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, about the best thing you can say about New England’s 21-11 decision over the Buffalo Bills was that the Patriots did come away with a victory. Ted Johnson called it “winning ugly”, and after a lot of losses the past few years I guess any win is a good win?
Steve Grogan: Winning ugly, that was definitely the term for that football game. The game was sloppily played by both teams and I thought it was a poorly officiated game as well. It was one of those boring kind of games you just don’t enjoy watching as it goes along. It had too many mistakes, plus it was against a Buffalo team that the Patriots were superior to and should have run out of the stadium early. Instead they let the Bills hang around until the end and quite frankly they were lucky enough to get a good bounce on an onside kickoff and get out of there with a win.
RRM: The offense was sporadic for the Patriots, but Antowain Smith got enough running room to post the first consecutive 100-yard rushing games by a New England back since Robert Edwards. What did you think of the blocking by the offensive line in this game?
SG: Antowain Smith had a good game and the offensive line blocked well for him, although he needed that 42-yard run at the end to reach the 100-yard mark. On the down side the offensive line allowed seven sacks, which is something you really hate to see.
They had some problems on the left side of their offensive line where Grant Williams was filling in at left tackle for Matt Light. Williams was struggling (while he was in there) and I think you have to lay part of that problem on the coaching staff because there are ways to protect your left tackle when he’s having problems. You can put a tight end on that side of the line or line a back up on his outside, and that shortens the passing lane for the defensive end, but they didn’t do that to help Grant Williams yesterday.
RRM: It looked like Buffalo’s big defensive linemen Pat Williams and rookie Aaron Schobel were in the New England backfield all afternoon long. Did the Patriots have trouble containing them as well?
SG: Buffalo got a lot of penetration from the interior of their defensive line, but the problem the Patriots had on the left side of their line was forcing Brady to step up into the pocket right where those two big tackles were pushing the pile. So you see that sometimes the problem you have protecting in one area can lead to problems somewhere else!
RRM: Buffalo actually outgained the Patriots in this game in total yardage 241-205 but it seemed when pressed the Patriots defense came through with the big play when they needed it. Is that how it seemed to you?
SG: I thought the defense as a unit played pretty well. They didn’t give up a lot of yardage, and when you hold the other team to only two of 12 on third down conversions you give your team a great chance of winning. They gave up a few big plays on defense but nothing that hurt them that badly. Buffalo shot themselves in the foot several times with penalties that wiped out some big plays. The Patriots continued to use the blitz which is out of character for Bill Belichick but it continues to work well for them.
I really like the pressure they are bringing against the quarterback with the blitz packages they have been using the last couple of weeks. Rob Johnson is not a very mobile quarterback, and they got to him with the pressure several times. The blitz has been putting pressure on enemy quarterbacks, and with the secondary the Patriots have that is capable of covering just about anybody it’s the way they have to play right now.
RRM: Tom Brady was the first to admit that this wasn’t one of his better games. What did you think of the game he turned in against the Bills?
SG: If you look at his stats he completed 15 of 21 for 107 yards with one touchdown and one interception. People look at those numbers and come to the conclusion that he didn’t play well. In my opinion a quarterback doesn’t play well when he has receivers wide open and he is overthrowing them, or underthrowing them, or throwing the ball behind them. Brady wasn’t doing any of that in this game. The Bills concentrated their effort on taking away the Patriots wide receivers and forcing them to throw the ball short.
Early in the game I thought Brady tried to force the ball downfield a little too much. He realized he had to be content with taking the underneath stuff they were giving him, and once he started doing that he started picking up some consistent gains. But it’s hard to make big plays on that kind of stuff so your stats end up suffering. One thing this game showed is that your quarterback doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards to win the game all the time. Brady did what he had to do and took what the Buffalo defense was willing to give him.
RRM: You said last week you were worried about the Patriots being emotionally ready for this game; they also had to cope with an injury list that swelled to 18 players this past week. Did not having enough healthy players available for practice contribute to the sloppy effort we saw on Sunday?
SG: I’m not sure if all the players on the injury list were that much of a factor. I think the Patriots figured they were going to go out and have a cakewalk against the Buffalo Bills, and while they played with enough intensity to win you kept waiting for them to turn it up a notch and put the Bills away but they just never did. You have to hope that their inability to deliver a knock out punch doesn’t come back to haunt them in some game in the future.
RRM: One of our insightful posters on the message board pointed out that the Patriots had the ball in Buffalo territory five times in the first half and managed to come away with only seven points. He wants to know if conservative play calling was a factor?
SG: It’s hard to see what they were doing because you can’t see the entire field on television but to me it just seemed that in this particular game Charlie Weis, who really has had a good feel for what he wants to do offensively, didn’t seem to have a rhythm or any kind of flow to his play calling. I thought that caused some problems for the offense, and when you add in the penalties, missed field goals, and general sloppy play you end up with a lot of missed scoring opportunities.
RRM: On Buffalo’s first drive Bill Belichick declined a penalty that would have pushed the Bills back and set up a third-and-six situation. Instead he kind of dared them to go for it on a fourth-and-one play, and the Patriots stuffed Travis Henry on the next play. Was there a little psychological warfare going on in that sequence?
SG: There was a little psychology going on between the two head coaches early on with that play, but the other factor was that Buffalo would have been forced to kick a long field goal into the wind. Belichick looked at the odds of giving the Bills two downs to make six yards instead of one to make a single yard, and he decided the odds were better for stopping them by giving them one crack at a short yardage situation and it worked. I think that play took the wind out of Buffalo’s sails for a good part of that first half and helped the Patriots seize the momentum early in the game, so it was a very important play.
RRM: The latest news is that Drew Bledsoe will be given medical clearance to return to action this week. How soon do you feel it will take for him to get into actual game shape and be ready to play?
SG: From a physical standpoint I don’t think it’s going to take Drew a lot of time to get ready to play. His biggest challenge is going to be how his injury affected him mentally and how he’s going to handle what he’s been through. It’s not like a broken bone where they x-ray it and give you the okay to go back out and play. This is an internal injury and there’s really no way to say for sure that everything’s healed up. I never had to deal with an injury of that nature and I would think that this is going to be something that will be hard for him to overcome mentally.
RRM: Our second fan question of the week concerns the Patriots next opponents, the St. Louis Rams. He points out that if you take away their run they have an air attack that can kill you, and if you take away their passing attack they can kill you with their running game! He wants to put you into Romeo Crennel’s shoes and ask you how do you defend against a team that looks like it can beat you no matter what you try to do?
SG: I don’t think I want to be Romeo Crennel this week! There’s absolutely no way to defend against everything the St. Louis offense can do. What you hope to do is slow them down a little bit and hope your offense can control for the ball for long periods of time and keep that Rams offense off the field. This is one of those games where you want to see the time of possession for the Patriots around 35 minutes. If it ends up being 35 minutes in St. Louis’ favor then you’re probably going to be on the wrong end of a lopsided score.
I think you have to come out right from the beginning of the game and go right after Kurt Warner. You have to try and confuse him in some way, shape, or form. He’s not a real mobile quarterback so there’s a chance you can get some pressure on him, and that’s when he has struggled in the past. I’d really like to see the Patriots maintain their aggressiveness and keep utilizing those blitz packages that have been so effective for them recently. My philosophy is, if you’re going to do down, go down with your guns blazing!
RRM: Will the fact that the game is being played in cold weather on a grass surface in Foxboro help the Patriots in slowing down the high-octane Rams offense?
SG: I think playing on a grass surface in cold weather at night will help to slow them down a bit. They’re used to playing indoors in perfect conditions so that would have to be an advantage for the Patriots. Another factor could be the wind. If the wind is blowing as hard as it was during the Buffalo game
it can cause a lot of problems.
There are a lot of downdrafts towards the sidelines in that stadium, and when you are throwing a long ball toward the sideline it can really knock it down or sail it over somebody’s head when you don’t expect it. You have to throw it like it’s on a clothesline if you hope to complete any kind of a pass in those conditions. The wind at Foxboro Stadium can be a real difficult thing to deal with as a quarterback if you aren’t used to it.
RRM: Do the Patriots realistically have any chance of defeating this team?
SG: It certainly won’t be easy but sure, I think they have a chance. I know a lot of times when I was playing and you were coming off a game against a team you knew you should have blown out it gets you to refocus during the week. Sometimes you play to the level of your opponent, and since this will be the first time for a lot of these young players to play on television in prime time with their peers and the entire nation watching they are going to be sky-high emotionally. They are going to play hard and I think they’ve definitely got a chance. This is the kind of game that Bill Belichick is notorious for coming up with some kind of defensive scheme that shuts down a high-scoring opponent. It should be a really fun game to watch.
RRM: What are Grogan’s grades for the blue collar win over the Bills?
SG: I felt the fact that the offense was able to run the ball consistently was a good sign. Kevin Faulk got involved in the offense a lot more than he has been, making seven catches including one for a touchdown. They used him a lot more yesterday out of necessity and aside from one drive-killing fumble he responded well. But the offense was a little too inconsistent and could have put the game away early with a better first half.
The defense did what they had to do and got really nice efforts from Ted Johnson and Richard Seymour who both played really well on the inside for the Patriots. That’s something they are going to have to continue to do to compensate for the loss of Bryan Cox. Overall it was a slightly above average effort that was good enough to get a win over a team they should have beaten a lot more easily than they did. They’ll have to play a lot better this week if they hope to knock off the Rams.
Grogan’s Grades for Week #9
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season