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, that eminent philosopher Bryan Cox said the contest against the Jets was a tale of two halves. Fortunately for the Patriots some crucial halftime adjustments led to them dominating the second half and pulling out a 17-16 decision against the New York Jets. Was it the coaching adjustments or the team coming out and playing much more emotionally in the second half that turned the tide for New England?
Steve Grogan: A tale of two halves was a pretty good way of describing it. I really think it was a little of both. I think the coaches made some changes for Tom Brady to get rid of the ball a little quicker since the offensive line had struggled mightily during the first half. The team also decided to put some effort into it, change their attitude, and come out and do something against the Jets and it showed.
The Patriots defense played pretty well the whole day. They gave up a couple of big plays on the opening drive, and it just looked like they weren’t ready to start the game. After that they pretty much shut the Jets down the rest of the day.
RRM: There were so many key moves and plays in this game it would be tough to pick just one that decided the game. Were they any that stood out to you?
SG: If the Patriots hadn’t made adjustments at halftime it would have been a long second half. They changed the way they were getting rid of the ball in going to shorter drops and quicker throws. Some guys made some plays, caught some short passes and turned them into long runs, and that is what you have to do sometimes to get things going.
I thought the interception that Mike Vrabel made (off the deflection by Brandon Mitchell) early in the second half after the Patriots came out and looked terrible on the first drive was one of the biggest plays of the game. If the Jets had scored on that drive the game was probably over. That interception provided them with a spark, some momentum, and some desire, and it turned things back in the right direction. A few minutes later they were in the endzone for the first time and they kept the momentum for the rest of the game.
RRM: Tom Brady went from a five to a three-step drop with great success in the second half. How much does that affect the defense, and why couldn’t the Jets counter that?
SG: They could have countered it by going to tighter coverage, but when you do that you run the risk that someone is going to run by you deep down the field. What it does to the defensive linemen is that it just doesn’t give them enough time to get to the quarterback, so you end up cutting down on your sacks. When you take a three-step drop you have to throw the ball quicker, which means the pass routes are shorter. If your receivers don’t break some tackles or find some creases in the defense you wind up throwing three-yard and four-yard passes all afternoon. But they had a couple of big runs after the catch and those turned out to be big plays. Antowain Smith caught one underneath on a little crossing pattern and broke through a crease and got a 40-yard gain out of it.
They also got a big gain on a similar play from someone I had never heard of before, Fred Coleman. After he caught that ball everyone was wondering when they added this guy to the team? I didn’t even know he was there! He caught a short ball and hit a crease and ran it down to the Jets five-yardline for a 46-yard gain (which isn’t a bad way to make your first catch in the NFL), to set up the Patriots’ first touchdown. But that is exactly what you have to do when you start throwing shorter balls like that.
RRM: It was one thing to go to a three-step drop, but is was quite another executing it. Brady’s second half numbers, 15 out of 17 for 160 yards certainly showed he can adopt on the fly pretty well?
SG: He is the kind of kid that can do that sort of thing, and he’s proven that several times now. I heard him complaining how he didn’t throw any balls more then 10 yards down the field, but you know what, if he is throwing them less than 10 yards and people are catching them and making plays then it really doesn’t matter. Against the kind of pass rush he saw in the first half the only chance that he had to succeed was to shorten his drop and get the ball to people and then say go make the plays. Both of these things happened and it ended up winning the game for the Patriots.
RRM: While the three-step drop does decrease the amount of the time that the pass rushers have to get to you, it also decreases the amount of time that the quarterback has to make a decision. On the big pass play to Smith that you mentioned, Smith was the last option on that play, which showed Brady can make some really quick decisions?
SG: That wasn’t a three-step drop, I guarantee you. You can’t take three-steps and wait that long because even though the linemen don’t have that much time to get there it is a shorter area for them to cover. But it looked like it was the underneath coverage of the zone that dropped off deep. Smith may have been the last option, but Brady made up his mind pretty quickly on that play. That’s where he was going with the ball when he saw the zone open up underneath.
RRM: Brady’s running for a first down to clinch the game on a little roll out must have brought a smile to your face I know you probably had done that just a couple of times in your career?
SG: It wasn’t the most perfectly executed naked boot I have ever seen, but it worked. He got the first down and didn’t get hurt in the process, so that’s all that counts. I think my rushing records are safe!
RRM: Right now with Brady’s meteoric rise it appears Drew Bledsoe will be playing somewhere else next year. Do you have any idea where?
SG: No, I don’t have any idea. In the old days you would have kept him around and had the luxury of having two good quarterbacks on your roster. Unfortunately the salary cap is going to prevent that from happening. It is looking less and less like Bledsoe will be around here, but he will play football somewhere. He is still a good quarterback and can play for somebody.
RRM: Former Patriots running back Curtis Martin said after the game that it absolutely kills him to lose to the Patriots. He had an 87-yard game but the Patriots defense seemed to keep him in check when they absolutely had to?
SG: The Patriots defense shut him down and I think that is what they needed to do. But I really thought the Jets coaching staff made a mistake. Even though Martin only had 87 yards on 19 carries, he was averaging over four yards a carry and running well. Instead of using him they came out in the first half and threw the ball all over the field, and that is not their strong point. Their strength is running Curtis Martin, and with throwing the ball they kind of outsmarted themselves.
One of the Patriots strong points is their secondary, and the Jets fed right into one of the Patriots’ strengths. They dominated that first half but only put up 13 points after all they did against the Patriots, so I thought the Jets’ coaches didn’t have a really good game plan.
RRM: The TV color analyst Brent Jones made a big deal out of Vinny Testaverde talking with his tight end Anthony Becht as they broke the huddle just prior to the big fourth down play near the end of the game. He said that they may have tipped off Pats defensive back Terrell Buckley that the ball was going in Becht’s direction. Is that an unwritten rule for quarterbacks, do you not talk with guys going to the line of scrimmage?
SG: To be honest with you Brent Jones may be the worst analyst I have ever heard. Quarterbacks talk to guys leaving the huddle all the time, and what were the chances that Buckley was even looking at them at that particular moment! Personally I don’t really think it had anything to do with it. Buckley may tell you differently, but I just think he was well-schooled, read the route, and read Testaverde’s eyes and got in position to make the play on the ball that resulted in the interception.
RRM: For the second straight week we were treated to the sight of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick running up and down the sidelines hugging his players. Is this going to become a habit with him?
SG: It’s the new Bill Belichick! I just think the last couple of games have been really important for him, and he knows that. Last week was important for his coaching career because of the decision he made about Tom Brady, and Brady went out and played well and beat the Saints. I think that was emotional for him.
This week he was going back down to play the New York Jets. Somebody told me that he had coached close to 80% of the players on the field in this game for both teams, because he had been with the Jets and now he’s got a bunch of Jets players up here in New England. He had not beaten the Jets since he had become head coach of the Patriots, and New England had only defeated the Jets twice since Bill Parcells had left the Patriots. So Bill Belichick knew how important this game was, not just for those reasons but also because it was a victory over the division leader which now keeps them in the hunt for the playoffs. I think now we all have seen that Bill Belichick is a guy who has some emotion, but he just keeps it under wraps most of the time.
RRM: The ability this team showed in this game to come back while displaying such a tough mental attitude would have to bolster their confidence. Will this game serve to help them in the playoff hunt since they now know they can come back against a tough opponent?
SG: There is no question this victory will give them confidence as they head into the home stretch of the season. Good football teams find ways to win games like this. I think over the last three or four years a Patriots team that played like that in the first half would have been done. They would have quit at halftime, and we could have all turned our TV sets off and gone out to rake leaves.
This team has added some veteran presence this year, some of the guys Belichick brought in as free agents that have been through the wars before. They know what it takes to overcome a first half like they had against the Jets, and they are making a huge difference to this football team right now.
RRM: Who gets gameballs for this big comeback win over the hated New York Jets?
SG: I think Charlie Weis and the coaching staff on offense deserves one for the adjustments they made at halftime. I thought Roman Phifer playing at linebacker just had a heck of a football game against his former team, but there were a lot of guys that stepped up to the plate in the second half yesterday and made plays when they had to, including that no-name receiver Coleman! That is what’s fun about this team, it is somebody different every week! They are all contributing and when you do that you win.
RRM: Our fan question this week concerns the Patriots heading for a crash on the emotional wave they are currently riding. Although they are currently 7-5 and in the thick of the playoff race he is wondering if their being a young team riding an emotional wave will lead to an eventual crash landing?
SG: As I said before the veteran presence on this team this year has made a huge difference. I really don’t see them having any kind of emotional letdown. You got enough veteran guys around right now that have been through the wars and know what it is going to take for the last four games. They know what it is going to take to make a push for the playoffs, and I don’t think they will let the young guys mess around and spoil it for them.
RRM: If there is one game in their remaining four where the Patriots might suffer an emotional letdown it would appear to be this Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. Does the fact that the Browns defeated New England last year help to keep the Pats focused for this game?
SG: That will be a factor sure, but playing them at home in Foxboro is a factor as well. Cleveland is a team that’s played some pretty good football this year but they are still a young team with a new coaching staff. The Browns have been having some problems recently, and I think they are a good example of a young team that’s probably become worn out as the season has gone along. I really don’t think that’s happened to the Patriots, and they are going to have that in their favor, too.
With the Patriots having the homefield advantage this is a game that they should win. The key is going to be not looking ahead and starting to think playoffs because then everybody is going to start talking about that. The players have to focus on the Cleveland Browns, and if they keep their focus in practice during the week they will win the game.
RRM: What are Grogan’s Grades for the big comeback win over the hated New York Jets?
SG: Even though I don’t normally give A’s I’m giving them an A because they beat the division leader on the division leaders home field. Yes, they played poorly in the first half which should have brought the grade down, but the effort in the second half overcame that first half effort. When you win a game like that you deserve an A.
I would say that normally I would have given the offense probably a lower grade than an A, but the way they played in the second half and the changes they made at halftime plus the effort they gave I have to give both sides of the ball straight A’s. If they had done this against the Cleveland Browns I don’t think the grade would be as high, but doing it against the Jets who were leading the division and playing in their stadium, just to come from behind like that is something special.
Grogan’s Grades for Week #12
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