By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
December 28, 2005

No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski not at the start of the team's OTA's today
NFL notes: Don't be surprised if Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers rise up for Patriots
New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates

R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots helped close out the 36-year run of ABC's Monday Night Football by stomping the Jets 31-21 in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. What was you take on the game?

Steve Grogan: The Patriots simply dominated this game from start to (almost) finish. It might well have been the most one-sided game for three quarters that I've seen for quite awhile in the NFL. The Patriots held the ball for over 43 minutes, and it's been a long time since I can recall a game where one team was that dominant with time of possession. It's pretty obvious the Jets have a lot of problems and a lot of holes to fill, and I don't envy the task awaiting Herm Edwards.

RRM: The Patriots' defense kept the Jets from getting a first down in the entire first half. When is the last time you can recall that happening?

SG: I don't think I've played in a game where a team didn't register a single first down in the first half. The Jets didn't get their initial first down until midway through the third quarter, and that came on a penalty. I think in some respects it shows you how impressive it is that the Patriots have been able to not miss a beat despite all their injuries, whereas the Jets have also had a lot of injuries and they are just horrible. I think it not only reflects a lack of depth on the Jets' part, but a lack of players that know their roles and can step in and fill a role. You have to acknowledge that losing your top two quarterbacks like the Jets have is a major problem, and I suppose if the Patriots had lost Tom Brady they would be in a different boat right now as well. But the difference is the Patriots have set their team up well to handle those kinds of situations, and other teams haven't.

RRM: Bill Belichick said prior to the game he wanted to work on the running game, and with the Patriots running the ball 50 times against the Jets it appeared they put in some overtime in that area?

SG: It was clear from the start that the Patriots were just going to pound it at them, eat the clock, and try to move the ball down the field, and they were able to do just that. Their rushing average wasn't that impressive (3.0 ypc), but when you can consistently run the ball like that and keep picking up first downs while getting the ball in the endzone it allows you to be in control of the game. Corey Dillon got a workout with 26 carries, and the Patriots' offense line got in a lot of work as well. Running the ball that many times is going to be a good experience for them heading into the playoffs.

RRM: You've talked before about the importance of being able to run the football in December. While this game was devoid of snow and ice, the wind conditions at Giants Stadium certainly made things much more conducive to the running game?

SG: I think they were going to run the ball no matter what the conditions were, but that kind of wind does make it difficult for you as a quarterback. If you throw the ball more than 15 yards downfield on a night like that with the wind or against it, either one, it will affect the flight of the ball. I saw a couple of times when Tom Brady threw a ball downfield and he didn't quite get it where he wanted it to go. It makes it very difficult to put the ball down the field very far, and if you are able to run it on a windy night like that it becomes a big positive for you.

RRM: I know Brady made at least one bad throw he'd like to take back. You might say he fought the Law, and the Law won (sorry, I couldn't resist!)?

SG: I'm just glad you said it instead of me [laughs]. Ty Law gambled on that one and yes, he won. I think if the Patriots had been throwing the ball a little more they might have come back and burned him later in the game trying to jump that out route like he did on that play. Ty has played against Tom Brady many times in practices so he knew what to look for, and he took a chance and it paid off for him. A few people pointed out how much bigger he looks now than he did in New England, and he did look a little chunkier to me. But he sure was able to make that 74-yard return with no problem.

RRM: There's already speculation that Law may return to the Patriots next season. What are your thoughts on his potential return to New England?

SG: I think a player of his ability would really help this defensive secondary, but I don't think he is going to come back here for the kind of money he is looking for because the Patriots are not going to give it to him. If he wants to come back here and play for a reasonable salary I think they would listen and welcome him back. But I just don't expect it to happen.

RRM: Tedy Bruschi was injured in the second quarter playing on special teams. Did they really need a player of his importance playing on that unit in what was essentially a meaningless game?

SG: We've been talking about this for years now and things haven't changed; this is just the way the Patriots play. They put their best players on the field and if they get hurt, they get hurt, and if it happens on special teams that's just the way it goes. That is their philosophy and they're not going to change. From what it looked like to me it didn't look like Bruschi got hurt that badly. It appeared he just pulled a calf muscle, and hopefully it doesn't keep him out for the first game of the playoffs.

RRM: By that same token were you surprised to see Tom Brady remain in the game until there were only five minutes left to play?

SG: Not really, and for the same reason I just mentioned. They wanted to win that football game, and I think until they felt comfortable when they had a three-score lead they were not going to remove Brady. They still have a chance to move into the third-seed position in the AFC playoffs, so I wasn't surprised at all that Brady played as long as he did.

RRM: As you mentioned with a win in the season finale against Miami and a loss by Cincinnati the Patriots would have a chance to move up in the playoff seeding, but it would also probably result in them hosting a red hot Pittsburgh club as opposed to a struggling Jacksonville. Is that really what we want?

SG: I'm sure there are some people wondering why they would want to do that! But if the Patriots were able to move into that third spot it would mean they wouldn't have to go to Indianapolis to face the Colts until the championship game, plus it something crazy happens they could get another playoff game at home and I think that is probably the way they are thinking. It certainly is possible that Cincinnati could lose in Kansas City this Sunday knowing how well the Chiefs play at home. Then who knows what could happen in the playoffs? The Colts are reeling a little bit after losing two straight games and a lot happening off the field, so a lot of things can happen over this last weekend.

RRM: The apparent suicide of Tony Dungy's son James was certainly a jolt to the Colts and the football world. What can you possible say when something like this happens?

SG: It's sad any time a young person like that leaves way too early, but coming from what sounds like a great family with a great father and mother when you see something like that happen it's just inexplicable.

RRM: The Dolphins have been on a role since the Patriots faced them back in November, so this may not be as easy a game as it looked a month ago?

SG: Miami has won five in a row and has been playing really good football, so this will be a good test for the Patriots as they head into the playoffs. I don't see this being a win at all costs kind of game for the Patriots but they are certainly going to play their starters long enough to try and win the game and see where it goes from there. Ricky Williams is coming off a great game against Tennessee last week, rushing for 172 yards. It was the first time he has really broken loose this year, and with the Patriots' front seven playing the run so well lately I'm really anticipating this match up. It should be a lot of fun to watch.

RRM: This was the last Monday Night Football game for ABC, and I noticed you made the montage in the closing credits. What are your memories of Monday Night Football?

SG: I have to be honest I clicked it off before the postgame so I never saw it! Monday night was always something special. I was a senior in high school when it started in 1970, and later I can remember when I was in college the thing to do on Monday night was to get a bunch of guys together to watch Monday Night Football. When I actually made an NFL team a few years later and play on Monday night, there was just a different feel to the game. It was a bigger game than the normal Sunday afternoon game with lots of excitement, and it was just always a lot of fun.

RRM: You played in so many Monday night games, does any particular one stand out to you?

SG: I guess it was my first one in 1976 when we played the Jets at home and the crowd got really out of control. We beat the Jets 41-7 and I ran for over 100 yards that night, including a 41-yard touchdown run they ended up using on the Monday Night Football highlight reel many times. That was the one I'll never forget.

RRM: I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about this Sunday's battle of last place teams, the San Francisco-Houston game this week, otherwise known as the Reggie Bush Bowl. With the first pick in the NFL draft at stake won't there be a lot of interest in this game?

SG: I was involved in one of those games with the Patriots back in 1981 when we played the Colts in the last game of the season and whichever team lost got the first pick. It's not an enviable position to be in despite what the fans may think because no one wants to be called the worst team in football. It will be interesting to see who plays hard in that game and who doesn't. The NFL takes a dim view of any hint that a team is not trying to win, so there will be a lot of scrutiny on this game. I read somewhere that they should award the first pick to whoever wins, not loses, that way they would have incentive to want to win. But I expect that they will both go out and play hard, and then whatever happens, happens.

RRM: Usually I ask you what you have planned for News Year Eve, but this time I know exactly what you'll be doing along with many of your '85 Patriots' teammates, right?

SG: There's a dinner for all of us on New Year's Eve being put on by the Patriots, and they managed to bring back over 40 players and about eight of the coaches from that team so it should be a good time. Then we'll all take in the game together on Sunday and get introduced at halftime. I haven't seen many of my teammates since our last reunion 10 years ago so I'm really looking forward to it.

RRM: Make sure you wave back to all the loyal readers who are at the game!

SG: I'll single everyone of them out and make sure to acknowledge them [laughs]!

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 31-21 road win under the lights against the Jets in Week #15?

SG: The defense definitely gets an A for holding the Jets to only 171 total yards. The offense held the ball for over 43 minutes which is an incredible accomplishment, but Brady wasn't quite as sharp as he usually is so I'm giving them an A-. I thought the special teams only merited a B since they didn't look too good on a couple of returns. That comes out to about an A-, which is about right for a pretty decent effort against a very bad football team. Mike Vrabel should get a game ball for being the first player to score two touchdowns and record a sack in the same game. That was pretty special, and maybe now he'll start to get double coverage in goalline situations! Happy New Year everyone!

Grogan's Grades for Week #15

Offense: A-
Defense: A
Overall: A-

R.R. Marshall's Q & A columns on the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, and Boston College Eagles appear year round in both the electronic and print media. He can be reached at [email protected]