December 27, 2011
Grogan's Grade: Week 15 - New England vs Miami
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve, for the first 30 minutes it appeared the Patriots were going to give their fans a lump of coal for Christmas as they trailed the Dolphins 17-0 at halftime. Were you among the many that thought this team was going to blow its chance to claim that #1 seed for the postseason?
Steve Grogan: I have to admit I was not optimistic about their chances after watching that first half. The Patriots' offense was totally out of synch and it didn't appear like they had any answers for the Dolphins' defense. You had to wonder if the Patriots had come out ready to play, and I think partly they didn't. The other problem was the injuries to their offensive line which fed into the Dolphins defensive strategy of blitzing Tom Brady on nearly every play.
The fans were upset and they were making their frustrations known by booing the Patriots as they left the field at halftime, but I can assure you no one was more frustrated than the players and coaches over what had taken place in that first half. Any time you have Tom Brady taking snaps you're always in the game and you always have a chance, and the way he threw the ball in the second half shows he can still bring the team back despite the odds against them.
RRM: Losing the entire left side of his offensive line didn't make life particularly easy for Tom Brady in that first half. But didn't Brady look totally out of synch to you early on?
SG: When you're moving that many guys around on the offensive line you're going to have problems. As a quarterback it's hard to be on target when you've got guys falling around your feet and you can't step into your throws. If it were any other quarterback besides Tom Brady in a situation like that you'd probably blame the quarterback, but in his case I think we all know how good he can be when he does receive adequate protection. So in this case when he's not protected and he's throwing poorly I think you have to put the blame on the offensive line.
RRM: As bad as the Patriots looked in that first half they came out after halftime like gangbusters and almost seem to blow the Dolphins back on their heels in the second half. Somehow I couldn't help but think the monotoned, uninspiring Bill Belichick we get to hear during the postgame was not the same Belichick his players got at halftime?
SG: I would imagine he had something to say and there were probably several veterans who had something to say in that Patriots' locker room at halftime that got everybody back on track. You watch Belichick at a press conference and you say how can this be a real leader of men, but behind close doors he's a totally different person. He got his team motivated for the second half and it certainly showed on the field with the end results.
RRM: The Patriots kept making mistake after mistake in that first half, but it seemed that once the momentum started going their way after Vince Wilfork's big fumble recovery it was the Dolphins who started making all the big mistakes. Did you get the feeling Miami was feeling the pressure and the Patriots were only too happy to pour it on them?
SG: It was almost like Miami couldn't believe they were ahead! I think it's just typical human nature that when you're in a situation you don't expect to be in, in this case being up 17 against a really good team, and then something goes wrong and you say here it goes again. These guys are better than us and we shouldn't be in this game, and they start to press and do things that get you into trouble. All those things happened to the Dolphins in the second half and once they start to happen it's really tough to turn things around.
RRM: I thought the Miami coaching staff was just as guilty as their players when they stopped using their blitz packages that were so successful in the first half, and as a result Tom Brady and his offense roared to life. All I could think of was the recently fired Dolphins' coach Tony Sporano saying, "You can't blame me for this one!"?
SG: When you're an interim head coach like Todd Bowles and your team is playing well, why wouldn't you continue what you're doing? What do you have to lose? Why would you change your game plan at halftime and become more conservative and not do the things that got you the lead in the first half? Sometimes coaches outthink themselves and that's probably what happened to the Miami coaching staff on Saturday.
RRM: For the second week in a row running back Stevan Ridley came off the bench to provide the Patriots' with a big boost in the second half. Do you think he's being groomed to become New England's feature back for the future?
SG: It kind of looks that way, doesn't it? We haven't seen much of BenJarvus Green-Ellis lately I assume due to injury, and Danny Woodhead isn't quite the same player that he was a year ago so I think they are probably looking at Ridley as the kid with the fresh legs and they figure let's ride him for awhile and see what he can do for us.
RRM: The CBS announcers made mention of how Miami's Reggie Bush was traded by New Orleans because they didn't think he could be a fulltime feature back because of his size. Bush has proven them wrong by turning in the first 1,000 yard rushing season of his career, so can Ridley also overcome his size disadvantage to become the Pats' starter in the backfield?
SG: It's possible they are using the end of the season to evaluate whether Ridley can carry the ball 20 times a game for them in the future, but I really think they felt like they had two veterans in Green-Ellis and Woodhead that can do the job but when they faltered they turned to Ridley and have discovered that the kid can make plays. I think you are going to see him get the ball more often here at the finish of the season and into the playoffs because he's been doing a great job. Now if he puts one or two balls on the ground you probably won't see much of him, but if he doesn't Belichick will keep using him.
RRM: Brady tallied two more rushing touchdowns, and the way he was clutching the football on his way off the field after he scored his second it made me think he's now motivated to take on your club record for lifetime rushing TDs by a quarterback. Are you getting nervous yet?
SG: Brady's closing in on my record again [laughs]! He's gotten three rushing touchdowns in the last two games which is really unusual for him. After all these years they suddenly decided to start using him more down around the goal line, but he has a knack for running quarterback sneaks, there's no question about that.
RRM: What did you think of the Miami quarterback Mat Moore? Has the six-year veteran found a home with the Dolphins as their starting quarterback, or will Miami draft one come next spring?
SG: Moore has played extremely well over the past seven games for Miami, and it surprised me to find out this is already his sixth season in the NFL. He's shown flashes of becoming a really good player but he doesn't have a lot of really good talent playing around him right now and that makes it difficult on any quarterback. I thought he played okay against the Patriots and he's been on a nice little run in the second half of the season, but I think if they have a chance to grab someone in the first round that looks like the future franchise quarterback they would have to take him.
RRM: Since it is the holidays I will skip over my obligatory what the heck is wrong with Devon McCourty question and point out that the Patriots close out the season against the Bills on Sunday with Buffalo coming off a big win over Tim Tebow's Denver club last week. I readily admit I don't know what to expect from either team this Sunday, what's your intuition tell you?
SG: I hear you. Six or seven weeks ago you looked at the last four games on the Patriots' schedule and figured it would be a cakewalk for them. Instead Washington gave them a run for their money, Denver gave them all they could handle for most of the game, and now Miami nearly came away with an upset victory. Buffalo is capable of doing the same thing on Sunday and Ryan Fitzpatrick could put some big numbers up on them, but this is a big game for the Patriots. If they win they get homefield throughout the playoffs and I think they all know that and I feel you're going to get a pretty good effort from them. They've already secured a first round bye so they know they'll be getting a week off, but they really need that homefield advantage in the playoffs. I know it hasn't helped in recent years but it will still be a huge advantage for them.
RRM: Two weeks ago it was Andre Carter and last week it was Logan Mankins. You would have to think coming out of this game without another serious injury is almost as important as coming away with the victory. Will that play any kind of a factor on Sunday?
SG: It may a little bit, but you still have to play to win and that's the way the Patriots will go about it. I don't think you will see them sitting Brady down after halftime or anything of that nature. They need to win to clinch homefield but at the same time you don't want anyone to get hurt, but I really think Belichick is the kind of a coach that figures that's part of the game and if someone gets hurt the next guy better step in and be ready to play. That's been his M.O. throughout most of his coaching career and you shouldn't expect him to change.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 27-24 comeback effort against the Dolphins on Christmas Eve?
SG: It was a hard game to grade because it was basically a game of two halves. The Patriots had one lousy half and another really good half of football, so I thought an overall grade of B- was appropriate. The defense was average so they get a C, and the offense got their act together in the second half after a terrible first half so I'll give them a B. You had guys playing out of position and playing with guys no one ever heard of and yet they still came back and won the game, that's still quite an accomplishment.
Wes Welker rode to the rescue again with another dozen catches, including some really big ones in that second half that kept drives going. I thought Jerod Mayo played a huge role in the second half comeback with his 13 tackles and two sacks coming on blitzes right up the middle. It's easy to point out all the shortcomings in this team, and yet they are one win away from posting the best record in the conference for the second straight season and you have to give them some credit. I hope everyone has a Happy New Year!
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