October 05, 2004
Grogan's Grade: Week 3
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots came away with a 31-17 win in Buffalo but it didn’t come quite as easily as the score indicated. What are your thoughts on New England's 18th consecutive victory?
Steve Grogan: There was a lot of sloppy football played in this game but it certainly was an exciting game to watch. There were a lot of big plays mixed in with a lot of bad plays. The Patriots had two pass plays that were over 40 yards, and the Bills had two. There was also that 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Terrence McGee that put the Bills right back in the game after it seemed the Patriots had assumed control. But in the end the Patriots should feel glad about coming out of Buffalo with a win because as we learned last year that doesn’t always happen.
RRM: A big factor in the victory that I thought was overlooked was the fact that the Patriots were able to drive 77 yards for a touchdown on the first possession of the game. It not only marked the 11th straight game in which the Patriots have scored first but showed they could score against a pretty good Buffalo defense?
SG: It’s always important to score first, and that was a pretty impressive nine-play drive by the Patriots to start the game. It made you think they were going to be able to do that all day but it didn’t happen. But you’re right, it did set the tone that this game wasn’t going to be like their last game in Buffalo where they got shutout. The Bills have a pretty solid defensive unit, there’s no doubt about that, and the Patriots’ ability to score on their very first possession had to put a little doubt in their minds.
RRM: You mentioned McGee’s touchdown on the kickoff return. The Patriots’ special teams coverage units have been so solid it really came as a shock. Is this an area that has to be addressed now?
SG: Specials teams coverage units just hate when they give up touchdowns, and that can really knock the momentum right out of a team. I can guarantee you there will be particular emphasis on special teams coverage in practice this week. They’ll also address cutting down those 10 penalties they were called for. That’s just too many, and it’s unnecessary. Poor special teams coverage and penalties can wind up costing you a game, so I know Bill Belichick will put this week to good use covering those very subjects.
RRM: The Bills offense was supposed to be floundering but Buffalo rolled up over 330 yards of offense and might have scored more than 17 points except for some critical mistakes. What was your take on that aspect of the contest?
SG: All week long all we heard about was how badly the Buffalo offensive line was playing, but I thought they played well in this game. They opened up some holes for Travis Henry who ran for just under 100 yards, and they protected Drew Bledsoe very well until late in the game when the Patriots started blitzing them on just about every play. The Patriots made some adjustments on defense and ended up shutting them out in the second half, but you really didn’t feel this game was secure until the very end.
RRM: Speaking of those penalties there was a total of 21 called by an officiating crew missing their referee after he went out with a pulled muscle early in the game. You would think they would be a little less inclined to call penalties, but the flags kept coming early and often in this game?
SG: There were a lot of flags in this game and they came out pretty early. I think something like five of the first six plays were affected by penalty calls, and I couldn’t help but think what the heck was going on out there. I thought the official that took over for Johnny Greer did a nice job of handling that situation. I never played in a game where we were short an official and I know the players feel with one less official on the field they can get away with a little more, but I thought the officiating crew did a good job in keeping things under control.
RRM: With the Patriots receiving corp nursing some injuries David Givens came up with some clutch catches in the second half. It appears as if he is just coming into his own right now?
SG: David Givens has really stepped up the last couple of games, and for a seventh round draft pick he has improved every year. They’ve needed him to improve with Deion Branch out and Troy Brown hurting. Bethel Johnson got banged up in this game so the Patriots are really going to need Givens to continue to make some big plays for this offense.
RRM: Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady posted close to identical numbers in this game but their two contrasting styles were clearly on display. What was your analysis of their performances?
SG: I think we saw Drew Bledsoe at both his best and his worst in this game. When he gets protection like he did in the first half he can throw the ball as well as any quarterback in the National Football League. But when he starts getting pressure like he did late in the game he just doesn’t have the mobility to get out of the way. I think he does have the ability to feel the pressure like Tom Brady is so adept at doing, but he just doesn’t possess the agility to move quickly. Brady is so good at feeling the pressure and then sliding up in the pocket and avoiding the pressure to get the throw off. Buffalo blitzed Brady a lot in this game and although the Patriots offensive line did a good job in picking up the blitzes he avoided some of the pressure just with his feet. That’s something Bledsoe just can’t do.
RRM: This was a game of redemption for Tom Brady, who called last year’s game at Buffalo the worst game of his career. Since it can’t be called a spectacular performance I guess we just have to call it his usually steady effort?
SG: I thought Brady really made some great throws down the field in this game. He did a good job throwing the long ball and that was really the first time we’ve seen that this year. I did think he struggled a little bit at times but he made some great decisions under pressure. They came after him with a lot of blitzes and he was able to throw some balls into some really tight spots. I thought one of his best throws was when he got flushed from the pocket and while on the run hit David Patten along the right sideline in the endzone, but Patten wasn’t able to hold onto the ball. It was a really good throw, but I am at the point now where nothing he does surprises me any longer.
RRM: The key play of the game was Tedi Bruschi forcing the fumble by Bledsoe that led to game-clinching touchdown on Richard Seymour’s 68-yard return. But why was Buffalo head coach Mike Mularkey trying to roll out Bledsoe on that play?
SG: Why they would want to run a bootleg with Bledsoe is beyond me. I think their coach needs to learn a little more about Bledsoe’s abilities. Even though the back missed his blocking assignment, that is not the play to call on a fourth-and-three situation. He’ll be hearing about that call in Buffalo all week long, guaranteed.
RRM: I kept expecting Richard Seymour to turn around and lateral the ball to Rodney Harrison who is much faster and let him take it in for the clinching score, but I guess linemen no longer do that in the NFL?
SG: They don’t give the ball up anymore, that’s for sure [laughs]! They want to make sure they get on the ESPN highlights. Tedi Bruschi not only knocked the ball loose to put that play in motion, he also threw a heck of a block to take care of the only guy who possibly could have caught Seymour. Harrison just escorted him the rest of the way, and it was a fun play to watch.
RRM: A win over the Dolphins at home this Sunday will bring the Patriots winning streak to an amazing 19 games. As a former player can you put that amazing feat into perspective for us?
SG: Not having been through that myself it’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like. I don’t think it’s something you would dwell on as a player, but it’s also something that’s in the back of your mind. You know it’s something special and when this streak finally does come to an end they’ll all look back and realize what they accomplished because in today’s NFL that just doesn’t happen.
It’s an impressive record although the NFL doesn’t recognize it as an official record because it includes playoff games. I think it’s something that these Patriots’ players are thinking about a little bit, but they won’t let their coach know that because he doesn’t want to hear anything about it. But right now Bill Belichick has them focused on one game at a time, and that’s exactly the way they need to approach it.
RRM: Miami is off to an 0-4 start for the first time since 1966 and has been just woeful on offense. This upcoming game has to be a defensive coordinator’s dream come true?
SG: The biggest challenge for Romeo Crennel is not to allow the Patriots defensive players to look at the films and come to the conclusion that the Dolphins are so bad on offense that they don’t have to work hard this week. That is something that they have to be concerned about, because without Ricky Williams this is not a very good offensive football team. But the Dolphins are still pretty strong defensively, and that’s why I would like to see the Patriots jump ahead of them early because that would take them right out of the game. A 30-point win would be nice and I would finally like to see the Patriots play a game where they get ahead at the outset and then remain in control for the rest of the game instead of the nailbiters at the end that this team always seems to be involved in.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the victory over the Bills in Week #3?
SG: There just wasn’t much consistency this week, so that’s why I’m going to have to grade them a little lower this week with a B- all around. There were stretches of some really good play from the Patriots offense and defense, but there were also some pretty poor play on both sides of the ball. I was really concerned about how well Buffalo was able to run the ball against the Patriots defense. After the Colts ran the ball so well against them in the opener they had supposedly corrected things against Arizona, but I thought the Bills were able to run against them way too easily. The fact that the Bills were able to protect Bledsoe as well as they did with their supposedly terrible offensive line concerned me, too. That means there’s plenty of room for improvement this week against Miami.
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