By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
February 08, 2005

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots captured their third championship in four years with a 24-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Were you a little concerned like I was when this game was tied entering the last quarter?

Steve Grogan: I don't think there was ever any doubt that they were the better team on the field. I kept waiting for them to open it up a little bit, but they weren't able to do that at the start you have to give Philadelphia a lot of credit for that. The Eagles hung in there and played a tough football game, but the Patriots were the team that forced the turnovers that eventually won the game and they are definitely deserving of being World Champions.

RRM: I was amazed at the rather subdued celebration that went on in the streets of Boston after the game. Has winning become so taken for granted around here that championships are no longer a big deal?

SG: Well, it's either that winning has become commonplace or the city of Boston and its security force scared the holy begeezus out of the fans and they weren't going out for anything [laughs]! The first championship is always more special and I noticed that even last year. After they beat Carolina last year there wasn't quite the same enthusiasm, and now it has kind of become old hat. The hard core fans are still thrilled to death and everyone is happy for them, but it's still not like the first time.

RRM: The game had kind of a funny start with Bill Belichick running to the wrong bench after the player introductions. I have to ask, did that ever happen to you?

SG: Only after I got knocked out a couple of times [laughs]! I've never seen a head coach go to the wrong bench at the start of a game. That had to be a little embarrassing for him, but he didn't let it faze him in the least.

RRM: The Patriots' offense got off to just an abysmal start in this game. Was it something the Eagles' defense was doing or were they just plain out of synch in that first quarter?

SG: The Patriots started this game very cautiously on offense, and since they didn't want to put their defense in a bind with a turnover they looked a little sluggish. You have to give Philly some credit because they have a good defense, and I think the Patriots had a plan to run the ball at the start of the game. They were running it outside and Philly's speed at linebacker kept cutting things off. They got to the inside running game a little more as the game wore on and they had some success with that. Then they started throwing some screen passes that were very successful in slowing down the Eagles' pass rush, and they made some big plays that way.

I think they made some good adjustments at halftime, but to be honest I thought the first half was a little sloppy on both sides of the ball. On offense the Patriots were not developing any kind of rhythm, and while they played pretty well defensively they had some penalties that really set them back. Charlie Weis said that because the Super Bowl halftime was 25 minutes long they had more time to talk to the players and evaluate what they wanted to do in the second half. As a result they came out and drove 69 yards for a touchdown at the start of the third quarter to really take control of the game, and they played much better the rest of the way.

RRM: Tom Brady posted some impressive numbers (23 of 33 for 236 yards and two touchdowns) but what really stood out to me was his skill at calling the blocking adjustments at the line of scrimmage. I don't think there was a single unblocked Eagle blitzer the entire game?

SG: Tom Brady had a nice game. He made a lot of quick decisions, and the Eagles only sacked him on one occasion. He looked comfortable with what he needed to do, and he didn't put his team in a bad situation by throwing an interception. He was his usually efficient self; he didn't force things. He made the decisions on the blitzes to get rid of the ball and deliver it to the right place most of the time. I thought Tom Brady played very well and once again did everything he needed to do to have his team win the game.

RRM: How do you think the imminent departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis affect Tom Brady going into this game?

SG: If you know someone of his stature is leaving you want to go out and play your best game for him because you want him to leave on a positive note and feel good about their whole experience. But at the same time you have some creeping doubts in the back of your mind about what the future is going to hold. Then you throw in the fact that Tom Brady's grandmother passed away and it's easy to see that he had a lot on his mind during the week. It looked to me like he was able to put all of that aside and go out and do what he needed to do. But it had to be tough for him, no doubt about it.

RRM: It seems the Patriots have an entire team of players that are capable of coming up big on any given week. Deion Branch earned MVP honors by tying a Super Bowl record with 11 catches for 133 yards, not too bad for someone who missed nearly half the season?

SG: Deion Branch certainly had a great game, and it's highly unusual for any Patriots' receiver to catch more than five or six balls because they spread it out so much. In this case they found something that was working and they got the ball to Branch 11 times, but he was driving me a little crazy at the end of his catches because he was trying to dance around too much. Maybe this was the game he needed for him to take that next step and become an All-Pro wide receiver. Time will tell, but the way this offense has been constituted the last few years there's no one guy that is going to catch that many balls in a game so who knows what will happen .

But somebody always steps up and makes big plays for this team and in this game it was Deion Branch. This team is just so calm under pressure. Tom Brady never gets rattled, Tedy Bruschi and the other linebackers are always making key plays, and Rodney Harrison is always making his presence felt. They all know when to come up with big plays, and they make them when they get the chance to make them and that's why they keep winning World Championships.

RRM: The only time I head Eagles' star defensive end Jevon Kearse's name mentioned in this game was when he was beaten by Mike Vrabel for the touchdown at the start of the second half. Didn't Matt Light do an excellent job of neutralizing him?

SG: Matt Light did an excellent job on Kearse, but the entire Patriots' offensive line looked a little shaky early in the game. I think they were so intimidated by the Eagles' outside pass rush they were a little over eager and that's why they committed those illegal motion penalties. They just didn't resemble the machine we are used to watching but they really settled in, and I thought Light and Brandon Gorin both did a nice job on the outside rushers as the game progressed.

RRM: Playing in his first Super Bowl Corey Dillon only touched the ball a total of 21 times. Did it surprise you that he wasn't utilized a little more?

SG: Maybe a little, but he did what he needed to do to help them win the game. He had a couple of big plays on screen passes, and he had that nice cutback run that got them near the goalline. I was pulling what little hair I have left out because they kept running outside and with the speed of the Eagles' defense there wasn't much there. They finally started running inside and got some decent yardage, but I thought it took a little too long for them to change things up. The Eagles like to blitz a lot but when you blitz up the middle if you happen to crease that blitz you can run for some big plays, and they didn't get around to that soon enough in my opinion.

RRM: As a former quarterback can you offer an explanation as to why the Eagles didn't go to the hurry up offense late in the game, not to mention Donovan McNabb just sitting on the bench with his head in his hands during the final two minutes when his team still had a chance to win?

SG: It's hard to explain why they didn't get into the hurry up offense down by 10 points that late in the game. There's just no explanation for that. When you're down by two scores with six or seven minutes to go in a game (not to mention a Super Bowl game) you have to show a sense of urgency which they never did. Donovan McNabb just looked like he was resigning himself to the fact that the game was over with and they weren't going to win. I found that really unusual. McNabb had played so well during the season and he hadn't thrown many interceptions (8), but he just looked totally confused against the Patriots.

RRM: All the experts predicted Terrell Owens wouldn't be a factor in this game and they were all proven wrong. He made nine catches for 122 yards, and all I can say is I hate to see what he would have done totally healthy?

SG: There's no doubt Terrell Owens has a loud mouth, but he's also a great football player and he really stepped it up on Sunday. I along with most people didn't think he'd be very effective trying to come back just six weeks after surgery, but he went out and played like nothing had ever happened. He really kept his team in the game, and if it hadn't have been for him the game wouldn't have been nearly as close.

RRM: We talked at the beginning of the year about how the Patriots like to use their starters on special teams and how that might come back to haunt them. It almost did when they lost starting safety Eugene Wilson to a broken arm and had to play Dexter Reid in his spot in the second half. Have you changed your opinion on that policy yet?

SG: You roll the dice, and they've been coming up winners in those situations for a long time. This one really could have come back to bite them, especially when Greg Lewis beat Reid for the score that got the Eagles back to within three points late in the game. But I don't think it's going to change their philosophy. I'm sure Dexter Reid had his heart in his throat when he had to play the rest of the game, but I'm sure that if they had a game next week he'd be ready to do whatever they needed him to do. That's just the way they get things done over there.

RRM: We you surprised the Patriots opted to use so much single man coverage on the Eagle receivers deep downfield? I don't know about you but they had me holding my breath on some of those long throws!

SG: It was a little out of character for them to try and play that single man coverage as much as they did. They must have seen something that led them to believe they could get away with it. The coaches may have been concerned about Brian Westbrook coming out of the backfield and were designing their defense that way, but without the wide angle shot I couldn't really tell. Whatever they used it wound up working for them, so I guess we can't criticize them too much.

RRM: The "D-word” has been slung around a lot after the Patriots third Super Bowl win in the last four years. Does the term dynasty finally apply to this team?

SG: I think so. With what they've accomplished in today's world of the NFL with free agency where players move around so much, to be able to do what they've done three of the last four years is unprecedented. No one can explain how they've done it, but they have a great leader at the top with Belichick and they have a lot of not great but really good players. It's going to be interesting to see whether they can hold it together and continue to keep themselves in the hunt every year.

RRM: For those critics that believe a victory in the Super Bowl by only three points wasn't impressive enough for this team to achieve dynasty status I humbly submit this. The Patriots' three postseason victories came at the expense of teams that had combined to win 41 games this season, and no team has ever had a tougher path to the championship. What do you think, case closed?

SG: That pretty much says it all. They didn't play any wildcard teams in the playoffs with an 8-8 record, and they certainly had their work cut out for them in the postseason. They won two of those games without Richard Seymour and all three without their starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole. It's hard to explain how they continually get it done, but they have big game players like Bruschi and Harrison that made the big plays in the playoffs.

RRM: Next year the Patriots will return basically the same team as they won't be losing anyone. Do you see this team going on forever?

SG: I think it will be interesting to see how they handle the loss of their two coordinators. Charlie Weis is going to Notre Dame and Romeo Crennel will be the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and that's going to be hard for the Patriots' to overcome especially early in the season. But this is a group of players that respects their head coach and does whatever he tells them to do. I really believe that this is a team that can be very successful for a long time to come.

RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the win over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXIX?

SG: Normally when you win a World Championship you have to get an A, but I didn't think they played their best football game against the Eagles. I thought they made a lot of mistakes, particularly with penalties. They looked so sluggish in the beginning of the game I just can't give them an A. It says a lot when you don't play your best game and still win a Super Bowl, and I think that really says a lot about these guys. They've been a pleasure to watch this season and it's been a lot of fun doing this column for all the fans on this site as well. We've been on a pretty good streak the last few years of getting to wrap things up on a pretty nice note; let's hope that continues.

Grogan's Grades for Super Bowl XXXIX

Offense: B+
Defense: B+
Overall: B+

Hey Pats Fans!! Both Steve and I would like to wish all of you congratulations on another great season. We'll expect to see all of you back here next fall when the Patriots begin their quest for a three-peat and title #4!!!

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]