the fumble?
SG: I think I was a little surprised about that. Usually Bill, if somebody makes a mistake like that, finds somebody else to put back there. But apparently he had enough confidence in him to put him back there. The return for the touchdown was very impressive, but you can’t drop the ball on another one. I don’t know, they must not have anybody else they feel comfortable with putting back there. I would think Julian Edelman or Wes Welker, who returns punts, would be able to return a kickoff too and hang on to the ball.
RRM: Maybe Danny Woodhead as well?
SG: Yeah, Woodhead would be good back there and he had some key plays late in the game playing offense. Who knows what Bill’s thinking, but he got away with it Sunday.
“I know the Jets have a fairly decent secondary and a solid defense, but it just doesn’t seem to be offensively clicking they way we’re used to seeing it click with Tom Brady back there.” – Steve Grogan
RRM: All eyes were on Tom Brady to see if he would have a bounce back game after last week’s spotty performance in Seattle. Although he failed to deliver when the Patriots were trying to put the game away, he came up with some big plays at the end of regulation and then in overtime?
SG: If you look at it offensively, they really didn’t do a whole heck of a lot the whole game. They had two touchdowns to Gronkowski, and then they had the kickoff return and the safety. If it hadn’t been for the kickoff return and the safety, they lose that game by a fairly substantial margin. So I’m not sure what’s going on offensively. They really never tried to establish the run a lot on Sunday, it didn’t look like the receivers were getting open. I know the Jets have a fairly decent secondary and a solid defense, but it just doesn’t seem to be offensively clicking they way we’re used to seeing it click with Tom Brady back there.
RRM: Speaking of not clicking, Brady targeted wide receiver Brandon Lloyd eight times and they only connected once for 6 yards on a little screen play. What’s going on with what was supposed to be this dynamic combination?
SG: I don’t know. Lloyd dropped a couple balls which would have helped his stats and helped the team. Again, there’s just some games where guys catch everything, and there’s some games were guys drop balls and Sunday was a dropped ball for Lloyd. They need to get him to go deep. Brady had him deep a couple times, overthrew him a couple, hit them in the hands once that I remember – that he dropped. I think they had the right idea in trying to target him, it just wasn’t working out.
RRM: Well, perhaps the most positive thing to take out of this game was the redemption of kicker Stephen Gostkowski. It had to help for him to nail both the game tying and game-winning field goal to keep the Patriots in first place?
SG: Yeah, there’s no question about that. I think everybody in the stadium I’m sure was holding their breath on the one that put it into overtime because he has missed a couple of those this year, which is unusual for him. But he’s done it, you hold your breath, and it went through and then he kicks the game-winner. So he’s got to be feeling a lot more confident and you have to have your field goal kicker feel confident that he can hit anything, anytime, anywhere, if you’re going to be successful and that confidence should come back with those two kicks.
RRM: For all the talk about Tim Tebow last week, we barely saw him on the field at all in this game. Was Rex Ryan simply blowing smoke all week about using Tebow as a running back?
SG: Yeah, I think he was probably trying to give the Patriots something else to work on defensively to take away from their regular preparation in trying to prepare for Tebow. But it’s hard to figure out what they’re doing with him or why they even have there. He plays the Wildcat position and runs up the middle for 4 yards, which you can turn around and hand to a running back and let him do the same thing. And then they put him on punt protection and he pretends he’s catching the ball every time but they don’t snap it to him. He just wasn’t a factor, so I’m figuring that Rex Ryan was just trying to give the Patriots something else to worry about.
RRM: You’ve always defended Tebow in the past and I can’t help but wonder if you see a little bit of yourself in him?
SG: You know, he’s a kid that has a lot of athletic ability, he can run the ball very well, not a great thrower – at least at this point in his career. He’s a lot bigger and stronger than I was in my heyday [laughs]. I guess I get disappointed when people criticize his throwing motion. The kid’s a competitor, he’s a winner, every time they put him in there, at least in Denver when he was starting, he was making plays and helping them win games. So I don’t know how you knock somebody that’s like that, and how you don’t give him a chance to do a little more even if he’s playing with the Jets. Give him a series or two and see what happens.
RRM: Last Friday on WEEI’s big show they were discussing Tim Tebow and show host Glenn Ordway stated in a similar vein that Steve Grogan was essentially a running back playing quarterback for the Patriots. Any response?
SG: I think we had some pretty good running backs back in those days, Sam Cunningham, Andy Johnson, Horace Ivory, Don Calhoun. I never considered myself a running back, I was a scrambler, more…I don’t know…bigger than Fran Tarkenton but a Joe Kapp kind of guy that didn’t mind running the ball when he had to, but I would never have considered myself a runningback.
RRM: This week the patriots take a hop across the pond to take on the young St. Louis Rams and quarterback Sam Bradford in London. What’s the biggest factor next week the trip itself, or the opponent?
SG: The trip over there is somewhat distracting, it takes you totally out of your routine. They’ve got the bye week the next week that they’re probably looking forward to. They’ve just come off an emotional overtime win against a division rival, and then they’re going over and playing a team that’s really not very good. I think all those things contribute to having to really stay focused on what you’re doing, what your job’s going to be when you get there. Don’t worry about the bye week coming up, it’ll come when the game’s over with. A lot of them have been through it before and played over there, but the young guys are going to have to really concentrate on staying focused and not let the trip and the team they’re playing distract them from preparing to play as well as they can.
RRM: I have to think the players to a man hate this whole part of playing, playing a game in Europe, it has to be a real distraction?
SG: Yeah, it just takes you out of your whole routine. The long flight over, I’m sure the big guys hate being on an airplane that long, although it’s not a whole lot longer than going to the West Coast. You’re staying in a hotel, you’re getting on a bus to go to practice, it’s not fun but it’s something you’ve got to do. As Bill Belichick says, “it is what it is” and they’ve got to get their preparation in, get the game over with, head home, and go from there.
RRM: The Rams are the youngest team in the NFL and like most young teams they play a lot better at home than they do on the road. But they do have some talent, especially the quarterback they invested in, Sam Bradford from Oklahoma. Given that fact it would be nice to get up a few scores and see if we can put a team away for change I suppose and go into the bye week with some positive energy?
SG: Yeah, it would be nice to see them have a walk-over kind of game where the offense comes out and puts up two or three scores in the first half, the defense shuts them down and they play the second half like they did the first half and get out of there with a win and get home and let everybody start healing up for a little bit. Now will that happen? Probably not [laughs], but that’s what you’re looking for anyway.
RRM: So what are Grogan’s Grades for the big overtime win against Rex’s Jets?
SG: This was a hard one to grade. Anytime you beat the Jets it’s a good thing, but I think across the board, offense, defense, special teams, they did some good things and they also did some bad things. To me it was just an average performance by everybody out there on Sunday. I give them a C across the board.
RRM: Considering the fact they didn’t have enough men on the field a couple times, I think that’s fair. It’s just funny, we’ve seen so many things from Belichick coached teams before and it’s really getting to the point where you can’t blame it on just the overall youth of the team?
SG: I would agree with that. There’s been some interesting decisions made by the coaching staff this year that you haven’t seen in the past. Not real sure what’s causing that, but we’ll find out more as the season progresses.
Grogan’s Grades For Week 7: