December 30, 2010
Grogan's Grade: Week 15 - New England at Buffalo
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots found their hosts the Buffalo Bills full of the holiday spirit, as they doled out Christmas presents in the form of a whopping seven turnovers that led to a 34-3 New England rout. All in all not a bad way to clinch the AFC East Championship, is it?
Steve Grogan: I'm sure there were a few anxious moments at the start of the game when Buffalo running backs were just tearing through the Patriots defense seemingly at will, but then the Patriots made a few adjustments and that was the end of it. It was another impressive display by this Patriots team, and I'm sure there are happy they clinched the AFC East in Buffalo even though it meant having to stay overnight in Rochester because of the snow back home.
Buffalo suffered three interceptions and four fumbles, a couple of those were just very poor plays on the Bills' part. With seven turnovers you don't win in the NFL, that's for sure. The trend in this series between the two clubs has been for the first game to be close and the second game to be a blowout by the Patriots, and that certainly held true to form in this one.
RRM: The Patriots put up 34 unanswered points after the Bills had grabbed an early 3-0 lead. This makes seven straight games that the Patriots have scored 30 or more points, which would have to be considered a remarkable accomplishment given that they have two undrafted players as the starters in their backfield and a slew of inexperienced receivers.
SG: That may be true but you still have a guy pulling the trigger in #12 that's one of the best all-time at his position. Tom Brady didn't have one of his best days and his numbers weren't all that impressive, but then again three drops by Wes Welker didn't help his passing stats. That's pretty unusual for Welker but I guess he's earned a season pass after all he's contributed. The Patriots ran the ball extremely well in this game, getting 163 yards in the first half (217 for the game). That's what you're looking for as you head into this time of year and into the playoffs. Your running game becomes extremely important so they're clicking on all cylinders right now which is a great sign.
One thing I think that really gets overlooked on this team is that you've got a solid offensive line up front. Even with Logan Mankins missing for half the year and a couple of injuries they've had to deal with this Patriots' offensive line has been extremely solid. They've given Brady good time to throw the ball and they've been aggressive in the running game. When you've got five guys playing up front as well as they've been playing all year long you're going to have success, no doubt about it.
RRM: Tom Brady eclipsed Bernie Kosar's record of 308 pass attempts without an interception, setting a new record of 319. Considering he did it in one season while Kosar accomplished it over two does it make the new record that much more impressive?
SG: I would say so. Anytime you go that long without throwing an interception it's impressive, but to do it in one year as opposed to carrying it over from the previous year that's really something. No one has ever done that before and may never do it again. Brady really has his rhythm right now and he has had it for most of the season since Randy Moss left, and from a spectator's viewpoint it's a lot of fun to watch.
RRM: Hmmmmmm, any coincidence that Brady and the Pats offense started to click once Moss was shipped out of town?
SG: I think once Moss was out of here Tom didn't have to worry about keeping somebody happy. He was able to go out and do what they wanted to do offensively and whoever got the ball got the ball. I think Moss was the kind of player because of all his experience in the league you had to try and look for him and get him the ball. Once he was out of the picture now the ball gets spread around more and you get the two rookie tight ends a little more involved, Deion Branch returns and acts like he's never been away, and Danny Woodhead takes over the Kevin Faulk role of catching the ball out of the backfield. It really looked to me like Brady got much more comfortable with the offense once Moss departed.
RRM: Brady's first pass of the game came up extremely short to a wide open Rob Gronkowski down the middle. Is it still tough to throw the football in Ralph Wilson Stadium in the winter?
SG: You can get some really windy days in Buffalo that make it tough to throw the football, but from what I could tell there wasn't much wind to contend with during the game. When it's cold like that sometimes the first couple of passes can be difficult because it takes some getting used to no matter how many warm up throws you take on the sidelines. I'm guessing that's probably what happened to Brady. He probably just wasn't ready to crank it up and let it go, but he managed quite well after that.
RRM: The Patriots' defense was flu-ridden and all banged up physically after last week's game at Green Bay and everyone expected the newly revived Bills to take full advantage of them. Instead they kept Buffalo out of the end zone the entire game, not bad for a MASH unit?
SG: They gave up a lot of yardage on the ground on Buffalo's first drive of the game and then it seemed they made some adjustments and got some pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills just fell apart after that. This Patriots' defense has really excelled at forcing turnovers during this stretch of games and they really made the young Bills quarterback look pretty bad. He threw three interceptions and put the ball on the ground twice, which is a nightmare game for a quarterback. Every time the ball was up for grabs in the air or on the ground it seemed the Patriots' defense came up with it, and given their depleted ranks it was quite an effort.
RRM: After rushing for 102 yards against the Bills BenJarvus Green-Ellis will have a chance for a 1,000 yard season next week in the season finale. Are the days of taking this guy for granted gone for good if he joins the ranks of all the Patriots' 1,000 yard rushers?
SG: I think so. Over the last couple of years where Green-Ellis has had a chance to carry the ball in his reserve role I was impressed with him. But you just never figured him to play a major part in this Patriots' offense with a first round draft pick like Laurence Maroney around, not to mention the name veterans they brought in like Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris. It's been a lot of fun to watch this kid mature as the season has gone along and claim the starting job.
Green-Ellis has done everything they've asked him to do. He still hasn't fumbled in a regular season game which is an amazing attribute. He hits the hole hard and pushes the pile, which makes for a big contrast with Danny Woodhead who is a quick, change-of-pace, speedy type of running back. I'm glad to see Green-Ellis have success because it's well deserved, and hopefully he'll get his 1,000 yard season this Sunday and be the feature back on this team for quite a while.
RRM: Now that the Patriots have secured homefield throughout the AFC playoffs and this Sunday's game at home against the Dolphins is essentially meaningless, who gets to play and who gets to sit?
SG: I think you have to play your starters for at least a half and then get some of your other players in there. Anybody that's a little banged up probably won't play, but if they're healthy I'd give them a half and then see which way the game was going and what you need to do. Overall I would expect to see a lot of guys sitting down for most of the game.
RRM: Do you think with the bye week looming Bill Belichick might not like having some of his players idle for two (three if they don't play on Sunday) straight weeks and he may want to get as much playing time for his starters as possible?
SG: He may well look it at that way. I know back in 2004 in a similar situation against the 49ners he played most of his starters well into the third quarter. It all comes down to being healthy for the playoffs. If any of his players have a little nick I wouldn't expect to see too much of them against the Dolphins. It should make for an interesting game to watch and I'm sure a lot of second-guessing of the coach afterwards.
RRM: Everyone in the media is playing this game so I'll invite you to play as well. Is there one team you'd prefer to see the Patriots avoid in their first round playoff game?
SG: No, I really don't think there is a team they should avoid. The way they are playing right now they're better than anyone in the league, and they'll be playing all their games here at home in Foxboro. I just can't see any team coming into Foxboro in the first round and giving them too much trouble. I would have to say Pittsburgh is the second best team in the AFC in my estimation. I don't think the Ravens are anything like they were last year. I saw Kansas City play last Sunday and they've got a pretty solid young defense and they could present a challenge for the Patriots. But there isn't any team playing as good a brand of football in the AFC as the Patriots are right now so I wouldn't be fearful of anyone.
RRM: There's always the possibility the hated Jets could make a reappearance in Foxboro in the postseason. Is that a team you just as well not see again this season?
SG: Actually that would be pretty fun to watch! The Jets aren't playing all that well right now, and they lost to the Bears on Sunday and gave up a lot of points which is not a good sign for a team that is supposed to be built around their defense. They also have a lot of issues going on down there as I'm sure everyone is aware of. I'd love to see the Patriots have a third chance at them and just knock the socks off of them [laughs]!
RRM: Knock the socks off of them? Is that a pun intended at the Jets demonstrative head coach and his recent exploits?
SG: No, no pun intended.
RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 34-3 bashing of the Bills in Buffalo?
SG: It's the holidays so as my present I'm giving out A's across the board, and let's face it, when you win a divisional game on the road by the score of 34-3 it has to be A's all around! The special teams were solid for the Patriots. Shayne Graham made all of his extra points and field goal attempts in the cold and punter Zoltan Mesko averaged 41 yards. The defense has to get an A for forcing seven turnovers and holding Buffalo without a touchdown. Even though Tom Brady didn't have great stats he threw three touchdown passes. We should mention veteran tight end Algie Crumpler, who they finally threw a bone to and got him his first touchdown of the season. He's been a big part of the success of the running game with his blocking ability, but from what I've heard he's also been a really good influence on the two rookie tight ends. They've both had great years, so part of the credit for their success has to go to him and his leadership ability. Happy New Year everyone!
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