By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
December 28, 2006

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, despite a few anxious moments the Patriots hung on to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-21 and clinch their fourth consecutive AFC Eastern Division title. What was your take on the game?

Steve Grogan: In spite of playing as well as the Patriots did and controlling the ball as long as they did (they had about a 15 minute advantage in time of possession) to have the game come down to a fumble in the last two minutes was a little too close for comfort for all the Patriots? fans who were watching. I thought the Patriots really dominated this game on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and when they went up 24-14 after Laurence Maroney?s touchdown run I really thought they had put the game away. Fortunately Jarvis Green and Rodney Harrison combined on a much-needed strip and fumble recovery to snuff out Jacksonville?s last chance, or they might still be playing.

RRM Jacksonville running back Maurice Drew-Jones certainly came as advertised, and his 74-yard touchdown run where he bounced up off the ground and then ran untouched into the endzone was a real shocker for Patriots Nation. Bill Belichick was really upset over that non-call, how did you see it?

SG I don?t think Maurice Jones-Drew should have been ruled down because I thought he ran into the back of his own guy and then hit the ground, so there was no contact with a Patriots? player. Unfortunately it?s the nature of the way the game is called now that makes players afraid to hit anybody late. They see a guy on the ground and are wary of diving on top of them because it might draw a flag. You could see Tully Banta-Cain debating whether or not to hit him when he was on the ground.

In addition to that play you had two phantom roughing the passer calls in this game, one on each team. Then you had Tom Brady getting hammered with a blatant spear in the back from Clint Ingram, and they didn?t call anything. You can see why players are so confused today about what constitutes a late hit or roughing the passer. It?s really gotten to the point where it has become totally absurd.

RRM You mentioned that hit on Tom Brady that knocked him out of the game for a play. Wasn?t that an illegal hit, and even a finable offense?

SG It?s absolutely a penalty! It?s called spearing with the helmet. The announcers never made that point and I didn?t hear anyone bring it up in the postgame either. I wouldn?t be surprised if the league takes a look at that hit and they may get Clint Ingram after the fact. When I saw that I was wondering, how do you not throw a flag on that. He clearly led with the top of his helmet, and it seemed pretty clear cut to me.

RRM Tom Brady had his typically proficient game, completing 28 of 39 for 249 yards and a touchdown. But were your surprised he kept running the quarterback sneak with such success time after time?

SG Jacksonville didn?t adjust very well defensively. The quarterback sneaks definitely hurt them, but once the Patriots spread them out the way they did the Jaguars didn?t bring any additional pressure on Tom Brady and he was like a surgeon carving them up. When Brady doesn?t get much pressure he usually plays the way he did in this game. I was really surprised they didn?t try to blitz him and bring some pressure, but when he was eating them alive they didn?t make any kind of defensive adjustments. That has become the Patriots offensive MO this year, when a team rushes four and sits back in a zone the Patriots? wide receivers get open and they catch a lot of balls. Brady had a field day, and Jacksonville played right into New England?s hands.

RRM The 14 play, 82-yard drive at the end of the first half that was capped by Corey Dillon?s touchdown run was really a thing of beauty, and perhaps the Patriots? most impressive drive of the season. Did you see that as one of the main turning points of the game?

SG I thought the Patriots had been in control of the game until that point, but the crazy play with Maurice Jones- Drew?s long run could have taken the wind out of their sails and turned the momentum to Jacksonville. Instead the Patriots methodically threw the ball on first down, ran it on second down, and picked up a third down and kept the drive alive. They took back control of the game by going the length of the field and putting the ball in the endzone at a crucial time. That was the big turnaround of the game right there.

RRM Talk about it being a strange game, I don?t think I?ve ever seen an official get skulled by a thrown ball before like umpire Garth DeFelice did in this game. Have you?

SG I?ve seen them get hit before but never to the point where they had to leave the field and go to the hospital for treatment. I thought he?d just get up, shake it off, and continue to go but he was really out. He must have gotten hit with that one in a really tender spot on the side of his head. It was fortunate nothing too serious happened to him.

RRM The arrival of Todd Sauerbrun not only gives the Patriots their third different punter this season but it has also meant the third different holder for placekicker Steve Gostkowski. That can?t be an easy adjustment for a rookie kicker, can it?

SG That?s not easy for any kicker, let alone a rookie, but maybe it is a little easier for a rookie because you aren?t as set in your ways as a veteran would be. Apparently Matt Cassel has been practicing as a holder because you always have to work in a back up holder just in case. I thought Cassel made a good play on Gostowski?s first field goal attempt when the snap was a little off. He did a nice job getting his body out and then back out of the way so the kick could be made, and those three points turned out to be the difference in the game.

RRM It was good to see some old, familiar faces back on the field in this game like Rodney Harrison. Don?t you just relax a bit more when you know he is back there in the Patriots? defensive backfield?

SG Rodney Harrison brings a different attitude to that defense. He just seems to raise them another notch higher. He was around the ball and in on a ton of plays in this game, and it showed me how virtually irreplaceable he is. Having him back now for a couple of games heading into the playoffs will mean a huge improvement for this team on defense.

RRM It was also good to see Laurence Maroney back on the field, and even though he only ran the ball seven times he certainly made his presence felt?

SG Corey Dillon is still the plugger in the Patriots backfield and while he?s had a great career Maroney is the back that can break the long run you need every once in a while. It seems like they haven?t had a big play on offense since Maroney has been out, and he came back in this game and broke one for a big score. That element of speed he gives them in the backfield is such a huge weapon, and I?m sure Brady was glad to have him back.

RRM There are those cynical types among the fans and the media that tend to discount Patriots? victories that come against lesser opponents. This was a very big win against a physical team that is very tough to beat at home, so don?t you really have to like what the Pats accomplished with this victory?

SG Jacksonville was 6-1 at home, and to go down there and control the ball for the length of time the Patriots did against one of the league?s better defenses was pretty impressive. Not many in the national media pick them to win the game, and it was almost like the Patriots were making a statement like don?t forget about us come playoff time.

RRM There was some controversy last week when Tom Brady was edged out by San Diego?s Philip Rivers for the Pro Bowl. Considering Brady doesn?t have the benefit of LaDainian Tomlinson in his backfield I can understand why so many are upset over this apparent slight by the voters?

SG Besides Tomlinson that young quarterback Rivers also has a tight end like Antonio Gates to throw to, and while Tom Brady has a couple of tight ends that might reach that level he doesn?t have the same amount of talent surrounding him right now. Brady definitely deserved to be there, there?s no question about that. Philip Rivers has had a nice season but he?s got a lot more weapons around him than Tom Brady has. Brady is probably a little upset that he didn?t get picked but also probably glad that he doesn?t have to play another game when the season is over. He can go play in that Pro Am golf tournament at Pebble Beach instead and probably have a much better time.

RRM Does the Pro Bowl mean as much to the modern day NFL player as it did to the players of your era, or is it just something that they like to get on the resume while skipping out on the game itself?

SG I think it?s important to be picked as one of the best in the league. It did used to be a pretty nice paycheck, but nowadays it?s just pocket change with all the money they are presently making. Nobody works hard once they get to Hawaii to play the game. You go out and lean on a few people on Sunday night and then everyone goes home with a suntan and feeling pretty good about themselves.

RRM This Sunday the Patriots wrap up the regular season on the road against a red hot Tennessee Titans team. Will the Patriots? regulars even get to see the field if there is nothing at stake for them in this game?

SG I think you go in there and use your starters to try and win the game, and then depending on how it goes if you can get a cushion then you try to get some guys out of there. I don?t think you necessarily worry about winning the game if it doesn?t improve your playoff seeding. The most important thing is getting everyone just enough playing time to get them ready for the playoff game at Gillette Stadium the following week, and you want to make sure everyone is healthy for that one.

RRM Being a former running quarterback yourself how do you attempt to defend against a player like Tennessee?s Vince Young. It would certainly seem that you can?t use a spy on him like with most running quarterbacks because there isn?t a linebacker in football that can match his speed, right?

SG You?re right, and you could try to use a defensive back instead but he would probably be too small to bring him down. I don?t know what you do to try and stop him. Hopefully you can keep him contained in the pocket and force him to throw the ball. But it is going to be fun watching Vince Young up close and personal.

RRM What are Grogan?s grades for the big 24-21 win in Jacksonville that clinched the AFC East for the Patriots?

SG I?m giving out A?s across the board for this one, that?s my Christmas present for them [laughs]! They had to go into a very tough place to play, and to be honest I really didn?t think they?d win this one. Jacksonville plays so well at home and it was such a critical game for them as well, and while it was an important game for the Patriots it wasn?t life or death for them. I just thought Jacksonville would fight like cats and dogs, but the Patriots really outplayed them.

I thought the Patriots played pretty solid football on all fronts; offense, defense, and special teams. It was nice to see them get some big contributions from unexpected sources like rookie tight end David Thomas, who made five catches for 83 yards and did more in this one game than he has all season long. His touchdown-diving reception was probably the best catch made by any Patriots? receiver this season. You had a lot of guys step up in this game and get the job done, and I thought that was a really good sign heading into the playoffs. It they continue to play this well the month of January could be really interesting around here. Happy New Year everyone!

Grogan's Grades for Game #15

Offense: A
Defense: A
Overall: A