December 27, 2012
Grogan's Grade: Week 15 - Patriots Survive in Jacksonville and Are Set To Battle For a No. 1 Seed
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve the Jacksonville Jaguars hardly looked a 2-12 team on Sunday, rolling up big play after big play against a porous Patriots defense and harassing Tom Brady into a subpar performance. Should Patriots Nation be happy to escape with a 7-point win, or should they be concerned after 2 straight lackluster efforts from their team?
Steve Grogan: Well, I think it's both. I think they should be happy that they got out of there with a win, but I think they need to be concerned about the way their defense played -- at least early. If you look at the scoreboard they only gave up 16 points, that's still pretty good but they were giving up a lot of big plays and against a good football team that's going to be a problem. So I know they've got people banged up on defense and I know they're trying to get healthy and they've already clinched a playoff spot, but you'd like to see them play with a little more confidence than they played with, at least early in the game, on Sunday.
RRM: I really expected the Patriots to come out and take their anger out on the Jags over their loss to the 49ers. But you warned us last week that this had "trap game" written all over it. What did you see that many of us didn't?
SG: The defense, particularly on the first drive, looked like they were just rolling off the bus and putting their uniforms on and were going to walk out on the field. Jacksonville just took the ball down the field one big play after another and scored, that was a little concerning. Offensively they weren't able to run the ball at all in the first half. Tom Brady throws two interceptions, which is highly unusual for him. I just don't think that they felt like they needed to play their best football to win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. As we all know, and we've talked about for years now, when people play the Patriots, that's their Super Bowl and it doesn't matter how bad they are, they're going to come out and play you hard. That's what Jacksonville did Sunday and they almost stole one from the Patriots.
RRM: I ask this question with all due respect, but your late 70's teams were notorious for taking weaker teams lightly and eventually losing games that cost them dearly by season's end. Does the head coach bare most of the responsibility when that happens, and is even Bill Belichick guilty of letting this happen to his club at times?
SG: I don't think this has anything to do with the coaching or the coaching staff. Guys mentally, coaches can tell them all week how important it is for them to stay up and how important the game is, and how they need to keep their heads in it and come out from the start and play hard. But the players have to do that and it's sometimes hard for the players to convince themselves that this game is really going to be tougher than everybody's telling them it's going to be.
RRM: Well, if there was a silver lining in this game it was the reemergence of the Patriots pass rush lead by Chandler Jones, who had some really big QB pressures of Chad Henne late in the game. Did you feel this way as well?
SG: Yeah, Jones came up with some really big plays late in the game. I don't know where he was early in the game, I'm not even sure he was playing that much because he wasn't making any plays if he was. But at the end when they needed somebody to step up and really put the clamps down on the Jaguars passing game, he was the guy that did it and I think he deserves a lot of credit for that.
RRM: I was confused to see Devin McCourty starting at cornerback with Aqib Talib dressed on the bench but apparently not playing. I guess my question is how can Bill continue to play McCourty at cornerback and continue to get toasted as he did at the start of this game?
SG: I don't think he wants to keep him at cornerback. But with all the guys they've got hurt, [Alfonzo] Dennard was out, Talib was hurt -- did play some but didn't play well. I think it was a no choice situation, he had to stick him out there at cornerback. But hopefully they'll get these corners back healthy before the playoffs start and they can get McCourty back at safety where he belongs.
SG: No, I don't think so. He may have been but I don't think that was the cause for the interceptions and I don't think it was the cause for some bad throws. He's had games like this throughout this year that have kind of been unusual from what we're used to seeing of him, but he certainly didn't look like he was injured.
RRM: For one of the few times this year, the Patriots offensive line broke down and subjected Brady to some hellacious shots. Are you at all concerned about his health with only one game left to play in this season?
SG: Yeah, he took some big hits Sunday. The offensive line really struggled, really as badly as I've seen them struggle all year. They weren't pass protecting well, they didn't run the ball well. They had all their starters back in there for I think I heard them say for three weeks in a row they finally played together. But they didn't play well Sunday and I'm sure that will be addressed during this week. And depending on how things shake out going into this week's game, I'm not sure how much of Tom Brady you'll see. If he is banged up a little bit they may decide to sit him.
RRM: We'll get back to that in a second, but first I want to ask you: Wes Welker had another one of his quiet games [laughs], 10 catches for almost a hundred yards including the game winning touchdown. But don't you get a little nervous watching him take all those hits returning punts?
SG: Yeah, it seems to me like they might have somebody else that could return punts for them. He gets hammered so much in the passing game and made some big plays Sunday. He broke Jerry Rice's record with 18 games with 10+ catches, which is quite an accomplishment because Rice was the best ever. But Welker takes some pretty good shots on those punt returns and if you're going to put him back there, and I know he's good at it, you maybe just want him to fair catch it, particularly in games like this late in the season when you're getting ready for the playoffs.
RRM: Everybody talks about Welker's elusiveness but the one thing I don't hear people talk much about is his ability to absorb these hits without any physical damage. I can't remember him, other than the knee injury in 2009, I can't remember him missing a game with an injury?
SG: No, he just keeps getting up and it's amazing for a guy his size the way he gets pounded. He is elusive, he runs well with the ball after the catch. He knows when to get down but he's still getting pounded on his body and he's got to be sore. On Monday mornings he's probably one of the first ones in the hot tub I would guess.
RRM: Speaking of records, Brady tied the great Johnny Unitas with his 47th consecutive game with at least one touchdown pass. He's now 7 behind Drew Brees, who at 54 games had his streak snapped earlier last month. While neither Brady or Belichick will probably admit this, but don't you think Belichick will do anything he can to see him get that record?
SG: I would think Bill's a guy that knows about records, he doesn't want to admit it and won't admit it to the public, but he knows about those kinds of things and I would think he would try to get Tom that kind of record -- it would be something pretty special for him.
RRM: What do you think for Brady personally?
SG: Well, people have debated who the best quarterback ever to play the game is and he's always in the conversation, so for him to set a record like that would ccertainly raise his status in the ‘all time great' category.
RRM: Houston's upset loss to the Vikings keeps the much coveted number two seed in play going into this week, giving the Patriots something to play for. But before we get into that, with the Texans having to go on the road to play the Colts, and with both teams already having clinched playoff spots and the Colts apparently locked in at that #5 seed, do you think the draw of a number two seed and a first round bye will be enough motivation for the Texans to win on the road?
SG: I think that's going to be an interesting game this week. I know that the Colts coach is coming back after battling cancer all year. They're a young team and I think they would want to continue to play well and to keep winning just to get the feel for what the whole thing's about so that in the future they'll have been in that position before. So I think they'll come out and play with a lot of emotion and probably play their starters and try to win the game and if Houston's not careful, that Colts team can put a hurting on them. So it would be nice for the Patriots of course to have the Texans lose, and a late Christmas present to not have to play the first week and it certainly would be advantageous for the Patriots if that does happen.
RRM: There's been a lot of discussion about who should win the NFL MVP award this year and I think in the NFL more than any of the other four major sports where the MVP is usually a pseudonym of the "Most Outstanding Player". Brady and Peyton Manning are the co-favorites, but you also have running back Adrian Peterson of the Vikings who has a shot. It would be a stretch, but I think he needs almost 200 yards in his last game to break the all-time seasonal rushing record set by Eric Dickerson back in 2004. How do you see this three-way race developing?
SG: Well I think they're all three right there and it's going to be a very tough decision for the voters. Tom Brady's had a great year. Peyton Manning of course coming off the injury, nobody expected him to play as well as he's played this season. And Peterson coming off of a devastating knee injury has done something you would never have expected him to do. So if I had to vote right now it would be a very difficult decision.
RRM: We'll give you another week to think about it. How's that?
SG: Thank you [Laughs].
RRM: Well the Patriots end their regular season at home this week against a Miami Dolphins team that has a chance to finish at .500. One thing you can say about these Dolphins is they don't have a lot of talent, but they do play for a full 60-minutes and give teams all that they can handle. I expected a walkover last week and now I'm not expecting one this week. What do you think?
SG: I think it's a game like you saw this week. These Patriots players have to understand how important this is and could be to the playoff picture. They better be more prepared to play mentally than they were Sunday. Fortunately they're at home and I think that will be an advantage, Miami having to come up and play in the cold weather. But if the Patriots aren't ready to take care of business, Miami's got a decent football team and they could jump up and bite them.
RRM: We always used to talk about that back when your teams were playing the Dolphins. Is the cold weather factor for the Dolphins coming north that big of a deal? I mean they beat Buffalo in Buffalo Sunday, although it wasn't abnormally cold, but is it still as big of a factor as it used to be?
SG: It's probably not as big of a factor as it used to be. It kind of depends on what the weather is like. I mean if it's 35 or 40 degrees it's not going to bother them that much. If it's 20 degrees and snowing and it's the last game of the year and they're not going to the playoffs, most of the guys will have their cars packed and running when they get home so they can get the heck out of there -- season's over with. It's going to depend on which Dolphins team shows up, the one that's been playing pretty well here lately or the one that's just ready to get the season over with.
RRM: OK, what are Grogan's Grades for the 23-16 narrow victory over the surprising Jags?
SG: This one was a tough one to grade. A lot of them have been this year just because it's a tale of two halves. I thought the defense played poorly in the first half but played much better in the second half. The offense didn't do very well in the first half but played better in the second half. They won the game, they did what they had to do but it wasn't very pretty so I'm going to go with a B- across the board.
RRM: I want to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas, I'm sure we can do that from all the followers of PatsFans.com and we'll be back next week.
SG: I appreciate it. Same to you, and all the fans that follow us every week. Hopefully next week we'll be talking about a playoff bye and a number one seed. That would be fun.
Grogan's Grade Week 15
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