R.R. Marshall: Steve, it was "no Gronk, no problem," on Sunday at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots had little trouble brushing aside the Bucs 23-3. Was this a case of practice makes perfect for the Patriots, who had an extra three days to prepare for Tampa Bay?
Steve Grogan: I think the extra days probably helped them kind of refresh their legs, get a few guys nicks healed up a little more but I think more than anything, the defense played a great football game and offensively they were a little more in sync than they have been the last couple weeks. So it was a nice win.
RRM: There were some anxious moments at the start as the Patriots posted three consecutive three and outs to start the game, but once they shrugged off that sluggish start, the offense roared to life and put 23 unanswered points on the board, both running and passing the ball equally effectively. Are these rookie wide receivers getting with the program finally?
SG: I think the rookie wide receivers are starting to figure it out a little better. I think up front they ran the ball a lot better, which takes some pressure off of the passing game and of course that eats up clock and keeps your defense off the field and keeps them fresh, so there's improvement from week-to-week and I think we're going to continue to see improvement and they're going to need it because starting this week the schedule gets a whole lot harder.
RRM: While, the young wide receivers showed improvement, the three headed backfield of Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, and Brandon Bolden dented a good Tampa Bay run defense for over 150 yards on the ground. Didn't you feel perhaps that this was one of the most important aspects to come out of this victory on Sunday?
SG: Oh, I think there's no doubt that the fact they were able to run the ball not with just one guy, but with three guys, that let's you know that your offensive line is doing a good job up front. They're blocking for whoever is carrying the ball so they're going to need to have that running game, this year in particular because the passing game is coming around but it's still not what Tom Brady would like to see it be. The more they can run it and take pressure off the passing game, it's just going to make it a whole lot easier.
RRM: This leads to an interesting philosophical question, do you want a multi-pronged approach in the backfield with different complimentary backs, the slasher, the group back, or do you want the star, like Adrian Peterson, that can bust it on any one play and gets all the headlines? It seems in the NFL nowadays, the answer seems to be more what the Patriots are doing instead of the one back star system?
SG: In my opinion I think it's much easier if you have the one back that can do everything, but there's nothing wrong with having three backs with each of them having their own particular focus of the game. We did that back in the mid 80's with Tony Collins, Craig James, and Mosi Tatupu and it worked for us, got us into a Super Bowl. So it doesn't really matter one way or the other. As long as your guys up front are blocking, anybody can carry the ball.
RRM: An old friend, the screen pass, found its way back into the Patriots arsenal as it sprung two big plays for the Patriots. Why do you think this play has been missing from Josh McDaniels' game plan and do you expect to see more of it going forward?
SG: I think that some coaches are comfortable calling the screen and others aren't, I don't think that's something McDaniels is apparently real comfortable with. But now that they've had success with it, I would expect to see more of it in the game plan, no question about that.
RRM: It wasn't talked about much, but surprisingly Bill Belichick passed on an easy field goal with a little over 2-minutes to play and given the NFL tie breaking procedures with total points, you have to wonder if the friendship with Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano was perhaps taken a little bit too far in this instance? What was your opinion on this?
SG: I think it had something to do with his friendship with Schiano, not kicking the field goal, but I think it's too early in the season to start worrying about tie breakers and the playoffs. You do what you feel is right in that situation this time of year, and as the year gets closer to the end and you see more and more about where the landscape is for playoffs, then maybe he would have gone ahead and kicked that. But right now I don't think there's any call for it.
RRM: Be honest, if that was Rex Ryan was on the sideline, you don't think Stephen Gostkowski would have been trotted out there?
SG: I think Rex Ryan, they're kicking it, no question (Laughs) but when your friend is over on the sidelines and you've got a good relationship with him, you don't rub it in on him.
RRM: Not talked about much going into this game was the fact that the Patriots would be without special teams player extraordinaire Matthew Slater, who should be out for at least four games, yet I thought this was the finest overall performance by the special teams, both returning kicks and covering kicks. Can we expect them to overcome this loss as seamlessly as they did this week?
SG: Slater's a great special teams player and he'll be hard to replace, but they've got guys that can pick up the slack and do the job almost as well as he can. I thought Gostkowksi looked real comfortable Sunday kicking the football. The two long ones, it's good to see. I think they're really solid in their special teams right now and that's going to be important.
RRM: This is the Patriots third straight superlative effort on defense and this one, I don't think, can be as discounted as the previous two wins because the Bucs had some really good weapons on offense in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin. Have you seen anything thus far to discount what the Patriots have done to their opponents on defense for these first three games?
SG: I see nothing to discount with what they've done. I think they've rounded into being a very good defensive football team. They're very confident, their secondary is playing well, they're getting pressure on the quarterback, they're pretty much doing a decent job stopping the running game. I think this is a defense that, like the offense, is improving every week and going to get better and better as the season goes on.
RRM: Well this Sunday, as you mentioned, the schedule gets a lot tougher as it's another primetime engagement for the Patriots as they head down to Atlanta to take a on a Falcons team that is struggling at 1-2 and facing some injuries of their own. But this time they face an elite quarterback in Matt Ryan, who has some good wideouts, so will this be the litmus test for this revamped Patriots defense that everyone's been waiting for?
SG: It think this will be a great test for the defense. Atlanta, as you mentioned, is struggling a little bit right now but they've got weapons on offense and I would expect them, playing at home, to have all those weapons ready to go. So the defense is going to have a real test and I think the offense is also going to have a test against an Atlanta team that always plays pretty good defensive football. This is a playoff caliber team, the Atlanta Falcons, and it's always good - at least early in the season around this time of year - to test your football team and see how you're stacked up compared to somebody else that's supposed to be in the same position you are.
RRM: All the rookie players on the Patriots will be exposed to a Sunday night atmosphere in an artificial indoor surface for the first time. The game speeds up a little bit for them and there's a little more pressure, do you expect that this could become a problem for these young players?
SG: It's a possibility that it becomes a problem, but I think so many college players nowadays have been in situations like this, big games on television, that it's not nearly what it was twenty years ago when there were only a couple games on every week in college. So there may be some pressure there, but I don't expect it to be a major factor.
RRM: Well after a couple of too close for comfort games, everyone expected this game with Tampa Bay to be close, yet it turned out to be a blowout. How do you see this next game with the Falcons unfolding?
SG: I think this is going to be another game, both teams score in the 20's, low 20's somewhere. It's all going to come down to turnovers, who can make the big play at the right time? But turnovers are going to be a key to this game next week I think.
RRM: It's hard to fathom what's going on across the league after three weeks. We have the Dolphins tied with the Patriots at 3-0 atop the AFC East Division. Then you have a team like the New York Giants that are 0-3 and I imagine despite his two Super Bowl victories, all the "Fire Tom Coughlin" talk will start up again. Given what Coughlin's gone through, do you believe this might be the ouster his detractors are looking for?
SG: I hope it's not. I think the man's done a great job down there taking them to two Super Bowls. I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt if he has one bad season. But I would expect them, with the talent they have on that team, to turn things back around and get themselves back in the hunt. They've just got too many good players down there not to be better than they are right now.
RRM: You played on a Patriots team that once started the year 0-4, and if the Giants lose this coming Sunday, that's where they'll be. You say all the right things to the press, but didn't you basically know the season was over at that point?
SG: I think after 0-4 you've got a pretty good idea that it's over, yeah. It's a long season and you always try to find the silver linings, but as a player, you figure you're 0-4, your chances of being in the playoffs are not very good. So you play for pride then.
RRM: We take great pride as New Englanders in having faith in Bill Belichick and the Patriots. But if they had started 0-2 this year, you just know there would have been a lot of talk this year, "is Bill past his prime?"
SG: Oh Sure, that's just human nature of football fans and football press. They're looking for all the negativities and that's natural. It's happened before, it's going to happen in the future. it's part of the game.
RRM: Well, let's cast aside the negatives, and look at the positives. What are Grogan's Grades for the bouncing of the beleaguered Bucs?
SG: I'm going to go with a B+. I think I'll give the defense an A, and the offense a B, and average it out to a B+. Don't want to give them too good a grade this early in the season against an opponent that didn't look like they had all their weapons ready to go, but it was a good performance.
Grogan's Grades For Week 3
Ron Marshall: Steve if not for a blown coverage by the Jets on Aaron Dobson, we might well be discussing the Patriots' first loss of the season. Instead last Thursday the Patriots escaped with a 13-10 decision in what has to be one of the ugliest wins of the Belichick era.
Steve Grogan: It was not a pretty win. The only consolation as everybody says is, 'a win is a win, doesn't matter how you do it'. But it certainly was one of the uglier Patriots' victories that I've recalled in the not too distant past.
RRM: The lack of offense by the Patriots in this game was simply staggering. They amassed only some 230 total yards, 9 first downs and 4 for 18 on third down conversions. How is this even possible with a Tom Brady lead offense?
SG: You look at what they did in Buffalo. Vereen and Amendola were two thirds of the offense, they were out for the game Thursday night. [Zach] Sudfeld didn't play, they wound up playing Nate Solder, he wound up playing tight end during the game. They're just so banged up on offense right now and playing with two young wide receivers that are still learning this offense. I mean, Tom Brady has been in the same offense for 13 years, he knows it like the back of his hand and he's playing with two receivers that have been in the offense for about six or eight weeks and are still learning and making a lot of adjustments, and I think that's how they wind up only scoring 13 points against the Jets.
RRM: Well "patience" is certainly the watch word for this young New England receiving core, but the number of drops in this game simply can't be excused. Are we talking a bad night that's somewhat weather related to explain this, or are some of the deficiencies in the talent of this receiving core starting to show already?
SG: I think some of the deficiencies are probably starting to show. I think these young guys are just thinking too much and not just letting their abilities take over. They're fighting the ball when it gets on them and that usually results in drops. I think they've got the ability to play at this level, I think they're going to be good wide receivers but they've got to become more mentally comfortable with the offense and just let their instincts take over while they're out there.
RRM: As bad as the Patriots were on Thursday, it's frightening to think about how they would have been without Julian Edelman's baker's dozen catches on Thursday night. With the news about Danny Amendola's injury now stretching to as many as six weeks, does Edelman now become the "go-to" guy in this Tom Brady offense?
SG: I think there's no doubt that Edelman has to become the guy Brady's going to be looking at. He showed that the other night with Vereen and Amendola out that he's the only one he really trusts, he's the only one he's been around for a while. So I would expect him to be looking in Edelman's direction quite often.
RRM: Is he up to that task?
SG: I think he is. I think he's been in the system, he knows what he's supposed to do. He's got some nice run after the catch ability because of returning the punts and things all these years. But other people are going to have to step up. I don't know who it's going to be coming out of the backfield in the passing game but they've got to find a back that can get in there on 3rd down and make some plays for them. And these wide receivers have to stop thinking and just do their job and catch the ball.
RRM: The fans and media are already referring to Amendola as the Jacoby Ellsbury of the Patriots. Do you feel that criticism directed at him for being injury prone is fair only one game in with the Pats?
SG: I don't think that's fair. I think anybody can pull a groin and he showed me a lot of courage by coming back in and playing in the second half of that Buffalo game after he'd already hurt himself in the first half and didn't look like he'd be coming back. It might have been a mistake for him to come back in the second half of the Buffalo game because he probably made it worse than it would have been if he'd have just sat out the rest of the game. I never, never fault a guy that will come back in a game and play hurt and help you win a game. You've got to win them one at a time, and that's what he did in Buffalo and it may cost him a few games here now.
"It's got to be really frustrating to him to be putting up the kind of numbers he put up the other night and having guys going to the wrong place, not seeing the same thing he's seeing." - Steve Grogan on Tom Brady
(USA TODAY Images)
RRM: Tom Brady was certainly as animated as we've ever seen him during a game on Thursday night. He apologized during his press conference and said he had to do a better job with keeping his emotions in check. As a former quarterback, just where is that red line with showing emotion on the football field?
SG: Well, for those people who can remember as far back as when I was playing, I wasn't real good about keeping my emotions in check either so I'm probably not one to speak to this [Laughs]. i know he's getting frustrated. Like I said earlier, he's been in the same system for so long, he knows it inside and out, upside and down, and it's got to be really frustrating to him to be putting up the kind of numbers he put up the other night and having guys going to the wrong place, not seeing the same thing he's seeing. And when you get frustrated like that in football, you lose your emotions occasionally. I'm not going to fault him for that. I think it's going to be a good sign for these other players around him that he still really cares a heck of a lot about what's going on out there and there's nothing wrong with that.
RRM: It sounds like you can empathise with what Brady is going through right now. If you were the veteran back up quarterback on this team what kind of advice and support would you give him right now?
SG: I think I'd tell him, "Patience is a virtue" [Laughs]. There were times in my career where I was playing with some young guys that didn't understand the whole deal right at the time, and you just have to be patient. Keep talking to them. Keep building up their confidence and letting them know that you think that they can catch the ball, and you think that they can play the game, and you think that they can make a difference and eventually, it hopefully sinks in.
RRM: Well lost amidst all of this offensive futility was the play of the New England defense, which has allowed only 24 points in two games thus far. Has this Patriots defense finally turned the corner into becoming a steadfast defense in the NFL?
SG: I think they're a good defense. I think they're better than they were last year. I'm not ready to say that they're one of the stalwarts in the AFC. They've played two rookie quarterbacks and two teams that weren't supposed to be very good, but they're doing what they're supposed to do against those teams. They're holding them down on points, they're playing good defense, not making a lot of mistakes and I think what I see on defense is encouraging.
RRM: What I've gotten out of the two games too Steve is we don't see the stupid penalties, the 40 yard pass interference penalties...
SG: Yes, makes a big difference when you don't have the penalties on defense.
RRM: Did you get a chance to check out defending Heisman trophy winner Johnny 'Football' Manziel against Alabama on Saturday and if so, will he become the next young hot quarterback to turn the league on its head? Or is he too small for the NFL as some of his critics have already pointed out?
SG: I did see some of the game, I didn't see the second half when he apparently lit it up late in the game. But the kid's got some ability. I think with more and more teams going to this spread offense, pistol offense, whatever they want to call it, and moving the quarterbacks around a little bit, I think size becomes less of a factor. The kid's got a great arm, can run the ball really well, I think he has a chance to play in this league. He's really accurate, I was impressed. That was really the first time I looked at him closely. He's got a chance if he can keep his head screwed on straight, that's his biggest problem right now.
RRM: Always a factor when you're 19 or 20 years old isn't it?
SG: Absolutely [Laughs].
RRM: I've heard this being said and I kind of agree with the comparison, but he kind of seems to be a slightly bigger and faster version of Doug Flutie?
SG: There are some similarities, there's no question about that.
RRM: Well, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town this week suffering from offensive woes themselves. Their quarterback Josh Freeman has already said he wants to be traded, and their only offense right now only appears to be their elusive running back Doug Martin who pounded the Saints for 144 yards. On the surface it doesn't appear that the scoreboard operator at Gillette Stadium will be that busy once again, but you know what they say, when you're expecting a game to go one way, sometimes it can go another?
SG: They've got a lot of issues down in Tampa right now and I don't know how that's going to affect them. When your quarterback's asking for a trade this early in the season that's not a good thing. Quarterback and the head coach apparently aren't getting along very well. Both teams are fairly familiar with each other from working with and playing a preseason game during training camp. But right now Tampa looks like they're on their heels a little bit, although the Patriots are on their heels offensively so it could be like how I described last week's game, like one of those old NFC Central games, 13-10, 10-7. Not a lot of offense, plenty of defense, and see who can win it at the end.
RRM: How big a factor is it that they met in the preseason and does it give a veteran team like the Patriots more of an advantage than it would Tampa Bay?
SG: I think it helps some. I mean, they're not going to run the same things exactly that they ran in preseason but the familiarity that you get from working against some of their guys, throwing balls against their corners, you kind of have a better idea of what their abilities are and that always helps some.
RRM: Well one man who will be on the field for Tampa Bay is cornerback Darrelle Revis, who I imagine will be poised to take Edelman away from this Patriots offense. Which, since we've already established him as the go to guy for Tom Brady, should leave for some interesting offensive strategy on Tom Brady's part I would think?
SG: I think it will. I think it's also going to be interesting to see if [Rob] Gronkowski, I don't think he'll play the whole game but they may want to get him a few snaps just to get him back into the rhythm of things, or maybe they're going to hold him out until the Atlanta game the following week. So I think that's a big question mark, whether he's going to play at all, or some, or not at all.
RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 13-10 over the Jets in Week 2?
SG: I would say offensively you'd have to give them a C-...
RRM: That was generous...
SG: It's generous, but they didn't have a lot of talent to work with this week. I think defensively they probably had an A game so whatever that brings the total to, B-. It's hard to grade on a whole when one part of your team is playing really well and the other part of your team is not playing so well.
Grogan's Grades For Week 2:
We're proud to welcome former New England Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan for the 2013 NFL 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 insight on the progress of the Patriots during the 2013 football season.
Ron Marshall: There are a lot of questions about this Patriots coming into this season and not many of them were answered in the season opening game at Buffalo. Should we come away happy over the fact they pulled out a 23-21 win on the road against a Divisional opponent? Or should we be concerned over all the egregious mistakes made by the Patrtios in this game?
Steve Grogan: I think you've got to be happ ythat they won the ball game because it certainly didn't look like they were going to for most of the second half. At the same time, I don't think it's time to jump ship and panic too much. There were things that happened Sunday that are unusual for a Bill Belichick coached team. Four turnovers by the offense, one resulting in a touchdown. That's not good, and Stevan Ridley found that out by standing on the sidelines for most of the game after the second fumble. I think the other thing we saw Sunday is that a lot of the pundits, including myself, watching the preseason thought that these young wide receivers and the young tight end [Zach] Sudfeld, had really connected with Tom Brady during the preseason. But after watching them Sunday it became obvious that the regular season is at a much different pace than a preseason game, or even training camp practices. They were having a hard time, and Brady knew that, and that's why three veteran guys were basically all he was looking to get the ball to all day.
RRM: It's funny because for the first 16 minutes or so, the Patriots seemed firmly in control of this game up 10-0 and it looked like they were on their way to another score. But when as you mentioned Ridley fumbled, and Da'Norris Searcy ran the ball back 74 yards for the touchdown, it was a 180-degree momentum shift after that.
SG: You give a team like Buffalo that's young and supposed to be not very good, you give them a big play like that in a game and it just boosts their confidence to where they think, 'Hey, we can play with these guys,' and that's what I thought I saw out of Buffalo Sunday. They got that return and it was all of a sudden, 'Hey, we're in this game and these guys aren't really all that much better than us," and they almost stole the thing.
RRM: Ridley's been plagued by fumble-itis in his brief time in New England, and that one had to be his worst ever, he wasn't even touched, he just fell on his own. But do you think Belichick was correct to put him on the bench for the rest of the game?
SG: That's the way Bill does things and fortunately Shane Vereen could come off the bench and give you just about what Ridley was giving you. Ridley had some nice runs before he got sent to the bench, but you just can't put the ball on the ground like that and he's got to stay more focused on hanging on to it. I thought Vereen came off the bench and we expected him to be a big part of the pass game, but he had some really nice runs too, I think he ran for over a hundred yards. So that shows you that the offensive line is doing a nice job and that Vereen can do both. He can't just catch the ball, he can run it too and Ridley's going to have to earn his job back, it looks like.
RRM: I don't know if you noticed or not but the way Ridley fell, I thought maybe he thought that he had hurt his knee and he was kind of like, in shock, and that's why he didn't go after the ball?
SG: That's possible, I didn't notice that. But I think he went down on his own accord and then just kind of left the ball laying on the ground, and you can't do that. That's a rookie mistake, not a guy that's been in the league for a several years.
RRM: You mentioned Vereen and you're right, he rushed for 101 yards on only 14 carries. Is it time to start thinking of him as a 'change-up' back and maybe get him into a starting role here?
SG: If you're not comfortable with Ridley I think it probably is. At the same time you don't want wear him out to the point where he can't be as effective as your guy out of the backfield catching the ball. I'd like to see the platoon thing continue to work, but if Ridley's going to put it on the ground, it may be time to let Vereen go the whole game and see what happens.
RRM: Danny Amendola did his best Wes Welker impersonation, grabbing 10 balls including 7 on third down that moved the chains for New England. Do you think he'll make the fans end up forgetting about Wes Welker?
"If he couldn't have played the second half, I don't think the outcome would have been the same" - Steve Grogan on the play of amendola Sunday.
(USA TODAY Images)
SG: I think he's already on his way to doing that. It's amazing how much those two guys look alike, the way they play the game, and they would have been in serious trouble if he hadn't come out in the second half after tweaking his groin. If he couldn't have played the second half, I don't think the outcome would have been the same and I'm not sure how he got it stretched out, or whether maybe they gave him a little shot of novacaine or something in there in the locker room at halftime but he was a major factor in the second half, and a major factor in them winning the game.
RRM: Well the early reviews on the rest of the Patriots receiving core were not good. Didn't you feel that they looked totally overmatched by the physical play of the Bills defensive backs?
SG: I don't know if they were overmatched as much as I don't think they were really sure what Brady wanted them to do. I noticed Thompkins, several times, the ball was thrown at him and it was put in a place that you could tell, Thompkins didn't expect it to be there. He got up and kind of put his hands out like, 'What am I supposed to do here?' I guess that will be part of the learning experience and they'll go look at the film and Brady will tell him what he should have done and hopefully he'll do it next time. But Sunday they certainly were overmatched and not a factor in the game. The tight end position was a non-factor whatsoever. I think they might have had one catch by a tight end, maybe two. But they've got to get those tight ends a little more involved. You can't rely on three players to make all your plays in a game.
RRM: You've had first hand experience of breaking in an entirely new wide receiver core. I believe there was one year where Harold Jackson retired and Russ Francis had moved on and Stanley Morgan was hurt, and you basically had to work with an entirely new cast of youngsters. How difficult was that for you, and exactly how does a quarterback go about doing something like that?
SG: Well it's somewhat difficult. Everybody runs a route differently and you have to kind of get used to what they're doing. Back when I was playing, you called a route and for the most part, that's what the receiver ran. I think in the Patriots offense now, the receivers, from what I've been told anyway, receivers have to see the coverage and they adjust their route. The may have an in route called, and if they see a coverage they might run a hook or if they're running a fade pattern down the sideline and the defensive back is out in front, they'll look for the back-shoulder throw. You just can't get on the same page with that until you've spent a lot of time together. The more games these young guys play, the better they'll get at it. But Sunday they weren't on the same page, that's for sure.
RRM: It's just seems ironic that everybody's looking to Brady for leadership but it must be tough to do so when you fumble near the goal line to blow a scoring opportunity and at that time it looked like that gaffe might cost them the game.
SG: Yeah, it looked like Tom was trying to go on a quick count, and he was a little quicker than the center. I don't think that the snap was bad, I think he was kind of leaning back trying to get the play off in a hurry and surprise the defense and sometimes when things aren't always going your way you do crazy things that you know you shouldn't, and that was one of them that he did. He needed to stay under the center and get that snap and then see what happens.
RRM: Unlike past years where we kind of had to have the offense kind of make up for the deficiencies in the defense, conventional logic is the Patriots defense will have to kind of pick up the slack as the offense gets up to gear this season. On Sunday the Patriots defense gave up a couple of scores with blown coverages to the rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, but overall came up with stops when they needed them. How did you think they performed in the season opener?
SG: I thought the defense played pretty well. They gave two touchdowns, one major one on a blown coverage there on Aqib Talib...not sure what he was doing there, but that was too easy. But for the most part I thought they played well defensively. The only criticism I might have is that they're still not getting any pass rush and I think that's what we heard during the preseason and coming out of preseason that they thought they'd have a better pass rush this year. I don't think they pressured the young quarterback enough, he was able to sit in the pocket and feel pretty comfortable. It doesn't matter who you are if you're playing in the NFL you can throw the ball when you have time, so they'[re going to have to work on the pass rush still.
RRM: Didn't get a chance to talk to you in the preseason so I'll have to ask you to give your overall impression of the Tim Tebow experiment and what that was all about in your mind?
SG: I think Josh McDaniels is the guy that drafted Tebow in Denver and likes him a lot and I think he probably talked Bill into taking a look at him. They gave him some chances... I like Tim Tebow. I like the way he plays the game. In my opinion, I think he's trying too hard to become a pocket passer, which is not his game at this point in life. He needs to run around and use his running ability more than he is. I also think he's probably, over the past three or four years, had so many different coaches trying to change his throwing motion that he's thinking too much when he throws the ball and that's why he's so inaccurate. He wasn't that inaccurate in college, but he had a throwing motion that people said wouldn't work in the NFL so he's been trying to change it and when you start thinking about how you're throwing the ball, then you don't just let it go and that's what I'm seeing from him.
RRM: If right this morning TIm Tebow walked into your shop at Grogan & Marciano Sporting Goods (Steve's store) in downtown Mansfield and said, "Mr. Grogan, what do I have to do to succeed as a professional quarterback?" What advice would you offer him?
SG: Well, I've read that he has still this dream of being an NFL quarterback. But I really think it would do him some good if he maybe went to Canada and played a year or two, even Arena Football where you have to throw the ball 60-70 times in a game and be extremely accurate. I think he'd be better off doing that for a couple years and then trying to get back into the NFL once he's got everything figured out and has got his throwing motion where it needs to be and maybe figures out what it's like to play quarterback at the professional level and be the starter for a couple of full seasons. I don't think he's going to do that from what I've read, but that would be my advice.
RRM: It's a very short week to prepare for the rival Jets on Thursday night. Does the short preparation time give either team an advantage going into this game?
SG: I'm not sure it's an advantage. Both teams have the short week. You're looking at another football team that shouldn't be as good as the Patriots, another young quarterback that has some mobility and played a decent game on Sunday and won the game for his team. With Rex Ryan as their coach they're going to be good defensively, but they're not as talented as the Patriots - but - the Patriots have to play a much better football game than they did this past Sunday or we'll be in another nailbiter.
RRM: Well for the first time in 2013 we ask for Grogan's Grades for the 23-21 squeaker over the Bills in week 1?
SG: THis is a tough one to grade. I would give the defense maybe a B+ and the offense maybe a C or a C-, so that would put you somewhere in the C+ area. I think it was just an average, a little bit above average performance for the overall team.
RRM: We'd be remiss without mentioning Julian Edelman who grabbed 7 balls for 79 yards and two touchdowns. This from the guy who had one foot out the door and nobody thought he was coming back and if not for him, we're probably talking about a loss in opening week. How about a game ball for him?
SG: A game ball for him, and I think Stephen Gostkowksi, it wasn't a long field goal at the end of the game but there's always pressure and he had the 48 yarder earlier in the game, so it's nice to have to kicker that's as consistent as he is. Vereen's got to get a game ball too, he did a lot more than anyone expected him to do.
Grogan's Grades Week 1:
Just when you thought they were a perfect match, it appears that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins still have some work to do.
The two players struggled mightily to get on the same page on Sunday, and didn't look anywhere near as in sync as they did during the exhibition season. During the preseason Thompkins and Brady were the two players that seemed to have the best chemistry, with Brady missing just twice after connecting with the rookie on 10-of-12 passes for 116 yards.
On Sunday it was a completely different story, and it wasn't for lack of trying. Brady went his way 14 times, but connected just four times for 42 yards on the afternoon. There were moments where you could tell Brady was expecting an adjustment that didn't come, and it appears the two are still a work in progress.
"Yeah, this is our first opportunity so things are a lot different on the game field," said Brady after the game. "Things are very unpredictable on the game field. There's nothing you can talk about, you're just trying to react. So you've got to build confidence in each other and then go out there and make the plays if you can."
With Aaron Dobson not active for the game the only other rookie receiver who saw action was Josh Boyce, who was targeted just twice and didn't see any where near the amount of playing time that Thompkins did.
Their inability to connect ended up contributing to the offense ending up in long-yardage situations. Brady went to Thompkins eight times on first down, connecting just twice and was also just 2-of-4 on 2nd down. Their issues throwing the ball lead to 12 of their 20 third downs being from 3rd-and-7 or longer, and they converted 11 in total on the afternoon - none of which were completed to Thompkins. On third down Brady looked his way just twice, one of which he caught but failed to make sure his second foot stayed in bounds on a sideline route,
Obviously it's early and we've seen these two players be better that what fans saw Sunday. They've got a short turnaround now to try and work out the kinks with the New York Jets coming to Foxboro on Thursday night, and hopefully this learning experience helps to get them moving more in the right direction.
"It was a good experience, a good learning experience," said Brady. "All these games are going to be tough. This was as tough as you're going to make down to the last play."
"I'm glad we started with a win, I mean winning feels a hell of a lot better than losing. I don't think our execution was flawless by any stretch. We had a lot of mistakes, and we've got to get a lot better."
If there was any doubt about how big of an impact player Danny Amendola could be in this offense or questioned his toughness, whatever critics he may have had should be a little quieter after seeing his performance during New England's 23-21 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Amendola, who had been limited in practice for much of the week with a groin injury, made his Patriots debut against the Bills on Sunday and hauled in 10 passes for 104 yards. His injury hampered him in the first half and forced him to leave toward the end of the 2nd quarter, but he received treatment at half time and fortunately came out and was a huge contributing factor in New England's victory over the Bills.
In the final two quarters, Amendola caught 7 passes, five of which came in the final quarter of play and four of them were during New England's game winning drive as Amendola twice converted a 3rd down and kept the chains moving. His second third down grab was huge, as the Patriots were facing a 3rd-and-8 from the Bills 39 yard line and were in dire need of trying to get into field goal range to give Stephen Gostkowski a shot at winning the game.
On that play Amendola made a terrific catch, taking a tough shot from Bills safety Aaron Williams and somehow managed to hold onto the football. That reception extended the drive and gave Shane Vereen the opportunity for his ensuing 15-yard run that helped set up Gostkowski's field goal.
He made some critical catches throughout the game. Of his 10 receptions, seven of them came on 3rd down - all conversions. Two more also went for first downs. After the game he credited Tom Brady's pinpoint accuracy and the play from the other guys in the offense for the reason he was able to have a big day.
"It's a testament to Tom [Brady] putting the ball on the money and the O-line and the guys around in the huddle," Amendola told WBZ after the game. "So it was a big win for us."
Overall the Patriots converted eleven 3rd downs on Sunday, which means Amendola was responsible for 64% of them. He's quickly carving out a nice role for himself in this offense, although it would be hard to imagine him keeping this pace all season. It's a long year and it's obviously going to be a little more critical some of the rookies to become more involved in the offense. Veteran Julian Edelman joined Amendola as the other bright spot on Sunday, finishing with seven receptions on nine targets for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
Unfortunately none of the rookies fared well, as Kenbrell Thompkins struggled in his NFL debut, and Josh Boyce had his number called twice but didn't have a reception. Rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld was completely shut down and the one pass that did go his way went off his hands and into the arms of a Bills defender and set up the touchdown that got the Bills back in the game.
For now Amendola is off to a good start, and the way he toughed out Sunday's win seems to have garnered Brady's respect. Now he'll have to spend this short week trying to get healthy so he can hopefully go out and have another big game Thursday night when the Jets come to Foxboro.
"He really toughed it out, which was pretty impressive," said Brady of Amendola. "He fought all day. We've got a whole team full of fighters. I think there's going to be some ugly wins, but we're always going to fight and we're just going to fight today and it's not an easy place to play. We've always had tough games up here."
"I mean he played...gave everything he got, so that's all you can ask. Who knew what to expect when he came out there in the second half? I thought he was going to be out for the rest of the game. He showed a lot of toughness, mental and physical, and made really the plays of the game for us along with Julian [Edelman], Shane [Vereen], offensive line played great, ran a bunch of plays on opening day. So it's a short turnaround, hopefully we can get some good night rest and start getting ready for the Jets tomorrow."
The last time we saw the Patriots play a meaningful game, we saw them walk away on the wrong side of a 28-13 AFC Championship home loss at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.
Heading into the offseason there were plenty of questions about what would happen with wide receiver Wes Welker, how well Rob Gronkowski would recover from his fractured forearm, and what the Patriots would do to put a stronger defensive group on the field for the upcoming season.
In the middle of all that came the Aaron Hernandez fiasco, which despite the Rolling Stone article last week Bill Belichick has done a terrific job burying that story and keeping it from becoming a distraction and has his team playing some good football. Now his players are preparing to go out and hopefully put together yet another championship run, and there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about just how far they can go this season.
Here’s a look at some of the things to watch heading into the 2013 NFL Season:
1) Which rookie receiver breaks through first? – The Patriots drafted rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, and also added undrafted free agent Kenbrell Thompkins over this offseason. Dobson was spotty during the preseason while Thompkins was the one who shined, but both showed plenty of promise during the Patriots four exhibition games. Granted this team has veteran newcomer Danny Amendola and incumbent Julian Edelman, but for this group to be successful they’re going to need consistent play from at least one of their rookies. Hopefully the adjustment to the NFL goes smoothly for them as quarterback Tom Brady tries to break them into the offense.
Will Zach Sudfield emerge as a big play threat at tight end this season?
(USA TODAY Images)
2) Who emerges opposite Rob Gronkowski at tight end? – This preseason it was rookie free agent Zach Sudfeld who made a big splash and ended up being a pleasant surprise as fans watched him earn his way onto the roster. Sudfeld was one of their more consistent performers in each exhibition game, making catches that were similar to what we saw from Gronk during his rookie season. In the NFL teams rely on consistency and losing Hernandez leaves them with a void in what had previously been one of the most dangerous tight end tandems in the league. Sudfeld has shown he has the potential to contribute to this offense, and also back with the team is Michael Hoomanawanui, who already has a year of experience in this system. Hoomanawanui was a solid addition last year and has had his moments, and it will be interesting to see how both contribute this year.
3) Will the secondary be better than it was last year? – It’s been a long time since the Patriots defense was considered to be one of the more formidable ones in the league, but it appears they’re finally making progress. Devin McCourty has become one of the league’s best cover safeties, and the team was able to re-sign cornerback Aqib Talib, who was arguably their best outside defender last season. Kyle Arrington is another year older and more experienced, and as long as Alfonzo Dennard avoids prison time and rookie Logan Ryan continues to progress, it’s tough not to like this group. One thing to remember, they may struggle early on, but as last season taught us it’s not how they start, but how they finish. So it will definitely be an interesting area to watch this year.
4) Will the pass rush take the next step? – Last season Chandler Jones looked strong early on before injuries hampered his development, but he’s looked terrific so far this preseason as he heads into his sophomore season. Rob Ninkovich had a strong training camp and looks like he’ll pick up where he left off last year. Both players will likely be the ones who get the most opportunities to go after opposing quarterbacks, but fans can also expect Tommy Kelly to also provide them with an additional threat. Another player to watch is rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, who also showed some ability against the Lions two weeks ago. The more pressure they’re able to bring the easier that will be on their secondary, so it will be interesting to see how effective they’ll be this season getting after the quarterback.
5) Will Stevan Ridley be able to repeat his 2012 performance? – Last season saw Ridley rush for over 1200 yards, which is the type of performance we haven’t seen since the days of when Corey Dillon was carrying the football. Over the offseason Ridley appeared to spend a lot of time getting stronger, and during the exhibition season he kicked things off in impressive fashion by breaking off a run of 62 yards which helped set up a 1 yard touchdown run in their opening game against the Eagles. If he can put together a similar performance to last year it makes it difficult for teams to handle an already tough passing game if they have the same balance they had last season. Had the Ravens Bernard Pollard not knocked him unconscious in the AFC Championship game it's tough not to wonder how that game could have potentially turned out. But Ridley's back with a vengeance and he looks to be much improved, so he should be fun to watch in the coming weeks.
6) In the end, it all comes down to Brady – Save for the rough night they had in Detroit, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was razor sharp this preseason and looks to be in top form heading into this season. One interesting thing worth noting was the difference between how well the rookie receivers looked with the veteran throwing passes to them compared to when Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow were on the field. Brady clearly elevated their game and brought out their best, which is something he’s always been good at. That’s one asset that has always been one of the reasons why this team hasn’t had a losing season since he’s been here, and likely one that will hopefully put them in position for another championship run by the time January gets here.
After a long offseason, it all begins Sunday when they battle the Bills in Buffalo at 1:00pm.
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