Grogan’s Grade: Week 8 – New England at Atlanta
PatsFans.com is proud to welcome former New England Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan back for another season. Grogan played in 149 games with the Patriots from 1975-1990, and was named to the Patriots Hall of Fame in 1995. Steve will join us each week to provide his insights on the progress of the Patriots during the 2001 football season. In addition each week Steve will field one question selected from among those submitted on the sites’ message board. Maybe it will be yours!
R.R.Marshall: Steve, the Patriots fell behind the Falcons early 7-0 but came roaring back to win going away 24-10. Wouldn’t you have to say this was one of their most impressive games of the year?
Steve Grogan: In my opinion it was a lot of fun to watch how well the team played on both sides of the ball in this game. Both the offense and defense played well, and they played for an entire game. I’d have to go as far as to say that was the best effort from start to finish that the Patriots have had this season.
The Patriots’ game plan against the Falcons was to come out and throw the ball all over the field, particularly to their running backs, in the first half. Brady threw the ball over 25 times in the first 30 minutes, and then they got the ball in the second half and crunched it into running game-mode. Brady only threw the ball about five or six times in the second half while they were running the ball down Atlanta’s throat.
RRM: The Patriots 135 rushing yards wasn’t a season high but it did help them to control the game and win the battle for time of possession. That has to be viewed as a positive seeing how this was a road game?
SG: It is, and it was really nice to see them do that. If you are going to be a good football team when you get a lead you have to be able to run the ball in order to control the clock and keep the other team off the field. They did a really nice job of doing exactly that against the Falcons.
The New England offensive line appears to be playing a lot better lately. Football people will tell you that an offensive line has to spend some time playing together to function effectively as a cohesive unit. Although Matt Light missed the game I thought Grant Williams filling in for him at left tackle did a good job in protecting Brady’s blindside.
RRM: Antowain Smith had a big day for the Patriots, rushing for 117 yards on 23 carries. Smith fell out of favor with the Bills in Buffalo but has performed well in his first eight games with New England. What is your opinion of the Pats latest feature back?
SG: I heard that Antowain Smith was criticized in Buffalo for being too much of an east-west runner, but this year at least he seems to know when to put his head down and drive the pile. He also has moves out in the open that can make people miss which enables him to pick up extra yardage. He showed that a couple of times against the Falcons, in particular on that 22-yard run where broke a couple of tackles and then made three or four moves once he got out in the open.
You have to go back to 1999 to find the last time the Patriots had a 100-yard rushing game from a back, so that’s a long time to go without getting somebody a 100-yard game! I have to say that right now he’s turning out to be a really good running back for this team.
RRM: In retrospect it almost seems like this game was won when Romeo Crennel drew up his defensive game plan. It seemed the Patriots blitzed more in this game than in all of the previous games of the Bill Belichick regime combined?
SG: I thought both the offense and the defense coordinators for the Patriots had really good game plans designed for the Falcons. With Chris Chandler’s limited mobility the blitzing really seemed to rattle him. He had been playing very well, and you would think a veteran quarterback would have seen most everything there is too see by now. When you get nine sacks from eight different people on your defense that shows you’re throwing a lot of different things at a quarterback, and in this case Chandler simply didn’t overcome it. They also gave Michael Vick a headache when he went into the game courtesy of Lawyer Milloy.
It looked to me that they were trying to disguise what they were trying to do on defense more than they normally do. They did a lot of faking with sending men up to the line of scrimmage, but then they would fall back into the two-deep zone that’s been Belichick’s bread and butter.
RRM: Did their newfound reckless abandon on defense catch you by surprise like it did the Falcons and all of us?
SG: The amount of blitzing they did was totally out of character for them but they had to have seen something that led them to believe they would benefit from blitzing that much. I’ve felt for awhile now the need for this defense to get more aggressive, and rather then bend but don’t break instead inflict some bending and breaking of their own! It looked like they got the message in this game.
When your secondary is as good as this one is you can take some chances, and the strong point for this defense is the secondary. For them to just sit back and let teams throw the ball underneath against them all day long makes it too easy for opponents. You saw what happened when they used a lot of single coverage schemes and loaded up eight and nine guys on the line of scrimmage in the quarterback’s face. I have to admit it’s a lot of fun watching a defense when they are having that kind of success.
RRM: Rookie first round draft pick Richard Seymour returned from injury
to play a good game. Does his presence impact the defense as much as some people say it does?
SG: Seymour played well but it was also good to see Willie McGinest have another good game in consecutive weeks. He in particular is such a big key for this defense because people have to be worried about where he is. McGinest is a dominating player when he is healthy and when he plays he opens things up for guys like Seymour to make plays. Right now you have to think that this defense is definitely getting there.
RRM: This was the first game that defensive team leader Bryan Cox missed. Who do you feel will step up and assume the mantle of leadership for this defensive unit on the field?
SG: I think that Ted Johnson and Lawyer Milloy are the guys that are now the two best players on the defense, but they are an interesting contrast in personality. Johnson can be quiet and tends to lead by example while Milloy is the guy who will step up and have something to say when things aren’t going well. Combined I think they can provide effective leadership for this Patriots defense.
RRM: Everyone was anticipating whether Tom Brady would bounce back from his poor fourth quarter in Denver. Against the Falcons all he did was complete 21 of 31 for 250 yards and three touchdowns. I guess he showed some resiliency?
SG: There were a lot of concerns from the general public about how Tom Brady would respond after his dismal fourth quarter against the Broncos. But I think people that really know him around the team had no concerns about him coming back strong, and he went out there against the Falcons and showed he’s still full of confidence and still can make plays.
RRM: Our fan question of the week concerns Brady’s future with the Patriots. Does he remain in the lineup when Drew is healthy, and if not does it mean he’ll be traded?
SG: I’ve said before if the team continues to win it will be hard to take Brady out of the lineup when Drew is ready to return. Personally if the team is responding to him and playing well I don’t think I would take him out. If everything remains the same you have to stick with the hot hand. If the team continues to play hard under Brady you would have to tell Drew to stay ready and wait for his chance
I know a lot of people have him being traded by the end of the year once Drew Bledsoe returns, but even if Drew comes back strong and plays well I really believe Tom Brady is too valuable a commodity for them to trade. He plays with a lot of emotion and poise, and he makes all the throws you want to see a quarterback make. He’s now shown he can also bounce back from a poor performance, and his teammates seem to have fun playing with him as well.
RRM: His first touchdown pass to Kevin Faulk seemed to be a perfectly thrown ball on a play that was similar to the one the Dolphins ran against the Patriots back in Week #4. How did you see the play?
SG: They sent Faulk out wide and got him isolated on a linebacker. Normally you don’t want to match up a smaller running back against a big linebacker running that kind of rout, but Faulk did a nice job of getting out on the pattern, grabbling the ball, and keeping his feet in bounds. Brady put the ball the only place in which Faulk could have caught it. They really did a good job executing that play.
RRM: The touchdown pass that Troy Brown scored off a deflection in the fourth quarter that sealed the win was the kind of play that always seem to happen against the Patriots. Is this a case of the old adage; “The team that plays well gets the breaks”?
SG: You’re right, that kind of play always seemed to go against the Patriots and maybe the snatch by Brown off the deflection means a reversal of fortune for this team. It’s funny because Atlanta defensive back Ashley Ambrose had David Patten covered like a blanket only to have the ball hit his knee and ricochet right to Troy Brown!
It is true that if you are playing well the breaks seem to go your way. When you have plays happen to you like that it just makes you feel like everything’s going your way and you can’t do anything wrong. I think you play differently when you feel that way because you play with a lot more confidence, and I think that really showed against Atlanta.
RRM: Would you care to hand out some game balls after the win that got the Patriots back up to the .500 mark?
SG: I’ll give one to Antowain Smith on offense for his big game, and also one to Willie McGinest for his two sacks and five unassisted tackles. I think you also have to give out honorary game balls to the Patriots offensive and defensive coordinators, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. They really did their homework and drew up game plans that worked to perfection.
RRM: The ongoing battle with Terry Glenn and the Patriots was turned up a notch with Glenn and his agent filing suit against his club and the NFL. Will this become a major distraction for the club over the second half of the season?
SG: I think when something like this starts getting ugly as it’s getting right now you just tend to ignore the player when he is in the lockerroom or on the practice field. You end up kind of pushing him to the side in order to concentrate on your job while realizing that he is not a part of your team even though he’s there.
I personally think Terry Glenn is getting some very bad advice from his agent. Somebody close to Terry should tell him that the agent works for him, and right now the agent isn’t doing what’s in Glenn’s best interest. It’s really too bad because he’s a good football player and he can help this team, but there comes a point in time when a guy pushes his luck too far and he’s about reached that point.
RRM: This week the Patriots return home to face their old rivals the Buffalo Bills. It seems no matter where these two teams are in the standings the games are always fiercely competitive. Is there any reason to believe this game will be any different?
SG: When I was playing we always had tough games with the Bills. There was a rivalry between the two clubs but there was also a mutual respect. I knew some of the Buffalo players and liked them off the field. I also knew some of the Jets players and I didn’t really like them. After the games against the Bills we always shook hands after the game, but after games with the Jets we just left the field!
This is another game that they should win but you just never know with a team like this. Buffalo has shown signs that they are getting better and this could be a trap game for the Patriots. Two weeks from now they have the Rams on Sunday night and my main concern is not to let the Patriots look past the Bills and towards that game on national television. They have to take care of business this week or Buffalo will jump up and bite them.
I’m a little concerned about this one because a player’s mentality is to overlook a team that is below them in the standings. There’s a natural tendency to look past a supposed easy opponent like Buffalo and ahead to a
team like St. Louis. If that happens they are going to have problems, but they are also going to be back at home after three weeks and having the home field
will help out in that respect.
RRM: What are Grogan’s grades for the impressive win over the Falcons?
SG: I’m giving out good solid A’s across the board this week. This is the first game where both sides of the ball played well for four quarters, and that deserves the best grade I give out. I don’t give out A+’s because I believe there’s always something you can do better. The only thing that concerned me was all the yardage they gave up on kickoff returns (146 yards on five returns). Atlanta had some long returns, and it finally got to the point where they used a squib kick on the last kickoff. That’s an area I hope they continue to work on.
Grogan’s Grades for Week #8
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