R.R. Marshall Steve after another inconsistent performance from Tom Brady, he seemed to turn back into his former Hall of Fame self and led the Patriots to a heart-stopping last second touchdown drive to pull out a pulsating 30-27 victory over the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints. Even Bill Belichick said that this game took five years off of his life. How about you?
Steve Grogan: It didnâ€™t take any years off my life, but it sure was exciting to watch. Just when you think youâ€™ve seen Tom Brady do everything, he just does something, pulls a rabbit out of his hat. I think this has to be one of the most satisfying come-from behind victories in his career having done it with the guys he has to throw the ball to right now. Heâ€™s got to be feeling real good about what happened Sunday.
RRM: Well, the Patriots certainly did a lot of things right in this game but it appeared, as is the case with many teams with a lot of young players, they just wouldnâ€™t be able to close it out. Does a win like this bring the team up another notch on the maturity level?
SG: I think it absolutely gives them a level of confidence that hasnâ€™t been there. To go out and make plays like that at the end of the game to help win it, that boosts everybodyâ€™s confidence. Offense, defense, special teams, itâ€™s good for everybody and this is going to make this team better.
RRM: As exciting as this game was, can you tell me in the space of just three minutes how the Saints receiver Stills got open in the end zone on a 3rd-and-20 situation, and then Kenbrell Thompkins gets one-on-coverage on the last play of the game. Didnâ€™t it look like Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was going to just break down and cry at the end?
SG: Yeah, Ryan wasnâ€™t too happy, which makes a lot of Patriots fans happy, thatâ€™s for sure. Footballâ€™s a funny game, the one that the Saints got there toward the end, double coverage, [Alfonzo] Dennard was inches from breaking that pass up, [Steve] Gregory got there right at the last second and the kid held onto the ball to go ahead and take the lead in the game. It was good coverage, just a better throw and catch. And then the same thing at the other end with the Patriots. You leave one-on-one coverage, Iâ€™m sure the Saints probably felt like they were going to go to [Julian] Edelman, thatâ€™s kind of been who he was targeting the whole drive, Edelman or [Austin] Collie, who came off the bench and made a couple big catches. They figured the rookie receivers on the outside would be the last guys Brady would be thinking about throwing the ball to and he surprised everybody, and it worked.
RRM: Well, anyone who says the running game has no place in modern Pro Football canâ€™t use this game as their argument. The Patriots seemingly ran the ball at will with Stevan Ridley in the first half and ended up controlling the game, and then things switched 180-degrees in the second half when the Saints grounded it out against the Patriots and got back into the game. Did you see that as a really big factor in this game?
SG: I think it was a big factor. It was good to see Ridley back and running the ball well and when youâ€™re running it well, I think the protection was better for Brady in the first half, the second half when they werenâ€™t running it that well, the protection wasnâ€™t that great. And then the Saints on the other side of the ball, they kind of got the control of the game back with their running game and gave [Drew] Brees an opportunity to hit some plays down the field in the passing game. So thereâ€™s no question the running game is important in every football game.
RRM: Going into the game it was a given that the Patriots had to account for who just might be the best tight end in football in Jimmy Graham, but to hold him to zero catchesâ€¦?
SG: Great effort by Aqib Talib. Great coaching decision by Belichick and his staff to do that with Talib who was all over Graham all day. And the when Talib left the game, you figured that was going to be a major setback and they had a couple of other guys that came in and shut Graham down. I thought it was a great defensive scheme that Belichick and his staff came up with to stop Graham.
RRM: Taking Graham out of the game seem to just muzzle Drew Brees, who just didnâ€™t play anywhere near the level he had been through his teamâ€™s first five games. Were you suprised he wasnâ€™t able to adjust better to what Bill Belichick and the Patriots were doing?
SG: A little bit surprised, yes. Heâ€™s got some other weapons...Marques Colston, they actually took him out of the game too, I think he only had one catch. So the secondary was really playing well Sunday and Brees didnâ€™t make the adjustments that he needed to make and it wound up costing them.
RRM: Of course the trade off in the big win were injuries to Jerod Mayo, Aqib Talib, and Danny Amendola who all left before the end of the game and I guess Mayo was spotted with his arm in a sling after the game. You just have to wonder how many more hits this team can take and continue to be able to overcome?
SG: That is a big question mark. Theyâ€™re losing players fairly regularly on a weekly basis, and that puts a lot of pressure on everybody. I guess time will tell how itâ€™s going to affect them, but you canâ€™t lose too many of your big name guys and continue to play at the level theyâ€™ve been playing at. Itâ€™s going to be tough for the next few weeks until they can maybe start getting some of these guys back.
RRM: Well, the Rob Gronkowski saga continues. Several sources report that the Patriots players are tired of watching Gronk go all out in practice during the week and then not showing up on Sunday. No matter how you spell it out, this is not a good situation and very â€œun-Patriot-Likeâ€. Where do you see this all heading?
SG: I think the reports that the players are upset are probably exaggerated. Most players understand that guys that are on the team want to play and they want to be a part of things. If Gronkowskiâ€™s not out there, it means he doesnâ€™t feel like heâ€™s ready to go. There may be some squabbling between Gronkowskiâ€™s people and the Patriotsâ€™ front office. Thatâ€™s happened in the past where players get opinions from their doctor and it doesnâ€™t agree with what the Patriotsâ€™ doctors are saying. But I think we all know that Rob Gronkowski enjoys playing football. Heâ€™s a great football player and if he could be out there, I think heâ€™d be out there. So I think weâ€™re going to just have to hold tight to his schedule and when he feels like it and gets back out there, thatâ€™s when it will be.
RRM: Did you ever run across this type of situation when you were a player and if so, as a team leader, how would you have handled it?
SG: Actually back in our day, they didnâ€™t allow you to see other doctors so it was pretty much what the team doctor told you to do. When he told you you could get back out there, you went back out and played. It would have been nice maybe sometimes to have that second opinion, but we didnâ€™t. I think as a team leader, you just have to realize as I said earlier, Gronkowski wants to play football. Thatâ€™s what heâ€™s there to do, and heâ€™ll get back out there when he feels like heâ€™s best suited to get back out there.
RRM: Well, Peyton Manning took it easy on the Jacksonville Jaguars this weekend, only putting up 35 points against them. Can I please send a personal message to everyone out there who took Denver and the points and say, â€œHA, HA, HA!â€
SG: [Laughs] I donâ€™t pay a whole lot of attention to what point spreads are. Thatâ€™s not part of what I think footballâ€™s about. But I did hear about that this week and nobody wins by those kinds of scores in the NFL, particularly when everybody thinks youâ€™re going to win by that kind of score. Iâ€™m glad Jacksonville hung in there with them.
RRM: Next up is a trip to scenic New Jersey for the rematch with Rex Ryanâ€™s Jets, who got beaten up by the previously unbeaten Steelers on Sunday. After a game that took a toll on the Patriots both physically and emotionally, Iâ€™m thinking maybe this isnâ€™t the best opponent for them to face the week after a game like this?
SG: Actually, itâ€™s probably good that theyâ€™re playing somebody theyâ€™ve already played this year. Theyâ€™ve got an idea what the personnel are like and the kind of things that they like to do on offense and defense as opposed to a team you only see every couple of years. So itâ€™s always tough to go to New York and win. Itâ€™s always tough to play the Jets, itâ€™s a great rivalry. I think this will be a good football game assuming not too many guys are out for the game. I think itâ€™s going to be a good one.
RRM: The Jets defense gave the Patriots fits the first time around. Do you expect more of the same, or do you think things might be a little crisper on offense this time around?
SG: I think things might be a little crisper on offense but the Jets defense always comes up with a new wrinkle every time they play the Patriots. So itâ€™s not going to be a cake walk. Theyâ€™re going to have to stay ready, be ready to adjust during the game, and if they do that theyâ€™re still a better team than the Jets.
RRM: And before we get to the grades, just a reminder the Patriots Alumniâ€™s â€œGame With The Greats on Sunday,â€ check it out at PatriotsAlumni.com. A great time will be had by all and I know itâ€™s one of your favorite events of the year?
SG: Itâ€™s a great event and we talked about it last week. They can go to PatriotsAlumni.com and get all the information, come to the stadium, watch the game with 25 or 30 former Patriots, get autographs, take pictures, and then watch the game on big screen televisions or out in the stadium on big screens. Itâ€™s a great take.
RRM: And whatâ€™s even better is people who read this column can come up to you and say, â€œI disagree with your grades going back to week twoâ€.
SG: [Laughs] Thatâ€™s why I try to find a corner so nobody can do that to me.
RRM: What are Groganâ€™s Grades for the scintillating 30-27 over the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints.
SG: Boy, this was a tough one to grade. I thought both offense and defense played really well at times and they played really poorly at times. The offensive line did a great job for a while, but Brady got sacked five times. The defense was shutting down the Saints and then they gave up some easy scores. So itâ€™s a really tough one to grade but I think those things happen when two good teams play so Iâ€™m going to give an A- all the way around Sunday. I thought it was a great effort. Nobody gave up, youâ€™re playing a very, very good football team, to come out with a victory that deserves an A, A-.
RRM: I know you donâ€™t like to do this but considering he had his career long and his three field goals ended up being the difference, the game ball to Stephen Gostkowski?
SG: Absolutely. That was a big kick in the game. I thought special teams was a big factor Sunday all the way around. They had great coverage on kickoffs and punts. They just played really well on special teams Sunday.
Groganâ€™s Grades: Week 6:
Special Teams A