December 06, 2005
Grogan's Grade: Week 12
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the return of football in the snow seemed to revitalize the Patriots on Sunday as they steamrolled the New York Jets 16-3 to run their record to 7-5. I guess all they needed was the white stuff to return to their old form?
Steve Grogan:: The snow helped, but I think playing against a really bad football team helped even more! You would have liked to have seen them win this game 28-3, but it didn’t happen that way. They got the business taken care of that needed to get done, and I thought they played pretty well on both sides of the ball. The defense blitzed a lot more than we’ve seen in the last month or so; they came really hard after the Jets’ young quarterback Brooks Bollinger. They also shut down Curtis Martin from running the football in efficient fashion which was a big key to this game. Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk were back and the Patriots were finally able to run the ball effectively, and that allowed Tom Brady to be his usually highly productive self. All in all it was a good, solid victory.
RRM: I continue to be puzzled over all the slow starts by this Patriots’ offense. Only six points against the Jets in the first half?
SG: They just seem to be playing so close to the vest early in the game trying not to make a mistake that will put their defense in a difficult position that it keeps them from making some big plays that would blow the game open. On the other hand their approach seems to be working, and it’s hard to knock something that is working.
RRM: After several weeks of seeing the long ball the Patriots went back to mixing the run and the short pass against the Jets. I don’t think I saw more than one pass go over 20 yards downfield?
SG: I noticed the same thing, and either the Jets were keeping everything in front of them or Tom Brady didn’t see any opportunities to go deep if they had the play called. It was an extremely conservative game plan offensively which did allow them to control the ball for over 38 minutes, but you always really felt like the Patriots were in control of this game. That will probably be the game plan for the cold weather in December, so we should all get used to it now.
RRM: The usually ultraconservative Patriots’ defense came after Brooks Bollinger like gangbusters in this game. I guess Eric Mangini finally decided it was time to turn the dogs lose?
SG: The Patriots blitzed a lot in this game which was able to take a lot of the pressure off of that young secondary. It was the first time that secondary had to cover man-on-man with all the blitzing going on and I thought they held up well. You would like to think that will give them the confidence of knowing that they can shut down an opponent, and maybe it will pay off in the future. It was nice to see them take such an aggressive stance on defense for a change. I’m sure they figured if they put enough pressure on the Jets’ young quarterback the kid wasn’t going to know what to do with it. Rosevelt Colvin was particularly effective on the blitz and made life miserable for the young quarterback.
RRM: The Patriots were very effective applying blitz pressure right through the middle as opposed to coming off the ends in this game. Since this is the most direct line to the quarterback you have to wonder why they don’t use this tactic more often?
SG: The reason is speed rushers like Colvin and Willie McGinest that are used to coming off the sides sometimes have difficulty rushing inside and getting through the line. They had great success with it in this game but I think the main reason was the weakness on the interior of the Jets offensive line. They were using a third-string center in this game and the Patriots tried to take advantage of that. Pete Kendall is a guard that had to move over to center after the Jets lost two players at that position. That’s a tough adjustment for a lineman to make, and the Patriots were able to exploit it to their advantage.
RRM: Artrell Hawkins started at strong safety in this game, making him the seventh different player to start at that position for the Patriots this season. I remember many years ago a team going through five quarterbacks, but this has to be some kind of record for one position in a season?
SG: Not only is that incredible, what is even more amazing is that this team is in first place in its division in spite of that! But you’re right, it doesn’t happen very often and when it does it usually means bad news, so the fact that the Patriots have been able to deal with it along with all the other injury problems they’ve had makes it even more remarkable.
RRM: Traditionally Tom Brady bounces back after games where he has thrown four interceptions and this game against the Jets was no exception. Brady completed 27 of 37 for 271 yards with NO interceptions and seemed to be his old, reliable self. I guess it was just another day at the office for him?
SG: I thought Tom Brady played very well in this game. He managed the game well and was very effective with his short passing game. The only thing that is starting to bother me a little bit is what he and the coaching staff are doing offensively where they had to waste another time out because they couldn’t get the play called in time. They’re starting to do a little too much of that Peyton Manning stuff at the line of scrimmage to suit me. It happened last week in Kansas City as well, and I’d really hate to see that becoming a trend with this team.
RRM: Kevin Faulk caught four passes out of the backfield, three of which converted third down situations. Don’t you feel he provides an element to the offense that they just hadn’t been able to replace?
SG: This team really missed Kevin Faulk. His being out since the end of September has really hurt them, particularly in passing situations. He is so good at coming out of the backfield as a receiver and catching the ball and then running for the first down. He converted those three third down situations catching balls out of the backfield, and he also provides a nice little change up to the power running of Corey Dillon. Faulk is a little quicker and he can get outside faster, which can really keep a defense off balance. Getting both of their two top backs back really helped the Patriots’ offense control the ball for over 38 minutes and was a big factor in the game.
RRM: Adam Vinatieri surpassed the great Gino Cappelletti as the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer in this game, and Gino graciously awarded him the record-setting ball during the postgame press conference. For those that know Gino like both you and myself it came as no surprise, as he is the true embodiment of what Patriots’ football is all about. Didn’t you think it was a great moment for this franchise?
SG: Gino Cappelletti is one of the most classiest people I have ever been around, and of course he has been with the Patriots since the beginning as a player and now with them as a broadcaster and they just don’t come any better. To hold that record as long as he did was quite a feat, and for Vinatieri to come along and then break it over the course of his 10-year career says a lot about him as well. Not only does Vinatieri possess great physical talent he’s probably better mentally than any kicker I’ve ever seen. Nothing seems to phase him, and he thrives on the pressure of making the big kicks because mentally he’s tougher than the all the other kickers.
RRM: Most kickers are often ostracized by the rest of their teammates. What was your relationship with the kickers you played with on the Patriots?
SG: I had a great relationship with John Smith. He and I were very good friends, but a lot of our teammates didn’t understand John because he was from England and they had a problem with that. Tony Franklin was a little odd but he got along with the guys. Things are different with kickers in the modern era. Back when my career was starting most of the sidewinder kickers in the NFL had come over from Europe because of their soccer background. Now most of today’s kickers were brought up in this country and have kicked and played other positions in college, so they are a lot more ‘normal’ than they used to be.
RRM: All I could think of while watching Vinatieri and Cappelletti embrace at the podium was that some day in the future you’ll be up there handing Tom Brady the ball after he breaks your franchise record for touchdown passes. Did that cross your mind?
SG: I seriously doubt I will ever get the chance. Drew Bledsoe already broke several of my career passing records and I think the only one I still have is career touchdown passes. When Brady rushes for 12 touchdowns in a season I will be happy to hand him the game ball for that one [laughs]!
RRM: Ted Johnson kind of got lost in the shuffle but he was honored at halftime for his 10-year career. Now here’s a blue-collar type guy that could have played with you in the old days, right?
SG: Ted Johnson is just an old school football player. He was a rough, tough, stick-your-nose-in-there-and-make-it-happen kind of player, and I thought it was nice that they honored him. He had a good career here, and he was comfortable retiring when he did. As a player you always want to leave on your own terms and he was able to do that, so I’m happy for him.
RRM: Richard Seymour made the comment that the fans in Foxboro have become a little spoiled in recent years and are too quiet. Have you found that to be the case?
SG: I think it’s just a natural thing for fans of a very successful team to become complacent. When you win three world championships in four years you just expect that to keep happening, so when your team is down a little bit and not performing at their usual level everyone gets a little antsy and a little upset. But this is a new year and they are getting things done and they are going to be in the playoffs, and you never know what can happen once you reach the postseason.
RRM: Do you think the presence of Gisele Bundchen the supermodel helped to inspire the Patriots in this game?
SG: I kind of doubt that had anything to do with it.
RRM: C’mon, didn’t you get a little pumped when the supermodels were checking you out at a game?
SG: I don’t think I can ever remember a time when any supermodel was looking at me [laughs]. If they were they were probably thinking I was somebody else!
RRM: The Buffalo Bills blew a 21-point lead and lost to the Dolphins on the final play of the game on Sunday. Does that mean the Patriots will be facing a thoroughly demoralized team in Buffalo this week?
SG: It’s really hard to say. Both of those teams, Miami and Buffalo, scare you a little bit because they can play some pretty good football in spurts. Then they will disintegrate or do something stupid like the Bills did in the fourth quarter at Miami on Sunday. I expected the Dolphins to beat Buffalo in Miami, but the fact that they had to stage such a stirring comeback to do it just shows how both teams are really struggling right now to find themselves. The Patriots are still a better team and they are getting healthy on offense. The big question is can they play defense next week like they did against the Jets on Sunday. The answer to that question will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
RRM: Realistically, how far do you think the Patriots can go this year?
SG: I think they’ll definitely win one game in the playoffs, and maybe two. As they start to get some confidence their play should improve over this last month of the regular season and hopefully they can carry some momentum into the playoffs.
RRM: What are Grogan’s Grades for the 16-3 win over the woeful Jets in Week #12?
SG: Mike Lynch accused me of being a tough grader so I’m going to ease up a bit this week and give out straight A’s. It’s like sometimes in school when you have an easy chapter and all the questions on the test are easy and you ace it, and that’s kind of what they did against the Jets. They did exactly what they had to do against an opponent that is one of the weaker teams in the league right now. The offense and the defense both played great, although I would have liked to have seen the offense score another touchdown instead of a field goal. This was about the best effort they have had over the course of an entire 60 minutes in quite sometime.
I really liked the diversity I saw in the offense this week. David Givens was back and had five catches and Troy Brown was more involved in the offense, and we saw what this team can do offensively when they have most of their weapons available. Three different wide receivers caught five balls, and Dillon and Faulk caught four apiece. When they have all of the pieces of that offense and the ball gets distributed to so many people it gets difficult to stop them. Buffalo has a decent defense but I don’t think it is strong enough to shut the Patriots down, so hopefully this is the start of a successful stretch drive for the Patriots.
Grogan's Grades for Week #12
R.R. Marshall’s 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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