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

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, I am glad to report the demise of the New England Patriots as an elite team in the NFL has been greatly exaggerated. What more proof can I offer than Sunday's 38-13 blowout of the mighty Cincinnati Bengals?

Steve Grogan: I think the Patriots proved pretty convincingly to most people that they are not over the hill, washed up, or not competitive any longer. It's definitely a huge confidence booster to go in and play one of the so-called elite teams in the conference in their stadium and just dominate them thoroughly. That goes a long way in telling you that you have a pretty solid football team and that you can play with anybody, anywhere. I really think this game will serve as a great bolster for their confidence the rest of the way.

RRM: Even though the Patriots dominated play for much of the second and third quarters, this was only an eight-point game at the start of the final quarter. Did their experience in these kinds of games come to the forefront down the stretch?

SG: I thought the respective maturity level of these two teams really showed in this game. Even though the Bengals were still in the game the Patriots had the experience and knew how to put away a team that they had on the ropes. I thought at halftime the Patriots were actually in pretty good shape, and in better shape than I would expect them to be in playing in Cincinnati. Then when Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal attempt in the third quarter I thought it would eventually come back to haunt them. Instead they just went out and dominated the Bengals defensively and forced Carson Palmer into some fumbles that they turned into easy touchdowns and they put it away. The Bengals are having some trouble with their offensive line with their starting center out and that could explain some of the problems they had protecting their quarterback late in the game.

RRM: Going into this game you looked at all the injuries in the Patriots secondary and you figured the Bengals would just light up the injured New England backfield. I guess they fooled us once again?

SG: It may have ended up that way but it certainly didn't start that way. Cincinnati took the ball on their first two drives and just went right down the field, and I thought the Patriots were fortunate to hold them to field goals on both occasions. You figured with the ease they were moving the ball that the Bengals were going to score a bunch of points, but it just never happened. It was what I would call a typical Bill Belichick defense; bend but don't break. They just kept bending and waited for the Bengals to make mistakes which they eventually did. The fact that they were able to accomplish this with two starters out is a testament to his coaching.

RRM: It was uncharacteristic of Belichick to return the trash talk of the Bengals' Chad Johnson during the week, even in a joking way. Did that surprise you or did you take it as a good sign?

SG: That was highly unusual for him and it did surprise me. It turned out to be a good sign and I heard someone say never bet against Belichick when he starts trash talking back. If he's trash talking back it means he feels pretty good about what they've got put together! It was funny to see him do that though.

RRM: Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney took turns running the Bengals into the ground, as the Patriots rushed for an incredible 236 yards. It's only Week #4 and we're starting to run out of adjectives for the Patriots' tandem in the backfield!

SG: They compliment each other so well because it looks like Corey Dillon really likes Laurence Maroney. Sometimes with a veteran that has been around a long time you can get some resentment in a situation like this, but the two of them look like they have a great relationship. Right now they don't care who is getting the yards or the touchdowns, and I think that is going to go a long way into helping Maroney mature faster. It also helps show Dillon as the kind of classy guy that we probably weren't expecting him to be.

RRM: Dillon threw the football into the crowd after his fourth quarter touchdown which drew a penalty for excessive celebrating by the Patriots. Do you think Bill Belichick will take into account the circumstances, or will Dillon be running some extra laps in practice this week?

SG: I think Bill Belichick can look the other way on a situation like that. There was a lot of emotion for Corey Dillon going back to a town where he played for so long and actually being able to score a touchdown there. If it had been a little tighter game or if they had been losing I don't think Belichick would have been too happy with it, but considering the situation I don't think he has a problem with it.

RRM: Do you believe Dillon will think it was worth the $5000 fine by the league for tossing that ball into the stands when he gets the bill in the mail?

SG: That's what they're charging players when they throw the ball into the stands now? It was $500 when I was a player! I'm a tightwad and I wouldn't throw that ball in the stands for $5000, and I don't care who I was playing against or how big the touchdown was. Spike the son of a gun, but keep the ball in the stadium [laughs].

It's funny but I was thinking at the start of the game Corey Dillon's back at his old place and I wonder how he's feeling about it. It hadn't been written or talked about much, but apparently it was a pretty big deal for him because of the emotion he showed when he scored that touchdown. The fans threw the ball back onto the field so maybe the league can knock a few bucks off the fine since they got the ball back!

RRM: The travails of rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski continue. This week he missed badly on a 48-yard field goal attempt, but since Adam Vinatieri is injured anyway maybe the fans can cut him some slack?

SG: I think you have to consider Gostkowski a below average kicker right now. He's struggling to find himself and he probably has a little bit of stuff running through his head. He's a rookie and he's missed a few, with two blocks and one miss so he's going to be highly scrutinized by the fans and the media. From what I can see he's got all the tools and he's got the leg, and I think he's going to turn out to be a very good kicker if everyone can just be a little patient with him. Instead of comparing him to the present day Adam Vinatieri compare him to the Vinatieri who arrived here as a rookie in 1996. Let the kid get through a few bumps in the road like Vinatieri did, and I think he'll turn out just fine.

RRM: The hit on Reche Caldwell by Cincinnati's Kevin Kaesviharn was enough to make all of New England cringe. Many thought the flag should not have been thrown; how did you see it?

SG: I thought it was a good call by the officials. There's nothing wrong with hitting him when a guy is exposed like that looking the other way, but you have to keep it lower. The Cincinnati defensive back went in high and hit him in the head, and that's very dangerous. Football is a tough game and it's a game where you are going to get hit, but it needs to be kept below head level. That hit was above the head level, and that's why he deserved the flag. It was borderline, but anytime in the present day NFL when it is a borderline hit the officials are going to err on the side of caution and throw the flag because that's what the league wants. Twenty years ago when I was playing that hit would have been a legal hit and nobody would have said a word. They would have just carried the guy off and put someone else in and kept playing, but it's a different game they are playing out there right now.

RRM: I've never heard of Cincinnati fans being on the par of Oakland or New York fans as far as bad behavior goes, but booing Caldwell as he was being helped to the sidelines after that hit certainly dispels the reputation of the friendly, down-to-earth Midwesterner, doesn't it?

SG: I heard about that because it happened during the commercial break, and I was wondering if they were actually booing him or they were booing the call. If they were booing him then Cincinnati's a lot tougher town than I remember! When Caldwell got hit I didn't expect to see him get up for awhile, so he was lucky it wasn't a lot worse.

RRM: Before we get to next week's opponent and the grades for this week it's time for the all-important question: how did you interpret Tom Brady's body language this week?

SG: [Sarcastic tone] I thought early in the game Brady's shoulders were slumping a little bit but he kept his head up a bit more often [laughs]! It's amazing how that story took on a life of its own last week. The funny thing is I thought he missed more open receivers this week than he did the week before when he drew all the criticism. He had a couple of wide open guys that he just didn't get the ball to, but they won so it becomes an afterthought. He tossed in a 22-yard run as well, and I thought that was pretty impressive. You will see him become in dribs and drabs more comfortable with his receivers and what they can do in the offense, and as I've been saying all along they'll be fine.

RRM: This week the Patriots return home to host the struggling Miami Dolphins, who at 1-3 are already close to being out of the race in the AFC East. What's your take on the problems with the Dolphins?

SG: Right now with Buffalo and the Jets playing pretty solidly Miami has been the real surprise with their poor play. Everybody including Sports Illustrated (who picked the Dolphins to win the AFC East) thought with Daunte Culpepper going down there they'd be a pretty solid team and they're just not right now. I think this is a team if you get on them early they'll give up on you because I think they realize how bad things are for them. It's surprising because they were supposed to be the team the Patriots were supposed to battle with for the division title. Daunte Culpepper is not the Daunte Culpepper of four years ago and this team is having a lot of trouble scoring points, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a quarterback change coming from them soon.

RRM: I know there's no such thing as an easy win in the NFL, but you are expecting an easy win over the ‘Fins this Saturday, right?

SG: Miami is struggling, there's just no doubt about that. But consider this. Two weeks ago Cincinnati went on the road and won a big game in Pittsburgh and we wondering if they would have a letdown against the Patriots. I don't know if they had a letdown against the Patriots or not, but now the Patriots find themselves in a similar position this week. They're coming off a game where they have just beaten up a playoff caliber opponent on the road and now they have to be a little careful about feeling too good about themselves. As the Bengals found out about life in the NFL this league has a way of humbling you quickly, and while I don't believe Bill Belichick will allow something like that to happen to his team it is something to keep in mind. This is a team the Patriots should beat easily. Will they? Probably not because it's Miami and there's a great rivalry between these two teams. But the Dolphins are just not a very good football team right now.

RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the fantastic 38-13 victory over the Bengals in Cincinnati in Week #4?

SG: I've got a solid A for the team all the way around for this one. It was just an outstanding effort by everyone, including the special teams. The offense ran for over 200 yards and that helped Tom Brady with the passing game. The Patriots defense held the Bengal offense to only 279 total yards and limited them to only two of 11 third down conversions which is exemplary. Jarvis Green deserves a mention for his work on defense with three sacks and forcing the first fumble from Carson Palmer that helped the Patriots seize command of the game. We should also mention Kevin Faulk who broke off that nice 43-yard punt return that set up the Patriots' second touchdown. I know many have wanted to see him get replaced as the punt returner because he kind of runs into the piles and falls down most of the time, but once in awhile like in this game he'll show you a flash as a reminder that he can't be taken for granted. But most of us were taking this entire team for granted, right?

Grogan's Grades for Week #4

Offense: A
Defense: A
Overall: A