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 the question of how the Patriots offense would fair without tight end Rob Gronkowski was answered emphatically on Thanksgiving with a 49-19 blowout of Rex Ryan’s Jets. After the overtime game the two teams played last month, I really doubted that we’d see a game like this. Did you?
Steve Grogan: I think it was a little surprising that they won so handily. But it was one of those games where they did everything right, and the Jets did everything wrong. I don’t think either team is as good or as bad as they looked like the other night, but it certainly was fun to watch them hammer the Jets the way they did.
RRM: The Patriots turned the game into a rout in the second quarter with three touchdowns in :52. The first, a Tom Bady to Shane Vereen hookup out of the backfield that went for 83 yards. That play came about so easily, I’m thinking that had to be something they spotted on film prior to the game?
SG: Probably. They probably had something on film that they felt like they could get a big play. I’m not sure they expected to get that big of a play. When something breaks like that, either you’ve found something on film study, or you just run a regular play and somebody on the defensive side of the ball just totally breaks down – that’s not what it looked like happened.
RRM: The other two scores in that sequence came on returns off of Jets turnovers. The most bizarre had to be when Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez ran smack dab into the butt of his own lineman and fumbled the ball to Steve Gregory, who scored an easy touchdown. Had you ever seen that particular play happen before?
SG: [Laughs] Not off the top of my head. I’m sure I’ve probably seen it, but it’s a rarity. Just to run into your lineman and have the ball pop out into somebody else’s hands – it tells you it’s not your night. It’s just one of those crazy things that can happen occasionally, but it was just not the Jets night because of things like that happening.
RRM: The unsung hero on that play was massive Vince Wilfork, who seemingly week after week we forget to mention his name, but he’s probably the most important player on the defensive side of the ball for the Patriots?
SG: Yeah, he’s become a steady performer. He just demands double teams, which frees up other people and still makes plays even though he’s being double teamed. He’s really turned into a veteran leader on that team and their defensive front would be hurting without him.
RRM: It’s funny, the point explosion kind of minimized the key interception that Steve Gregory made that helped keep the game scoreless in the first quarter. Was that play a perfect example of why Mark Sanchez will never be an elite quarterback in this league?
SG: It’s probably an example of that. I thought Gregory baited him into that one and made a nice play on it. But you don’t see guys like Brady, or Peyton Manning, or even Drew Brees make throws like that. They don’t let guys bait them into throwing interceptions very often and Sanchez seems to let it happen far too often. That’s probably why he’ll never be the greatest quarterback that the Jets want him to be.
RRM: Back in my high school days we used to call that a “sucker play”.
SG: [Laughs] It was. It looked he was going to one side of the field, jumped the other side – and it happens to most quarterbacks at some point in time. But it seems to happen a lot to Sanchez.
“Welker’s still a great player and a huge part of their offense. Maybe he doesn’t deserve the long-term contract with the big money that he’s looking for, but they certainly have a guy like Edelman who can step in and do the same kinds of things that Welker’s doing.” – Steve Grogan (FILE:USPresswire)
RRM: Julian Edelman was seemingly all over the field on Thursday night and he just killed the Jets with two scores. You couldn’t help watching that performance and think that Bill Belichick now feels justified for all the playing time he gave to Edelman at the expense of Wes Welker at the early part of the season?
SG: Welker’s still a great player and a huge part of their offense. Maybe he doesn’t deserve the long-term contract with the big money that he’s looking for, but they certainly have a guy like Edelman who can step in and do the same kinds of things that Welker’s doing. Edelman seems to get better and better every year and every week. He’s becoming more and more of a factor for them.
RRM: Aside from a missed field goal by Stephen Gostkowski at the start of the game, this had to be best game turned in by the Patriots special teams unit this year do you think?
SG: I would say that was probably a correct statement. I thought their special teams played outstanding. Gostkowski’s gotta become a little bit more consistent. It’s unusual to see him miss. I think it takes everybody by surprise when he does, but all-in-all their special teams have really been playing well the last few games.
RRM: I was going to ask you specifically about Gostkowski. No one expects him to be perfect, but with all these key games coming up against top opponents in December, it has to make you just a little but nervous with some of his kicks this year.
SG: There’s a little doubt in the back of everybody’s minds right now and you know if the fans have the doubt in the back of their minds, then the coaches have the doubt and probably Gostkowski himself has a little bit of doubt because he’s not used to missing field goals like that. So it’s going to be extremely important for him to get his confidence back as they get down the stretch run and into the playoffs because they can’t afford to have misses like that.
RRM: From a players perspective is having the last 10 days off a significant benefit compared to having only three to prepare for the Thanksgiving day game?
SG: I think it helps a little bit. We never played on a Thursday night, but to have 10 days off and a couple of days to get away from it all even though they have the bye weeks now, it’s like having another short bye week and I’m sure the players were looking forward to getting away from things for a couple of days.
RRM: With the Patriots being off on Sunday it gave all of us a chance to catch up on the rest of the league. I guess what we found out is that the Texans have more lives than a cat, Peyton is Peyton again, and the Steelers are in a lot of trouble?
SG: Yeah, the Steelers are really hurting without Roethlisberger and they’ve got some other guys banged up – according to what I heard. Peyton Manning is back to his old stuff in Denver, he’s making them a contender. I think we also found out that there’s nobody else in the AFC East that’s going to challenge the Patriots. Miami, Buffalo, and New York just don’t have much talent this year.
RRM: Speaking of opponents in the division, the Patriots travel down to Miami this week to play a young Dolphins team that snapped a three game losing streak with a last-second win over Seattle. Is that kind of emotional victory a good sign for them heading into this game?
SG: I think it’s a good sign for them, but I still think they’re in way over their heads playing against the Patriots. They don’t have the talent level that the Patriots have. They will be playing at home, it will be warm, which the Patriots aren’t going to be used to – although they probably will practice in the dome with the heat turned up so that’s not a factor like it used to be in the old days. This is a game that if the Patriots take care of business the way they should, should not be a very close football game.
RRM: So far this season the Patriots are 1-1 facing rookie quarterbacks. Miami’s Ryan Tannehill will break the tie on Sunday, but do you consider him on the same level as either Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck – whom the Patriots have already faced?
SG: I think he’s a good young quarterback. He’s going to have a good future in the league, but I don’t think he’s to the level of the other two guys at this point. At least he doesn’t have the talent around him that the other two guys seem to have right now and that makes it hard for him to rise to their level.
RRM: You mentioned the weather down in Miami being a factor. Miami’s never been a safe haven for the Patriots’ fortunes over the years as I’m sure you can attest. But Bill Belichick has probably over the years prepared his team just about as well as anybody to deal with the crowd, the conditions, everything a team faces when he goes to Miami. He’s only been stung a couple of times down there, so I wouldn’t think playing them down there at this time of year will be a factor?
SG: I don’t think he’s going to worry too much about the weather. Again, it’s a young team with a young quarterback. If they hang around and hang around in the game, the crowd will keep them in it. But if the Patriots can jump ahead early and take the crowd out of the game, there’s so many other things for those people to do down there, they’ll be leaving at halftime and it will turn into what will seem like a Patriots home game because there are a lot of Patriots fans down there that do show up for the games.
RRM: I imagine the charter flights will be booked up this weekend?
SG: More than likely [laughs].
RRM: What were Grogan’s for the 49-19 annihilation of the Jets on turkey day evening?
SG: I don’t do this very often, but I gave them an A+ for not only beating the Jets, but embarrassing them on national television in front of the whole nation. To me that’s something pretty good. The hated Jets…it’s fun to watch them struggle like that. The look on Rex Ryan’s face after the third score in :52 was priceless.
RRM: I was going to say it’s hard to explain, but it was kind of acquired with you once you moved up here – wins over the Jets just seemed to be, for the last 30 or so years that I can remember, they just take the place of any other victory over any other team in the NFL.
SG: Yeah, I think the rivalry really started back in the late 70’s when we had some pretty good teams and they had some pretty good teams and that rivalry has continued since then. The proximity between the two cities and the fact that we’ve had good teams at both places over the years, I think they’ve become the chief rival of the Patriots and to beat them like that the other night is pretty special.