R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots defeated a quality opponent in the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday but the game was a lost closer than the 30-20 final score indicated. What was your take on the game?
Steve Grogan: This was kind of a strange game. The Seahawks self-destructed in the first half with two interceptions and a bunch of penalties while the Patriots played pretty well and took advantage of the short fields Seattle kept giving them. Then in the second half I thought the Patriots got really sloppy while the Seahawks played well and fought their way back into the game. But as has been the case with this team every time the Patriots had to find a way to make a key play on offense or defense they did, and they got the win.
RRM: Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said his players came out a little jittery at the start of this game. Do you think the magnitude of this game got to them a bit?
SG: I didn't think their quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was jittery, although the team in general seemed a little that way. I just thought they looked really flat to start the game and I'm not sure why that was the case. One of the announcers pointed out that for a West Coast team this was a 10:00 AM start time, and there also may have been a carry over effect from the way they lost that game to St. Louis last week. It was probably a combination of all of those things that contributed to the way they played in that first half.
RRM: Conversely the Patriots got off to a great start and took advantage of some short fields to grab a good-sized lead early on. But once they got ahead 17-0 did you get the sense that they lost a little bit of their intensity?
SG: Something happened at halftime, but I'm not sure exactly what. Sometimes a team can get a little complacent when they get a big lead early, and I think the Patriots had a comfortable lead at halftime but the Seahawks made some adjustments for the second half and things started to turn around. Seattle came out and played a lot more emotionally at the start of the third quarter than the Patriots did, and that started the turnaround. I thought the Patriots played pretty flat early in the second half and that allowed Seattle to climb back in it, but fortunately they got it back together in time to win the game.
RRM: Bill Belichick took a lot of the blame for the performance of his defense in the second half, blaming himself for calling the coverages that left Seattle receivers wide open. That's a pretty unusual admission for an NFL head coach to make, considering not even President Bush will admit when he makes a mistake?
SG: You have me there! It is highly unusual for a head coach to make that kind of statement. If he is right and he made the wrong calls it will do nothing but solidify his stature on the pedestal in his players' eyes, believe me.
RRM: Shaun Alexander was the best running back the Patriots have faced so far this year but surprisingly Holmgren didn't call his number that often. I guess he did us a big favor?
SG: I was really surprised that Seattle didn't feature their star running back Shaun Alexander more than they did. He only ran the ball 16 times, and while I can kind of understand it to some extent because they fell behind early the way they came out flinging it around on that first series left me wondering.
Alexander has so much ability and in my opinion they have to get him the ball as much as possible. It just goes to show that sometimes coaches can try to get too unpredictable and end up going away from their strength .
RRM: The Patriots defense yielded 443 total yards in this game but stiffened when challenged and gave up only 20 points. The Pats rang up 30 points while gaining only 362 yards, so I guess numbers aren't everything?
SG: I thought the Seahawks moved the ball pretty well all day but the Patriots defense was solid enough to force them to settle for field goals on all but one occasion. Matt Hasselbeck is a good young quarterback but he had a lot of balls dropped on him, and if his receivers had hung on to a few more of them things might have been different. What stood out to me was that both of these teams were near 50% on third down conversions, and you just don't see that very much any more in the NFL. Sometimes you'll see one team do it but the other team will be down in the 25% range. With the way these two teams were picking up third downs and racking up yardage (over 800 total yards combined) you'd think the final score should have been around 48-46. It was just amazing to see those kind of numbers compiled against two of the better defensive clubs in the league. The Patriots were converting third-and-five's while Seattle was picking up a lot of third-and-eight or longer situations, and that's something I think the defense has got to take a close look at.
RRM: It appeared the Patriots stole a page out of the Steve Grogan playbook when Tom Brady went for the bomb to Bethel Johnson late in the game on a key third down. Why do I have the feeling that play brought a smile to your face?
SG: You do the unexpected at times like that and sometimes you get away with it. Oddly enough I really don't think Bethel Johnson was his primary receiver on that play. I think they were just trying to move Tom Brady away from pressure and get a quick eight to ten yards to pick up the first down, but Seattle had everyone covered short on the left side and you could see Johnson coming open running over the top of them, and nobody is going to catch him when he gets open. When you have a receiver that can run that fast you never want to underthrow him, so you just air it out and hope he can get the right angle on it to make the catch.
It was a great decision to throw the ball deep on that play, but we might not be talking about it being a great call if he doesn't make that catch and they wind up punting the ball and Seattle comes back down the field and scores. But it worked so it goes down as a great call.
RRM: Although Johnson made only the one catch it was a big one, and when you add his five kickoff returns along with the fact that the Patriots receiving corp is thin due to injury it makes you wonder how Belichick could have benched him last week?
SG: No one knows for sure why he was benched last week but it sounded to me like it was the case of a young player who was starting to feel a little more important about himself than he should have, and they took measures to put him back in his place. More than likely it will take more than one great play to get him out of Bill Belichick's doghouse for the time being.
RRM: One of the reasons that play was successful was Daniel Graham's block on a Seattle player bearing down on Brady from the backside. He also had four catches, and it appears he's come a long way from the rookie who seemed to drop every other ball thrown to him?
SG: Graham made a great block on that play, and he had another one earlier where he stood up a blitzing Seattle linebacker and the first thing to hit was the back of his head on the ground. You're right, he's got it all going right now and that's a good sign. He's blocking extremely well and he's catching everything thrown to him. He's been a great addition to this offense to go along with Corey Dillon, and together they have taken a lot of the pressure off of Brady.
RRM: During the telecast it was pointed out that the Seahawks thought Rodney Harrison was one of the dirtiest players in football. Is that something that is commonly thought throughout the league?
SG: I think it probably is. He got that reputation from his time in San Diego and let's face it, he plays hard and he gets a penalty or two a game for doing some things he shouldn't have done. But he brings a lot of life and toughness to this Patriots' defense, and to be honest I don't think he's really worried about his reputation all that much!
RRM: It was Harrison that pointed out to the official that Koren Robinson had committed a taunting infraction by spinning the ball after a catch. Who knew he had such a great relationship with the refs?
SG: I thought it was pretty ironic since the officials you're trying to talk into calling a penalty are throwing so many flags at you! You wouldn't think the relationship would be that good, but Rodney Harrison is just a tough, smart football player who thinks quickly and clearly on the field. There are players like him that can influence an official's call and he did in this game, but to be honest it was a horrible call. In my opinion there was no intent to taunt on that play and the penalty shouldn't have been called. But if you can get away with it, go for it!
RRM: I'm sure you took note of Tom Brady scrambling for a first down in the second half, something you used to do on more than one occasion. Does a play like that really inspire your teammates?
SG: When I see a quarterback do something like that I know it makes your teammates say,"Wow, this guy really cares." When they're all out there busting their tails and getting hammered on every play for a quarterback to do that once or twice a game just to show his guys that he's a football player, too, I think is a real pick-me-up for a team.
RRM: The only problem was Brady got hit hard and not only lost the ball but his helmet as well. I guess you didn't give him lessons on how to properly cinch up his chin strap?
SG: He got sandwiched pretty good on that play and took a pretty good hit, but that helmet came off a little too easily in my opinion [laughs]! I guess he has to get some bigger ear pads in there to make sure it stays on.
RRM: For the first time in their history the New York Jets have started a season 5-0 to match the Patriots, so the game this Sunday will be for first place in the AFC East. Despite their success so far this season do we really know just how good this Jets team is?
SG: I don't think we really do. The Jets haven't played as tough a schedule as the Patriots to this point but that's not to say they aren't a good football team.
It doesn't really matter who you're playing in this league anymore, if you've won five in a row you have to be a pretty good football team. But even though the Jets are undefeated I don't think they're as strong a team as either the Colts or the Seahawks. We know they have a good young quarterback in Chad Pennington and a great veteran running back in Curtis Martin. They've added some new players on defense that has improved the overall speed of that unit and apparently that has been a big factor in their success so far this season. This will be another test for the Patriots and since it is a rivalry game there should be a lot of intensity on both sides in this one.
RRM: So how do we go about grounding the Jets?
SG: I think trying to take Curtis Martin out of the game will be the top priority this week. Pennington is a lot like Tom Brady in that he can carve you up on second-and-five or third-and-five situations, so if you can limit Martin's contribution that will put the Patriots' defense in a position where they can throw a lot of different things at the Jets' quarterback and see if he can beat them. The Jets have a defensive line led by John Abraham that likes to pressure the quarterback, so I suspect we will see some screens and even some draw plays to keep that pass rush honest. But the Patriots still have to get the ball to Corey Dillon because he just keeps making plays. They would have been in a lot of trouble in this game had he not played, and 105 yards is a pretty good effort for someone with a bum ankle. Maybe he can have a talk with Curt Schilling and tell him how to get his foot well enough to pitch again!
RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 30-20 win over the Seahawks in Week #5 that brings the winning streak to an even 20 games?
SG: It was a strange game to watch and grade but I think overall they merit a solid B. The way I saw this game they deserved an A for the first half and the second half was a C. They don't do anything extra but on the other hand they did enough to win, so I thought it averaged out to an above average effort. It was still far from the outstanding effort that we have come to expect from this team. I thought Daniel Graham on offense and Rodney Harrison on defense should be singled out for their efforts in this one, and I thought the Patriots defensive front line played really well. Now it will be interesting to see if they can put one full, 60-minute effort together for the first time this year, and with the Jets in town it would be the perfect time to do it.
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