By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
February 01, 2005

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, Patriots fans are going through withdrawal after having no game to watch this past Sunday. As a Super Bowl veteran and as a fan, do you prefer the extra week off after the conference championships or would you rather play the Super Bowl the very next week?

Steve Grogan: I think as a fan you'd rather get it over with and have the game the week after the conference championship games. I'm sure the members of the press and media would prefer only one week because they run out of things to write about and talk about, but as a player that extra week is very welcome. It gives you extra time to regroup and get your focus. You also have more time to get all the friends and family squared away as far as tickets, travel, and hotel accommodations are concerned.

RRM: That's something I don't think the average fan truly understands. The players have a lot of outside concerns regarding this game that most fans aren't even aware of?

SG: I don't think they really do understand. When you only have two days to do all that including travel when there is only one week between games it becomes a tremendous hassle. I remember when we went to the Super Bowl in 1986 most of the preparation, game planning, and practice was done by the time we got to the Super Bowl site. I'm sure the Patriots put their game plan in on Thursday and then practiced Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then when they get down there they'll just have to tweak some things and review a few things. There are so many distractions down there that if you only have a week in between games to try and address those distractions as well as prepare for the game it's extremely difficult.

RRM: What would the week before the game be without a few of those distractions? First on the list was Eagle wide receiver Freddie Mitchell calling out Patriots' safety Rodney Harrison on national TV. If I was going to call anyone on the Patriots out he definitely wouldn't have been my first choice! What was that all about?

SG: I think Freddie Mitchell kind of got caught up in the moment and started feeling a little self-important and called out Harrison. I don't think it's going to affect anybody on either team other than Harrison or Mitchell. I don't believe the rest of the Patriots are too worried about Freddie Mitchell calling out Rodney Harrison. But my advice to Mr. Mitchell would be to have his head on a swivel during the game because otherwise he's never going to know where Harrison's coming from, and believe me he will remember what Mitchell said last week.

RRM: The other big distraction is the status of Philadelphia's star wide receiver Terrell Owens for the game on Sunday. I guess we're going to hear will he or won't he (play) every day for the rest of the week?

SG: I heard someone say if this was Bill Belichick he would have just ruled him out for the game and be done with it, which is probably the case. I'm sure Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid figures he has a great player in Owens and he wants to give him every chance in the world to be part of something he's waited for a long time for. I really don't think Andy Reid will let this become as huge a distraction to his club's preparation as most people think it might become. It will give the press something else to talk about, and since the writers need to file their stories and the talk show hosts need a topic for their shows, why not give them something else to talk about?

The way I see it if Owens is well enough to suit up and contribute then I think you'll see him out there. If he's not I don't think they'll waste a roster spot for a player that can't get out on the field. Personally I think it's going to be very difficult for him to be a factor in this game even if he does practice a bit this week. Coming off his type of injury I just can't see him going at full speed and being anywhere close to his usual form.

RRM: For the second straight year the Patriots head into Super Sunday as the prohibitive favorite to win the game. After the struggle they had against Carolina last year, is that necessarily a good thing?

SG: I think Patriots' fans should have some concern. I don't see this game being a blowout by any stretch of the imagination. Last year the Patriots were a better football team than Carolina but some strange things happened late in the game and it ended up coming down to the wire. Heading into this game I believe the Patriots are a better football team than the Eagles, and if they don't beat themselves by turning the ball over or committing penalties they should win the game. But the Eagles have some weapons and they will score some points, so it will come down to the Patriots forcing them to make some mistakes.

RRM: Combined the two clubs have committed only one turnover between them in the postseason, so maybe we won't see many turnovers in this game?

SG: That's a really impressive statistic. I wouldn't expect to see a lot of turnovers, and the number of penalties called will be determined by the way the officiating crew calls the game. It should be a cleanly played game by two clubs that don't make a lot of mistakes. Whichever team takes advantage of the breaks they get should win, and I favor the Patriots in that scenario.

RRM: Matt Light said he really didn't feel that being in the Super Bowl just last year gives his team an advantage. Does having experience in this game really help?

SG: I think knowing what to expect is definitely an advantage for a team. Having been through it once myself, if somebody would have tried to explain to me what was going to take place once we hit New Orleans in '86 they wouldn't have been able to do it justice! It's a real circus with just so much going on, and everybody is tugging you in different directions. You have to sneak up the back elevator in the hotel to get to your room because the fans all want a piece of you. You can try to explain that to a player until you're blue in the face but until you actually go through it you really don't know what it's like, and that's why I think it gives the Patriots an advantage.

RRM: Everyone has a theory about this game but there seems to be two main schools of thought. The first one is the Patriots have already beaten a team with a better offense than Philadelphia in the Colts, and they've won against a team with a better defense than they have in the Steelers. That means an easy win against the Eagles, right?

SG: It's true, they've beaten a great offense and a great defense over consecutive weeks in the postseason, but Philadelphia is just not going to lie down and roll over for them. I think this will be an interesting football game. I don't think the Patriots are going to run away with this one because Philadelphia is a good football team. This should be a competitive game, but I feel the Patriots are definitely a better team than Philadelphia and I think that will prove to be the case on Sunday. The Patriots are at the top of their game right now, and I just don't see many ways, if any, that the Eagles can beat them.

RRM: The other theory goes that the Eagles' defense is very similar to that of the Miami Dolphins, a defense that gives the Patriots fits. The Miami defense is built around a strong defensive backfield and a front four that generates a strong pass rush, much like the Eagles, so is this the kind of defense that will give the Pats some trouble?

SG: If that is true then I think it's an advantage for the Patriots having been beaten by Miami because they'll know what they need to do to correct the situation. This is a very good but yet a very different kind of defense than the one the Patriots faced against the Steelers. Jim Johnson is a very good defensive coordinator for the Eagles, and the chess match that will go on between Charlie Weis and him will be fun to watch.

RRM: The Eagles' run defense was suspect until Jeremiah Trotter took over at middle linebacker at midseason. Since then they have more than held their own and had no problems shutting down the Falcons' vaunted running attack in the NFC Championship. Do the Patriots try to pound away at them with Corey Dillon, or do they open the game by throwing the football to try and loosen them up a bit?

SG: I think they have to go out and try to run the football against the Eagles. Their secondary is very good with three Pro Bowl players back there, and from what I understand their linebackers have really good speed. When you have players with speed like that you are always better off just running right at them and trying to be more physical than they are. I would expect that's what you are going to see with the Patriots' running attack in this game.

RRM: Philadelphia has two great pass rushers on the outside for the Patriots' offensive line to contend with. Are you expecting Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess to provide formidable challenges for Brandon Gorin and Matt Light, respectively?

SG: They will have their hands full against them, no question. That's why it's important to establish the run because it gets Tom Brady more time in the pocket. If you are going to throw the ball you have to make sure you're getting rid of the ball in a hurry. You don't want to give Jevon Kearse and his teammates too long to get back there and get to the quarterback. I expect them to run the ball and throw it short and take a chance down the field every once in awhile. Having a quarterback like Tom Brady that is undefeated in postseason play is a big plus for the Patriots in this game. The Eagles will present him with some problems but he won't get ruffled or try to take too much on himself. You can expect he will make another run at that Super Bowl MVP Award.

RRM: Many football experts have stated the key for the Patriots' defense is to shut down Philadelphia's all-purpose running back Brian Westbrook. Is that the way to go?

SG: Westbrook has been compared to Marshall Faulk, and he is a different kind of runner than what the Patriots have faced in their first two playoff games. If they can keep him from doing damage either running the ball or catching the ball out of the backfield, which he is very good at, then that takes away one of Donovan McNabb's major weapons and it will force him to win the game on his own. But in my opinion that's only half the issue. The Patriots have to keep McNabb in the pocket. They have to make him try to beat them with his arm and not with his legs, either running or making big plays out of the pocket. If they can do those two things they have a real chance of shutting down the Philadelphia offense cold.

RRM: Donovan McNabb posted some gaudy numbers at quarterback this season. He threw 31 touchdown passes versus only eight interceptions while completing well over 60% of his passes this season. Are those numbers a little deceiving given the fact that they came at the expense of many weak NFC opponents?

SG: They may be inflated a little bit, but no matter who you are playing against if you're throwing that many touchdowns and that few interceptions you're having a pretty darn good year. What I'm really interested to see from McNabb is how he handles himself in this game. He's a player that has gotten a lot of attention, and after waiting so long to finally get to this game it will be interesting to see if he feels like he needs to be the guy to make the plays to win the game. If he is trying to do too much that causes quarterbacks to make mistakes and throw interceptions, so it will be interesting to see how he handles his first trip to the Super Bowl.

RRM: Donovan McNabb has taken a lot of heat from the usually acerbic Philadelphia press over the years, but can anything prepare him for what awaits him in terms of media coverage as a Super Bowl quarterback?

SG: In a work, no! Having been there once myself there's no way you can even imagine what it's like for a quarterback during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Because Donovan McNabb is such a popular player and very good with the media he's just going to have people coming at him from all directions, and believe me that can be a distraction.

RRM: You can't help but wonder if the Eagles are just happy to have finally reached the Super Bowl after losing the NFC Championship Game three times in a row. How have you gauged their reactions so far?

SG: I think that could be the case with them. They've attained their goal of finally reaching the Super Bowl. On the other hand the Patriots' goal is always to win the Super Bowl. I think it's going to be really hard for them to beat the Patriots, I really do.

RRM: With the game to be played in Jacksonville this will be the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a few years. The way the weather pattern has gone this winter who knows what can happen, even in Florida?

SG: I'm actually glad that the game is back outside. It might be only 50 degrees but it certainly isn't going to be five outside down there! I think that's good for football to get the game back outside, and I know I'm going to enjoy watching the game in that kind of setting for a change.

RRM: If Richard Seymour either can not play or is limited to playing a few snaps on defense, how do you think his replacement at fullback in short yardage situations Russ Hochstein will do?

SG: He's got some work to do [laughs]. Let me put it this way, I don't think Seymour's part-time job as the blocking back in the offensive backfield is in any jeopardy. I'm hoping Seymour will be back and ready to play in the Super Bowl but I'm sure having him play on offense is the last thing on Bill Belichick's mind. When somebody is coming back from an injury like that you don't put them on the offense, you let them play their position.

RRM: Since we won't be doing a Grogan's Grade this week, how about a Grogan's Prediction for the final score of Super Bowl XXXIX?

SG: The Patriots will win, of course, and I'll say by a score of 30-24. I'd like to put out a disclaimer for all of the people betting their house on this game that I'm terrible at predicting scores [laughs]! To be honest I thought the Colts game would be a high-scoring affair and it was low scoring, and I thought the Pittsburgh game would be low-scoring and it ended up 41-27. I hope I'm right this time, because I really don't want us to be biting our nails down to final seconds like the last two Super Bowls the Patriots played in. Let's hope Adam Vinatieri will be resting on the sideline in the final seconds of this one!

Grogan's Prediction for Super Bowl XXXIX

Philadelphia - 24
New England - 30

A veteran writer on the Boston sports scene, R. R. Marshall has written features for both local and national sports publications for more than a decade. His popular Q & A columns on the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, and Boston College Eagles appear year round in magazines and on websites. He can be reached at [email protected]