By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
December 12, 2007

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, as I watched the Patriots easily dispense with the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-13 at Gillette Stadium I couldn't help but think that they took this game as a personal challenge, as they showed more intensity for a full 60 minutes than we've seen since the Colts game. What was your take?

Steve Grogan: You're probably right. The Patriots played like it meant something to them for a change. They weren't waiting for the other team to roll over and die for them; they were taking the fight to them, and that was fun to watch. The Patriots looked a lot fresher and a lot more emotional in this game. Bill Belichick gave the team an extra day off this week because they were so tired after the Baltimore game which was a little unusual since it was a short work week due to the Monday night game, but I think it paid off for them. They just looked like they were enjoying playing the game again and looked like they had a lot of energy. This was a good effort but the Patriots were never out of the woods in this game. You felt comfortable in the fourth quarter but Pittsburgh is a very good team that can strike at any moment, so the fact that they were able to put 34 points on the board against them and build that big lead really helped.

RRM: Pittsburgh defensive back Anthony Smith guaranteed victory over the Patriots this week. Talk about words coming back to haunt you big time?

SG: The Patriots taught at least one young player that he'd better keep his mouth shut from now on. I heard Jim Nantz say that one of Smith's teammates said even if he shouldn't have said it he was on SportsCenter all week, like it was something special to get on ESPN because you said something stupid. Unfortunately that is the mentality of a lot of young players nowadays. It was obvious this had become a point of contention for the Patriots. Tom Brady and Rodney Harrison certainly had no qualms about saying something to Smith, and he sure seemed to get burned a lot for someone that guaranteed a victory!

RRM: I think you're referring to the "Ravens Special" play that saw Tom Brady throw the ball to Randy Moss who then threw it back to Brady who found a wide open Jabar Gaffney who downfield after he blew past a clueless Smith?

SG: That's a play that everyone has in their playbook, it's just that it doesn't get called very often but they decided to take a chance on it against the Steelers. Randy Moss actually dropped the ball on that play, and if he hadn't had picked it up cleanly it would have looked pretty stupid. But he was able to scoop it up and get it back to Brady, and even though Brady's been criticized for not having a very strong arm and doesn't throw the deep ball very well he launched one over 60 yards to Gaffney for that touchdown pass.

RRM: The Patriots dispensed with any pretense of a running game after halftime and proceeded to throw the ball 26 straight times in the second half against the NFL's top-rated pass defense. Maybe I should clarify that by saying the formerly top-rated pass defense?

SG: It's become pretty apparent that the Patriots just don't need a running game right now. Those little quick shots to Wes Welker on that one drive where he got something like four or five passes in a row has become their running game. Since Tom Brady is so accurate and so good at doing that they really don't need to worry about running the football. I never thought I'd say not running the football at this time of the year wouldn't hurt a team, but I'm saying it for this team. Certainly the Steelers' not having Troy Polamalu for this game helped some, but Tom Brady was so on target I don't think it would have made much difference.

RRM: As you mentioned Tom Brady didn't call Wes Welker's number early in this game but once he started throwing to him it seemed he never stopped. Randy Moss was kidding about all the throws that went Welker's way (he led the team with nine catches against Pittsburgh), but does that become a problem on some teams where the receiver's get jealous if they don't receive enough action?

SG: There's no question that can happen. Every professional player has an ego and everybody wants to be a part of it, and there are times when some guys won't see the ball for a game or two and it gets very frustrating so they get a little cranky about the situation. That's when the quarterback has to find a way to throw them a bone every once in awhile. Fortunately that's not a problem on this team. Moss saw plenty of balls and scored another touchdown, and he should have had another but dropped one in the end zone for a second straight week. Tom Brady put a little heat on that throw but still, you expect Randy Moss to make that catch. That's unusual to see him drop one like that and hopefully he won't make it three in three weeks next Sunday.

RRM: The concern the last couple of weeks has been the Patriots' defense, and when the Steelers started the game with a long drive you had to be thinking here we go again. Instead they clamped down and put a lot of our fears to rest, didn't they?

SG: I thought the Patriots' defense played pretty well in this game. It seems like they have that philosophy that they are not going to give up the big play so the opposition has been able to move the ball with long drives against them but at the same time they are making it very difficult to get it into the end zone once they get into the red zone, and that's really the key to the whole thing. They came up with a big fourth down stop to keep the Steelers out of the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter, and that really was the game right there.

RRM: I have to ask you about that play when the Steelers ran a reverse to Hines Ward on fourth-and-goal from the Patriots one-yardline. They had been so successful converting short yardage situations with Najeh Davenport, so was this a case of them outsmarting themselves?

SG: Absolutely. This was another case of a head coach outthinking himself. Trying to fool somebody on the one-yardline isn't the way to play the game, especially when you have other talented people that have proven they can get themselves in the endzone. It was just a poor call by Mike Tomlin and his staff in my opinion.

RRM: How do you think the Patriots defense has adjusted to the loss of starting outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin?

SG: Adalius Thomas had been playing on the inside but I think his more natural position is the outside, and when Colvin when down they moved Thomas to the outside. Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau now are getting the majority of the work on the inside, but I did find it interesting late in the game when they were in their goalline defense they had special teams captain Larry Izzo in the game at linebacker. They've had to roll a few people in and out of there because of the absence of Colvin but it seems to be working out just fine so far.

RRM: James Sanders has very quietly made his presence felt in recent weeks. He had the big interception against the Ravens last week and a big fumble recovery in this game. What are your thoughts on him?

SG: This is a typical Bill Belichick team where you have guys you aren't aware of step up and make big plays, and it's just amazing to me how they find guys like that. Sanders has done a really good job at free safety for this team since taking over the starting job and has really helped to solidify that position.

RRM: We can't talk about the Patriots' deep secondary without also mentioning Rodney Harrison. He led the team in tackles with 11 and turned in a key play when he tipped away a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes at the start of the fourth quarter, not to mention being in on the tackle where they stuffed Ward on the big fourth down play. He seemed to embody the emotional effort the entire team put forth against the Steelers?

SG: Rodney Harrison really played well, and if there is anybody on that team that would use the guarantee stuff issued by Anthony Smith to get himself fired up it would be him. Rodney is the kind of guy that would take the bulletin board stuff and turn it into motivation, and with 11 tackles it looked like he had plenty of motivation against the Steelers.

RRM: Everyone was hoping to see get Troy Brown get activated and while Bill Belichick did activate an extra wide receiver for this game it turned out to be Chad Jackson, who saw plenty of action returning kickoffs. Will we get to see Troy make his return over these last three games?

SG: Probably, but I'm thinking they regard Troy as something of an insurance policy right now. They are so deep at wide receiver it's hard to imagine who he would replace on the depth chart right now. It was nice to finally see one of your top draft choices from a year ago finally do something on the football field. Chad Jackson had one really nice return and then he bobbled a short one that he almost kicked away to the other team. He definitely showed he has some speed and can make some plays, but I'm pretty sure we'll see Ellis Hobbs back there again returning kickoffs once the playoffs start. I think they are a little concerned about him getting banged up and leaving them a little thin in the secondary, and since Hobbs does hit it up in there on those kickoff returns it's somewhat amazing he's stayed healthy up to this point so they probably don't want to take a chance on him getting hurt before the playoffs.

RRM: Thirteen down and three to go to an undefeated regular season. With the Jets, Dolphins, and Giants lined up for the Patriots which team do you think will provide the biggest obstacle to going 16-0?

SG: I don't expect they will have any problems with either the Jets or Dolpins. They will be highly motivated to beat the Jets since they made themselves a target back in Week #1 by reporting the camera incident so this could be a 100-0 score on Sunday. This team still has a lot to prove and it wouldn't surprise to see them play their starters for three quarters. The Dolphins are now 0-13 and haven't shown themselves capable of winning a football game this season so that would appear to be an easy win. The season-ender against the Giants at the Meadowlands looked to be a potentially tough game but we don't know what the circumstances will be three weeks from now. The Patriots will have clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs by then so the only incentive they will have is to keep their undefeated streak alive. From what I'm hearing this may not even be a game the Giants need in terms of playoff seeding, and if it's not it's going to look like a preseason game. If that's the case I think the Patriots will make sure that they win that one. It could be a very sloppy, ugly game but I think one the Patriots will be determined to win.

RRM: A final score of 100-0 against the Jets? Aren't you afraid the Jets may post that on their bulletin board this week?

SG: No, I don't think so [laughs]! The way the Jets are playing right now I just don't see them coming anywhere close to doing anything against the Patriots. I think it will just become a question of how long do they leave Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker in the game. Do they build up a 28-0 lead at the half and then pull everyone out of the game for the second half? Or do they leave them in and just beat the snot out of them? You know the Patriots aren't very happy with the Jets right now, and CBS is sending its #1 broadcast team out for this game which kind of surprises me because this one could get ugly. But I just don't see the Jets or Miami being able to give the Patriots any kind of a competitive game. If they do then we'll really have something to talk about! But it's just not going to happen.

RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 34-13 pounding of pitiful Pittsburgh?

SG: You beat the third best team in the AFC convincingly, that's a solid A in my book. The offense moved the ball with ease and although the defense let the Steelers go up and down the field a few times they got tough in the red zone when they had to and shut them out in the second half. The Steelers ran for over 180 yards against them but they don't seem to be worried about opponents running the ball against them, they just aren't going to give up the big play. I thought Vince Wilfork had a really good game with seven tackles and a sack. Mike Vrabel also played really well. He didn't register a sack, but he was pressuring Ben Roethlisberger all day long coming off the edge. He was just a fingertip away several times from getting to him, and that's the kind of thing that will add up and affect a quarterback. You see that guy out of the corner of your eye on almost every play and as your stepping up in the pocket you aren't focusing as well down the field as you need to.

The Patriots left a lot of emotion on the field in this one and they seem to feel like everyone is against them. I think a lot of them are, and they have become so good that a lot of people, especially in the media, want to see them go down. Like I said, it isn't going to happen so we all may as well sit back and enjoy watching them inflict misery on all those Patriots haters out there. I'm sure that will give every Pats fan a great deal of satisfaction!

Grogan's Grades for Game #13

Offense: A
Defense: A
Overall: A