By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall - Presented By Frank 106.3 Frank FM
December 20, 2012

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R.R.Marshall: A fantastic 28 point comeback by the Patriots in the second half couldn't prevent a 41-34 upset at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night in Foxboro. What disappointed you more, the poor start by the Patriots and the offense in the first half, or the many lapses on special teams and defense that ultimately cost them the game?

Steve Grogan: I think the poor start with the offense. I know San Francisco's got a great defense, but this offense just has so many weapons that they should have been able to come up with some points in the first half to keep the game manageable and they weren't able to do that until the second half. And then they just ran out of time in the second half. They made a valiant comeback, but turning the ball over the way they did in the first half, that's just not the way the Patriots offense plays.

RRM: It's strange because in what's been a very strange NFL season, you just don't normally see a 28 point comeback, especially against the number one defensive rated team in the NFL -- it just doesn't happen. Unfortunately it looks like the comeback will just become an afterthought now since they didn't win the game. As a quarterback, were you impressed that Brady was able to lead them back in cold weather conditions?

SG: When they were sitting there at 31-3, I figured there was no chance of them coming back. I think San Francisco did what a lot of teams do, they get too conservative when they've got a lead like that, they started playing a lot more zone defense instead of man-to-man. When you play zone against Tom Brady, you're just handing him a blank checkbook. He took advantage of it and got them in the end zone. Then they went back to playing a little more of their own style of defense and they shut them down when they had to right at the end.

RRM: Once again Bill Belichick went for it on 4th and 2, this time deep in New England territory with a little over 2-minutes to play down by 7 points. Tom Brady failed to convert to Danny Woodhead and the game was essentially over. Was it the right call to make in that situation?

SG: I think so. I think at that point with the time on the clock that they had and the way they had been moving the ball, I know I was sitting there and I felt pretty confident they could pick up two yards. Unfortunately they didn't, and I'm sure Bill Belichick was feeling the same way. They had to take the chance right there, they were moving the ball well the whole second half, [thinking] "We're going to pick up two yards, no problem". It didn't work out.

RRM: Was it the ultimate show of respect to have five San Francisco 49ers lined up over center anticipating the Brady sneak for the tying touchdown, and instead having Woodhead run the ball in? Has Brady's running ability gone up to that level where he has to demand so much attention at the goal line?

SG: [Laughs] Well, you know, he's got a knack for running that quarterback sneak and I think people know that and they're going to make somebody else beat them. There was one time early in the first half where they gave the ball to Ridley and he got hammered two yards behind the line of scrimmage before he was tackled -- that was down in the goal line area too. Brady obviously did score a touchdown, and he can do it when he has to.

RRM: The 49ers came out right from the start and played a nickel defense, playing five defensive backs on the field. For the first time this year the Patriots strategy of being able to run against that type of defense just didn't work out, they weren't able to run against the nickel. Did you feel that was a key factor in the loss?

SG: I thought that was a big factor in the loss, the fact that they weren't able to run the ball and they gave up on it. I know you get behind, but you've still got to run the ball a little bit. I know Ridley fumbled and that scares you about trying to run the ball with people, but Woodhead had a couple of nice runs and I maybe would have given the ball to him a little more than they did. I mean when you throw 65 times in a game, it's going to be very difficult to either come from behind or to win when the ball's in the air that much. You need some kind of ground game to just keep people honest.

RRM: Well the Patriots were able to keep Colin Kaepernick contained in the pocket for the most part, although he did riddle the Patriots secondary for three touchdown passes. I thought this was an area that was supposedly 'fixed', yet it's now rearing its ugly head at the worst opportune time for the Patriots?

SG: Yeah, last week I think we all hoped that we saw the defense that the Patriots were going to play for the rest of the season and throughout the playoffs and it was kind of back to the same old story Sunday night. They were not covering him well, not getting much pressure on the passer - which I know they weren't overly concerned about, they were more concerned about keeping him in the pocket -- but they've got to play better pass defense if they're going to go anywhere in the playoffs.

RRM: I thought you could really see what Jim Harbaugh saw in making the switch from Alex Smith to Kaepernick. This guy can throw, he can throw on the run, he's got a gun for an arm. I think he only had one run of any substantial yardage against the Patriots but I think it came on a key third down. You can see what Harbaugh sees in this kid?

SG: Oh, there's no question. This kid's got a lot of talent. He's still young and he's going to get better and better if he can stay healthy. That's the big question with a lot of these young quarterbacks coming into the league now that are all runners, can they stay healthy? RG III almost blew a knee out a week ago, eventually something will happen but this kid looks like he's got an arm where he can stay in the pocket and still survive and that's pretty impressive.

RRM: Against a very physical defense like the 49ers possess, it really appeared that the loss of Rob Gronkowksi was especially hard in this instance for the Patriots to take. Do you feel his presence there would have opened things up a bit more for them both on the ground and in the air?

SG: Yes, there were a couple of times Sunday night where I was sitting there thinking that if Gronkowski was playing in the game, things would be a little bit different not only in the passing game but I think they miss him a lot in the running game. And I understand why they're not playing him until he's totally healthy. The game wasn't a 'do or die game' because they've already locked up a playoff spot but I think when he comes back they'll be a different offense again -- the kind of offense that they planned on throughout the year.

"I think you'd want to get him into at least one of these two games coming up just to knock off a little bit of the rust and get the feel back. So I don't see them sitting him for the last two games and then just sticking him in there for the playoffs." - Steve Grogan on Rob Gronkowski. (FILE:USPresswire)

RRM: That leads to my next question. It was reported that Gronkowski was back practicing at the end of last week. Do you expect him to play in either of these last two games of the regular season, or do they hold him out for what looks like a first round playoff game now?

SG: I think you'd want to get him into at least one of these two games coming up just to knock off a little bit of the rust and get the feel back. So I don't see them sitting him for the last two games and then just sticking him in there for the playoffs.

RRM: Well the Patriots have now fallen behind Denver for that coveted second seed and first round bye in the playoffs, and with Denver having Cleveland and Kansas City to close out the season, it doesn't appear that the Patriots are going to get any help from anybody else. Is getting that bye as crucial as everyone would have you believe, or would you rather get the home game, keep playing, and stay sharp?

SG: You know there's a lot of debate about that and I'm not sure there's any right or wrong answer to it. If you're banged up, the bye week really helps -- it gives some guys some time to heal up. If you're on a roll and playing pretty good football, then you want to just keep playing. So there's two sides to it. I think as Bill Belichick says, 'it is what it is' and they'll do whatever they have to do and I think they'll be successful in the playoffs, whoever they play and wherever they have to play them.

RRM: Well the bad news is if things hold to form they're going to probably have to win in Denver and then win in Houston to go to the Super Bowl, which would be a lot tougher road than having to play at least one of those two games at home?

SG: And they're capable of doing that. If they're healthy and if they play offensively the way they can and get some kind of defense out there, I think they can beat either of those teams on the road.

RRM: What's tougher as a player, having to bounce back from a really grueling loss like the one from Sunday night, or overcoming what Houston had to deal with last Sunday in getting blown out on national television?

SG: I think it's harder to come back from a loss like Sunday night. You came so close and fell inches short, that's hard to take. When you get blown out you just figure it was one of those games where you didn't play well, everything went the other team's way and you kind of throw that in the backseat and just move forward. But losing one like Sunday night is tough to take.

RRM: The latest rule change being circulated from the NFL's hierarchy is to expand the playoffs to 16 teams and eliminate first round byes. Doesn't that further diminish the importance of the regular season if you do that?

SG: To me it does. I just can't see adding that many more teams to the playoffs. I know they're looking for more TV money and money in general, but it's going to become like the NBA and the NHL where everybody's making the playoffs and to me, that's not right. If you've had one of the best seasons in your conference, you deserve a week off and let the other people battle it out before you have to start the playoffs. So I don't agree with that kind of thinking.

RRM: Well the Patriots will get to dry off next week with a trip to sunny Florida hopefully to play the worst team in the league in the Jacksonville Jaguars. Don't you almost feel sorry for what this riled up Patriots team is going to do to the woebegone Jags Sunday?

SG: [Laughs] Well, I hope they do to them what you're talking about them doing to them. Coming off a tough loss like Sunday you look at a team like Jacksonville, it's going to be a little bit hard to get overly excited about going down there to play a team like that and hopefully they don't come out flat and let Jacksonville sneak up on them. I don't see that happening, but it's one of those trap games that I think if you're not careful can jump up and bite you.

RRM: It's interesting you should say that because this is a Jacksonville franchise that actually played the Patriots in an AFC Championship game early in their existence and now they've hit rock bottom and they've been there for a while now. Unfortunately for them there's no Andrew Luck or RG III on the horizon to turn this thing around. How would you go about rebuilding that team?

SG: You know, I haven't followed them that closely but they drafted a quarterback out of Missouri last year in Blaine Gabbert, that hasn't turned out very well. There's not much in the draft, but from what you I would assume Alex Smith from San Francisco is going to be available. There will be a couple other back-up quarterbacks that have some talent that will be available. I could see them going in that direction but they've got a lot more holes to fill than just quarterback the way they're playing.

RRM: The rumor I keep hearing is they want to bring Tebow back to Florida because that will at least…

SG: [Laughs] It'll sell tickets. That could happen. He's a Florida kid, went to school not far from Jacksonville, he would put fannies in the seats and I think he deservers a chance somewhere to see if he can get it done again like he did in Denver for one year.

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the sorry Sunday night loss to San Francisco?

SG: I'd like to say incomplete, but I can't [Laughs] so I think it's just a 'C' across the board. They were average between a really poor first half and a very good second half, it just kind of puts you right in the middle. They were close, but not close enough.

RRM: If there's one thing they take out of this is we really get to see Bill Belichick's coaching chops on display I think these next two weeks. With any hope of getting a first or second seed gone, how he motivates this team, what he does to get ready for the playoffs, how the Patriots approach each game, is that the things we can look forward over the next two weeks?

SG: You may want to rest some people, not play them all that much. Preparing your team for the playoffs while at the same time trying to win, I think it's going to be interesting to see how he handles it.

Grogan's Grade: Week 14

Offense: C
Defense: C

Overall: C