R.R.Marshall: Steve it was a lot of rain, not enough gain, and too much pain for the Patriots as they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals 13-6 on Sunday to fall from the ranks of the undefeated. After looking so good on the road against the Falcons last Sunday, were you surprised to see the offense take what appeared to be such a giant step backwards?
Steve Grogan: I was a little surprised at the way the offense played on Sunday. I know Cincinnati has a very good defensive football team, but it looked like early on the Patriots offensive line was having some real problems with some of the blitzes that were being shown by the Bengals. They made some adjustments, but it looked to me like Cincinnati didn’t really feel threatened by the Patriots receiving core and decided to bring pressure most of the day, and it worked for them.
RRM: Even in a low scoring game like this, there was room for some second-guessing. Did you think Bill Belichick made the right decision to go for the field goal on 4th-and-goal with under 3-minutes to play to make the score 13-6 rather than going for the touchdown, because in hindsight if they had and pushed across the touchdown, they would have only been 3 points down with the ball inside the 40-yard line at the end of the game?
SG: Hindsight is always good [Laughs]. But, with that little time left in the game I think I probably would have thought about going for the touchdown there. The chances of getting the ball back and going down and scoring when you haven’t really been moving the ball much all day is probably slimmer than most times with them. It’s easy to say in hindsight. I know what he was thinking, he had to get two scores and he got the three points, but if there had been another half a quarter or a quarter left in the game, I’d understand what he was doing. But with so little time left, they probably should have gone for it.
RRM: What did you think of the play-calling in that sequence, particularly the play-action fake and the pass to the tackle eligible?
SG: That was a little suspect. You hate to criticize them because they’ve had so much success doing things over the years but I just got to feel like you’ve got a better play than to throw to a left tackle who’s playing tight end in that situation.
RRM: Well, old friend BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 67 yards and got some revenge against his former club by scoring the game winning touchdown and the Bengals nearly doubled their rushing output after their upset loss to the Browns, gashing the Patriots for 162 yards, most of it between the tackles. Are we starting to feel the loss of Vince Wilfork already?
SG: Well, I think the loss of Vince Wilfork as well as losing Tommy Kelly later in the game in the second half and playing with two rookies up front in those positions, it’s going to be a struggle for them. Hopefully Kelly’s not hurt that badly, but I think Vince being out, it looks like it’s going to be a problem for them.
RRM: Simply stated, Tom Brady did not look like Tom Brady in this game, with many of his throws off target. Was it the pressure of the Bengals’ front four, the weather conditions, or the rookie receivers that accounted for what we saw on Sunday?
SG: I didn’t think that the weather conditions were that bad until right there at the end of the fourth quarter and it couldn’t have rained any harder at the worst time as the Patriots were trying to go down and score to tie the game. But early in the game the weather conditions weren’t that bad, I think it was more the pressure that Cincinnati was bringing that was giving Brady the problems. Trying to throw the ball before he got hit, trying to throw the ball with people in his face, you just can’t do that. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good you are, if they’re all around you and sticking their hands in your face, you’re not going to be very accurate and I think that’s what happened to him Sunday.
RRM: For the first five weeks, and granted the Patriots are 4-1, we’ve seen Brady fumble snaps, throw endzone interceptions, miss wide open receivers, throw balls in the dirt, is there anything that you’ve seen so far that would suggest that “he’s showing his age” or nursing some kind of injury we’re not aware of?
SG: I don’t think so. I think it’s more a factor of playing with some guys that he hasn’t been around for two or three years. He just doesn’t feel comfortable right now with what his receivers are doing, he doesn’t have a tight end that’s any kind of threat at all until Gronkowski gets back, and I think that’s just had to change the way he’s played. There’s no question he’s still got the ability. You don’t lose it from one year to the next that quickly.
RRM: You can contrast that Patriots game with the game that followed it on the Sunday double-header…
SG: You mean the arena football game that was on? [Laughs]
RRM: Peyton Manning put up 51 points against the Cowboys and you can kind of sense New England fans’ frustration when you just see a well-oiled Denver offense piling up points like a video game. What can you possibly say to console fans when they see this contrast, especially when they the whole Brady and Manning dynamic is involved?
SG: Well I think Manning is into his second year with those receivers out there, outside of Welker being the new guy. And I still see flashes from the young receivers here, doing some good things, but this may be a year where it’s kind of a transition year where Tom’s trying to get comfortable with those guys outside and possibly next year is when it will all start to happen. But I think Manning’s more comfortable in his offense right now than Tom Brady is in his.
RRM: We’ve heard everybody say it. Once Rob Gronkowski comes back, everything will be back to normal. He’ll be able to chip the defensive end or the linebacker, he’ll give Brady a target over the middle, he’ll open things up for the other receivers. Is it that simple or is there a good nugget of truth in that philosophy?
SG: I think that’s partially true. I don’t think it’s totally true. He will be a factor, he will make a difference, but will he make 100% difference? I don’t think so. I think these other guys still have to step up and make plays and get more comfortable with Brady and when you throw Gronkowski in there with them doing that, then you’re going to be better on offense. But I don’t think they’re going to be an offensive team that’s going to score the 30 points a game like we’re used to seeing them score. They’ve got to be more conservative and because their defense was playing well, they were able to do that the first four weeks and it’s going to be more difficult to do that, be conservative offensively, with Wilfork out and possibly Kelly out. You’re going to have to win games 23-20 or 24-17 or something like that this year, and hopefully that will be enough.
RRM: Someone pointed it out to me and I paid attention this game that through these first five games, there’s been very few Tom Brady throws downfield between the hashmarks down the middle. I don’t know exactly why that is, if it’s the lack of a tight end. But can you account for, I mean that’s a much easier throw than having to throw it further outside the hash marks, so what’s exactly going on there?
SG: I think right now he probably just doesn’t have anybody that he’s comfortable with to go down that seam. I want to say Amendola had one catch going down the seam Sunday and dropped another one, but they don’t have a tight end going down the other side that’s any kind of threat and so there’s just nobody open to throw the ball in those situations and that’s been a big part of the offense. When you had [Aaron] Hernandez going down one seam and Gronkowski down the other, you felt pretty comfortable with it, but you don’t have those two players right now and so that’s not really open.
RRM: Is that a tough thing for a rookie receiver to pick up? Is that why we don’t see it from the outside?
SG: I think that’s part of it. It’s reading the coverage, it depends on coverage whether you continue down the seam or hook it up and it’s just going to take time for them to get comfortable. Plus the fact the two young guys are playing on the outside, so it’s more who’s playing tight end and who’s playing the slot receiver, those are the two guys that have to get comfortable going down the middle.
RRM: Well Brady also had his consecutive game streak with at least one touchdown pass end at 52 games, just two shy of Drew Brees’ record. I purposely avoided discussing this with you this year as to not jinx his chances and you can see how that worked out. As a former quarterback, what do you think of Brady’s nearly historic accomplishment?
SG: It’s pretty impressive when anybody can go that many straight games with touchdown passes. It takes a lot of skill and a lot of luck and some very good offenses to go 52 games throwing a touchdown in every game. A lot of it’s got to do with the way the NFL’s playing nowadays where they’re throwing the ball all over the field. But still, it’s a pretty impressive accomplishment and it’s too bad that he couldn’t have gone another two or three games and at least tied Brees or gone by him. But he can start all over again next week and see how far he can get again.
RRM: Well, if there’s anything good to take out of this loss is the fact the Patriots defense once again came up with another strong effort. I think anyone would have taken giving up 13 points going into the game. If there’s any fly in the ointment, it’s their inability to put consistent pressure on the quarterback and I’m not sure that there’s a solution for that yet?
SG: Not yet. I thought they got some pressure Sunday on Dalton, more pressure than they got the week before on Matt Ryan, if I remember correctly. I don’t think Bill Belichick’s defenses are too worried about pressure. They’re more worried about keeping the quarterback in the pocket and I think they feel a lot more comfortable with their defensive secondary in coverage this year. So they may not be bringing the pressure as much with the linebackers, but they’re getting pressure occasionally and it’s going to probably dip off again with the two young guys in there. They may start using linebackers as defensive linemen to rush the passer on 3rd down. With the two big guys out of the middle, you’re not going to see consistent pressure.
RRM: Well, Steve after Sunday there are only three undefeated teams left in the NFL, and one of them comes to Foxboro on Sunday in the form of the New Orleans, which means that the Patriots will have a major obstacle to overcome if they’re to get back on the winning track?
SG: This is going to be a big test. Fortunately they’re playing them at home.
RRM: They’re going to have to score a lot of points to beat this team?
SG: I would think New Orleans is going to put up some points. They have a lot of offensive weapons. They have a great tight end, which in the Atlanta game the same type of player gave them fits. So they’ve got their work cut out for them. They’ve got to find a way offensively to get the ball in the end zone more than they’ve been getting it in there and then hope that their defense can continue to play as well as they’ve been playing. But New Orleans is a very solid football team on both sides of the football, and this will be a real test.
RRM: You mentioned the Saints’ tight end Jimmy Graham, who grabbed 10 balls on Sunday and you mentioned the Patriots troubles covering Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, I would think Bill would have to address at least trying to at least keep him honest?
SG: I would hope he’d address it [Laughs]. Because if he doesn’t, they’re in major trouble. This kid’s younger than Gonzalez, maybe not quite as good catching the ball but he still makes a lot of catches. He’s a very talented tight end. You would think having seen one really good one, they’d figure out a way to slow them down a little bit. I guess you keep your fingers crossed they can do that.
RRM: If there’s one thing in the Patriots’ favor is the Saints are not a dynamic team away from the Dome. They’re not a great road team, they will give up some points. So I would think the important thing to do is to try and grab a lead early and try to keep them at arms length for the rest of the game?
SG: Grabbing a lead early would be good. Being able to control the clock, keeping their offense off the field by running the ball I think will be really important. I do think it hurt them Sunday not having Stevan Ridley in the game to run the football. Hopefully he’ll be back, I haven’t really heard an injury report on him. But if you can control the clock against a team like New Orleans, you’ve got a better chance to win and that should be something they’re stressing this week.
RRM: Steve two Sundays from now the Patriots Alumni will hold their annual “Game with the Greats” at Gillette Stadium. For those that are not familiar with it, it’s a chance to spend some time prior to the game that afternoon with many former Patriots players. Fans can meet and get autographs and talk with these former players. What’s been your experience with it, and how has the event grown over the years?
SG: This has been a big fundraiser for our Alumni group. We’ve done this for five years now and the money that we raise goes to promote youth football in New England. So it’s a great cause. Fans can come to the stadium club, there will be 25-30 former Patriot players. They can get pictures and autographs, and sit and watch the game on the big screen, or what I like to do, is they put the game on the big scoreboards outside and if it’s a nice afternoon, they can go sit in the club level seats and watch the game right there in the stadium. So they can go to PatriotsAlumni.com for more information. But it’s been a great time. We’ve had some really nice crowds and we’ve been able to help a lot of youth football programs around New England with the money we’ve raised. So I would encourage anybody that’s interested to go to the website and join us to watch the Jets game!
RRM: I know you go to a lot of the more formal things, speak at dinners and things like that. But this is kind of a more informal setting where you get to meet fans from your generation and the younger generation. It’s just a really great atmosphere to be in.
SG: It is. Everybody there is a football fan. Everybody’s pulling for the Patriots. It’s very casual, the former guys sit down at a table and if you want to sit down and watch the game with them, you just sit at the table and watch the game with them and get their perspective on what’s going on. I think everybody that’s ever been there has really enjoyed the experience.
RRM: So what are Grogan’s Grades for the 13-6 loss to the up and coming Cincinnati Bengals?
SG: This is a tough one to grade. I would say ‘D’ for the offense, and probably an ‘A-’ for the defense. Special teams was...actually the punter, Ryan Allen, did a good job Sunday of pinning Cincinnati back so I’d give them probably an ‘A’. So for an overall grade, maybe a C, C+. Offense keeps dragging the grade down and that’s totally different than in years past. It’s always seemed to be the defense that seemed to drag the whole grade down and this year it’s just the opposite, it’s the offense that’s struggling.
Grogan’s Grades for Week 5:
SPECIAL TEAMS: A