September 20, 2005
Grogan's Grade: Week 2
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, all I could think about while watching the Carolina Panthers dismantle the Patriots 27-17 was that they had 10 days to prepare for this game and that was the best effort they could muster. I thought having a few extra days was supposed to help you as a player?
Steve Grogan: Sometimes those extra days off aren’t good for you. You need to be in your rhythm of playing every seven days, and this may have been one of those times where they had too many days to prepare and got a little lazy about things. You have to give Carolina credit because they are a good football team, but the Patriots just played really sloppy football and you can’t win against a good team when you do that.
Everyone wants to know how they could play so badly, and it’s really hard to explain. Did all the players have a bad bed at the hotel and didn’t get any sleep the night before? Did they have a bad week at home? It’s hard to put a finger on; it just happens sometimes. But that’s just what happened on Sunday, and I fully expect them to get things back on track next week.
RRM: As bad as things were (and they were bad!) when the Patriots rallied to score 10 points in a scant 27 seconds in the third quarter you couldn’t help but think that despite everything that had gone wrong they were going to pull this one out. Did you have that same feeling?
SG: Sure, and that’s a good thing for us as fans to be thinking that way now. In the old days we would have been waiting for something bad to happen and now when they catch a break you start thinking they’re going to be all right, and most of the time they will be. Unfortunately when Carolina’s Mike Rucker knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand for a fumble that ended all the momentum the Patriots had going for them. That turnover set up the Panther’s clinching touchdown, and there wasn’t any miracle comeback this time.
RRM: When was the last time the Patriots committed a dozen penalties in one game? Doesn’t it just seem inconceivable that could happen?
SG: Actually the last time it happened was on September 19 of last season in the game against Arizona. Yesterday was the 18th, so it must be something about that weekend. They’ll just have to quit playing on that weekend! There were six false starts alone by the offensive line, and that’s just lack of focus. I don’t care how loud it is in the stadium, there’s just no excuse for that. You’re going on a silent count anyway with Brady in the shotgun and he’s picking his foot up so you’re looking at the ball waiting for it to move, and as a lineman it’s inexcusable to have that many false starts.
RRM: Bill Belichick took a lot of criticism for not challenging two key calls that went against the Patriots in this game, in particular the apparent goalline fumble that resulted in Carolina’s first touchdown. In retrospect do you think he should have?
SG: I’m sure he must have been told something from the booth on both of those plays. The Patriots assistants were looking right at it, so they must have told him something that led him to believe those calls wouldn’t have been overturned. They have that rule that if the whistle blows you can’t review a call if there’s a fumble. That may have been what he was thinking. But that’s not what lost the game for them. They played sloppily all day, didn’t get anything going in the running game all day, and it cost them.
RRM: What surprised me the most, and Patriots center Dan Koppen readily admitted it after the game, was that Carolina flat out beat up the Patriots physically in this game. When’s the last time that has happened to this team?
SG: You don’t see it happen too often, and it’s even rarer for someone from the team to admit that to the press. Defensively I thought Carolina played a great game. They really came after the Patriots up front and their blitzes not only succeeded in rushing Tom Brady, but they were taking away the running game at the same time. You have to give them some credit; they had a pretty good game plan and they executed very well.
RRM: The Patriots had good success when they tried a screen pass to Kevin Faulk to combat the Carolina blitz. Were you surprised they didn’t try that play a few more times?
SG: No, because when you run screens against blitzes you have to catch things just right. On that particular play where Faulk made that 22-yard gain they caught it just right, and it is a gamble to do it too many times. Usually you need your back to pick somebody up, and he can get caught in the crossfire in the blitz and then you have nobody to throw the ball to! I can tell you as a quarterback that what happens after that isn’t very pleasant, so it didn’t surprise me that they didn’t go back to that play.
RRM: The Patriots managed only 39 yards rushing in this game and there are already some whispers that at nearly age 31 Corey Dillon may have seen better days. Do you share that opinion?
SG: The failure of the running game falls squarely on the shoulders of New England’s offensive line. I don’t think Corey Dillon has lost a step like a lot of the people in the media are speculating. The Patriots’ offensive line was not pushing the line of scrimmage the way they needed to, although I thought they did a passable job of protecting Tom Brady despite the fact Carolina kept coming with a ton of blitzes all day long. But I think it’s a little premature to start getting on Dillon. There’s just no place to run right now and that’s not his fault. That doesn’t mean he’s lost a step. That’s just the typical Boston media trying to look for something that isn’t there in my opinion.
RRM: It certainly wasn’t one of the better days Tom Brady has had. What was your take on his performance?
SG: Tom Brady was just not accurate as he usually is. The constant pressure he was under forced him to throw the ball a little quicker than he would have liked. He had some throws that were off target that you normally don’t see him miss by that much. His receivers dropped some balls that didn’t help matters. It was just one of those bad days where everything went wrong at the same time and hopefully they got it out of their system.
RRM: I don’t think I’ve seen Tom Brady argue with the officials as strongly as he did on the play where they called pass interference on tight end Ben Watson late in the fourth quarter. It almost looked like he was trying to shake himself and his teammates out of the funk they were in.
SG: That’s the thing, Tom Brady is not used to being in that situation and I could tell he was getting frustrated. I’m guessing they had about five balls dropped in this game, and he had about five balls that he threw either too high or just behind his receiver. It was a really frustrating day for him because he just couldn’t find his rhythm. When you can’t find your rhythm and you get frustrated you take it out on somebody, and he was just taking it out on the referees and anyone else that would listen.
RRM: Brady didn’t look like he enjoyed doing the postgame press conference. You’ve been in that situation before; how tough is it to go out and face the press after a game like that?
SG: It’s not fun. You can’t explain what happened, and people keep asking you questions and you keep trying to come up with excuses and reasons for what happened and there just aren’t any. There are some days where everything seems to go wrong, and Sunday was one of those days for the Patriots.
RRM: So how does Bill Belichick approach practice this week? Does he crack the whip to get his players back on the straight and narrow?
SG: Well, you don’t want to ride your players too hard during the week and wear them out. Practices will probably be a little more intense than normal. A lot of times in practice you go at 75%. You’re going through your assignments and you do your job, but when you’re coming off a loss like this the intensity level in practice will get up to 90% to 100% and some of the leaders on the team will practice a little harder which will raise everyone’s effort a little more.
You can expect Belichick and his staff will be a little more focused during the week, and if somebody is doing something wrong they are going to make sure they let him know about it. But most of these guys are veterans and they already know what they are doing wrong, and the coaches will review the film and point it out to them to add some emphasis. Believe me, they all know that if they continue to make mistakes like this some of them won’t be around to play the rest of the season. That’s the way you scare them into getting better.
RRM: The Patriots have the unenviable task of trying to get back on track this Sunday with a trip to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. Who said life in the NFL was easy?
SG: The Steelers are playing really well right now. They have that power running running game which is in high gear with their new running back Willie Parker racking up 100-yard rushing games. Their young quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is defying the sophomore jinx and playing well, and don’t forget they have a pretty strong defense as well. I guess Roethlisberger is now 15-0 as a starter in regular season games, and it sure would be nice to bring that consecutive-game winning streak of his to an end. The Patriots need to correct a lot of things this week, but they have enough talent on that team to come back and play well.
I think what you saw in this game from Carolina after losing to New Orleans (and being a little bit embarrassed in that game), coming out and playing with a lot of emotion and being very physical, will be the case with the Patriots this Sunday. I expect to see them do the same thing in Pittsburgh. I think they will get very physical with the Steelers and play with a lot of emotion and get things back on track.
RRM: Is there anything in particular you’ll be looking for in this game if the Patriots are to prevail?
SG: For me the key to the game will be to shut down Pittsburgh’s running game while trying to find one of their own. This Carolina football team was a very physical team and Pittsburgh is going to be the same way. The Patriots’ offensive line really has to answer the call this week and give Corey Dillon some room to run. These guys are going to have get tough this week and know that they have to prepare themselves to go out and start pushing some people around up front, and if they can do that then they’ll be all right.
RRM: For once I really hate to ask this, but what are Grogan’s Grades for the debacle in Carolina in Week #2?
SG: You really can’t sugarcoat this performance by the Patriots. It was a below average performance on both sides of the ball as well as the special teams, and you can’t give them anywhere near an average grade for that kind of performance. They couldn’t get any rhythm going on offense and they had spurts where they played well on defense but it was frustrating to watch. The punt coverage team was very poor, and you may start to see a few more starters playing on that special teams unit if that keeps up. That’s really embarrassing to see that happen like that. They really have to get that figured out in a hurry because that kind of breakdown will cost you a game.
The only player I think is worth mentioning is Troy Brown. I was really happy for him that he had such a big game in front of so many of his family members. He had a couple of big plays, although he ran out of gas sprinting down the sideline with that 71-yard catch and run he had to set up the Patriots only offensive touchdown of the game. It’s funny but we’ve gotten so used to watching this team be so methodical that when they do play like this it’s cause for concern. It’s not time to jump off the bandwagon and get overly concerned, but they do have some things they need to correct and they need to get back on the right track quickly because the schedule doesn’t get any easier over the next few weeks.
A veteran writer on the Boston sports scene, R. R. Marshall has written features for both local and national sports publications for more than a decade. His popular Q & A columns on the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, and Boston College Eagles appear year round in both the electronic and print media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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