December 22, 2010
Grogan's Grade: Week 14 - New England vs. Green Bay
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve, on Sunday night the NFL's #1 scoring offense was matched against the league's top-rated scoring defense so something had to give. The result was a 31-27 Patriots victory that was just a little too close for comfort for most of us?
Steve Grogan: It was one of those games where you were waiting for the Patriots to blow it open, especially after the way they had played the last couple of weeks. But Green Bay just kept finding ways to shut them down and the Patriots defense couldn't get the Green Bay offense off the field. The Packers gave them all they could handle and it almost paid off for them.
RRM: This was a game of big plays, perhaps none bigger than Dan Connolly's 71-yard kickoff return at the end of the second quarter that helped the Patriots out of a 10 point hole they had dug themselves into?
SG: [Laughs!] That was a real turning point in the game, to be able to get that score right before halftime the way they did. He used a nice stiff arm, got to the outside, the returners came in and knocked a guy off of him, and he made a nice cutback move down the sideline. At some point in his life he probably has played running back and somewhere deep in his brain that all came back to him. He ran the first 15 yards with both hands on the ball and then when nobody touched him, you could see him just say holy cow and he switched it to one arm and took off running. The funny thing was, and I did not actually notice it when the play happened (but I saw it on the replay), he was carrying the ball straight up and down like a loaf of bread and he did not have it tucked in his hand like a normal running back would, so he is lucky he did not fumble it!
RRM: That's an interesting point. Most of the time with a lineman rumbling down the sideline he is looking to pitch the ball to one of his quicker teammates, but not our man Dan! I don't think his eyes veered away from the goal line once to look to pitch ball off?
SG: No, he was out there running at full speed and cutting back to the right. He wanted to score come hell or high water but just did not make it. Those are the fun plays to watch in a game. They are so totally unexpected and special when somebody does something like that. That play will be remembered for a long time.
RRM: Once again this Patriots' defense helped an unheralded quarterback look like a Hall of Famer. Matt Flynn led the Packers to 369 yards of total offense and if not for a moment of inexperience on the game's final play may well have pulled off the upset?
SG: They sacked Matt Flynn five times and they were getting some pressure on him but he handled it well. It doesn't matter what your name is, if you are playing in the NFL you have talent. He made some nice throws and did some great things. Their coaching staff did a great job of taking the pressure off him and giving him some easy throws to complete, particularly in the beginning of the game by throwing a lot of short stuff and some screens so that he could get into a flow, and once he got into a flow he was throwing great. The Patriots' secondary was taken advantage of, and they play so well back there sometimes and other times they do not look like they know what they are doing, and Sunday night was one of those times.
RRM: To their credit the Patriots' defense did come up with some big plays, like Kyle Arrington's interception for a touchdown at the start of the third quarter and Banta-Cain's sack on the game's final play. Should fans take some solace in the fact that they came up with those plays when their backs were to the wall?
SG: The Patriots have playmakers out there on defense, but again they have such a young defense that they will be learning every week. Anytime you have that many young guys out on the field at the same time it is going to be difficult to be consistent, and we will just have to put up with that and hope that the offense will continue to score in the 30 point range and then see what happens.
RRM: One player we haven't mentioned all year is inside linebacker Jerod Mayo who has been a force in the middle. He ran up double digits in tackles by halftime yet he hardly gets any mention by the national broadcasters or the local media?
SG: No, you do not hear Jerod Mayo's name mentioned at the end of the game but when you look at the stats you always see his name at the top of the list in tackles. He has quietly turned himself what I feel into a Pro Bowl inside linebacker and I hope he gets rewarded with that honor at the end of the season. The fans can vote online so they might as well get busy now!
RRM: Bill Belichick was noticeably unhappy in his postgame press conference despite the victory and he took the blame upon himself for not properly preparing his team for this game. Do you think he was trying to send a message to his team or is he himself beginning to doubt his team's ability?
SG: I would think he probably has some doubts on the kind of team he has. Again, offensively they will be all right if they get the ball enough times. Defensively he has to be a little bit worried about the way they played on Sunday night, and has a couple of games left to get things straightened out. The talent is there, they've demonstrated that repeatedly, but if they do not play the game the way it should be played and you let teams score points on you it becomes scary, and I am sure he is a little scared right now.
RRM: Lost in all teeth-gnashing over this close game is the fact that the Patriots extended their now NFL record to six straight games with no turnovers. Say what you want but that is just unheard of, wouldn't you agree?
SG: Yes, that is unheard of, but as I mentioned Brady had three throws that should have been picked off and he got a little lucky. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead continue to carry the ball without putting it on the ground, and it is just amazing to go that long without any kind of turnover whatsoever. That is a big part of why they are winning, and you just have to hope they can keep this streak going.
RRM: Should Patriots fans try to keep this game in perspective after the Giants and Steelers didn't manage to win their close games on Sunday?
SG: In the NFL anybody can play well on a given Sunday. Green Bay was considered one of the top teams in the league going into the season. They had a lot of injuries and now they are playing a young quarterback that has not been scouted that much. You have to give them a little bit of credit for playing over their heads because of who they are playing, and also keep in mind that everyone gets up for playing the Patriots.
At the same time this is a Patriots' team that is not turning over the ball and they are not doing stupid things like punting the ball to a guy who can return the ball at the end of the game to beat you [ask Tom Coughlin about that one!]. You don't see them fumbling the ball as they go out of bounds and letting their opponent get right back in it. They are making some mistakes, but they are not making big enough mistakes that they are costing them wins, and I really think you have to give them credit for that.
RRM: Next up is a trip to Buffalo the day after Christmas for a game against the suddenly resurgent Bills who are 4-2 in their last six games. Do you get the feeling the Bills won't exactly be hospitable hosts for the holidays?
SG: No they won't, and you never know what you will get weather-wise in Buffalo as well. You plan all week for one thing and then you get up there and the weather has changed and you have to change your game plan. I have been very impressed with their young quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with the way he has come off the bench and leading them. He gave the Patriots fits down here earlier in the year when they played. He was running out of the pocket and doing some things they did not adjust to well, so this is a game they really need to be focused on and get this one out of the way.
If all goes well and they come back home with a win that clinches the division title and home field in the AFC playoffs then whatever happens against Miami really does not matter. This to me is a big game. They really have to make a statement in this game and play well for 60 minutes, and I think that is what Bill Belichick will be preaching to them in practice all this week.
RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 31-27 squeaker against the Pack?
SG: This was far from some of the outstanding efforts the Patriots have turned in the past few weeks. I'll give the offense a B but the defense only merits a C+ for their inconsistent play. They made a couple of big plays on special teams but they also gave up a couple big plays on returns. That onside kick was a killer to start the game, and I'm pretty sure Green Bay had to see that they could execute that play against the Patriots from film study. If the Patriots' coaches would have been watching the Eagles-Giants game earlier in the day where the Eagles pulled off a surprise onside kick they could have gone into the locker room and said, "Look this can happen at any time and be ready for it." Apparently they did not. It was just a huge play in the game, and it was a little disappointing to see them get caught off guard like that. It gave Green Bay a little momentum to start the game and it seemed the Patriots were playing from behind the rest of the evening.
Brady had three throws that could have and should have been picked off. He did not look as sharp as he has the past couple of weeks and that is because the Green Bay defense was playing well. But the Patriots have to get their act back together and they all know it. Merry Christmas everyone!
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