October 24, 2006
Grogan's Grade: Week 6
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, many were wondering if the Patriots would come out of the gate a little rusty after their week off. Instead, Tom Brady crisply marched his team 71 yards in 14 plays for a quick 7-0 lead and it looked like the Bills never knew what hit them.
Steve Grogan: It looked to me like they had decided Buffalo was going to gear up to try and stop the run so they came out and threw it all over the place. I thought they did a good job of mixing formations throughout the game trying to keep Buffalo on their heels, and they really had the Bills reeling on that first drive. In general I thought the Patriots played much better on both sides of the ball than they had in a couple of their previous wins. I think everyone just assumes the Patriots are going to win every week, and I don't think there was ever a doubt about this football game despite the fact that Buffalo was within two scores of the Patriots for most of the game. You just never worried about that happening.
RRM: I thought this was one of Tom Brady's better (if not his best) performances of the season. How did you view his play?
SG: I thought he looked really confident throwing the ball for the first time this year. He did overthrow a couple of balls but that happens to every quarterback. It seemed to me he looked very calm about the game plan, and he knew where the ball had to go and what he needed to do. He was making good decisions in a hurry despite the fact he was getting banged around a lot in the first half. The one really poor throw he made resulted in a five-yard score to Doug Gabriel where he rolled to his right and threw back across his body, so that just goes to show you everything was going his way.
RRM: Curiously enough on that play Gabriel said that throw made him feel like Brady had developed a great deal of confidence in him to even attempt to complete that pass. Isn't that a good thing as far as developing a level of trust between a quarterback and his wide receiver?
SG: Gabriel made a great play working his way from the back of the endzone to come back for the ball. But I think you could see from Brady's reaction when he put his hands on his head that he knew he shouldn't have thrown that ball. You are taught from the time you are a young quarterback don't throw the ball across your body, particularly when you are down near the goalline where everybody is so bunched and a ball can easily be tipped up in the air and intercepted. Nine times out of 10 that's going to wind up resulting in trouble, but he got away with it because he's Tom Brady! It was definitely a great play by Gabriel and a really good throw by Brady, you just don't want to make a living doing that.
RRM: Not only did Brady complete 18 of 27 for 195 yards and two scores but he mixed things up with some quick outs and fake pumps that had the Buffalo corners off balance all afternoon. Is this a sign that Brady is becoming more comfortable with his new receivers?
SG: I think so. I think it shows he is getting more comfortable with his receivers and also that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is putting together better game plans. It seems to me he is getting a better feel for what these players can do in the passing game, and the result was the best looking pass offense we've seen from this team this season.
RRM: I have to ask if you poked your head into the coaches' room over the bye week to pass along your suggestion of getting Ben Watson more involved in the offense, because Big Ben had five catches for 60 yards and was an integral part of the Patriots' offense for the first time this season.
SG: Somebody has been saying all season long that they should get the ball to him a lot more, wait a minute that was me! No, they weren't listening to me but they are finally getting him the ball and they have to continue to do that. Watson is the kind of player that is going to make plays for you if he has the ball in his hands. I had to chuckle over what the Buffalo defensive backs must have been thinking when Watson caught that screen pass and started running at them with a full head of steam with that large frame of his. A little bitty defensive back doesn't really want any part of a guy that size running that fast. That being the case I'd be throwing the ball to him a lot, but that's just me.
RRM: Much has been made of the Patriots being able to take care of their divisional opponents in their second meeting of the season. How do you account for that?
SG: I think their coaching staff is very good at evaluating what teams are trying to do against them, then they are able to put together a game plan the second time around that patches up the weaknesses that were exploited previously. The Patriots' coaching staff is just able to game plan so well in those situations that most teams have no chance.
RRM: Bill Belichick took his players to the woodshed after a lousy practice on Wednesday and put them through a rigorous practice session on Thursday. Based on their play on Sunday it certainly seemed to have the desired result, but I imagine that's not something a coach wants to do every week.
SG: Actually this sort of thing happens more than you would think. Apparently the Patriots' players came back after their extra time off from the bye week a little too relaxed and weren't really ready to go back to work on Wednesday, and Belichick made them pay for it on Thursday because they didn't get done what they needed to get done. That happens several times throughout the season with most teams where you hit a week where you go out the middle of the week and the players aren't focused and nothing goes right in practice. The head coach will usually respond by tacking on some extra time either in the film room or on the practice field the following day, and you quickly get the message that you'd better get your attention level back to where it belongs.
RRM: I must admit I've been against using the rookie Laurence Maroney on kickoff returns. But after he broke off that 74-yard return against the Bills I think I've decided to change my mind!
SG: I thought the kickoff return by Maroney early in the game that set up the short field and helped get the Patriots their second touchdown was a big play in the game. You normally don't see #1-draft pick running backs returning kicks, but he hasn't complained about doing that and he's already made some big plays doing it so it has helped his team tremendously. As we know Belichick is not afraid to use his star players on special teams and in this instance it showed how the move can pay big dividends.
RRM: I have a friend who is always concerned that Maroney is going to get pulled down from behind by his long hair. Isn't that a penalty now?
SG: I think they consider the hair as part of the body. You can grab a guy's arm or leg and pull him down so I guess you can grab his hair and pull him down as well. I know that happened in the Steelers' game two weeks ago when someone pulled down Troy Polamalu by his hair. To be honest I don't know how they get their helmets on with all that hair! Back in my day when coaches could still yell at guys they would have made you cut your hair, but I don't think they can do that kind of thing today.
RRM: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a quiet but solid game, hitting all four extra point attempts, booming five deep kickoffs, and even making a tackle on Buffalo's speedy kickoff return specialist Terrence McGee. Isn't that the kind of thing you like to see from your kicker?
SG: It's not the thing you like to see too often [laughs]! The kicker is usually the last line of defense on a kickoff return, and if the return man is getting that far down field that means the coverage unit isn't doing its job. Gostkowski is a football player and he's out there doing what his teammates need him to do. Hopefully you don't need your kicker to make a lot of tackles on kickoffs because they don't live very long doing that.
RRM: But isn't that the kind of things that will help his teammates accept him as one of the guys?
SG: It will change the way guys on the team look at him. They'll no longer look at him as just a kicker. Now they see he's not afraid to do what he has to do in that situation and not shy away from contact, and it will go a long way in the locker room with him being accepted.
RRM: Last week Rodney Harrison was named the NFL's Dirtiest Player in a poll of his fellow players in Sports Illustrated. What was your take on the reaction everyone had to the poll?
SG: When you come right down to it it's just a magazine trying to sell issues. I don't think Rodney Harrison is too concerned about whether he is thought of as the league's dirtiest player or not, and I don't think his teammates are either. As long as he is out there getting the job done let them take all the polls they want. He does have a reputation, and when you have a reputation like that there are no questions asked. Even if it's a borderline call he is going to get hit with a flag or even a fine.
RRM: Does having that kind of reputation actually help Harrison in terms of intimidating some receivers that know he is out there when they go over the middle against the Patriots' defense?
SG: I would think there are some receivers out there that are going to think about that, absolutely. Will all of them do it? Probably not, but there are some players that will short arm a pass here or there because they've heard about Rodney Harrison's reputation.
RRM: The big news during the week was the threat of Dirty Bombs being planted at several NFL stadiums, although it turned out to be a hoax by some moron on the internet. I imagine as a quarterback you got your share of hate mail during your career. How does a player learn to cope with that?
SG: I think you just have to keep in mind that people are better than that, or at least you hope so. You just have to hope that there isn't some lunatic out there that is coming after you. We were always protecting our phone number and made sure the alarm on our house was always set whether we were home or away because you just never knew if some idiot was going to show up on your front door step and do something crazy. I remember back in 1987 when we were playing in Miami and our head coach Raymond Berry was wearing a coat all night when it was hotter than heck. Nobody could figure out why and it turned out somebody had phoned in a death threat on him and he had a bulletproof vest on under that coat walking the sidelines all night. As bad as it was back then you can imagine what it must be like now for players, especially for quarterbacks when their teams aren't playing well. I heard Drew Bledsoe built a safe room in his house in Medfield that could be locked from the inside. It does make you wonder about things that aren't reported and we don't hear about though.
RRM: Next up the Patriots' travel to Minnesota for their lone appearance on Monday Night Football this season. Considering the Vikings are coming off a big upset win at Seattle coupled with the fact that the Pats have never beaten Minnesota in the Metrodome I think this is going to be a much more difficult game than many expect. How do you see the game?
SG: I haven't seen the Vikings play at all this year but I know they are coming off a big win over Seattle on the road. They have a veteran quarterback in Brad Johnson who has been around a long time. He's a very workman-like type of player who doesn't do anything flashy but he continues to win for whatever team he's playing for. This should be a team the Patriots should be able to beat, but with the game being on a Monday night in front of a charged up home crowd it will be a tough game. I guess the Vikings' defense has only allowed an average of about 16 points per game so this should be a good test for the Patriots offense.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 28-6 win over the Bills in Week #6?
SG: Defensively I thought they played solidly all across the board, as did the special teams. Offensively after the first quarter I thought they were a little erratic at times, so they need to get a little more consistent on offense. Tom Brady was sacked four times and they have to put a stop to that. Once again Aaron Schobel used him as his personal tackling dummy, and Brady took a couple of big shots that could have been a real problem. But there were certainly a lot of encouraging signs, and now it will be interesting to see if they can build on that when they go on the road this week and take on a Minnesota team that is coming off a big emotional victory over the defending NFC Champions.
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