December 27, 2004
Grogan's Grade: Week 15
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, after the Patriots turned aside the Jets 23-7 in New York it would appear that rumors of their impending collapse after their meltdown in Miami last Monday turned out to be greatly exaggerated?
Steve Grogan: Just a little bit [laughs]! I could see everybody having concerns after what they did last week in Miami but they certainly got everything back together in this game and played very well against a good football team. Watching this game I was thinking this was one of their most impressive efforts of the season. Everyone played well and they totally dominated the game against a good team. This may have been their best overall game since they beat the Colts in the season opener.
RRM: It was apparent that every member of the Patriots took last week’s lost to the Dolphins personally but none more so than quarterback Tom Brady. Brady competed 21 or 32 against the Jets and threw for two scores and looked to be his usually unflappable self?
SG: Brady played well, but more importantly he played within himself and he didn’t force anything. They really didn’t have the running game going in the first half and he had to kind of carry the load. They got back to some of the shorter passing game that has worked well for them in the past and that got them through to the second half with the lead, and then they unleashed Corey Dillon and everything was fine.
RRM: Perhaps the most impressive stretch in this game by the Patriots offense came in the third quarter when they dominated the Jets on a 79-yard scoring drive while going into the wind. Do you agree?
SG: The Patriots certainly had a huge drive there. They ate up over seven minutes on the clock, and with them holding onto the ball for so long the Jets never got a chance to get back into the game at that point because they didn’t have the ball.
RRM: We all saw how tough the wind conditions were at the Meadowlands. How does a quarterback attempt to compensate for throwing the ball in those conditions?
SG: That kind of wind affects the way you throw the ball and you’re play-calling. You really have to be careful with what you’re trying to do when it’s that windy. Brady had a couple of balls that got away from him that looked like just horrible throws but a lot of that had to do with the wind. Both quarterbacks had some problems dealing with it, and what you have to do is not put the ball downfield as much. That’s the tact they took in this game and it worked very well.
RRM: Kicker Adam Vinatieri had to deal with those same wind conditions and came through, hitting three out of his four attempts. Is there a better bad weather kicker in the game than him?
SG: He just doesn’t seem to let anything bother him. It doesn’t matter what the conditions are, he’s going to put it through. The chance that the Patriots had the 50-yard attempt at the end of the half was due to a stupid play on the Jets part. We’ll probably look at the stats at the end of the year and Vinatieri may have two misses. It won’t show in the record book but that was probably an unmakeable kick. He gave it a good ride, though.
RRM: After a slow start in this game the Patriots offensive line really seem to assert itself against a Jets’ defense that was blitzing often. What did you think of the play of the big uglies up front?
SG: The Patriots’ offensive line protected Brady well after the early going when he got hit a few times. The Patriots didn’t run the ball as well in the first half as you would have liked to have seen, but it looked to me like the Jets’ game plan was to take away Corey Dillon and see if Brady could beat them by throwing in those conditions. Brady was able to do that, and once they got the lead they were able to push Dillon with some four and five yard gains consistently and he got his numbers in the second half. But it was a really good, solid performance by the offensive line.
RRM: With Kevin Faulk out Patrick Pass moved over from fullback and was able to spell Dillon very effectively. I guess it’s just another example of the versatility on this team?
SG: Pass had 17 yards running and 32 receiving on five catches, and he’s a guy we don’t see very often but when we do he always seems to be making plays. You have to give him a lot of credit for keeping his head in the game and being ready to play when he’s called on.
RRM: It seemed the Jets’ defense had no answers for Deion Branch in this game, who burned them with seven catches for 82 yards and a score?
SG: Branch had a really good game. Just prior to the play where he caught a little seam route that went for 21 yards they were in the huddle and I saw Brady and Branch looking at each other, and I could see him shaking his head yes and saying something to Brady. You could just tell he was going to get the ball on that play and it was a big one down to the 11-yardline that set up a Vinatieri field goal at the end of the first half. That’s the kind of feel a quarterback and receiver need to have, and in this game Branch and Brady seemed to have that.
RRM: I think every Pats’ fan watching the game kept waiting for the usual breakdowns in the Patriots secondary, but the joke was on us because they never came?
SG: It looked like the game plan for the Patriots was to stop Curtis Martin, which they did (only 33 yards on 13 attempts), and to take away the outside receivers of the Jets and make Pennington throw to his inside people, and the Jets never really adjusted. They didn’t get the ball to the tight end and only threw underneath to Martin a few times. I just thought the Jets really didn’t adjust well to what the Patriots were doing to them.
RRM: From your perspective as a former quarterback, what the heck happened to Chad Pennington in this game?
SG: I thought his teammates hurt his cause with a lot of dropped balls in the first half. When you’re throwing the ball halfway well and your guys are dropping them on you it can affect your confidence. Once the Jets fell behind I thought he started pressing a little bit, and that happens to a lot of guys.
RRM: Although the Patriots lost out on the #1-seed in the upcoming playoffs they secured a first round bye and will get a week off to rest their walking wounded. Can the value of that week off be overstated?
SG: The bye week is just huge because it’s going to make it possible to get some of these players rested up and healthy. Richard Seymour came out of this game but it doesn’t look like it’s too serious which is good news. This will be their first week off since the second week of the season and they really need it. Having the homefield for the first playoff game will be good, but if they are totally healthy they’ll be as good as Pittsburgh if not better when they head down there for the AFC Championship Game.
I know people seemed to think they needed to win this game to reestablish themselves as one of the elite teams heading into the postseason, but even if they had lost I don’t think that would have changed the perspective of how the rest of the league regards them. But the win does solidify their reputation of being able to beat good football teams when they have to.
RRM: The Patriots end the season this Sunday with what will turn out to be a meaningless game against the NFL’s worst team in the San Francisco 49ners. How long does Bill Belichick play his starters in this one?
SG: I would say you don’t play your starters a whole lot next week. They have a lot of guys they need to get healthy, but they can’t rest too many people in the defensive secondary because they don’t have enough people to cover all the positions! That’s going to be a problem, but at least with the defensive line and linebackers they can substitute a lot during the game. With the offensive personnel I wouldn’t give Brady more than a half and maybe not even that much. I’d give Corey Dillon a few carries early in the game and then sit him down as well. The rest of the guys should be fine playing the whole game, but you are going to be seeing a lot of people on the field. I imagine San Francisco is not terribly excited about winning the game so they can make sure they get the #1 draft pick, and you can be sure coming from the West Coast they are not going to enjoy making the trip all the way across the country to play a meaningless game in the frigid cold.
RRM: What are Grogan’s Grades for the win over the Jets in Week #15?
SG: It has to be A’s all around for this game. Everybody did their job against a very good football team. This was as probably as fine an all-around performance you will see from a team. Everyone contributed in some way, and I thought Tedy Bruschi had a really good game on defense. He had that interception in the first quarter that really set the tone for the game, and he led the team in tackles as well. Jarvis Green was in on a lot of plays and played pretty well, too. Brady and Branch on offense had really good games, and Corey Dillon gets an honorable mention. He was able to pound the football and keep the clock running once they got the lead, and that’s what they got him for. This was just a great effort to take into the playoffs and it will revive everyone’s confidence in them that they can get the job done when the postseason starts.
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