R.R.Marshall: Steve on a wild Sunday night in Foxboro, the Patriots came away with an improbable 34-31 overtime victory with an incredible second half comeback against the Denver Broncos. In a game riddled with mistakes, I supposed a muffed punt by Tony Carter was the only way this game could have ended?
This was one of the craziest football games I've seen in I don't know how long. I totally had written the Patriots off at halftime. They were uninspiring in the first half, making a bunch of mistakes, putting the ball on the ground. I thought they were going to run out of running backs who had fumbled and had to go sit on the bench to be disciplined. But they came out in the second half and they turned the tables on Denver. They forced turnovers, they played well on defense, Tom Brady found his rhythm, and guys were getting open. If not for the crazy play at the end, this game would have been a tie ball game and it probably would have been fitting if it had been a tie because both teams really put up great performances at times, and not so great at other times.
RRM: Patriots fans had to be in shock to see their club fall behind 24-0 in the first half thanks to three straight fumbles on their first three possessions. Given the frigid conditions, the New England comeback has to be considered all the more improbable I would think?
Absolutely. You put the ball on the ground like that your first three drives, you usually don't recover from something like that, especially against a really good football team like the Denver Broncos. So to turn it back around and turn the tables on Denver in the second half was totally unexpected.
RRM: This really turned out to be a game of attrition with all the injuries that took players off the field. As a former player, just how difficult is it to play in those kinds of conditions?
It's really difficult. You just can't stay warm. You're trying everything you can, you're trying to put it in the back of your mind but you just get bone-chilling cold and the ball gets hard, and that's part of the reason it was on the ground so much Sunday night. It's difficult to throw and catch because it gets slick. It's hard to keep your focus when you're as cold as it was Sunday night.
RRM: I'd imagine the ground feels like solid rock when you hit it?
The ground does not feel very good and neither do the guys hitting you. It's different when it's 85-degrees and somebody hits you. When they hit you when it's close to zero wind chill, it's like you're a rock and they're a car. When the two of you collide, there's no give like there is when it's warmer.
RRM: I know many of the Patriots were in short sleeves for the game. Does that psychological ploy really work at the NFL level?
Actually I've never figured out why anyone would want to do that. I recall back to my days when the linemen would do that on really bitterly cold days, and then they'd get in the shower afterwards and as their body warmed up, their bruises would start to show. You couldn't see them. It was so cold, it was forcing the blood toward the inner part of their body and then when they got in the shower and warmed up, the blood came to the surface they were bruised and battered all over the place. So I just don't understand personally why anyone would want to play that way.
RRM: The great irony of this game is it was billed as the great Brady/Manning match-up number fourteen, but the truth of the matter is they were non-factors for huge stretches if the game?
No, that's true, and particularly the finish. It had nothing to do with either one of them winning the ball game. It was more of a special teams by Denver and a big play by the Patriots' special teams. Brady struggled in the first half and if you look at his stats, he really kind of struggled all night. He never really hit them with the big one, and I think you have to give the Patriots' defense a little bit of credit for that. But he never seems to play well in Foxboro and especially when it's as cold as it was last night.
RRM: To follow up on that point, try as he might, Peyton Manning just can't seem to shake the label of being a warm weather quarterback. With the AFC Championship game likely to be played in Denver or even possibly New England this year, I would think that would be a scenario that would fit right into the Patriots' plans?
I think it would absolutely play fit into the Patriots' plans, although Manning will get to play a few games in the cold out there before the season's over with and maybe get a little more used to it than he was when he played in the dome in Indianapolis. But he doesn't seem to be himself when the weather gets cold. Don't know why.
RRM: Did you agree with Bill Belichick's decision to defer at the start of overtime?
Now that the game's over with I do [Laughs]. It was an interesting decision. To place your defense, which has been struggling with injuries and playing well at times but not so well at other times, to put them in the pressure situation right at the start of overtime was a real gamble on his part. Although the wind was a huge factor and I guess his decision was that they would have to drive the ball a long ways even to get in field goal range, which gave the Patriots a chance to force a mistake. It turned out to be a great decision on his part.
RRM: I was going to say, nobody commented on it, but I'm pretty sure that's probably the first time somebody didn't choose the ball in overtime.
Even the official when they flipped the coin, when they said they wanted to defend the goal, his voice kind of sounded like, "Are you sure that's what you want to do?" So I'm not sure if anyone has ever done that before.
RRM: Just like Carolina the week before, Denver attacked the middle of the Patriots defense on the ground. But many of those yards came against defensive alignments designed to shut down Peyton Manning's air game, so I guess we have to evaluate it in that sort of setting?
I think that Belichick's M.O., what he tries to do on defense, is take away one part of your offense and hope that you don't beat them with the other part. I think Sunday night their plan was to try and shut down the passing game as much as possible and if they could beat them running the football, then hats off to them. Knowshon Moreno had a wonderful game, really, really put up a lot of yards. He gashed them at times, but it wasn't enough to beat them and I think that's what Bill was counting on.
"I thought Edelman had one of his best games ever." - Steve Grogan on his thoughts on Julian Edelman's performance Sunday night against Denver. (USA TODAY Images)
RRM: The match-up that got second billing in this game was Danny Amendola vs Wes Welker, which, again, really materialized into nothing. The star of this game on offense was really Julian Edelman for the Patriots with nine catches and two touchdowns. It's funny how that worked out?
It was. Amendola and Welker weren't major factors in the game and I thought Edelman had one of his best games ever, and of course Rob Gronkowski got involved more in the second half and was a big part of their comeback. Amendola and Welker will be factors down the road, but they weren't that big of a factor Sunday night.
RRM: To his credit Welker stood up and took the blame for not warding away his teammates on the muffed punt that decided the game, but was it really his fault? I mean, aren't you supposed to be aware on punt coverage of where the ball is at all times?
I think so. Having never really played on special teams from what I've observed over the years, if you're the gunner going down there and you're trying to block the gunner and you see him start to slow down and he's not close to your return guy yet, you have to look up and see what your return guy is doing because the guy wouldn't be stopping if he was going to catch the ball. It also took a crazy hop. I'm not sure you can place the blame on anyone on that kind of play. It was one of those crazy hops that happens in football. Welker maybe could have done a better job of warning the guy off, the guy maybe could have seen Welker a little sooner and peeled off before the ball hit the ground, but that's football. It never bounces straight, it always takes a crazy bounce.
RRM: We talked about Stevan Ridley's propensity for fumbles. Right from the start, it got ugly again and after that first fumble he spent the rest of the game on the bench. Is this a situation where Bill starts fresh again next week and hopes the problem gets resolved?
That's going to be an interesting call. I mean Sunday night's fumble was epic. The ball came flying out of his hands and of course was returned for a touchdown and really got the Patriots off to a bad, bad start. So I'm not sure where Bill's going to stand on Ridley. He may have him sleeping with the football, carrying it all day at the office, driving home with the ball under his arm, but if he gives him another chance, I think it will be the last chance.
RRM: The win not only put more distance between the Patriots and the Jets and the Dolphins, who both lost on Sunday, but I think it also says to the rest of the NFL that New England is a bona fide contender despite all of their injuries?
Absolutely. To go out and beat the Denver Broncos, play O.K. on defense with all the guys they've got missing right now, I think that definitely shows people they're not to be written off yet.
RRM: Well, the Patriots get a chance to escape the cold New England weather this week with a trip to Houston to take on a Texans team that has now lost nine straight games. Last year this team appeared to be on the path to a perennial contender in the NFL. What's happened in such a short time out there?
I'm not real sure what's happened. I know their starting quarterback didn't play well earlier in the year, lost his confidence, and they've changed quarterbacks a few times. They're not playing that well on either side of the ball, and their coach has been sick and sitting in the box. They've got a lot of issues going on down there right now. This is a team that's so bad, they've flexed the game back to 1:00 from a nationally televised game and hopefully the Patriots, coming off this emotional win Sunday night will not look past them or have a little bit of a letdown because Houston hasn't been playing very well. This is a game that I think as a coach, you worry about your team a little bit getting up for it.
RRM: There's a little bit of a drop off going from facing Peyton Manning at quarterback to the current Houston signal caller Case Keenum. I can't put it any better than you did, when the NFL flexes this game back to 1:00, can't you just feel the emotional letdown setting in the New England locker room already?
Really, it sends a message to both teams that you're not that important anymore, especially Houston. I've seen several of their games and actually, I've been pretty impressed with the young quarterback, Keenum. He's got a lot of poise, he threw the ball a ton in college, and he's kind of a gunslinger. If you're not careful, that's the kind of guy that's going to jump up and bite you.
RRM: And they do have a world class receiver in Andre Johnson and definitely some weapons that can keep the Patriots honest if they don't bring their 'A' game out to Houston?
I would agree with that.
RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 34-31 defeat of Denver?
How do you grade a game like this? Incomplete…I don't know. The Patriots went from an F- in the first half to an A+ in the second half. It was like two different games. For the first time in a long time, I don't know what kind of grade to give them.
I guess you'd have to give them maybe a 'B' because they won, but not an 'A' because they didn't play that well in the first half. I think that would probably be more than fair.