November 23, 2010
Grogan's Grade: Week 10 - New England vs Indianapolis
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve, in yet another classic game in what has become the best rivalry in the NFL the Patriots finally bested Peyton Manning and his pesky Colts 31-28 in a game that was decided in the final seconds. As the late great Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince used to say, "We had 'em all the way", right?
Steve Grogan: It's funny but I really felt that they "had 'em all the way" in the first half and then the Colts came down and scored on that touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne (which was really a great throw by Peyton Manning) right at the end of the half to make it 21-14 and it left you with that feeling that they just let the Colts back in the game. They had their way with them that entire first half and they ended up giving them hope, and I think they carried that feeling with them right until the end of the game.
In that second half Peyton Manning started doing what Peyton Manning does when his team is behind, and it came down to the Patriots having to force him to make a mistake. I don't know how many times Manning has done that in the dozen or so games he's played against the Patriots but several times he's come up with that big mistake at the end of the game that cost them, and fortunately for the Patriots he did it again.
RRM: I imagine a lot of fans were feeling pretty secure with a 31-14 Patriots' lead in the third quarter. Were you one of them?
SG: I never feel secure with this young Patriots defense. In all honesty the people Peyton Manning is throwing the ball to is not what he is used to having over the years. They have a lot of key people down with injuries, and for him to play as well as he did and put that many points on the scoreboard with the receivers he's playing with is pretty impressive.
We talk about it every week, but this is a young Patriots' defense that is going to give up yards and points, and you keep your fingers crossed that your offense will score enough points and the defense will make a stop or two that will make the difference in the game. They were able to do that on Sunday thanks to James Sanders' interception at the end, but other than that it was scary!
RRM: This was supposed to be the acid test for all of these young Patriots' defensive backs. How do you think they fared overall against the future Hall of Fame quarterback?
SG: They certainly had their moments but they also gave up nearly 400 yards passing. It's hard to get pressure on Peyton Manning, and you can't ask a bunch of young defensive backs to cover everybody against Peyton Manning if someone isn't getting in his face once in awhile. They didn't get a lot of pressure on him and that puts it squarely on the shoulders of that young secondary. They made some plays early and then I thought they got conservative in the second half which has been their M.O. this season, and they almost ended up giving the game away.
RRM: That's a good point, in the last two weeks they have gone to the prevent defense in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh and Indianapolis and given up a ton of yardage and points in a hurry. Isn't the prevent defense designed to give up yards but short gains and make the other team use up a lot of time trying to score? SG: The problem is this defense gives up too many big plays when they go into the prevent defense. I really think they need to stay aggressive. They just seem to play better when they are aggressive, which is common with a young player. When they go to the prevent they seem to get defensive trying to prevent a big play and they end up giving up a lot of little plays that end up beating them anyway, so they might as well stay aggressive.
RRM: If not for Sanders' late interception on the Colts last drive these two teams might still be playing. Can you tell us from a former quarterback's perspective what Peyton Manning was trying to do on that last play?
SG: They had a short corner route by the inside receiver and a really deep comeback out route by the outside receiver, and it looked to me like there was single coverage on the outside guy and the Patriots were doubling the inside guy. Jermaine Cunningham just got enough pressure that Manning had to come a little more over the top with the throw than he wanted to, and he didn't get enough behind it.
The deep guy (Pierre Garcon) was open. He came out of his break and would have had a big gain but Manning wasn't able to get enough on the ball to get it there. Sanders went up and really made a nice catch. A lot of defensive backs don't make that catch; they just knock that kind of a ball down. That play was huge because if that pass goes incomplete then more than likely Adam Viantieri kicks a game-tying field goal and they go to overtime. If you get into a field goal kicking contest in the OT they have a future Hall of Fame kicker and the Patriots have a guy they got off the street; who do you like in that match up? RRM: The Brady-Manning match up is always the focus of these games and to their credit both of them always say the right things but deep down you know they have to get psyched up when they play each other. You played against such great Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw in your career, didn't that get your adrenaline flowing just a little more for those games?
SG: There's no question that it did. When you are playing against a really outstanding quarterback on the other sideline you know you have to play well and have to play flawless football. There's that added incentive to go out and do a better job then you are usually capable of, and you know one mistake may be all that other quarterback needs to beat you. You have to play extremely well for your team to have a chance to win, and I'm sure both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning feel that way when their teams play each other.
RRM: Danny Woodhead again provided a spark with some clutch receptions and a scintillating touchdown run that he followed up with a kamikaze tackle on the ensuing kickoff. Like the old saying goes, he did everything but sell popcorn in this one.
SG: Woodhead has become a big fan favorite in a relatively short amount of time in New England. You just have to root for a guy like that. He is good at catching the ball out of the backfield and he knows where the first down marker is on third down. On that touchdown run he broke a tackle or two, kept his balance, and showed good speed to get down the sideline and score. The Patriots didn't have anyone on the roster to replace Kevin Faulk when he went down and they were extremely fortunate to land a player with the ability Woodhead has. He is just a shade below Faulk as a receiver but he's a better runner after the catch due to his age, and he has a knack for making people miss. He's just turned out to be quite a find for the Patriots.
RRM: The Patriots' record now stands at 8-2 and they have beaten four of the five top contenders for the AFC title in the Ravens, Chargers, Steelers, and Colts (with the rematch against the Jets coming in two weeks). Despite that most fans and pundits see this club as inferior to their Super Bowl Championship clubs and doubt they are capable of winning it this year. How do you feel about their chances?
SG: I think it's simply because this Patriots' defense scares the heck out of people that follow the team. They win, but it's scary to watch what they have to do scrambling around at the end on defense to hold on to win the last two weeks. They are a good football team, there's no denying that. They are beating the other title contending teams they need to beat, but you just can't believe they can keep doing it the way they are. I'd like to see them start to make some stops on defense late in a game before I say they are a legitimate challenger to win the whole thing, but given that they are already among the top five or six clubs right now that's all you really need to get a chance to play for the championship. It's just been a really strange season, just not for the Patriots but the entire NFL.
RRM: There's no time to savor this big win against the Colts since the Patriots will be back out on the field in just a few days to play the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. The Lions aren't quite the hapless club they were in recent years and can be a tough opponent at home, but there really isn't a chance that the Patriots can't drop this one after not knocking out two elite AFC clubs in successive weeks, is there?
SG: You would think there's no chance but then again there are games every year that just kind of jump up and bite you, just like Cleveland was one of those games this year. They have to be really careful about this one because they are coming off an emotional win at home over the Colts who are one of their biggest rivals, and they are going into a place with only three days preparation to play a team that on paper shouldn't be in the same stadium with them. But this is exactly the kind of game where if they are not careful it will jump up and bite you on the butt.
RRM: You played on Thanksgiving Day a couple of times in your career. What kind of things does a player have to deal with such a short turnaround between games?
SG: This being a young team it's a lot easier for them to bounce back physically and play a game only four days later, but you usually don't lose that soreness until the end of the week so they won't be in peak physical condition for this one. There are the distractions you have to deal with since the game falls on a holiday, but you try and cope as best you can. The coaches will try and shorten the game plan a little bit and cram a lot of practice time in a short period. Usually you do offense one day, defense the next, and then short yardage and red zone, but now you have to cram all that into a couple of days and then have a travel day to get out there, so you are not going to have a complicated game plan this week.
RRM: Does having the 10 days off afterwards make up for everything the players have to go through during this shortened week?
SG: That was always nice [laughs]. You pay for it on one end but you make up for it on the other end. But it's not something you want to go through every year that's for sure.
RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the pulsating 31-28 victory over Peyton Manning and the Colts?
SG: This is a tough one to grade with everything that happened in this one. Overall I'm going to go with a B+. I thought they played pretty well offensively so they'll get an A-, only because they had a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter and went three and out on two straight possessions. Defensively they did what they had to do against a Hall of Fame quarterback and they made some terrific plays but they did yield nearly 400 yards of passing offense to Peyton Manning so I'm going with a B-.
I thought the special teams played a big role for the Patriots in this game. They did a nice job of making Manning start most of his drives deep in his own territory after kickoffs. Shayne Graham's kickoffs weren't that deep but they got great coverage and kept the Colts from any big returns. I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving and the Patriots provide some good football on Thanksgiving Day.
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