By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall - Presented By Frank 106.3 Frank FM
December 11, 2013

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R.R.Marshall: Steve, it was another fantastic finish at Foxboro with the Patriots pulling out a last-second 27-26 win over an upset-minded Cleveland club. Have you ever seen a Patriots team that can come from behind in such exciting fashion as this 2013 edition of the Patriots?

Steve Grogan: I can't think of any team, not only a Patriots team, that has come from behind to win games the way this team has this year. It's just absolutely incredible. They kind of sleep walk through the first three quarters, and then suddenly offensively they figure out how to turn it on and win the game. It's just amazing.

RRM: The win did come at a big price, with the apparent loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski to a torn ACL in his right knee. While the hit by Browns safety T.J. Ward seemed to be legit, did it seem to you like it was absolutely necessary on his part?

SG: I think the hit was legal. I think that was the only way he knew he could get Gronkowski down was by going low. It just happened to catch Gronkowski as his foot was planted in the ground. It's just one of those unfortunate things that happens in football occasionally, just kind of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't think he had any malice toward Gronk, he was just trying to make a play on him and the result is going to hurt the Patriots going into the playoffs.

RRM: Has the NFL's mandate towards eliminating head-to-head contact inadvertently opened up the door to these kind of hits to the knees and lower extremities?

SG: Well, I think in some cases it has. I think in this case, however, with Ward coming over and Gronkowski having already caught the ball and taken a couple of steps, he probably wouldn't have gone high on him anyway because he would have just bounced off a guy of Gronkowski's size. So he probably would have gone low anyway no matter what the rules were, but you do hear some defensive players talking about having to go low now and the consequences that come with that is there's going to be more knee injuries and it looks like got caught up in that whole debate.

RRM: We spent most of the first half of the season talking about how the Patriots' offense would get better once Rob Gronkowski returned. Does his loss now mean a regression for the offense to what we saw prior to his return, or does the fact the young wide receivers have had a chance to mature will help offset that somewhat?

SG: Well, you can't replace a guy like him and it was indisputable that the offense became much better when he was back in the line-up. I don't think this is going to be a big problem for them for the rest of the regular season, but I think going into the playoffs, not having him in the line-up, not having him down in the red zone in particular, could be a really, really big loss for them. The young receivers have picked it up a little bit and a couple of the back-up tight ends have made plays here and there. But losing a guy like him going into the playoffs makes it really rough to advance very far.

RRM: To me it became pretty obvious during the second half of this game that the Patriots wouldn't be able to pull this game out without the Browns making some mistakes. Credit Browns quarterback Jason Campbell for not committing any turnovers, but they did suffer two key penalties and when they failed to recover that onside kick, it really led to their downfall?

SG: No question about that. The onside kick was executed absolutely perfectly. But if that one Cleveland player had not tried to touch it before it got to 10-yards, it probably would have gotten touched by Stephen Goskowksi and they would have had to re-kick. So they got a break there and then they got a little bit of a break on the pass interference call in the end zone. I thought from what I saw, as the receivers hands went up for the ball, he got grabbed on the left bicep area, which kept him from getting his hands up in time to make the catch. However, I've seen a lot worse and in that crucial a situation in the game, usually the officials don't want the game decided by a call in the end zone like that. But Sunday they made the call, it was the right call in my book, and the Patriots took advantage of it. Cleveland made the mistakes, and that's what bad teams do and they're not a very good team.

RRM: Give Bill Belichick some more credit. Most onside kicks are either done towards one sideline or the other, but this one was masterfully designed for right down the center. He wouldn't elaborate on it during his press conference, but it seemed that they spotted something in the Browns kick coverage that they could take advantage of?

SG: Usually the kick goes to one side or the other. The kind of kick you saw Sunday is usually done in more of a surprise situation when they're not expecting an onside kick, so it was a little unusual to see it at that particular time with the Browns knowing that they were probably going to onside kick it. You hit it, and you hope it bounces your way, and the way he hit it, the ball rolled just enough to get them the break that they needed to recover it.

RRM: Lost in the euphoria of the big comeback was the abysmal first half turned in by the Patriots offense, which has now failed to register a lead in five of the last six games at half time. And it seems funny, because with all the preparation this team does, it seems totally out of character for them and yet week-after-week they keep laying these stinkers for the first thirty minutes?

SG: It's hard to figure out what's going on there. I mean, to be shut out in the first half…the Cleveland Browns have a good defensive team, there's no question about that. But the Patriots have a great offense and to get shut out is almost embarrassing. I thought the defense played pretty well in the first half, keeping them in the game, but the offense sleepwalked through the first three quarters before they finally woke up and started making some plays. Thank goodness for Shane Vereen, he came off the bench and had a huge fourth quarter for them, otherwise we'd be talking about a loss today.

"He's going to have to pick it up a bunch now with Gronkowski out. That was a huge confidence builder I'm sure for him as well as Brady about him, so look for Amendola to be a bigger part of the game plan from here on out." - Steve Grogan on Danny Amendola's role moving forward
(USA TODAY Images)

RRM: Danny Amendola's game-winning touchdown was a clutch reception that brought back memories of -- dare we speak the name -- Wes Welker. Is this the kind of moment that kind of gets the monkey off his back where we stop thinking about Welker and move forward with Amendola?

SG: I think that's probably true. He's going to have to pick it up a bunch now with Gronkowski out. That was a huge confidence builder I'm sure for him as well as Brady about him, so look for Amendola to be a bigger part of the game plan from here on out.

RRM: Just to show that other teams make halftime adjustments as well, Josh Gordon was practically shut out in the first half, and then he became almost unstoppable in the second half and just about nearly did the Patriots in single-handedly. Do you feel Aqib Talib should have been in so much one-on-one coverage on him, which is usually the formula success, yet after seeing the performance against him and Steve Smith in Carolina, maybe the fact he's not 100% is just something Bill Belichick's going to have to re-think?

SG: I think he's got to re-think it a little bit. I think they need to mix it up a little more. They're putting a lot of pressure on Talib and with his hip being banged up a little bit, he had a bunch of penalties Sunday trying to get in to Gordon's head. I thought he did a pretty good job most of the day with the exception of that really huge play for the touchdown. That was a tough one. Nobody in the middle, they put Talib on him one-on-one, took the free safety out of the middle, and that's tough for anybody to try and recover a receiver that good. But they may need to start helping him just a little bit now and then.

RRM: The Patriots head down to Miami to face the Dolphins this Sunday who have thrust themselves into the thick of the Wild Card race after an impressive come from behind win over Pittsburgh with a score of 34-28. Ryan Tannehill threw three touchdown passes and their star receiver Wallace wasn't even much of a factor in this game. Given what we saw against Cleveland you have to figure this team is going to give New England all they can handle this Sunday?

SG: Yes, playing in Miami in December is always tough, particularly when Miami is starting to feel their oats a little bit. They're in the hunt for a playoff spot, so going down there is not going to be easy. Tannehill is playing much better than he was earlier in the year, and they're just playing all around better than they were early in the year. I don't think the Patriots can walk into their stadium down in Miami and play like they did this past week and expect to come out with a win. They're going to have to button things up a little bit.

RRM: Have you seen enough on Tannehill to make a decision on him? Is this the guy that the Dolphins are going to build their team around?

SG: I think he's got a chance. He's getting better all the time. He's got a chance to be a very good player, they just need to start surrounding him with some additional talent. They've got a couple of decent players right now, but they could use some more to make him the quarterback that I think he'll be in the future.

RRM: I was going to say, young teams feed off of emotion, and I would think the fact they had to score the last 10 points of the game to come back and beat Pittsburgh in their stadium is a big emotional lift going into this week?

SG: Unquestionably. They've got to be feeling very good about themselves today. Pittsburgh, although they're not very good this year, to beat them at their place with their young team, there is a lot of emotion and a lot of confidence that comes out of a win like that. So I'm sure they're feeling very good.

RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 27-26 beating of the Browns?

SG: I've gotten to the point where I can't grade this team [Laughs]. You know, you grade the first three quarters and you give them an 'F', and then they got an 'A+' in the fourth quarter, so it's just so hard to grade this team…it's almost an incomplete. But I would say a 'C+' maybe on offense, 'B-' on defense. Special teams played fairly well, I'd give them an 'A'. So overall, maybe a C+ for an overall grade. They play two different games ever week.

Grogan's Grades: Week 14