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Grogan’s Grade: Week 14 – New England at Bufflao

Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
December 17, 2001 at 8:12 am ET

🕑 Read Time: 9 minutes 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, for the fourth time in their last five meetings a Patriots-Bills affair needed overtime to decide the outcome. You would think a club with a 2-10 record like the Bills wouldn’t battle as hard as they did, but they did and the Patriots were lucky to escape with a 12-9 win in overtime?

Steve Grogan: We often talk in football about how teams match up against each other, and for some reason the Buffalo Bills have always matched up very well against the Patriots and always seem to give them a hard time. It’s been a great rivalry over the years and these games just always seem to be close. Weather is normally a factor in Buffalo but while it was cold it was not as windy as it can be there.

It was not pretty, but they got done what they had to get done and that’s the mark of a good football team. The Bills played extremely hard as they always do against the Patriots but New England found a way to win, and that’s what a good football team does.

RRM: The outcome of this game was essentially determined by a call by the referee in overtime. David Patten had lost the ball near the sideline after being blasted by Bills’ safety Keion Carpenter, but rather than being ruled a fumble the ball was ruled out of bounds as an extension of Patten, who was lying unconscious with his head and shoulders resting on the sideline marker. I had never seen this call before, and although it was controversial it was the right call to make?

SG: Yes, the official did make the correct call on that play. I really don’t think anybody knew what even the right call was until he announced it, but once he said it the call did make sense. It’s right there in the rule book (Rule 3, Section 20, Article 2, Paragraph C) so no matter how much the Bills complain about getting screwed the official did exactly what he was supposed to do. It’s a strange rule, and I think the competition rules committee will probably take a hard look at it during the offseason.

RRM: In contrast the officials made another crucial call against the home team in Cleveland which wasn’t taken as well by the fans. The Dog Pound pelted the officials with bottles and other refuse and forced them to run to cover, certainly not one of the NFL’s finest moments?

SG: That situation in Cleveland was very unfortunate. In the NFL the officials make the calls as best they can, and to have the crowd become such a factor and not only put the referee but the players in danger is just a terrible example of how NFL fans should conduct themselves. There’s nothing wrong with fans being passionate, but when they put players and officials in dangerous situations then they have gone beyond the point of being passionate.

RRM: Tom Brady got smacked by Buffalo’s Nate Clements early in the third quarter with a blow that knocked the Patriot quarterback’s helmet about 10 yards downfield. Brady got right up after the blow, but you had to wonder if it affected his play the rest of that quarter when the Pats ran up a grand total of only four yards on offense?

SG: I’m sure that hit rattled him a little bit. Brady’s had his helmet come flying off three or four times now since I’ve been watching him this year. He either needs a smaller helmet or a tighter chinstrap because that should not be happening! Fortunately when it’s been coming off his head hasn’t been in it, which is something you always worry about as a quarterback!

Brady has to learn when to get down quicker. If you get caught in a situation like that where is it too late to slide you’re better off going headfirst because then they’re hitting the back of your head or back and not up under your jaw. But he got right back up from that hit because he wanted to show his teammates that he’s tough. Players play harder for tough quarterbacks and this kid is tough. I’m sure his brain wasn’t working exactly right when he first jumped up, but he had enough sense to get up and off the field and not let the Bills see that they had done any damage to him. But he’ll watch the film on Monday and say,”Holy cow! Did that really happen to me!”

RRM: Brady didn’t have one of his finest games, and the offense struggled for most of the second half. What exactly went wrong, or what didn’t go right for the Patriots’ offense?

SG: Yes, Brady struggled as much as he’s struggled all year, but in his defense that field in Buffalo has a crown in the middle that’s about three feet higher than the sidelines. The first time you play on a field like that it really throws your depth perception off. I think that’s why he had so many overthrown balls in this game. Next time he plays there he’ll have a better idea of what to do.

They got away from the running game far too early to suit me. They ran the ball well in the first quarter then they quit running it, and from that point on they had trouble. They couldn’t find any stability with the pass protection, particularly in the second half where the Bills pass rush really became a problem.

RRM: It sounds like you weren’t really happy with the Patriots game plan in this contest?

SG: To tell you the truth I really wasn’t. You have to give the Bills defense some credit because I thought they played very well in this game, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the Patriots game plan on offense. Everything in the first half seemed to be designed to go deep down the field, and that may have been due to the fact that the Bills’ corners were playing so aggressively. But when you take two or three deep shots down the field like they did with no success then you need to give your young quarterback some plays he can be successful with, like the short underneath stuff Brady has been thriving on. But for some reason they didn’t and I really don’t think they made the right adjustments in this game.

RRM: J.R. Redmond reappeared late in the game and played a major role with three catches down the stretch. Wasn’t it unusual to insert a little-used player like him into the game so late into the contest?

SG: It is unusual to see that, especially with a player that hasn’t played a whole lot throughout the year. Apparently he is considered to be a better blocker picking up blitzers than Kevin Faulk, and at that point in the game they were concerned about the Bills’ pass rush as they had been struggling with pass protection for most of the second half. Redmond was probably in there to block and he wound up making a few very important catches during crunch time.

RRM: New England punter Ken Walter has been overlooked since joining the club. Five times he landed punts inside the Bill’s 20-yardline and helped the Patriots maintain the battle of field position all afternoon long. How often do you pick up a new punter at midseason and have him lead the league in net yardage?

SG: Walter is someone they picked up who has really done his job well. He gets great hangtime on his punts, and the Patriots have helped him out by doing a really good job on punt coverage (now if they could only do something about kickoff coverage!). During my playing days we never had much luck picking up punters during the season. I can name a few that I wondered how they even got into the NFL. But Walters has been a really nice pick-up for the Patriots, and he has really solidified the punter position for them.

RRM: This Saturday the Patriots play their last (or what may be their last) game at Foxboro Stadium against the Miami Dolphins. Neither team managed a touchdown this Sunday so will both teams be looking for redemption?

SG: I think coming off their respective games this will be a wakeup call for both teams. When you play poorly you seem to work a little harder in practice during the week, and I think this game on Saturday is going to be real battle royal. Both teams are going to play very physical knowing what the playoff implications are for this game. This should be a really great game to watch, and I think the Patriots are poised to turn in one of their best efforts of the season.

RRM: Miami got blown out at San Francisco last Sunday and many have opined the rigors of travel might put them at a disadvantage for this upcoming game. Is that an overstatement?

SG: I think that actually might give the Patriots a little bit of an edge. They had that Monday night game against the Colts, then had to travel across the country to play in San Francisco. Now they have another short week and they have another long trip up to Boston to play the Patriots. I think having to do all that traveling while being off their regular weekly schedule preparation-wise can be a distraction sometimes, so we’ll see what happens.

RRM: Is there any possibility the Patriots’ players will get too emotionally wired for this game?

SG: Well, I don’t think the players will get wrapped up in any of the ceremonial stuff that will be going on in this game. The fact that this is such a big game for them and an emotional one as well could be a factor, so that is why it is vitally important for the coaches and veterans on this team to have this team build intensity during the week but not get to the point where they are so sky-high they don’t play on instinct. The veterans who have helped stabilize this club have to get to the younger players and keep them focused while keeping their emotions on an even keel. That’s the kind of thing veterans do for a team at this time of year when you are fighting for a playoff spot.

RRM: Certainly Foxboro Stadium has long since outlived its usefulness, but it has certainly had its share of moments since it opened in 1971. Will you miss is once it’s gone?

SG: The stadium itself for the fans to see a game was as good as any. I ran those stadium steps in the offseason so I know every angle in that place. You had a great view no matter where you sat, but certainly the amenities were the worst of any NFL stadium. There aren’t many restrooms or concession stands, and the new stadium will have lots of room for those kind of things. But I had a lot of great times in that stadium and it’s going to be sad to see it become a parking lot.

RRM: Will you be participating in any of the ceremonies this Saturday commemorating the stadium?

SG: The Patriots are bringing back several of us to represent each year of the stadium and I will be one of the players. They’re flying in guys like Russ Francis and Raymond Clayborn and they’re putting on some private functions for us on Thursday and Friday evening this week where there will be a lot of lies and old stories swapped. Then at halftime of the game they’ll introduce each one of us for every year of the stadium. The Patriots could have saved themselves a lot of money and just had me represent all those years because I was there for most of them!

RRM: Do you have any concerns that some of the Foxboro faithful may get a little too exuberant and try to bring some souvenirs of the stadium home with them?

SG: I’ll tell you what, if they can get even one of those benches that are bolted to the concrete off of the foundation and out of the stadium before someone catches them then good luck to them!

RRM: Time to hand out some game balls. Will you finally relent and award Adam Vinatieri a game ball for his four-field goal effort against the Bills?

SG: I think it’s time to break my rule about not giving kickers game balls and give Adam Vinatieri one this week. When you score all of your team’ points including the game-winner in overtime you deserve a game ball. The ability to kick in the Northeast during wintertime is a very difficult thing to do. The Bills had a young kicker in Shayne Graham who missed a makeable field goal that ended up costing his team the game. Vinatieri’s been a little up and down this year but he’s come through with clutch kicks when they’ve needed him to, and that’s the mark of a top kicker.

I think Mike Vrabel and Lawyer Milloy should also get some mention for their play. They each had eight tackles and Milloy played most of the game with an injured left leg and never showed any indication of it. Those are my game ball recipients for this game.

RRM: What are Grogan’s grades for the overtime win in Buffalo?

SG: I think you have to give the defense an A in this game. They held the Bills to just nine points and they played physical football all day. They had a great defensive game plan for the Bills. They did a good job confusing Bills’ quarterback Alex Van Pelt, particularly in the first half where they really made him look bad. The defense came up with big plays and key stops, like on the Bills’ first possession in the overtime that really saved the game.

The offense gets a C+ because they played horribly. Other than one good throw Brady made to Jermaine Wiggins for 25 yards late in the game that set up the tying field goal, and the great run Antowain Smith made in the overtime to set up the game-winning score they really struggled all day. They couldn’t get anything done and they will have a lot to work on in practice this week.

Grogan’s Grades for Week #14

Offense: C+
Defense: A
Overall: B-

Disaster Averted By Huge Break

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