December 19, 2007
Grogan's Grade: Week 14
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, it wasn't 100-0 but the Patriots did manage to beat the Jets 20-10 and win their grudge match against them to go to 14-0 this season. Since several playoff-bound teams were upset on Sunday I guess we should just be happy with the win and call it a day?
Steve Grogan: A win is a win as they say, but it certainly wasn't pretty. The Patriots didn't play their best football and while the weather conditions had something to do with that I'm not sure it was as big a factor as a lot of people want to believe. But you're right, when you beat the Jets it's a good win. Teams like Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Seattle all lost on Sunday, and it's that time of year when you have things pretty much wrapped up and guys are getting tired. You just never know what kind of effort you are going to get from your players, so I think the Patriots should feel very good about coming out with a win against the Jets.
RRM: Just how much did the wet weather affect the Patriots? I find it hard to blame Tom Brady's 14 completions for a season-low 140 yards strictly on the weather?
SG: I agree, it wasn't all due to the weather. The Patriots struggled on offense all afternoon long and Tom Brady just didn't look comfortable from the very start. There were a couple of missed handoffs to Laurence Maroney in the first drive of the game and he also threw the ball behind one of his wide receivers like they weren't on the same page. I don't know what the exact reason was, but he just never looked comfortable to me right from the start and it continued that way the rest of the day.
It was hard to figure out exactly what the Patriots' game plan was. They weren't really focusing on getting the ball to one particular player like we've seen before. You'd think as well as they've thrown the ball all year they'd figure out some way to get the passing attack going but it just didn't happen.
RRM: The network broadcasters seem to imply that Brady was trying to throw to Randy Moss a little too much. Did you agree with their assessment?
SG: No, I think that's been THE focus for the offense this year. He's been very comfortable throwing the ball towards Randy Moss, and Moss has been coming up with some big catches because of it. I don't think you can change that. Randy Moss is Tom Brady's big playmaker and he's going to go to him often.
RRM: The Patriots didn't have much success throwing the ball but they did run the ball well with Laurence Maroney who had a career-high 26 carries for 104 yards. Is he finally starting to show signs that he can be a star running back in this league now that he is healthy?
SG: I think Maroney is a good running back and I think he could put up close to a 100 yards a game if they decided to focus on running the ball. That's not the best part of their game, the best part is throwing the ball to their three wide receivers. That's what they do, but it's nice to see when they need Maroney he can come through for them.
RRM: We saw how the elements played a role in curtailing the Patriots potent passing attack. Could this be their Achilles Heel come playoff time?
SG: Maybe. They actually ran the ball pretty well in this game. As you mentioned Maroney had over a 100 yards so I think they can run it; they just weren't able to put both phases of their offense together against the Jets. If the weather is good I think they are going to commit to throwing the football because that's what they do best. Hopefully if they get another bad weather game they can run the ball like they did in this game and Brady can find a comfort zone that he didn't find in this one.
RRM: I don't think I've ever seen each team block a punt in the same game like the Jets and Patriots did in the game on Sunday. Had you?
SG: When it's windy and cold like that punters slow down a little bit and sometimes you have more blocks. Both of the blocked punts in this game were a little out of the ordinary, though. Chris Hanson is a veteran punter who has never had a kick blocked, and I thought when he initially bobbled the snap he should have just got on the move because that Jets' player (David Bowens) was right on top of him. I thought that was a poor decision on his part to go ahead and kick it. Kelley Washington's block was really one of those plays where good fortune smiles upon you. He was being blocked right back into the punter and he just kind of jumped and stuck his hand out, and sometimes you get lucky and find the ball which is exactly what happened on that one.
RRM: Back when you played in the 1970's teams like George Allen's Redskins and Bud Grant's Vikings used to block kicks with great regularity. We saw firsthand how important a blocked kick can figure in the outcome of a game, so why is it that present day teams do not put in as much effort into blocking kicks?
SG: I read this was the first time the Patriots had blocked a punt since 1999, and it was the first time they blocked one since Bill Belichick came to New England as head coach. He said they spend a great deal of time in practice on punt blocks and I believe him; it's just that it's a lot tougher to do than the average fan may think it is. I think today's football coaches understand the importance and impact of a blocked kick a lot more than the coaches from 25 years ago. Back then you found a guy that could kick the ball down the field pretty well and you just snapped the ball to him and let him kick; you didn't work on protection schemes in the kicking game all that much. Over the years they've come to realize it's a very important part of the game which has made it harder to block kicks, and punters everywhere are extremely grateful for that [laughs]!
RRM: Perhaps the best news to come out of this game was the return to form of All-Pro Richard Seymour who had a big sack that forced an interception return for a score and a third down pass deflection that stopped a Jets' drive. Did that look like the old Richard Seymour to you?
SG: Getting ready to head into their playoff run the Patriots need Richard Seymour to be healthy, happy, and wise, and it was nice to see him play like his old self. He had been out for quite awhile going back to the start of the season and it takes a few games to get back into a game shape because you just can't simulate real game conditions in practice. Seymour was really active in this game, and if he can put that kind of effort together from here on out it will be a huge help for them up front.
RRM: I was a little disappointed to see Jets' runners that were seemingly wrapped up break lose for extra yardage on several plays. Did you feel that way as well?
SG: I think the Patriots were guilty of that on a few occasions. This defense has not tackled extremely well all year. Even though they've played well they've missed a lot of tackles throughout the course of the season, particularly on a day like Sunday when you are cold and wet where you are just hoping to knock the guy down when you hit him instead of wrapping him up. They were a little too sloppy with their tackling in this game for my taste and I'm sure that is something Bill Belichick will address this week.
RRM: Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini seemingly made nice after the game with the customary handshake at midfield. Will this at last put to rest the Patriots-Jets feud?
SG: Actually it looked a little rehearsed to me. I don't know if that was Belichick's plan or what but it didn't come across as genuine to me. I think we will have to wait until the two teams meet again next season to see if the grudge is over with. I'm sure both of them would like to see the story go away because they're tired of having to answer questions about it, but these two teams have battled and really gone after each other the past couple of years so I can't see this whole thing being over with just one handshake.
RRM: It was fun to see the Patriots' fans celebrating by tossing snow into the air but I thought things got a little out of hand when some of them started hurling what were essentially ice balls out on the field?
SG: The fact that ice balls were being thrown does not surprise me because there's a lot of alcohol consumed on a bad weather day like that, particularly before the game. I was actually at the stadium and I arrived a couple of hours before kickoff and there were people that had tents set up with heaters and were drinking beer at 11 AM. You get snow and beer together at a football game and somebody is going to start throwing snowballs. It's unfortunate but thankfully no one was hurt and it didn't turn into a major incident.
RRM: I heard some network types already speculating that the roles have reversed and the Colts have become the better bad weather team, thus giving them the advantage should the two teams meet for the AFC Championship in Foxboro next month. Do you agree with them?
SG: Joseph Addai is a very good back and he's run the ball well this year, but Peyton Manning has always struggled in the bad weather up here so I think it would be a good match up if both teams reached the conference final. Hopefully the weather will be clear because you'd really like to see those two teams go all out and play to the best of their abilities without the elements coming into play. But we'll have plenty of time to talk about that game next month!
RRM: I'd be remiss without mentioning the 25th anniversary of the famous Snow Plow game against the Dolphins back in 1982 where Mark Henderson cleared a path for John Smith to kick the game-winning field goal. Weren't you involved somehow?
SG: I was the one that ran down and waved him onto the field. I didn't tell him to swerve into the backfield, he made that decision on his own. I was trying to get him to go down the line of scrimmage so that our blockers had good footing. That was 25 years ago so ESPN did a little feature on it last week, it must have been a slow news week [laughs]!
RRM: Miami comes to town this week red hot on a one-game winning streak after beating Baltimore in overtime to avoid becoming the first team in NFL history to 0-16. Should we be concerned that the Patriots will be catching the Dolphins at the wrong time [insert sarcastic look here!!]?
SG: I think it was actually a good thing that Miami won that game on Sunday. I also don't particularly care for the Ravens or their head coach, so I was kind of happy to see them be the ones that Miami beat to finally get their first win. After watching the game against the Jets could Miami keep it close? Probably. Could they actually win the game? I'd be hard pressed to say they could do that. This Patriots' team is just too poised and has too many veterans to have that happen to them. If it's cold and windy up here on Sunday afternoon and the Dolphins are coming from 75-80 degree weather you just can't prepare for that and it does become a factor. Miami and Jason Taylor may very well give them a run for their money like the Jets did, but more likely they will still be celebrating their lone victory so much they won't be focused on the game.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the sloppy 20-10 decision over the J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets?
SG: I thought the Patriots played pretty well on defense in shutting down the Jets and aside from some poor tackling deserves close to an A. They did a good job in keeping the Jets out of the end zone once they reached the red zone which was something they had been having problems with. The offense played well below average so I'm only giving them a C-. They just didn't carry their load but fortunately the defense was able to pick up the slack. Chad Pennington had some decent numbers (25 of 38 for 186 yards) but they were giving him everything short while keeping him from getting the ball down the field.
Aside from the blocked punt the special teams played well except the kickoff coverage was a little shaky. Leon Washington threatened to break a couple and if he had it would have been an entirely different game. It was a good effort but not a great one, but it was good enough to get their 14th win and now they only have two to go to record a perfect regular season. Even though they have now clinched home field throughout the playoffs that should be motivation enough to get them through the next two games.
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