Grogan’s Grade: Week 11 – New Orleans at New England
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, what really impressed me about the Patriots game against New Orleans was the fact that the Saints came in with the reputation of being a very physical football team. The Patriots just beat them at their own game, which I didn’t think was something they were capable of doing?
Steve Grogan: I am not sure anybody felt that way. The Patriots’offensive line played extremely well yesterday, even though Brady was sacked four times. They protected him pretty well for the most part. They ran the ball for close to 200 yards which hasn’t been done here in so long. But I think the real key was that they really had the Saints off-balance with their game plan and play-calling, and New Orleans was just never able to settle into any kind of rhythm with their defense and how they wanted to stop the Patriots.
RRM: When the Patriots built that 20-0 halftime lead we were all thinking about what the Saints had done to the Rams and a couple of other teams this year after trailing at halftime. Everyone was kind of bracing for what was about to come, and instead the Patriots gave as well as they took in that second half?
SG: They really did. I thought the touchdown at the end of the first half was a big one for them, allowing them to go in at 20-0 instead of 13-0. I thought that was a huge confidence builder for the team. The Saints came out and then scored 10 points in the third quarter, so if they hadn’t had that score at the end of the half it would have been 13-10. Now you would be looking at a different scenario, but the Patriots gave themselves a cushion at halftime and then fought hard to the end. Sometimes when you get a lead like that you have a tendency to let down a little bit, but I don’t think they did that at all in this game.
RRM: Twice in the second half the Saints cut the Patriots’ lead to 10 points, and twice New England answered back with long scoring drives. The last one in particular was of note. The Pats held the ball for close to six minutes while driving 68 yards, almost all of it on the ground. It seemed like the Patriots teams of old?
SG: I was just going to say that’s old style football! When you have a lead and you need to run the ball down somebody’s throat and can do it successfully that’s a real accomplishment. I can’t remember the last time I saw them do something like that around here, where you just take the ball and control it and don’t give the other team a chance to score because you have it for so long. It’s really fun to watch them do that.
RRM: When you saw the conditions on the field were you surprised there was that much scoring? With the wet field, rain, and the wind didn’t this have the look of a 10-7 game?
SG: I thought the conditions might be a little bit of a factor, but I don’t think it was raining that hard. I saw some guys slipping around a little bit, and sometimes that leads to big plays. A defender falls down and a receiver doesn’t and makes a long run after a catch, but you didn’t see too much of that in this game. I thought both teams handled that part of the game fairly well.
RRM: Last week you said the key for the Patriots in this game was to shut down Saints running back Ricky Williams. When I heard that Ted Johnson wasn?t going to play and that they were going to go to a 4-3 defensive alignment with Tedy Bruschi moving to middle linebacker I was very concerned. Were you surprised at how well the revised front seven shut down the run?
SG: I think everybody was concerned when it became known Ted Johnson wasn’t going to play, but Bruschi has shown that he is a smart football player that can play inside, outside, and do anything you ask him to do. Personally, I think the four-man front probably confused the Saints a little bit. The Patriots have been playing the 3-4 for most of the year so New Orleans wasn’t as prepared to face the 4-3 defense from New England. I think that was a big part of the reason they were able to shut down the Saints running game.
RRM: Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks threw for over 300 yards, but that’s really not a true indication of how tough the Pats’ defense played, is it?
SG: No, those numbers are deceiving. The New England defense gave up a couple of long pass plays and Brooks scrambled around a little and made some plays with his legs, but I thought on the whole the defense did an outstanding job. They shut down Ricky Williams like we mentioned, and when you do that you put the pressure on Brooks, who is another young quarterback. You force him into a position to make some plays to win the game, but he is not capable of doing that yet, and that is exactly what transpired in this game.
RRM: It seems every time you start to doubt Tom Brady he comes back with a vengeance. He completes 19 of 26 yesterday for 258 yards and four touchdowns. He just picked apart the New Orleans Saints?
SG: This was a defense that you expected to put on a lot of pressure and give you trouble trying to move the ball. I just thought the coaching staff had a great game plan on both sides of the ball. Brady was very efficient in what he was doing. But everyone seemed to make plays when they needed them in this game, and it was a fun game to watch.
RRM: As you mentioned they got production out of just about every player that stepped onto the field. How does something happen like that in some games and not in others?
SG: Well, part of it is game planning. As I said the coaches had a really good game plan and a really good feel offensively for what the Saints were going to do on defense, and when you get everybody involved in the game it just keeps things rolling. Right now this is a team with no great superstars but a lot of good players, and they are trying to involve all of those guys and it is definitely working right now.
RRM: How unusual was it to see Bill Belichick go down the sidelines and hug all his players? Bill Belichick normally just doesn’t do that!
SG: He would not admit it, but I think he was under a lot of pressure this week because of the decision he made about the quarterback. For things to go as well as they did for his team in this ball game I think he felt more emotional than he has ever felt before. Actually it was good to see him do that. I think players appreciate when a coach comes over and slaps you on the head, or whatever. I thought it was good to see for a change.
RRM: Many felt Belichick had to make that announcement about his starting quarterback this week. The quarterback controversy had dominated everything surrounding the team and this was his way of trying to put and end to it?
SG: Well, there has been a lot of debate about that during the week. Why would you tell Bledsoe he was not going to play the rest of the year when Brady may not play well, but I think he made the right decision. He was trying to take the hit one time and not have to go through this every week. Of course, Tom Brady went out and validated his decision and he looks like a genius now.
RRM: Were you disappointed at all with the way that it happened, that Bledsoe was told he would have a chance to earn his job back and then he didn’t get that chance?
SG: Well, it’s a funny business and coaches can change their mind in a hurry. What I was telling people last week is that Belichick may say one thing this week, but if Brady hadn’t played well it may have been different the next week. Coaches always reserve the right to change their minds!
I think the other thing to keep in mind is that Drew Bledsoe hadn’t really played good football the last half of last year and the first two games of this year, and I think that weighted into his decision. Tom Brady has played well for eight weeks. When Belichick made the announcement Brady was playing well and had done everything they had asked him to do. If Drew Bledsoe had been playing the caliber of football he had played two or three years ago before this injury I think he probably would have been right back in the starting lineup.
RRM: Don’t you think that after two or three bad games by Tom Brady they are going to be looking seriously at putting Bledsoe in regardless of the announcement he made a month ago?
SG: There is no question that if Brady starts to struggle or is having problems and shows them that he is not able to handle it any more, then Drew Bledsoe is right back in the lineup. But Brady has shown no inclination to have those kinds of games. Right now he is on a roll playing and is as good as any quarterback in the league.
RRM: You have been in this situation. If you are the quarterback, do you want the coach to come out and make a definitive statement one way or the other? From the quarterback’s perspective what is the best thing to do?
SG: I think from having been there in the past it is very difficult for the guy that gets told he is not going to play for awhile. It definitely is a benefit to the guy who is told he is going to play, because you don’t go out on the field and worry about it if you have a bad series or two that they going to yank you and stick the other guy in. That really can influence the way you play the game. You don’t take nearly as many chances if you know you are going to be sent to the bench if you do something wrong. When the coach says he has confidence in you and you are his guy, you go out and play with your instincts and let the chips fall. I think it was good for him to make that decision.
RRM: We’ve been reading and hearing about this quarterback controversy between Brady and Bledsoe for several weeks now, and the ironic thing is how well these two guys get along with each other!
SG: They seem to get along very well and have a close relationship, and I think that is good for them and the team. This situation could be a very divisive kind of thing if it was handled poorly, but both of them handled it with remarkable maturity and it is nice to see that happen.
RRM: Weren’t there reports that several teams have already contacted the Patriots about acquiring Drew Bledsoe?
SG: There has been a lot of speculation about that. To be honest I would be surprised if there has been any kind of official discussions of any kind, because it is too late in the season to trade him. The deadlines have passed and you really can’t move players until the offseason. Bledsoe will play football somewhere next year. If it is not here it will be someplace else. Believe me, Drew Bledsoe still has a lot of good football left in him.
RRM: The rematch with the Jets is next and they have had the Patriots number over the last couple of years. Why do you think that has been the case, and can the Pats change that around this Sunday?
SG: I think the Jets have had better talent than the Patriots the last two to three years, and that has been the big problem. But I think right now both teams are pretty even. The Jets are still a good football team, and they had a week off to rest and an extra week to prepare for this game. But the Patriots are playing with a lot of emotion right now and they are on a roll; they are feeling really good about themselves. I think it will be a real battle down in New Jersey this Sunday.
RRM: How tough is it to play a game in the Meadowlands? Is that one of the tougher road venues in the NFL?
SG: Believe me, they are all tough. The Jets fans are a nasty group of people to put it bluntly, but the field is still the same size and I don’t think the crowd noise down there is really a huge factor like it can be in some stadiums. But it is a great rivalry, it always has been, the Patriots and Jets. I think both teams will be emotionally up for this ball game and it should be a good one.
RRM: Care to go out on a limb and make a prediction about the game?
SG: I think they win down there this week, I really do. I think that sometimes a rest at this point in the season can be detrimental to a team. The Jets were playing pretty good football, but when you take a week off you kind of get out of the flow that you’ve been in from week to week. Sometimes that can be disruptive, and any momentum they had might be gone now. The Patriots are playing with a lot of momentum right now, so I like their chances.
RRM: Care to give out some game balls this week before we reveal Grogan’s Grades?
SG: Lawyer Milloy definitely deserves one. He made 10 tackles and was all over the field. The offensive line as a group would get one, along with Antowain Smith who rushed for over 100 yards again and helped them control the clock in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady has to get one, too. You know, there are a lot of game balls to be handed out for this one but there are just too many players to mention.
RRM: We await with breathless anticipation Grogan’s Grades for Week #11?
SG: This was a definite solid A effort. Both sides of the ball did everything right. There really wasn?t a lot to find fault with in this game. The Patriots dominated the game and when you do that you get straight A’s across the board.
An 8- 8 record was what everybody was hoping the Patrtiots would manage to achieve this year, but now they have a chance to do that and more. If they take care of business here the next few weeks they will have a chance to sneak in as a wildcard team in the playoffs, and that was something nobody expected to happen this year. This could be a really fun month of December for this team and their fans.
Grogan’s Grades for Week #11
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season