December 20, 2011
Grogan's Grade: Week 14 - New England at Denver
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots ended the reign of the Comeback Kid a.k.a Tim Tebow and clinched yet another AFC Eastern Division title in the process. Was the 41-23 victory as impressive a win as the Patriots have turned in this season?
Steve Grogan: I can't think of another performance that they've had this year that was as good as this one. They started out a little slowly but then they got on a roll in the second quarter and from that point on there was little doubt that they were going to win that game.
It certainly didn't look good for the Patriots early on when Denver was just running the ball at will on them. Whenever a young up and coming team like the Broncos plays the Patriots it becomes their big game and they came out and played with a lot of emotion in that first quarter. As the Patriots made adjustments and took control of the game in the second quarter you could see the intimidation the Broncos felt for the Patriots. Once the Patriots took the lead Denver started making the mistakes they hadn't been making the last seven or eight weeks. They looked like they were intimidated, and I think that's because they know they're not as good a football team as the Patriots are right now, which certainly proved to be the case on Sunday.
RRM: All year long we've been saying eventually some team is going to figure out a way to take away Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski and then what are the Patriots going to do? It appears the answer turned out to be unleashing Aaron Hernandez on the Denver defense?
SG: Hernandez had just a fantastic game. He's been a little banged up which is part of the reason he hasn't had a lot of catches the past couple of months but the Patriots have so many weapons on offense you just can't take one or even two of them away and expect to shut them down.
RRM: Hernandez is an intriguing player because he's not a true tight end yet he doesn't fit the mold of a wide receiver either. To borrow a basketball term would you call him your classic "tweener"?
SG: Hernandez is what we used to call an H-back when I was playing. The Patriots actually lined him up in the backfield on Sunday and ran him one time for a nice gain. He can do a lot of different things for you. While he's not big enough to be a down tight end and do the blocking all the time and he's not quite fast enough to play wide receiver full time, you can put him in a lot of different spots and cause a lot of different problems for a defense.
RRM: Tom Brady had some fun in the pregame warm ups with the Denver fans that were booing him by flexing his muscles at them. He also followed up his quarterback sneak for a touchdown with a thunderous Gronkowski-like end zone spike. Is the big guy rubbing off on the veteran QB?
SG: I thought Tom Brady showed a lot more emotion for scoring a rushing touchdown than I've ever seen him show for throwing a touchdown pass [laughs]! I think it was kind of an in-your-face Tim Tebow, I can run the ball into the end zone, too. Denver has been a tough place for every Patriots' team to play since the late 1960's so any time you go out there and have a chance to win you get excited. Brady has had some tough games in Denver and there are some teams you just don't play well against for some reason or another and when you beat a team that has been tormenting you it makes you feel pretty good. I think that explains what we saw from Tom Brady against the Broncos.
RRM: Tom Brady ran the sneak several times in this game and rushed the ball six times overall, but am I the only one that thought maybe that's a few too many times to expose him to a defense ready to knock his block off?
SG: To be honest I was thinking that myself. Once or twice a game is fine for Tom Brady, especially down near the goal line. You can get down in those piles and a lot of things can happen to you. I speak from experience; it's not fun being on the bottom of those pile ups! They grab your arms, your legs, your foot, your head; they are pulling and twisting on everything down there. I thought they had better options than trying to sneak him from the two-yardline a couple more times than they needed to.
RRM: The win may prove costly to the Patriots if the injury suffered by Andre Carter knocks him out for the season. Can this struggling defense afford the loss of their top pass rushing threat?
SG: It will hurt, but I thought the kid Mark Anderson helped to pick up the slack. I think they can still rush the passer when they get the chance so I don't think it will prove disastrous to them. Injuries happen and you just have to adjust, but I think they will come out of this okay.
RRM: So does this defeat finally put an end to the Tim Tebow mania for at least this season?
SG: I don't think so. He's a good, athletic quarterback with some ability but he's still very young and raw. I think he will turn out to be a good quarterback in the NFL. He does do things differently than most quarterbacks, but I'm not ready to write him off like many of his critics are willing to do. I don't think you'll hear the hype stuff at the same level as it had been the past few weeks but I look forward to seeing his progress.
RRM: If Denver does hold onto the lead in the AFC Western Division do you see them doing any damage in the playoffs?
SG: They might be able to give somebody a tussle in the first round but I don't see them going much farther than that. This is a young team to watch though and I think they are only going to get better.
RRM: It was a strange week in the NFL. What surprised you the most; the Packers finally falling from the ranks of the unbeaten at the hands of the lowly Kansas Chiefs or the hapless Indianapolis Colts finally registering their first victory of the season?
SG: I think the Chiefs beating Green Bay has to be the biggest surprise. Kansas City made the coaching change with Romeo Crennel taking over and they hadn't been scoring any points while giving up a ton of points, so to beat the best team in pro football was quite a shocker. I figured Indianapolis might win a game or two, and now even if they win out from here they've still pretty much locked up the #1 pick in the NFL draft so they're probably playing a little harder to win a game.
RRM: There was also the humiliating 45-19 loss pinned on the Jets by the Philadelphia Eagles. The past two seasons the Jets were peaking in December heading into the playoffs. Can they now officially be dismissed as a Super Bowl contender?
SG: Anything can happen in the playoffs, but the Jets are certainly not the same team they were last year. They aren't playing anywhere near the same level on defense and Mark Sanchez isn't having the kind of year he had last year, so if they do manage to secure one of those wildcard spots I don't see them advancing to the AFC Championship Game as they have the past two seasons.
RRM: This Saturday's game against Miami no longer appears to be the gimme it appeared to be several weeks ago. Are you expecting a tough tussle with the Dolphins on Christmas Eve?
SG: Four or five weeks ago you looked at the schedule and you thought the last four games of the season would be pretty much of a cakewalk for the Patriots but it doesn't look like it's going to turn out that way. They are going to have to play hard against two divisional opponents on consecutive weeks and they are going to have to win both of those games. The Dolphins always play well against the Patriots and I don't expect this game to be any different. They do have to come up here and play in the cold though which isn't going to help their cause at all.
RRM: Any chance that the Patriots might suffer from an emotional letdown after their big win in Denver and being forced to deal with coming home during a holiday weekend?
SG: Certainly there's always that chance but I think being pretty much a veteran football team that knows how to handle those types of situations they should be all right. They will also have Bill Belichick knocking that into their heads all week long in practice!
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 41-23 stomping of the Broncos in the Mile High City?
SG: I had to give them A's across the board. Any time you go to a place where you have had trouble winning in the past and you win so convincingly with all the hype going on all week long you deserve a top grade. I thought the offense played extremely well, especially with the pressure the brought on Tom Brady. The defense got off to that slow start but they forced Denver to turn the ball over and played well the rest of the way.
It wouldn't be Christmas without giving out some game balls so I'll start with Tom Brady for three touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown. Aaron Hernandez gets one for his nine catches and several big plays. I suppose we can give one to Chad Ochocinco for his first touchdown catch of the season. I thought Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork played pretty well and did good job stuffing the run after the first quarter.
It would be nice to have that #1 seed in the AFC and know that you are playing at home throughout the playoffs, although having the homefield hasn't been a huge advantage for the Patriots the last few years. It's always easier to play at home, so if they catch a break and can lock up that #1 spot it would be a great holiday present for them.
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