November 01, 2006
Grogan's Grade: Week 7
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, while most of us expected the Patriots to win on Monday night in Minnesota I don't think anybody expected the 31-7 demolition job they laid on the Vikings. What was your take on the game?
Steve Grogan: I think we've been waiting for the Patriots to play like this since the start of the season, but it just doesn't happen right away sometimes. But it happened on Monday night where they put on a real clinic in Minnesota, and they showed the Vikings what a championship team is all about. Offensively they threw the ball really well and defensively they just totally dominated Minnesota. It looked to me like the Patriots figured the Vikings were pretty good at stopping the run so they said we're not going to run it; we're going to spread you out and see if you can stop us from throwing the ball. They couldn't and Tom Brady ended up passing them silly.
The Patriots defense was equally dominant. I thought Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson panicked a few times and threw some interceptions that really hurt his team. He is a veteran quarterback and that's something he normally doesn't do, but when you play the Patriots' defense they just throw so many things at you that if you aren't calm back there in the pocket they force you into mistakes, and that's exactly what happened.
RRM: Tom Brady just carved up the Vikings, completing 29 of his 43 throws for a season-high 372 yards and four touchdowns. As a former quarterback I'm sure watching him brought a smile to your face?
SG: It was like a surgeon watching Tom Brady work in this game. Every throw was on time and on the money. He would just drop back and before you knew it the ball was out of his hand and headed downfield. He just looked extremely comfortable for the first time this season. You could just tell by looking at him in that first half that it was all going to work, and he just picked the Vikings' defense apart. What a contrast to what we saw in the Patriots' passing game the first few weeks of the season, and with the Colts and Bears on the schedule in November the cohesion in the passing attack couldn't have come at a better time.
RRM: Were you surprised the Vikings didn't try to change anything on defense to get the Patriots out of their five-wide set? It looked like they were totally unprepared to handle what the Patriots were doing to them?
SG: I couldn't help but think while I was watching the game unfold that this was a championship team giving a lesson to a team that thinks they might be one of the better teams in the league. They found out the hard way that they have a long way to go yet. Part of that is a new head coach in Brad Childress and a new staff, and I'm sure they aren't able to make as many adjustments as they will be next year or the year after. But you're right, they didn't do anything to stop what Tom Brady and his offense were doing to them, and maybe they just don't have the personnel to do that right now.
RRM: There were two times in the game where it appeared the Vikings would make a game of it, and both times the Patriots came up with big plays to stifle their momentum. The first came when Rodney Harrison intercepted a Brad Johnson pass near the goal line to quell a first quarter threat. Wasn't there a little more that went on with that play than the average fan might have noticed?
SG: On that play Harrison actually had a guy out in the flat that was supposed to be his responsibility, and Johnson figured that was where Harrison should be. Instead of throwing to the guy in the flat that was wide open he tried to loft it over a defender's head to Mewelde Moore and Harrison was there to make the pic. It was one of those plays where a veteran safety will guess on you, and sometimes they guess right and sometimes they guess wrong. In this case he guessed right and it killed a nice drive for the Vikings, and they never got that close to the Patriots for the rest of the evening.
RRM: The second came after Mewelde Moore returned a punt for a touchdown early in the third quarter to put Minnesota on the scoreboard and cut the lead to 17-7. Laurence Malroney quickly silenced the crowd with a 77-yard kickoff return and three plays later Troy Brown was in the endzone clutching a Tom Brady throw and it was time to turn out the lights?
SG: It certainly was a key play, and it must have been very special for the rookie since it was his return to Minnesota where he played his college ball. In the last few games Malroney has become a guy that is making some big plays for the Patriots, particularly on special teams. I don't think anybody expected he would be such a big contributor on the special teams when he first came here. He's now had a couple of kick returns that have turned games around, and hopefully he can continue to do that.
RRM: That touchdown catch put Troy Brown only one reception behind your old teammate Stanley Morgan for the Patriots' all-time record. To what do you attribute Brown's success?
SG: I think it's a combination of his longevity and the way the game is being played now. The ball is in the air a whole lot more than when Stanley was playing with us. If a guy caught 40 balls in a season that was a big year back in those days, now 40 catches would be an off year for a lot of guys who are catching between 70-80. Troy Brown is an excellent wide receiver, and he could have played back in my day and it would have been fun to have him around. He's had a great career and he's made more catches than any other Patriot except for Stanley, who he should pass next week. He will end up with more catches, but yardage-wise Stanley Morgan piled it up and I don't think anyone will ever come close to touching that. Although teams are throwing the ball twice as many times throws have gotten shorter so the catches have become shorter, and that's just the nature of the game right now.
RRM: As you point out Morgan's 19.2 yards per catch average probably will never fall, but even he admits if he played in today's NFL he never would have been able to attain that figure since most modern defenses are designed to take away the big play. Don't you think it was much more fun in your era when quarterbacks threw the ball deep downfield more often?
SG: It was for me because I enjoyed airing it out [laughs]! I heard a big argument on the radio last week about Drew Bledsoe and his numbers versus Dan Fouts who is in the Hall of Fame with numbers not quite as good as Bledsoe's. What no one bothered to point out was that was a different era. Back then you threw the ball on third-and-long and you ran it all the other times or used play action. Quarterbacks were throwing more interceptions back then because it was more difficult to throw it. You weren't throwing all these little dinks and dunks and screens constantly throughout the game. It's a different era now, but I don't think it detracts from anything Troy Brown has done.
RRM: Are there any kind of adjustments a player has to make when playing on Monday Night Football?
SG: Most players will tell you they like playing on Sunday afternoon at 1 PM. You get into a routine and you get used to preparing for a game at that same time every week. In the NFL you'll play whenever they tell you to play, but Sunday nights and Monday nights throws off your whole routine. You have to sit around all day waiting for the game and then it shortens your week up in preparation for the following week. The big benefit of playing on a Monday night is the fact that it does get your adrenaline flowing because you know everybody across the country is watching you and it really gets you excited.
RRM: Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics passed away a few days ago, and to put into perspective what he accomplished he dominated his sport for over three decades while the Patriots have dominated pro football for only the past five years. Did you ever get a chance to meet and talk to Red?
SG: I had a chance to meet Red a couple of times. I played in his golf tournament a couple of years and a few years ago we were both honored by the Sports Museum at the same time. I didn't get to talk with him for a long time, but he knew who I was and what I did and I got a chance to tell him how much I admired all the success he had in basketball with the Celtics. Red had this presence when you were in the room with him. He always carried his cigar with him and he'd light it up whenever he pleased; that's what always fascinated me. He did what he wanted to do and that's how he got it done!
RRM: Okay, time for the really important question. Just how do the Patriots stop Peyton Manning and that seemingly unstoppable Colts' offense on Sunday night?
SG: We can always hope that Peyton Manning gets sick I suppose [laughs]. That may be the only way to slow them down. It's going to have to be a game where the Patriots score a lot of points because you just aren't going to totally shut down that offense because they do so many things well. I watched a good portion of their game against Denver and it only reinforced the notion that Peyton Manning is an impressive quarterback with a lot of weapons to throw the ball to. I kept waiting for the Broncos to make some kind of adjustment with their defensive coverage because Reggie Wayne was just killing them, but they just kept toasting the young Denver cornerback and I actually felt sorry for him because they were just blistering him. But I'm sure Bill Belichick and his defense will find some way to confuse them because they usually do. These are the two hottest teams in the NFL right now so it should be a great match up. Peyton Manning may get you in the regular season, but that's not when it really counts. It's more than likely that these two teams will meet again in the playoffs and that's when it really counts.
RRM: Despite their success in the air in Minnesota somehow I think the Patriots will put in a different game plan this week for the Indianapolis Colts given their porous run defense. Do you feel the same way?
SG: The Colts have had trouble stopping the run this season and the more you can run the ball against them the less time Peyton Manning has the ball in his hands and the harder it is for them to score. The Patriots' offense looks at what a team's weaknesses are and they try to exploit them. They've done that all year to this point so I would expect them to try and run the football with Corey Dillon and Laurence Malroney. Not every team can tailor their game plan to a defense's weak point; instead they just go with their strength and hope they can move the ball. But the Patriots can design a game plan emphasizing either the run or the pass because they have the talent to do that. Conversely I'm not sure if Indianapolis couldn't throw the ball they could run it well enough to beat somebody.
RRM: Adam Vinatieri will make his return to New England on Sunday which will definitely stir the emotions of the Foxboro Faithful. Let's just hope the game doesn't come down to a field goal!
SG: I think you're right on that point. It's definitely advantage Indianapolis when it comes to the kicker, although Stephen Gostkowski is starting to look like he'll be a pretty good player for the Patriots now that he's settled down and gotten all the jitters out of his system. He doesn't have the name recognition or the accomplishments that Vinatieri has, but I think he'll be fine. Vinatieri is playing for the Colts now, and while that's unfortunate people should realize all the great things he did for the Patriots over the years and give him a break when he takes the field.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 31-7 win over the Vikings on Monday Night Football?
SG: It's straight A's all-around. The offense played their best game of the year and the defense kept the Vikings out of the end zone and forced four turnovers. Aside from the special teams allowing a touchdown on a punt return it was as good a display of football as we've seen from this team in a long time. Tom Brady was razor sharp and you also have to give a mention to Tully Banta-Cain who posted back-to-back sacks in celebration of his becoming a father. He played with a lot of energy and it was the first time you really noticed him being a huge part of the Patriots' defensive effort. You always thought of him as a special teams player but he was just blowing past that Minnesota tackle. With his speed hopefully we'll see more of that from him from now on, hopefully on Sunday night against Peyton Manning!
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