R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots opened the season with a 27-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts in a game that had many twists and turns. How did you view the game?
Steve Grogan: It was a fun game to watch to start the season, certainly much better than last year's opener when they lost at Buffalo 31-0! I thought the Patriots offense played extremely well in scoring 27 points against the Colts, and while the run defense left a little bit to be desired when you come away with a win you have to be happy. The Colts turnovers definitely made a huge difference in the game. They turned the ball over three times inside the Patriots' 20-yardine, and those are breaks you can't count on every week. They definitely have some work to do in shoring up their defense this week.
RRM: I thought the game turned in favor of the Patriots when they answered the Colts go-ahead touchdown with a field goal right at the end of the half. That seemed to take away some of the momentum the Colts had going for them?
SG: It's always important to go into the lockerroom on a good note, and they put together a quick drive and got the field goal from Adam Vinatieri and they were able to do that. If they had gone into halftime after just giving up that touchdown to the Colts they'd start thinking that maybe the game was slipping away from them. Instead that late field goal gave them a positive attitude going into the lockerroom and they came out at the start of the third quarter with that positive attitude and scored again to really take control of the game.
RRM: The sack by Willie McGinest which proved so crucial to the outcome of the game has been replayed over and over and discussed by everyone. But you're the quarterback, what happened to Peyton Manning on that play?
SG: For some reason he got locked onto the prime receiver and he must have been well-covered because he wasn't coming off of him. Usually when you're back there that long and your primary target is shutdown you start to look for your secondary receiver, but for some reason he decided to stay with his primary receiver probably thinking he was going to work his way open. Before he could turn back the other way McGinest was right in his ear.
RRM: I got the impression that Manning was so focused on getting a score on that play and not settling for the field goal that he just zoned out and never even thought about taking a glance to his right where McGinest was?
SG: I think you're exactly right. He knew that this was a big play in the game and if they made it the Colts would probably win. He just got locked in and you don't see him make that kind of mistake too often. Speaking as a quarterback you can't allow yourself to be sacked in that situation and leave your kicker with a much tougher field goal. But Manning did, and it ended up the big play of the game.
RRM: For two such elite teams in the NFL were you surprised at the number of mistakes made by both clubs?
SG: There were mistakes but I think that can be expected for the first game of the season. When you have two good teams playing against each other they can force some mistakes. I thought that happened with the two fumbles the Colts had inside the redzone. You don't expect that to happen once let alone twice. Deion Branch had what could have been a costly muff of a punt late in the game, but he's still a young player who was filling in for Troy Brown and hadn't had much experience returning punts. He'll have to learn when he needs to get away from the ball and when he can field it. Fortunately it didn't cost his team but it could have been a huge mistake.
RRM: Tom Brady's streak of not throwing an interception at home came to an end, but he did complete 26 of 38 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns. I guess that's not a bad trade off?
SG: Tom Brady was absolutely in command of that football game from the very start. I think the addition of Corey Dillon is really going to help him like it did in this game. But I also think using the two young tight ends in David Graham and Ben Watson like they did, both as split out receivers and bringing them in tight, is a big addition to this offense.
RRM: The Patriots defense yielded an eye-popping 202 yards on the ground against the Colts which brought back unpleasant memories of the 2002 season. Was the absence of Ted Washington in the middle of the line felt in this game?
SG: I think the combination of Ted Washington being gone and trying to get two or three guys to play that position is going to be a weak point for this team for a little while. You also have to give credit to the Colts offensive line and one of the NFL's best running backs in Edgerrin James. But I thought the Patriots got better at stopping the run as the game went on and that was a good sign.
RRM: As troubling as the problems with the run defense were, the Patriots' also yielded two long pass plays including the 64-yarder to tight end Dallas Clark that set up a Colts touchdown. Is this another area of concern?
SG: It was disconcerting to see that, but those kinds of plays happen when you're giving up a lot of rushing yards. The linebackers become focused on stopping the run and all of a sudden bang, Manning beats you over the top and there's the big pass play. This is definitely an area they have to do some work on because you don't want to give up six points in hurry and that's exactly what happens when you give up the big pass play like that.
RRM: Much has been made of Peyton's Manning inability to beat the Patriots in New England. Is it just coincidence or have they really gotten to him?
SG: They just seem to have his number when he plays here. The Colts haven't won in New England since 1995 so it predates Manning's being with the team. Peyton Manning is a very good quarterback but for some reason he tries to force things when he plays the Patriots or gets confused by what they are doing to him on defense and he winds up making plays that hurt his team. You would think eventually he'll find a way to beat them, but it hasn't happened yet!
RRM: It had been such a long time since we saw David Patten on the field and he came through with a big game. What was your take on his return?
SG: It was really good to see David Patten back on the field. I was a little surprised that he started the game along with Deion Branch. But that means they have Patten with the great speed on one side who can really blow by people like he did on his 25-yard touchdown catch, and you have Branch who is a quick-type receiver on the other side. That will give a defense problems, and it was really good to see them use their receivers so effectively.
RRM: Many people are already speculating that this will be the last year for the current coaching lineup of the Patriots. Do you feel that will likely be the case?
SG: You would certainly think that is the case. If they have as much success this year as they did in 2003 then I would think Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel would both be in consideration for a head coaching position. The good thing is they've kept this staff intact for several years which is unusual in today's NFL and the club will get the benefits of that for one more season.
RRM: This Sunday the Pats find themselves in Arizona to take on the woeful Cardinals. What's your take on this game?
SG: The Cardinals have made a lot of changes but perennially have been a very poor football team. They played very well in their first game against the Rams in St. Louis and at least their defense showed a great deal of improvement. This will be their home opener and they will have what will be a pregame ceremony to honor Pat Tillman, their defensive back that was killed in Afghanistan. But I thought the Patriots handled the long pregame ceremony last week very well, and I thought that could have been a huge distraction. Apparently it didn't bother any of the players (although Bill Belechick seemed really annoyed!) even though they were taken out of their normal routine.
On paper the Patriots are a better team than they were last season when they won the Super Bowl. The thing that they have to keep in mind, and they went through it two years ago, is now as defending champions every team is going to be up for them. Every team they face on their schedule is going to give them their best effort, so they had better be prepared to face that every week this season. It will be an emotional game for the Cardinals and they will come out and play hard, so this will not be a week off for the Patriots by any stretch of the imagination. Emmitt Smith isn't Edgerrin James but I still want to see what adjustments the Patriots make for their run defense. For the Patriots this week it will be a matter of keeping their focus.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the exciting win over the Colts in Week #1?
SG: I think the offense deserves an A for the way they played. They rolled up over 400 yards of total offense against a pretty good team the first week of the season. The defense gets a B+ for getting stingy inside their own 20-yardline and forcing three critical Colt turnovers. That comes out to an A- which is a good way to start the season. I'll give the gameball to Tom Brady who played extremely well, and I have a feeling he'll earn a few more before this season is over.
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