November 09, 2005
Grogan's Grade: Week 8
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, Patriot Nation’s worst fears about this game with the Indianapolis Colts were realized as Peyton Manning didn’t break a sweat in leading his club to an easy 40-21 victory. Were your surprised by the outcome?
Steve Grogan: Looking at this game realistically going into it most people would have predicted this was the way the game should have turned out. I think as Patriots’ fans most of us held out hope that Bill Belichick could work his magic again or that Peyton Manning would choke, but those things didn’t happen. Instead the game turned out like it probably should have. When you are playing against one of the greatest passers in league history in Peyton Manning with guys in the secondary that are young and inexperienced and probably not very talented it shows up in a hurry.
They are just so beat up right now, and while they can play with the average to poor teams in the NFL when they are matched with the elite teams of the league it is tough for them to compete. Hopefully they can get healthier in the second half of the season before the playoffs start. If they get Richard Seymour back that will help them with the pass rush, and when you can‘t cover very well you try to make up for that by getting some pressure on the quarterback. When you are playing a great offensive team like the Colts you hope to counter by getting your offense going, particularly with the running game so you can control the clock and keep the ball away from them. Unfortunately for the Patriots Corey Dillon is still nicked up and he’s the only healthy running back they have. It seemed everything was going against them last night and it wound up being a blow out.
RRM: While many believe the Colts are improved this year they looked like the same team to me, and I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that if the Patriots did have Tyrone Poole, Rodney Harrison, and Richard Seymour things might have turned out differently?
SG: I agree, if the Patriots are totally healthy then this is an entirely different game. On their opening touchdown drive Peyton Manning threw a long pass off of a scramble, and if Seymour is playing the pass rush probably gets to him in that instance and the long completion to Marvin Harrison doesn’t happen and this becomes a different game. I was impressed with the way the Patriots played last night offensively and defensively except for the secondary. I thought their people up front did a decent job of controlling the situation relatively speaking. The offense moved the ball well at times but the Corey Dillon fumble in the second quarter when they had a chance to tie the game at 14 turned out to be a huge factor. Instead of 14-14 the Colts drove for another touchdown after that to make it 21-7 at the half. Then the Patriots really got in trouble at the start of the second half when they came out and threw three straight incomplete passes that took all of 22 seconds. Suddenly Indianapolis had the ball back already up by 14 and it was time to turn out the lights.
RRM: Patriots’ cornerback Duane Starks was toasted early and often in this game and found himself on the sidelines for most of the second half. Do you think his days as a starting corner with this team are done after that performance?
SG: I would imagine that at least for the time being he will be coming off the bench as an extra defensive back on passing downs. He just got burned way too many times by Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne to keep him out there. If you’re a head coach you have to try something different and get someone else on the field. I don’t think Bill Belichick has any choice right now but to try and shake things up in that secondary, and with Randall Gay back he has some options so he’s going to use them.
RRM: Peyton Manning finally broke the Foxboro Curse and beat the Patriots in their home stadium, but let’s be honest. Do you really believe the fact that he had never beaten them in Foxboro ever really bothered him psychologically?
SG: I don’t think Peyton Manning would ever admit that his poor record against the Patriots was a huge monkey on his back, but having dealt with similar issues myself I’m pretty sure he felt like it was! Just having to constantly talk about it with the media whenever he played against the Patriots made it an issue for him, and I’m sure he’s glad to get that behind him once and for all. Let’s face it, he was eventually going to win in Foxboro and beat the Patriots at some point because they just have too much talent on that team not to win.
RRM: Peyton Manning has never suffered a major injury in his career. Can you attribute that to his offensive line or his style of play?
SG: Manning is just a smart quarterback. He knows when to get rid of the ball when he feels pressure. Tom Brady is the same way; they don’t hold the ball or take the shots in the pocket. They are both really smart quarterbacks that make quick reads and get rid of the ball in a hurry, and it’s hard for defenders to get clean shots at them.
RRM: The match up between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady was hyped all week long, and while we all know they really aren’t playing against each other as a fan you can’t help but wonder if that affects them at all. Did playing a game against a star quarterback like a Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, or Roger Staubach get your competitive juices flowing during your playing days?
SG: I think it’s special, sure. When you are an NFL quarterback and you are competing against one of the best you want to be as good or better than him on that day. I was never at the level that Tom Brady is at right now [laughs], but I think the two of them are pretty darn even right now. I’m sure both of them were revved up and wanted to show the entire nation that they could do a better job than the other guy and they both played at a very high level.
RRM: Patriots fans have been criticized for becoming spoiled and leaving games early, but those critics had to be shocked when they saw the shot of Bob Kraft sitting in his private box all by his lonesome near the end of the game. If all the bigwigs clear out early why should the fans stick around?
SG: I’ll tell you what, Bob Kraft has got a lot of loyal supporters doesn’t he! I guarantee you that picture will turn up in some magazine, just him and all those empty chairs. I thought the TV producer came up with the perfect shot to express how Patriots’ fans were feeling near the end of the game. I can’t help but wonder, though, if there was a memo circulated through the front office the following morning about staying in the box for the end of the game!
RRM: I really feel the fans are taking a bum wrap here. No offense intended, but when I used to take the drive down to see you play we’d always try and get out a few minutes early if the game was in hand. That doesn’t detract from a fan’s loyalty, does it?
SG: I don’t believe so. Leaving the game early is really nothing new around here. Fans are fans; they like to go to a game and have a good time, and when their team is getting blown out it’s not a good time anymore. Considering how long it takes to get out of that stadium and the traffic problems on Route 1, I certainly don’t hold it against them. If the fans have an excuse to leave early they’re going to leave early. In this case with it being a Monday night game and a blowout they jumped out of there pretty quickly. But it wasn’t surprising or being disloyal to the team, and the players don’t take it that way either.
RRM: Despite the loss the Patriots remain in first place with a 4-4 record, and it’s starting to look like a 10-6 or even a 9-7 mark might be good enough to take the AFC East?
SG: I think it’s highly possible that 9-7 could win this division. I know it sounds like an old cliché but once you hit the playoffs anything can happen. You want to go into the postseason feeling good about yourself, and if they are getting healthy around that time and playing better football then they can make a run in the playoffs, and who knows what might happen?
RRM: I have to ask you about the goings on with Terrell Owens and the Philadelphia Eagles. Here are the defending NFC Champions struggling to stay above .500 suspending arguably the best receiver in all of football for his unforgivable actions, and yet I think every football fan across America would give the Eagles a standing ovation for their course of action. What are your thoughts?
SG: Terrell Owens is an idiot. Here’s a guy that just doesn’t get it. Eagles’ head coach Andy Reid has given him all kinds of chances, but all of sudden Owens decided he’s bigger than the team and bigger than the game, and that will NEVER happen. There will never be a player that’s bigger than his team or the game, and I’m extremely glad with what they did. I even hope nobody signs him next year. I don’t care how good he is; he’s an idiot that is blowing an opportunity to make a lot of money doing something he likes to do just because he can’t keep his mouth shut.
RRM: No one can excuse you about beating around the bush on this issue! But as a fan of the game does it frustrate you when a player with such God given talent just lets it go to waste like this?
SG: Sure it does. It’s hard to figure out guys sometimes and why they think they are so important and just can’t be happy playing football. There are plenty of star athletes that are immature and were pampered all the way through their high school and college careers but are still decent human beings. Right now this guy is at the borderline of not being a decent human being. It’s just common courtesy not to criticize your teammates in public. It’s also common courtesy to do what your coach tells you to do when he tells you to do it. There’s just no excuse for that.
The thing I really hope doesn’t happen and I saw it happen a few years ago with Keeshawn Johnson when he got suspended in Tampa Bay, they put him on the football pregame show for the rest of the season and let him flap his mouth for the remainder of the year which only encouraged him to say more stupid things. I’ll guarantee you some network is going to do that for Owens, and he’ll think he’s just important as he always was and he won’t learn his lesson.
RRM: This Sunday the Pats travel to sunny Miami for a game with the Dolphins. While it may seem a gimme on paper the fact is the Patriots are only 1-4 in Miami under Belichick and that lone win came in overtime. What are your thoughts on the game?
SG: It certainly won’t be an easy game, but it will be preferable to what they just went through! They’ll be going up against a quarterback in Gus Frerotte that is nowhere near the caliber of Peyton Manning so that should help their cause. Miami always has a decent defense, and they have Ricky Williams back although he is sharing the job in the backfield with rookie Ronnie Brown right now. I’m expecting both teams to play it pretty close to the vest in a game like this and try not to make mistakes and put themselves at a disadvantage. Because of that it should be a very conservative game.
I think the Patriots finally caught a break from the schedule maker getting to play in Miami when it isn’t overly hot and humid. This time of year it won’t be quite as hot but it will be warm enough that it will feel good on a lot of the guys that are banged up. That grass field down there is in great condition and it always feels good to run on. It’s also pretty soft and it helps to take away a few of the aches and pains you’re nursing at the midway point of the season. But Miami has a good young coach in Nick Saban that is slowly turning them around so this game will be a battle.
RRM: I tried to put it off as long as I could, what are Grogan’s Grades for the 40-21 setback to the Colts on Monday night?
SG: It was an average performance which warrants an average grade. The secondary gets a failing grade for their performance because they were just awful. Tom Brady should be singled out in the loss because he played extremely well. Even though the Patriots did not run the ball that well I thought the offensive line protected very well against a very tough Colts’ pass rush. The expected breakdown on the left side of the line where the two rookies were stationed just never developed. You have to hope that problem is now fixed so they can move on to addressing some other areas on this team, in particular the defensive backfield. In order for the Patriots to win at all the rest of the year they have to get something figured out in that secondary. If they don’t I don’t care who is throwing the ball against them, they are going to have some success.
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 email@example.com.
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