November 28, 2006
Grogan's Grade: Week 11
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, it wasn?t easy but the Patriots finally bagged the Bears late in the game to claim a 17-13 win at Gillette Stadium. With the two teams combining for nine turnovers how do you begin to review this game?
Steve Grogan: It was a really strange game to see. You had two very good football teams forcing each other to make a lot of mistakes. You don?t normally see that in games involving teams of that caliber, but both defenses were playing hard and hitting hard and the offenses weren?t protecting the ball as well as they should have. You don?t see many games where a team fumbles the ball twice on the same play, or a ball that pops 10 feet in the air and then is intercepted, so it was really a strange game. If you look at the final stats of this game both teams were very even all the way up and down the board. Both teams were seven of 16 on third down which is close to 50%, and to convert on that many third downs and not put points on the board is highly unusual. The end result was a very entertaining game to watch, but you just don?t expect to see that many turnovers from two of the NFL?s best football teams.
RRM: There?s a fine line between a good defensive play and poor handling of the ball on offense. In which category did most of the Patriots? turnovers fall?
SG: If a back is carrying the ball loosely with just one hand and the ball comes out that?s carelessness on the offensive back?s part. But if a back is trying to protect the ball and it gets ripped out which happened a few times in this game you have to give credit where credit is due. There were a couple of instances where Patriots? players had both hands on the ball and the Bears still ripped it out, that?s just great defense on their part.
RRM: The Bears are known for their stingy defense and we all saw firsthand how they do it, by stripping the football from their opponents. That is such an effective weapon, why don?t more teams do it?
SG: I don?t think you have to have special kind of players to do it, you just have to be conscious of it. You have to make a conscious effort to work on it and they apparently do that because they are the best I?ve seen at doing it. Balls were hitting the ground all over the place yesterday and it wasn?t because the Bears were hitting any harder than other teams, it was because the second guy in on the tackle was making a conscious effort to go for the ball. If you are on offense playing against a team like that you have to be aware of that and try to protect the ball a lot better than the Patriots did against them. Ben Watson lost the ball twice, and when they threw Corey Dillon in at the end of the game I thought that was a good move because he?s a veteran guy and he?ll protect the ball. Sure enough on his first carry he gets the ball ripped out!
RRM: The Patriots desperately needed a win over a quality team to show they are a viable Super Bowl contender. Although it was sloppy 17-13 win over the Bears, a win is still a win, right?
SG: You?re right, a win is a win. When the play gets sloppy on both sides of the ball like it was in this game it gets hard to keep your focus, but I thought the Patriots did a nice job doing that. I think things are coming together for them as they get closer to the playoffs. The rest of the schedule doesn?t look too difficult and I would expect them to get on a little bit of run here down the home stretch.
RRM: Have you been secretly coaching Tom Brady in your spare time, because that move he put on Chicago All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher for a key first down on the Patriots? game-winning touchdown drive was one for his personal highlight reel?
SG: I?m sure it will and Brady made a great play on that run. Not to take anything away from him but today?s rules really wreak havoc with the defensive player. Urlacher was afraid that Brady was going to go into a slide and if he hit him it would be a defensive penalty. He didn?t go after him like he would have gone after a running back. I was watching the Giants? game on Sunday and Mathias Kiwanuka had Tennessee quarterback Vince Young wrapped up and then he turned him loose, and the reason he did that was he was afraid he was going to do something wrong and draw a flag. So now Tom Coughlin is screaming at him because Young got loose and scrambled for a first down, but when the defensive players are around the quarterback I don?t think they know how to act any more. That being said it was a great play by Brady. They needed that first down to keep the drive alive, and the fact that he has that little juke move will help him in the future.
RRM: That was Brady?s 76th win as a quarterback for the Patriots, which surpasses your old club record by one. It took you a little while longer to establish that record, didn?t it?
SG: Yes, it did but let?s see him try and get as many losses as I did! He?s got a way to go before he comes close to that record [laughs].
RRM: Another record fell when Kevin Faulk caught six passes to supplant your old teammate Tony Collins as the all-time record holder for most receptions by a running back. It?s hard to believe someone who?s been around as long as Faulk has is taken for granted as much as he is.
SG: Kevin Faulk is just a smart, solid football player. He knows how to get open out of the backfield and he can pick up a blitzer when he has to. He?s one of the best third down backs this team has had, and he really plays a critical role for this team.
RRM: After playing most of the game against the Bears, it?s looking more and more like Laurence Maroney is the future of the New England Patriots.
SG: He is, there?s certainly no question about that. Really good football players are able to recover from their mistakes and put them behind them and move on, and Maroney has been able to do that. Bill Belichick has been great over the years at bringing in players who are able to do that kind of thing. He had over 170 total yards in this game including his kickoff returns, and he caught four balls out of the backfield. I found it interesting that of the Patriots? 22 completions in this game only four went to wide receivers. Troy Brown had one and Reche Caldwell had three, the rest went to Ben Watson, Daniel Graham, and the running backs. In that sense it was kind of a weird day throwing the ball.
RRM: Football can be a strange game. Patriots? kicker Stephen Gostkowski apparently missed a 52-yard field at the end of the first half only to get a reprieve when the Bears were granted a time out, and then he nailed it on his second try. So much for trying to freeze the kicker.
SG: Chicago outsmarted themselves on that one. They called time out when he missed it and they gave him another chance and he snuck it in there. That was a big play right before the end of the half, and it ended up becoming an important three points because it ended up putting the Bears in a position where they had to score a touchdown at the end of the game. Earlier in the game the Bears kicker Robbie Gould makes a field goal that is wiped out by a penalty, and then Richard Seymour gets a piece of the ball and the kid misses a kick for his first time ever. It was just another instance of what a strange game this really was.
RRM: I?ve watched the Bears a few times this year so I was surprised to see them take a bombs away approach on offense against the Patriots. Has Lovie Smith been watching old tapes of Oakland?s Daryle ?The Mad Bomber? Lamonica from the 1960?s?
SG: It surprised me as well. Chicago must have felt they had an advantage there with all the injuries in the Patriots? deep secondary. They probably reasoned the Patriots would stick a lot of people up on the line of scrimmage to take away the run to force Rex Grossman to throw the ball. The Bears had some receivers open deep running their double moves, but I was surprised that Grossman was getting the time to throw. I thought the lack of a pass pressure was the one thing the Patriots? defense did not do well in this game. He had the time to just heave it up there and either hope for the big play or a penalty, and it worked for them a few times in the second half.
RRM: After watching some of the calls and noncalls in this game I have come to the conclusion that I no longer have any concept as to what constitutes pass interference in the NFL. Do you?
SG: I don?t think the referees do either! The worst one was the call on Artrell Hawkins that set up the Bears only touchdown. That was just a horrible call. If anything the offensive player grabbed his arm; Hawkins made no contact whatsoever. But in the eye of the official it looked like he did so he threw a flag. You don?t throw a flag when you THINK somebody?s done something, you throw it when you actually see them DO IT! It drives me crazy, too. Fortunately those bad calls didn?t cost the Patriots the game, but it is a frustrating thing to deal with as a player.
RRM: Rex Grossman has really struggled in his last few games and his problems continued against the Patriots. If the Bears are to make a serious run at the Super Bowl should they turn to Brian Griese now?
SG: This is the first time I?ve seen Rex Grossman play an entire game, and he wasn?t very impressive. I don?t think taking a cleat on his hand early in the game helped him any, but it was more his decision making that I found questionable. I?ve seen Brian Griese play and he?s been around awhile and never had tremendous success any place he?s been, so I don?t know if he?d be that much of an improvement. This Chicago Bears football team has great defense, and I would think there time is now and they need to do something better offensively. I thought they ran the ball pretty well with Thomas Jones, and if Grossman could have thrown the ball without making so many mistakes they probably would have walked away with the victory.
RRM: Junior Seau left the game with an apparent broken right arm. How big a loss is this to the Patriots? defense?
SG: I was one of those guys that thought Junior Seau was kind of over the hill and really wouldn?t bring that much to the table for this Patriots? defense. But after watching him play for more than half the season he?s really been an important contributor for them. He brings a lot of energy onto the field and he?s in on a lot of plays during the game, and I think they are going to miss him a lot. Mike Vrabel is capable as an inside linebacker but he is so much better playing outside. We are going to see Bill Belichick making some adjustments with Vrabel moving inside and Tully Banta-Cain probably taking over on the outside. They have the talent to play the 4-3 if Belichick decided to go that way, and they probably have better players up front to do that then what they have at linebacker. It wouldn?t surprise me if that turns out to be the way he goes.
RRM: What?s going on with this injury bug? First it hits the Patriots? secondary and now the linebackers. They can?t even keep their punter healthy, which reminds me --- welcome back, Ken Walter! So much for early retirement!
SG: It?s not often you go out and sign a guy that?s been out of football for a year, not to mention that you cut a couple of years ago. Familiarity is very important to Bill Belichick, and apparently Walter kept himself in playing shape because he kicked well in this game. Injuries are part of the game but you hate to see them happen coming down the stretch when you are trying to gather some momentum towards the playoffs. Fortunately this team has a knack for finding people to plug holes.
RRM: Most of the comments regarding the new playing surface at Gillette were positive. Was it a big adjustment for the Patriots? players to make?
SG: I don?t think it was a huge adjustment for the players. They practice on a similar surface indoors in their bubble and they?ve played on it around the league as well. I really don?t think it was something that they needed to get used to, and there wasn?t any slipping or sliding going on so I?m sure it was a welcome change over what they had before.
RRM: The Patriots get to stay home for a week and entertain the hapless 2-9 Detroit Lions. Then again Detroit quarterback John Kitna always seems to save his best games for the Patriots so maybe the media is a bit overzealous in describing this as another bye week for the Pats.
SG: This is a game that they should absolutely win at home against a team that isn?t very good. Does that mean anything this time of the year? Probably not. This Chicago game was a very big, emotional game for the Patriots, and it was also a very physical game. Sometimes it?s hard to get yourself as prepared as you need to be the following week for a team that is 2-9. This is your typical NFL trap game. You have a big win, physical game, and a team that isn?t any good. Don?t let them sneak up and bite you, and I can almost guarantee it will happen to some teams in December like it does almost every year in the league. You just watch.
RRM: When you?ve had as many years of futility as the Lions? have had, don?t you wonder how GM Matt Millen keeps his job?
SG: He must have pictures of the owner doing something [laughs]. Matt Millen was a great player for many years in the NFL but he is far, far, far away from being any kind of a general manager, and I think he?s proven that over the many years he?s been there (which has been much too long). That team hasn?t had any success at all, and that certainly wouldn?t be tolerated in these parts.
RRM: What are Grogan?s grades for the 17-13 win over the Monsters of the Midway?
SG: I really thought the defense deserved an A but the offense only gets a C+. The defense played extremely well and the offense made enough big plays in between the turnovers to come up with the win. Even though the offense moved the ball well I can?t give them a B when they turn the ball over five times, it just goes against your grain [laughs]. Fortunately most of the Patriots? turnovers happened at the far end of the field so Chicago didn?t get the short field to work with. The Patriots offense racked up the most total yards in a single game against the Bears? defense so far this season, and it was a good sign for them.
On the defense I thought Richard Seymour played extremely well, but the player who really stood out was Asante Samuel who played a great, all-around game. He kind of baited Rex Grossman into a couple of interceptions, and then he got the big one at the end of the game to seal the deal. I thought that was just poor execution on Grossman?s part and great execution on Samuel?s part. Not only did Samuel have the three interceptions but he had a game-high nine tackles. I specifically remember him having a couple of big tackles where he came up hard and fast on a Chicago ballcarrier. He looked like he was playing with a lot of motivation in this game, and if he played that way every week we?re talking a Pro Bowl candidate here. Let?s see how well they play this Sunday after an emotional and physical contest against Chicago. That should tell us a lot about what we can expect from this team in December.
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