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 outlasted the Cleveland Browns 27-16 in a game that was a little closer than the final score indicated. The way the game unfolded kept a lot of Pats fans squirming in their seats. Were you one of them?
Steve Grogan: It was a fun game to watch, but it was one of those games where Cleveland just kept hanging around, and I think this was a game that Patriots teams of the last couple of years would have figured out a way to lose. That’s the difference between this team and teams of the past; they have now figured out a way to win. They had a chance with two Adam Vinatieri field goal attempts to put them away, but both of them were missed and you just kept thinking, oh my gosh, Cleveland’s going to come up with that big play, tie the game, and then who knows what’s going to happen. But the Patriots didn’t allow them to do that, and that was a very good sign.
RRM: Many expected the Patriots to handle the Browns a little more easily than they did. Were you surprised the game was as tight as it was?
SG: Not really. This is a Cleveland team that only won three games last year and they took it right down to the wire against the Patriots. They’re much improved this season. Butch Davis, the new coach, has done a nice job with turning them around. It wasn’t a classic textbook type of game for sure; at times it was like nobody wanted to get anything done. The Patriots would go in spurts on offense and, of course, Troy Brown’s big punt return was a huge play in the game for the Patriots.
RRM: Tom Brady had another solid game but tossed a couple of untimely interceptions in this one. Is he finally starting to appear human?
SG: On that first interception that the Browns’ Corey Fuller returned for a touchdown I couldn’t see exactly what Brady was looking at because of the angle they gave you on the TV screen. Sometimes on that kind of slant pattern they were running you can lose sight of the underneath coverage player because of the offensive guard or tackle in front of you that is blocking the pass rushers. I think that is what happened to Brady on that play.
On Brady’s second interception where he forced one up while falling down, that was really the first time I’ve seen him look like a young, inexperienced quarterback. He got caught in an awkward position and tried to make a play instead of doing the wise thing and eating the football. Fortunately the Patriots defense forced four turnovers of their own so they were able to offset the interceptions.
But what really has to impress you was after that first interception Brady went five for five and led his team on a 66-yard drive for the touchdown that tied the score. That shows you the composure he has to overcome adversity which is a trait you don’t find in that many young quarterbacks.
RRM: The Patriots certainly weren’t shy about going downfield with the ball in this game. Were you happy with the game plan the Patriots came up with against the Browns?
SG: If there was one criticism I had of the offensive game plan was that they didn’t try to run the ball enough early in the game. They only had 22 yards rushing at the half, and there wasn’t any kind of conscious effort to pound the ball up in there and see what they could accomplish. Instead they came out winging the ball all over the field and they ended up falling behind. I like it when a team tries to establish the run early on because it makes your offense so much more effective the rest of the game. To their credit when they needed to run the ball and eat up the clock late in the game they were able to do it.
RRM: The Browns were able to move the ball but the Patriots’ defense kept them out of the endzone the entire afternoon. Is this the epitome of the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy of defense?
SG: The Patriots’ defense just kept plodding away. They’d give a little ground but held fast when they had to. Early in the game the Patriots were playing a lot of zone defensive coverage and Tim Couch was just killing them with those underneath patterns, especially to his running backs. I kept wondering when they were going to start blitzing because that is what they have done so well this year.
In the second quarter the Patriots started blitzing some people and as a result got some pressure on Couch and forced some bad throws. I also think they play a more physical brand of football when they are blitzing, and they continued with that the rest of the game, keeping Couch confused and forcing him into some crucial mistakes.
RRM: One of Couch’s mistakes turned into an interception by Anthony Pleasant that ended up sealing the Brown’s fate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a defensive lineman make an interception that far downfield before?
SG: The Patriots’ defense has become a solid unit, and this is a team that really doesn’t have any stars on it on either side of the ball. It’s just somebody different making plays every week. There are no big name guys on this defense. There is nobody that’s outstanding that the other team looks at on the film and says, “If we take this guy away we’re going to win the ball game.” It’s just a whole bunch of good football players out there doing their job.
You have players like Roman Phifer having another outstanding game, and the interception by Pleasant like you mentioned that was a credit to his hustle. Right now everyone on this defense is playing with so much intensity that they have evolved into one of those teams where everyone is contributing and making big plays because they are hustling and getting into the positions on the field where they need to be. It’s been really fun to watch this defense develop this season and it will now serve as the team’s anchor as they head into the homestretch.
RRM: Tedy Bruschi seems to have found a new home for himself at middle linebacker. He had another big game yesterday?
SG: I’ll tell you what, Bruschi is playing his way into a big contract after the season because his contract is up and you can expect him to look for some big money the way he’s played this year. They appeared to be in a tough spot after losing Ted Johnson and Bryan Cox but Bruschi just stepped in and has played outstanding football. He hit Tim Couch really hard on one play in particular, and you could tell he really felt that one!
RRM: Terry Glenn made his return to the playing field and contributed four catches. He’d only played in one game this year and yet when he goes out on the field he looks like he’s been practicing all season long?
SG: Well, Terry Glenn is still probably one of the most talented players on the field and for a guy to miss as much time as he’s missed and still contribute is highly unusual, but when he’s out there he is a factor. He had four catches yesterday, and a couple of them were catches at key moments in the game. The other thing he did was to stretch the field a little bit. He opened up the mid-range pass for Troy Brown and the other wide receiver, David Patten. They caught some balls in the 15-20 yard range yesterday which we haven’t seen much of lately, and I think part of that was because Terry Glenn was on the field.
RRM: What are Glenn’s teammates thinking about all of this? Are they glad that he’s out there just getting the job done or is there some resentment there?
SG: There are probably a few guys that have some resentment, but most of them know that Terry Glenn’s going to make them a better team and help them get into the playoffs. That’s the eventual goal, so you put all that aside for the time being and play with whoever the coach puts out there.
RRM: It seems unjust to see Terry Glenn get all the attention when Troy Brown quietly slipped over the 1000-yard mark in receiving for the first time in his career. He’s only the sixth Patriot in history to accomplish this feat, and you would think he’d be more appreciated than he has been?
SG: Troy Brown has been the #1 receiver on this team all year long, and how many teams use their primary receiver as their punt returner on a consistent basis? He’s the kind of player you just love to watch. You never see him going backwards when he gets stopped; he’s always going forward. He’s getting a little older now and everybody knows the Patriots are going to throw the ball to him but they still can’t stop him!
The 85-yard punt return for a touchdown turned that game around for the Patriots. You could just feel the momentum swing over to the Patriots after that play. He just continues to make big plays for this team week after week. Not bad for an 8th round draft pick out of Marshall. Is that any relation to you by the way?
RRM: Nah, I went to WPI. Our fan question of the week is does Troy Brown remind you of anyone you played with during your years with the team?
SG: That’s a hard one. Brown isn’t a speed burner like Stanley Morgan was, and he isn’t as physical as an Irving Fyrar. He’s closer to a player like Harold Jackson who had some really fine years for the Patriots near the end of his career, but Jackson didn’t return kicks the way Brown does. But Troy is definitely the kind of player I would have enjoyed playing with. He’s a football players football player, no doubt about it.
RRM: Vinatieri’s pooch kick turned out to be one of the key plays of the game. Are these the kind of plays that the Patriots didn’t used to call?
SG: That was a good play and a big play at that particular time in the game to pin Cleveland back down. I think this coaching staff this year, for whatever reason, has opened up the game plan. You see offensive reverses and flanker screens and things that you normally wouldn’t see out of a conservative coach like Bill Belichick, but even on special teams now he’s showing that he’s not afraid to try some things to help his team win. That’s not been his personality, but
he knows that this team can do these kinds of things so he’s calling them.
RRM: Although he missed a couple of field goals in this game has anyone ever considered how many games Adam Vinatieri has won for this team by making some clutch kicks?
SG: He’s been one of the best in the league for the last few years, and he’s been very consistent over that time. In this game he was kicking into the wind and I think he had a little problem, but he made a 54-yarder early in the game and that was a huge kick at that point in the game. He’s made a lot of kicks to win games for them over the years and, trust me, kicking in Foxboro Stadium is not the easiest place in the world to kick. He’s done a nice job.
RRM: Ty Law talked about giving the Browns some “payback” after they did some trash talking over last year’s upset victory over the Patriots. Is that sort of thing as prevalent in the pro ranks as it is on the college and even high school level?
SG: I don’t think that sort of thing is very big at the NFL level. Team rosters turn over so much from year to year that it’s hard to develop those frictions in today’s game. But you do remember recent games like that as Ty Law referred to last year’s game in Cleveland. But I really don’t think it’s a huge motivational factor as many people think it is.
RRM: More than a few of your compatriots in the media have expressed fears over next week’s trip to Buffalo to play the Bills. Do you share their feelings?
SG: Yes, this game coming up in Buffalo scares me a little. The Patriots have played Buffalo already this season and have a pretty good idea what the Bills can do and what they can’t do. But what really has me on edge for this game is the weather, which is something that is totally out of the hands of the players.
If it turns out to be a cold, windy, snowy day like the many I’ve seen in my time in Buffalo during December then everything goes out the window and anything can happen. You feel like you don’t control your own fate, and the weather ends up controlling a lot of what you have to do. In the Patriots’ favor they now know they can pound it out on the ground if they have to, and I really think that will help them if they run into bad weather conditions in Buffalo.
RRM: What are Grogan’s Grades for the win over the Browns?
SG: I thought the defense played very well, so they get an A. The offense was just okay in this game, above average but not way above average, so they get a B+. That averages to an A-. Cleveland was a team in the playoff hunt, and the Patriots went out and did their job and that deserves a lot of consideration. I guess I’m getting easier as they win, but I feel better about them as they win, too. I admit I was the naysayer when the season started but they’ve convinced me. The Patriots have reached the point in the year where they can’t afford any slip-ups, and I think they understand that. They’ll take care of their business, I’m pretty sure.
Grogan’s Grades for Week #13
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