By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
January 03, 2006

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots dropped their season finale to Miami 28-26 in a game where their starters played only the first quarter. Were you surprised that Bill Belichick didn't try a little harder to win this game considering they could have moved up to the third seed for the playoffs?

Steve Grogan: I thought the Patriots played extremely well for the last preseason game! That's kind of what it looked like to me. I'm sure the players will tell you that they were out there to win, and most certainly the guys that were out on the field were playing hard and doing their best to try to win the game. But when Bill Belichick set so many of his starters down so early in the game it clearly showed he was more concerned about having his team rested and healthy going into the playoffs. The fact that they remained the fourth seed instead of moving up to the three seed just didn't really seem to concern him.

RRM: The TV cameras were trained on Belichick trying to catch him breathing a sigh of relief when Matt Cassel's last pass sailed high and the two-point conversion failed at the end of the game. Why do I get the feeling the last thing he wanted was to play an overtime period?

SG: I think the Patriots' players that were out there that never get a chance to play were hoping they could get it into overtime because then they could get some additional playing time and have even more fun. But I'm sure both coaches, Nick Saban and Belichick were both happy just to get it over with and move on.

RRM: Speaking of Mr. Cassel, Bill Belichick commented that he did some things well and there were other things he could have done better. Perhaps as our quarterbacking expert you could go a little more in depth in analyzing his performance?

SG: Cassel looked a little shaky coming out for the first couple of series. He just didn't look very comfortable trying to manage the offense. There were a couple of three-and-outs and he dropped a snap or two, and he just looked out of sorts. Then I thought he settled in pretty good and got into the flow of the game. He threw the ball well and made good decisions, and he also used his ability to run to pick up a couple of first downs. He showed there is some potential there, and I think the more playing time and experience he gets the better he is going to be.

RRM: Of course the big topic concerning the game is the Doug Flutie drop kick for the extra point. The thing that I immediately thought of was whether Miami head coach Nick Saban would take offense and consider it as a sign of showboating?

SG: I think if the Patriots had been ahead by 20 points and had been kicking the dog out of Miami and they did that, then it would be considered an insult. But when you are trailing in the game and you do that, I think you have to wonder, why? What happens if Flutie had missed that kick and the Patriots had missed out on getting that point? If you are really serious about winning the game you are really going to try to score that point. What you are really telling Miami is we don't care if you guys win today, we're going to do something fun here so I don't think they took it as an insult.

RRM: That's a good point you brought up. The drop kick isn't an easy kick to make during game conditions, is it?

SG: No, it's not, particularly with the pointed balls they are playing with now. The trick is getting a true bounce off the ground when you drop the ball, and with a grass surface that isn't always easy. Flutie mentioned he was glad no one blitzed him on the play because that can really disrupt your concentration. But he executed it perfectly, and to have someone finally be able to do it during an actual NFL game was kind of fun to see.

RRM: One well-known and insufferable member of the local media said Flutie's drop kick made a mockery of the game. Having actually played the game yourself (unlike the aforementioned media maven) do you feel this made a "mockery of the game”?

SG: I don't think it made a mockery of the game. It is a play that is still legal in the rule book and no one has done it in a really long time, and Bill Belichick is a real historian of the game and appreciates such things. Actually there are guys all around the league that go out and do that all the time, as a matter of fact we used to do it before practice on Saturdays. We always had a drop kicking contest before practice but I didn't win too many. I could get it through the goalposts occasionally but Andy Johnson was the best we ever had on the Patriots. He could get it through nearly every time and he could have made one during a game but he never got the opportunity. I think Belichick should get some credit for having the guts to allow Flutie to try it in an actual game; I don't think too many coaches would.

RRM: Prior to the game you and the fellow members of your 1985 AFC Championship squad were introduced to the crowd at Gillette Stadium. Since we the viewing public were denied the privilege of seeing the pregame ceremony could you tell us what it was like?

SG: It was a fun evening on Saturday night when we all had dinner at the stadium, and we had a chance to chat and catch up with everybody. Then on Sunday they put all of us in the old replica jerseys and we went out as a team and they introduced us each individually with a short highlight on the scoreboard. I thought it was pretty special. A lot of these guys hadn't been back around the team since that season, so it just wasn't fun to see everybody again but fun to be able to be recognized. The fans really responded well; I guess there were enough older people in the stands that remembered us!

RRM: The 12-4 Jacksonville Jaguars come to Foxboro Saturday night as the Patriots look to defend their title for the third consecutive season. Does the homefield make it a big advantage for the Patriots in what is a short week for playoff game preparations?

SG: I'm sure they were already working on preparing for either Jacksonville or Pittsburgh prior to the Miami game to get the ground work laid so they can make up for part of the time they'll be losing during this short week. I don't think the Patriots' players know that much about Jacksonville; they would probably be more familiar with Pittsburgh since they already played them this year and a few times over the last couple of seasons. But Jacksonville hasn't been on the schedule for awhile now so I think both teams will be dealing with some unknowns.

Having the homefield advantage is always a key in the playoffs. Not only do the Patriots have the advantage of playing at home with their home crowd behind them, Jacksonville loses preparation time due to the travel. The cold weather will also be a factor in favor of the Patriots. I know the Jaguars have been a good road team this season (six road wins), and even though Jacksonville is not the warmest part of Florida playing a night game up here coming from 60 degree weather to 20 degree weather is something that is hard to adjust to. Someone told me the Jaguars have never won game in New England (0-4 lifetime), so that could be very big plus in the Patriots' favor.

RRM: Jacksonville has a reputation for a conservative offense and a very tough defense that features a solid defensive line. How do you view this match up?

SG: I know they run the ball extremely well with the veteran Fred Taylor, and they also have a young back in LaBrandon Toefield that is supposed to be pretty good and is coming off a 100-yard rushing game last week. Right now they are playing a rookie quarterback in David Garrard and you have to wonder how he will perform in playoff competition, not just from a nervousness standpoint but playing against a coach in Belichick that really messes up the heads of young quarterbacks. That has to be considered a question mark for them. I hear their regular quarterback Byron Leftwich is back at practice after recovering from a broken ankle suffered at the end of November, so even if he does play in this game he should be a little rusty. Defensively Jacksonville is extremely solid with their front seven, and I really think this game is going to be a physical battle. The Patriots usually come out pretty well when it is a matter of who wants to be the toughest, so I think they should fare pretty well in this match up.

RRM: Prior to the Patriots-Jaguars game the Steelers and Bengals will tangle in Cincinnati. Should the Steelers pull off the upset it means the Patriot would travel to Denver instead of Indianapolis in the next round; what are the chances of a Steelers' upset?

SG: The Steelers are playing really well right now and the Bengals have slumped a bit towards the end of the season. I know they have been resting a lot of their players as well, but you have a veteran, playoff-tested team in the Steelers going in to play a Cincinnati team that experienced success for the first time in many this season. I really like Pittsburgh to win this game even though they are playing on the road. If that does happen I wouldn't be quite so happy about the Patriots avoiding Indianapolis and having to go to Denver. No one is talking about the Broncos and they are a pretty darn good football team. It really wouldn't surprise me to see them sneak in if they continue to play at the level they have been at lately.

RRM: I recently came across a syndicated feature in which Mr. Steve Grogan picks the Indianapolis Colts to win the Super Bowl. I just assumed this interview was done a few months ago before the Patriots turned their season around?

SG: I have to admit it, I still think Indianapolis has to be favored to win the Super Bowl. I hate to say it but they are still the best team in the AFC right now. I'm a lot more confident about the Patriots going a couple of rounds deep into the playoffs (if not all the way) after the way they've played over this last month. Two months ago I wouldn't have given them a chance to get past the first round of the playoffs and I think they have a real opportunity now, and this time of year that's all you ask for. I still think the Colts are the favorites, but the good news is I'm not usually too good at making predictions so hopefully this will mean that they will lose and the Patriots will sneak in there [laughs]!

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 28-26 loss to the Dolphins in Week #16?

SG: I really feel like handing out Incompletes because the Patriots' starters only played the first quarter [laughs]! I thought all the back up players that were given playing time performed a little above average. If you really stop and think about it when you play your back ups against another team's starters in the NFL the game shouldn't even be close. I think the closeness of this game says a lot about the Patriots' depth. I think we forget about the kind of depth this Patriots' organization puts together every year until you see how well some of these guys perform in game conditions.

You have to give a special mention to a player like Matt Chatham who got to play for an extended period for the first time in years and ends up making eight tackles and a sack. Then there's someone like Bam Childress who comes off the practice squad and plays both ways, making three catches on offense and four tackles on defense. Not only do things like that boost the confidence of the guys that haven't played in awhile, but it really does a lot of good for team morale as well. The Patriots have put themselves in a good position as the playoffs get underway, now we'll all wait and see if they can take advantage of it.

Grogan's Grades for Week #16

Offense: B-
Defense: B-
Overall: B-

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]