By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall - Presented By Frank 106.3 Frank FM
January 23, 2014

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots improbable season ended on Sunday in a 26-16 loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the AFC Championship game. Were you surprised that Denver so thoroughly dominated the Patriots on both sides of the ball?

Steve Grogan: Yes, I was a little surprised. I thought Denver really controlled the fronts, both on defense and offense, and that was one of the biggest differences in the game. They just looked more physical up front on both sides of the ball and that did surprise me.

RRM: Bill Belichick said that the loss of Aqib Talib early on was the turning point in the game, did you agree with his assessment?

SG: Yes, that definitely was a turning point when Talib had to leave the game, similar to last year's AFC Championship game when he had to leave the game and the Ravens started moving the ball. He's such a great player, it's unfortunate that he keeps getting hurt in the biggest game of the year.

RRM: I guess some would have to consider it karma since it was old friend Wes Welker that knocked Talib out of the game with a questionable block. When things like that happen, do you wonder if there are cosmic forces working in the game?

SG: It looked like a pick by Welker, which was probably unnecessary. I don't think Welker was trying to hurt Talib or take him out of the game but it just seems like for some reason Talib runs into bad luck in AFC Championship games. So if they make again next year, maybe they want to save him for the Super Bowl and not take a chance on getting him hurt in that game [Laughs]. But football's a funny game and sometimes things happen and you can't explain them.

RRM: Well, you would think a guy coming off of two concussions would want to avoid contact, and that's perhaps why Bill Belichick in his Monday morning press conference called it, "one of the worst plays he's ever seen" and he's submitting the tape to the league for disciplinary actions against Welker. Is there any doubt that this thing has now become personal between these two men?

SG: There doesn't seem to be any doubt about that. I didn't see Bill's press conference but if he said that, then there's definitely some hard feelings there.

RRM: I know you risk a quick strike if you try to blitz Peyton Manning, but when he went on that long drive at the start of the second half, didn't you feel that they had to try and do something to get that Denver offense off the field?

SG: You and I can sit on our couch and say that. But those coaches have been studying film and the way the Patriots have always played defense is to bend and not break and let people get down, move the ball, and hopefully hold them to a field goal or less. But when you're playing a quarterback the caliber of Peyton Manning, you usually don't have those mistakes. They usually don't drop balls from him, they don't fumble balls, he doesn't throw interceptions. And so sometimes, in retrospect, you look back on it and say, "Yeah, maybe they should have pressured him." But like you said, if they had done that, he would have probably hit them with a quick strike for a touchdown anyway so it's a tough call to make.

RRM: Well while the Denver offense was rolling up over 500 total yards, the New England offense just couldn't seem to get into gear for most of the game. Did the lack of big-play weapons finally catch up to this Patriots team?

SG: I think it did. They ran the ball so well the last three weeks, they wanted to come out and do that. I think we talked last week about being able to run the ball and keep Manning on the bench, they weren't able to do that. Denver took away the running game. They were just, again, more physical up front on defense than the Patriots were on offense, so they couldn't run the ball. I thought they protected Brady fairly well, although he had a couple of sacks that looked like could have been prevented. But you just can't make those kind of mistakes. You can't have the sacks. I know they didn't have any turnovers, but you can't just keep giving Peyton Manning the ball back with no points being scored by yourself without him knowing that he's going to go down the field and put points on the board.

RRM: Tom Brady was willing to take what the Denver defense was giving him, but he missed on two big plays in the first half and at times he seemed just a hair off. Is this the present day incarnation of Brady we must accept going forward?

"I think Tom's reaching that age where he's not going to be as perfect as he was when he was younger." - Steve Grogan

SG: I think so. I think Tom's reaching that age where he's not going to be as perfect as he was when he was younger. He missed two deep throws Sunday that looked like they should have been easy throws. There's two ways of looking at that. They were guys who were wide open and he missed them throwing the ball deep. Well, they don't throw the ball deep that often so he's not nearly as good at that as he is at the underneath stuff. And the other thing is, the altitude in Denver does affect how far the ball travels, it's different than when you play at sea level. So you had of couple factors working there, but Tom Brady's still one of the best in the game and I wouldn't trade him for anybody.

RRM: All of last week's sports world was debating the legacy of Manning and Brady and how this game would serve as a referendum on where things stood. Is Peyton now the reigning senior quarterback with no more debate?

SG: Well, at this particular moment I guess he is. I mean, Brady's still had, over the years, better success against Peyton than Peyton's had against Brady. But we live in the here and now, and right now I would say Peyton's got the world by the tail, more so than Brady does.

RRM: Well the Super Bowl match-up in New Jersey in two weeks will pit the offensive juggernaut Denver Broncos against the league's best defense in the Seattle Seahawks. How do you see this game coming off?

SG: The Seahawks have a very good defensive team. But I just think the Broncos' offense is running on all cylinders right now and I'd be seriously surprised if the Seahawks could go into that game and win it or even stay close. Again, playing it in New York, the weather could change all that. But if it's a decent day and Peyton can throw the ball, then I think they win the game fairly easily?

RRM: Does Peyton have to win the game to get the monkey off his back? Or does all the records that he broke this year kind of go out the window if he doesn't?

SG: I would think he needs to win this game. It would take the shine off a great season if he doesn't finish as a world champion. I expect him to finish strong and win the game. But crazier things have happened, but to let a young quarterback like Russell Wilson beat you in the Super Bowl, I think that would a little bit of a tarnish on Peyton's season.

RRM: If he does win it, should he retire and go out a winner?

SG: He probably should, but he won't. He's one of those guys who loves playing football and I think he's going to be around a few more years.

RRM: Well the Patriots have a number offseason decisions to make, and the first being the status of Aqib Talib. Granted he's their best defensive back and he's a shutdown corner when healthy. But he has that problematic hip and as you pointed out, in the last two AFC Championship games when they've needed him the most, he hasn't been able to finish the game. I mean, how can you not factor that in when you're talking about a long-term commitment to a player?

SG: That will be a factor. I'm not sure they want to commit long-term to him. I don't know if they franchise him, if they offer him a one or two year contract at some pretty big money and hope that he stays healthy. But if he doesn't come back, there's no question that they need to find somebody similar to him. Because we've found out the last two years in big games if you don't have a shutdown corner than that secondary has problems.

RRM: Do you think the most likely scenario is that they franchise him?

SG: More than likely. I haven't looked at the list of players that are free agents who could walk, but I think he'd be one of the better players on the team and consequently he'd more than likely get the franchise tag.

RRM: Well, Julian Edelman racked up big receiving numbers, but he is a role-playing slot receivers and you'd have to think the Patriots would definitely not be willing to offer him big bucks and a long-term deal. How do you see this situation playing out.

SG: That's going to be another interesting one. They let him go to the very end this year and almost didn't re-sign him, and then he comes in and has a great season. I think they reward him with maybe a 3-year contract. He's still fairly young and can do things on special teams and proved that he can catch the ball, so I think they try to work out a deal to get him back.

RRM: Danny Amendola was a "no show" on Sunday and if they wanted to, the Patriots could cut their losses with him. But do we take into account the fact he was playing with that bad leg all year and bring him back next year, or what do you think they'll do here?

SG: That's a tough one. He really didn't contribute much at all this year and maybe it was because he was hurt. Only they know that for sure and they're not talking about it. So if that was the only problem he has, he was banged up and couldn't run the way he normally does, then I say they bring him back. But if he was healthy and not getting the ball, then I don't think you see him coming back here next year.

RRM: Then there's the ongoing saga with Rob Gronkowski. Despite his incredible talent, how can the Patriots continue to build their offense around him when you know it's going to be extremely difficult for him to make it through an entire season. How do you handle I guess the scenario that is Gronk?

SG: I think they're going to have to find a way to use him in not necessarily a limited role but in a differetn role that maybe takes him out of the fray where he could get injured. And I think they also go out and find another pretty good tight end in case something does happen to him, they have someone they can plug into that spot. I mean they were playing with a couple guys this year that nobody had ever heard of and may never hear of again, but I don't think I'm ready to give up on Gronkowski.

RRM: Well every offseason the cries come forth from Patriots Nation for a number one receiver who can stretch the field and make things easier on Tom Brady. Will those cries be answered this year, and should they?

SG: Well, they should be but it's easier to say that than it is to find somebody. Whether you're looking at the draft to find somebody like that or if you look at free agency, they do need somebody on the outside that can open the field up a little bit for some of the other stuff they do underneath. Hopefully they find that guy.

RRM: On a personal level, do you consider this season a success for the Patriots given all the injuries they suffered and managed to persevere through all year and win 12 games and reach the AFC Championship Game?

SG: Oh, there's no question. I think it was a year that I didn't expect, I don't know about anybody else. But the way they started early, a lot of new young receivers that nobody had ever heard of dropping balls, Brady didn't look like himself, they weren't playing that well, and to still win the Division and go to the AFC Championship Game with all the guys that were injured on defense in particular and Gronkowski on offense, to get as far as they got, in a few weeks everybody's going to look back and say this was one of Bill Belichick's better coaching years to get them where they got with the talent they had.

RRM: OK, for the final time this year, what are Grogan's Grades for the 26-16 season ending loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game?

SG: Well, it was a disappointing loss. Everybody wanted to see the Patriots in the Super Bowl again, and I understand that. But I thought they played about as well as they could play with the people they had Sunday so I would have to say I'd give them a B+ overall. I thought the offense was maybe a little better than the defense giving up all those yards, but all in all, I thought they played a pretty good football game.

Grogan's Grades - AFC Championship:

OFFENSE: B+
DEFENSE: C+
SPECIAL TEAMS: A

OVERALL: B+

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