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 came up short to the explosive St. Louis Rams 24-17 in a game that I’m sure drew big ratings in New England. What did you think of the overall effort of the team against a club many consider the favorite to win the Super Bowl?
Steve Grogan: The Patriots played hard, and they held probably the best offense in a long time in the NFL somewhat under control for most of the game. Offensively the Patriots had a couple of turnovers that really hurt them, but all in all I thought they played a team that’s definitely better than them as hard as you can play them.
I know some people felt the Patriots played poorly because they gave up a lot of yards (St. Louis outgained New England by a 2-1 margin) but they kept them out of the endzone, which is Bill Belichick’s philosophy on defense. Against a team like the Rams you have to play a flawless game and they didn’t do that. Offensively they had the interception that got batted up in the air that gave St. Louis seven easy points, and then they fumbled on the two-yard line and gave them a chance to drive down before the end of the first half and put another seven points on the board. You can’t make those kinds of mistakes against a good team and expect to win.
RRM: Last week you said if the Rams had close to 34-35 minutes of possession time that the Patriots would be in trouble. Sure enough, I’m looking at the stats and you can see that big 33:54 minutes under the Rams column, so I guess your worst fears came to fruition?
SG: That really hurt them a lot. But that was as much the fault of the offense as it was the defense. I thought they just couldn’t sustain anything offensively and that really hurt them.
RRM: So much of the focus of this game was on how the Patriots’ defense would do in trying to contain this Rams offense, but the key to this game was how the Pats offense was going to do against the Rams defense. How did you feel about the game plan the Patriots came out with?
SG: I wasn’t overly impressed with the game plan. I don’t know what kind of defense was being played by the Rams because you can’t see the whole field on TV, but I thought the Patriots should have gone down the field with the ball a little more. Tom Brady throws the deep-end route very well., but they only threw that once or twice, and there were no out-routes thrown at all. I thought they got away from the running game a little too early and didn’t get back to it until late in the game when they went down the field and scored.
RRM: It seems incredible but the Rams had 20 plays of ten or more yards while the Patriots only had four that went for 10 or more yards. You look at those numbers alone and you wonder how they even stayed in this game!?
SG: The Patriots almost got overly conservative. I know that they were just trying to make first downs and keep moving the chains so they could control the clock, but every once in awhile you have to get it down the field and see if you can open them up a little bit. They didn’t do that and I thought that ended up costing them by the end of the game
RRM: The second quarter fumble by Antowain Smith right before the two minute warning seemed to be the crucial play of the game. Did the officials make the right call on that play?
SG: From the replays I saw it looked like his knee hit down and them came back up, and then somebody in the pile just started ripping at the ball and pulled it out. I thought it should have been overturned, but it wasn’t clear enough for the officials. To be honest I don’t think the officials really knew what happened until after the fact, so that really hurt them. I agree, that was the key play of the game. Having the Rams then go and take it 97 yards back down the field and score just before halftime was a real back-breaker. That’s the kind of thing that just kills you, and it seemed the Rams were in control of the game the rest of the way after that.
RRM: The reason that the Patriots got down to the two-yardline was that Belichick decided to go for that fourth-and-2 from the Rams 44-yardline. All the ESPN broadcasters were saying how this was a bad decision by Belichick, but they ended up converting the situation when Brady hit Troy Brown for a 17-yard gain. What did you think of the daring call?
SG: I was sitting there agreeing with the guys on ESPN! I thought it was really a risky play at that point in the game to take a chance like that. As it turned out it was a great decision, but I was thinking if they don’t make it here they’re really putting some pressure on their defense. But they must have known what they were doing and had a special call ready for that kind of situation.
RRM: Like me you probably just expected them just to come up and try to do the long count to try and draw the Rams offside. When they actually snapped the ball my jaw dropped about three feet!
SG: I think probably the Rams defense did, too! That’s why it worked! Who the heck’s going for this at this point in the game?!? Sometimes gambles pay off. I think Belichick felt like they had to control the ball some more; they had to try to keep the pressure on the Rams, and that was one way to do it.
RRM: There was another little play that didn’t get that much attention. Right before Adam Vinatieri’s field goal in the second quarter Patriots long snapper Lonnie Paxton tried to draw the Rams offside with the old head bob ploy. The officials flagged the Pats for illegal procedure but an offsides on the Rams would have given them a big first down at that time?
SG: If Paxton moved the ball at all then he deserved the flag, but from what I saw with just his head moving they normally wouldn’t call that. In my day there were a couple of centers that were really good at just sliding their hands along the ball and getting the defense to jump offsides. That could have been a huge play in the game if the Patriots had picked up the first down with an offsides penalty.
RRM: I thought this was a very crisply played game with only eight total penalties called in the entire contest. This game moved right along, and if there weren’t all those many commercial breaks because of the national broadcast the game would have been over in 2 1/2 hours, don’t you agree?
SG: Yes, this game moved at a rapid pace which was surprising when the ball was in the air as much as it was in this game. Warner threw the ball 42 times and Brady threw it 27, so that’s a total of 69 times the ball was in the air! Usually when the ball is in the air that much the clock is stopping a lot, but the completion percentages were so high (71.4% for Warner, 70.4% for Brady) that the clock never had to stop for incompletions. I really wish the Patriots had tried to focus a little more on the running game if for nothing else to keep the clock running, but that didn’t happen.
RRM: There was a lot of focus before the game on Kurt Warner’s injured thumb. Then he goes out and throws for 401 yards, so it makes you wonder
how much of that is just a mind game to psyche out the opponent?
SG: Yeah, that thumb really slowed him down a lot, didn’t it?! I think most everybody knew that Warner would play one way or the other. A guy like that is not going to let a sore thumb keep him out of the game, and he proved that he’s got weapons out there and he know how to use them.
The Patriots blitzed a lot on defense last night, which is something they’ve been doing the last three or four games to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. But their blitzes got little or no pressure on Kurt Warner. He still had time to throw the ball, and that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the defense’s secondary to try to cover the kind of speed that the Rams have. The fact that they didn’t give up any real big ones I think was a credit to the secondary. It also shows that the Patriots have to come up with some kind pass rusher for next year or they still won’t be able to get to that next level.
RRM: As a former player with a nationally televised game on an ESPN, do you get more pumped up as a player before the game, and can you get too pumped up for a game like that?
SG: Oh, you can definitely get too pumped up. You do get pumped up because you know it’s the only game in town at the time. It’s on everywhere and all your friends that you went to high school with are watching you, your family’s watching you, and it is exciting to be part of a game like that. I thought the Patriots came out and played with a lot of emotion on both sides of the ball last night because of that. The problem was they were facing from what I’ve seen so far is the best team in the NFL and they had to play a perfect game to beat them, and as we now know they were far from perfect.
RRM: Brady was criticized was for not being able to move the team at all in the third quarter, and more than one person in the media thought he played poorly in this game. I’ll ask you, what did you think of his game?
SG: Anybody who thinks that Brady didn’t play well is not watching the same game I watched. I thought he managed the game well and he took what the Rams were giving him. That first interception was in no way, shape, or form his fault. Marc Edwards had a crucial drop on a third down play that would have kept alive the one good drive the Patriots had going in the third quarter. Overall I thought Brady did a nice job.
RRM: There is still talk about the quarterback controversy in New England. This was the first game where Drew was given medical clearance to play. How long do you think it’s going to be before he sees some action?
SG: I really don’t know. The coaches will evaluate that during the week. We can sit and debate it and the media can debate it all week long, but the coaches see what’s going on in practice and who’s looking better than who. Their job is on the line so they’re going to put the best player out there that gives them a chance to win. I think Bledsoe will be closer to being ready this week than he was last week, and then it’s just the coach’s decision.
RRM: Wouldn’t it just be best to leave Brady in there at this point? If you bring Bledsoe in now and he doesn’t produce even in the first quarter then you have fans yelling “Brady, Brady, Brady”. Not that you haven’t seen anything like that happen, have you Steve?
SG: No, only about ten times during my 16 year career!! I was on both sides of it, so I know how both of them are feeling. The coaches will see what happens in practice. If Bledsoe is definitely looking better than Brady in practice, then I’m sure you’ll see him on the field. If there’s not much difference between the two of them as they go through the week, then I would think he would leave Brady out there.
RRM: If this game did indeed serve as a measuring stick to see how far this Patriots team has come since last year, what tangible things will the Patriots’ players take out of this game?
SG: It lets the players see what level they have to get to next, and they’re not at that level yet. The Rams are a very good football team; they’ve improved their defense tremendously and their offense has been very good the last few years. But while the Patriots aren’t to that level yet, I think what a game like this one shows is they’re not too far off. They’ve just got to get more players who can make big plays like the Rams have on their roster now.
They are getting closer and although I said I thought they had a chance to win, I knew this game could just as easily turn around and be a lopsided game in the other direction. But the Patriots hung in there the whole game. They fought hard the whole game, and the effort was definitely better than I saw last year against any team they played. I think both the players and their fans should feel encouraged by that and look forward to better days ahead.
RRM: The real key game in this homestand is going to be the game this week against the New Orleans Saints. Do you think they’ll be emotionally ready for this game after the effort they put forth against the Rams?
SG: I think it’s a really important game for them this week. I also know from having been there that it’s really difficult to get back to where you need to be mentally after such an emotional game as they had against the Rams. I think that’s got to be the focus of the coaching staff this week, to make sure that these guys not only get rested up but also put this game behind them and try to come out with the same kind of intensity.
You really get sky-high for a national TV game, and you get so emotional and play with such enthusiasm that the next week when you go back to just a regular game it’s really difficult to get to that same level. This game will be a good test for this team to see if they can respond the way they need to in order to become a consistently winning football team.
RRM: The Saints do like to play physical football, so if the Patriots aren’t up to the task they’ll quickly be brought back down to earth?
SG: That’s exactly right, we should know right from the beginning of the game if they are mentally and emotionally ready to play. I haven’t seen much of the Saints this season but I know that defensively they’re a pretty good football team. Offensively they’ve got Ricky Williams running the ball and the first priority will be to take him away. Their quarterback Aaron Brooks can be a little hot and cold, so I think this is a game they have a chance to win.
RRM: What are Grogan’s grades for the tough loss to the Rams?
SG: Offensively they did some really nice things at times, but it wasn’t a sustained effort and I thought that hurt them. Defensively I thought that they needed to shut down the run and put the pressure on their secondary, which is the best part of their defense. I thought they did that by blitzing a lot all night, but when you blitz you have to get some pressure on the quarterback at some point in time or you’re leaving your secondary just hanging out to dry. With all the blitzes I saw they rarely got any pressure on Warner. They’re bringing seven and eight guys and he still had three second to throw the ball and that was a real killer.
Tedy Bruschi played well, but you can’t really single anybody out in the secondary. Ty Law got burned a couple of times early in the game, which was surprising and hurt a little bit. Troy Brown had another outstanding game with eight catches for 91 yards. He made some really tough catches for key plays, and he just continues to make plays.
If the Patriots had played a game like this against a team of their own caliber it would have been a lot lower grade, but against a team like the Rams you have to give the Patriots some credit. To play them that close and that hard for a full 60 minutes I think they deserve a grade worthy of their effort.
Grogan’s Grades for Week #10
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season