PatsFans.com is proud to welcome former New England Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan back for the 12th straight season. Grogan played in 149 games with the Patriots from 1975-1990, and was named to the Patriots Hall of Fame in 1995. Steve will join us each week to provide his insight on the progress of the Patriots during the 2012 football season. He already joined the Buzz on Monday, now we do an additional expanded feature with another interview from local writer R.R. Marshall which gives you even more from the former New England signal caller.
R.R.Marshall: Steve the Patriots easily dispatched the Dolphins in the frigid conditions at Foxboro 28-0 and secured a number two seed in the process. Didn’t it seem like the Patriots played that entire first half on the Miami side of the field?
Steve Grogan: It seemed like it. They missed out on a couple of scoring opportunities but I’ll tell you with the weather, the wind blowing the way it was, I thought they handled everything extremely well knowing they had to win to lock up that bye week. They came out and did everything they needed to do. It was a really nice performance by the Patriots.
RRM: Once again Wes Welker just decimated his former club with 8 catches for 94 yards and a score. Outside of Tom Brady it really looked like he was easily the most dominating player on the field on Sunday?
SG: Yes, he just always seems to play well against them and whenever you need a big play, Sunday he was the guy that Brady was going to. He just kept making big plays picking up first downs over and over and over again. It’s fun watching him play.
RRM: Well it was nice to see the big tight end Rob Gronkowski back in action after a six week absence from the broken left forearm. The CBS broadcasters pointed out that he looked to be a little cautious trying to protect that left forearm, especially in blocking situations. But at least he looked like his former self at the end of the game with a touchdown catch in the fourth quarter and his patented end zone celebration spike?
SG: He had a couple catches, one for the touchdown. His spike for the touchdown wasn’t quite as demonstrative as it normally is and he was protecting that arm. I’m not sure whether he decided to do that or if that was the way he was told to play but he was definitely not using his left arm to block anybody and that’s probably the smart thing. He gets another couple of weeks for it to heal up now and I would think by the time their playoff game rolls around he’ll be completely healthy and able to do what he needs to do.
RRM: Well there wasn’t any rain or snow to deal with on the field but the cold seemed to affect the Dolphins while it didn’t seem to bother Tom Brady at all. Having played in cold weather many times, can you tell us if it really is a mind over matter type of thing to deal with?
SG: It’s definitely mind over matter and when you’re winning the game it’s much easier to play in a cold game like that. That’s why it was, I thought, important for the Patriots to get up on the Dolphins fairly early. Because when you’re a team that’s got nothing to play for and it’s that cold and all of a sudden you’re two touchdowns down in the first half, all you want to do is get the game over with, get on the bus, go home, and get in your car and go to your offseason home. That’s kind of what the Dolphins looked like Sunday. They didn’t totally quit on them, but after they got down a couple of touchdowns you could tell the cold was getting to them and they just wanted to get out of there.
RRM: Tom Brady challenged his offensive line to get their act together during the week and they protected him very well in this game, I think they allowed just one sack and that came on a corner blitz. Is that type of thing something you ever did or considered doing during your playing career?
SG: I don’t remember ever having to do anything like that, but I didn’t have the cache that Tom Brady has after winning three Super Bowls [Laughs].
RRM: I was going to say I don’t think every quarterback can do that, right [Laughs]?
SG: No, I don’t think every quarterback can do that. He’s in a position where he can get away with it. They certainly did a great job of protecting him and I thought they did a really nice job of run blocking in the second half when you wanted to run the clock out and keep the ball on the ground. They did a really good job.
RRM: The Patriots defense turned in a season high seven sacks against Miami and maintained steady pressure even after Rob Ninkovich left the game with a hip injury. This has to be one of the biggest factors in the Patriots getting the shutout in this last game of the season?
SG: The defense played well, the people up front played well. To get seven sacks in a game is really impressive. It’s got to be a concern losing Ninkovich, having him come off the field. But I think they said it was a ‘hip’ so if it’s a ‘hip pointer’ he’ll be probably ready to play. If it was a knee or an ankle, he certainly may have had a problem. But they certainly kept pressure on Tannehill and it’s kind of the way we’ve been wanting to see this defense play all year and they finally came through and did it. Hopefully they can keep it up in the playoffs.
“He had a big game and I don’t remember them calling his name at all earlier in the year so it’s nice to see a young guy like that come out and have a big game. It’s great for his confidence and hopefully he’ll keep it up.” – Steve Grogan on the play of Justin Francis. (FILE:USPresswire)
RRM: Once again the Patriots dominated the Pro Bowl roster and the unsung Matthew Slater was named as a special teams player. It seems week after week we never mention the special teams coverage because there’s not much to talk about. But he is a big factor in why the Patriots have done so well in special teams coverage?
SG: There’s no question Slater is a great special teams player and is able to fill in at a couple of different positions on the offensive and defensive side of the ball when he has to. So he’s a valuable asset to this team and it’s nice to see him be recognized by going to the Pro Bowl with all the hard work he puts in on those special teams.
RRM: Well, Peyton Manning came up with another big game for the Broncos to clinch the number one seed in the AFC, and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson fell 9 yards short of the all time season rushing record, and of course Tom Brady with his usual perfunctory effort. I’ve given you a week to consider, so we all want to know who gets Steve Grogan’s MVP vote for 2012?
SG: I would have to say in my book Adrian Peterson for what he did coming back from a knee injury and leading his team into the playoffs when they weren’t expected to be that good. He would be the most valuable player to me. Peyton Manning would be a close second, coming back from his neck surgery, but he’s got a lot of weapons around him out there in Denver and has done well…and then Tom Brady has also had a great year. But I just think the Peterson story, nobody thought he’d be able to come back and do what he did after tearing that knee up as badly as he did. Then to lead his team into the playoffs, I mean, they weren’t a playoff caliber team without him. So Adrian Peterson’s got my vote.
RRM: I think everybody in America was rooting for him to get into the end zone on that last run before the field goal, but to fall 9 yards short like that was just heartbreaking.
SG: It is heartbreaking and if it had gone to overtime he would have broken the record and then you would have had the argument that back when Dickerson was playing I don’t think they had overtime…so does it count the same way or whatever? He had a great year, and sometimes 9 yards, it’s a game of inches and Sunday it was a game of yards for him.
RRM: The consensus is the loss to San Francisco has taken Tom Brady out of consideration. But of Manning and Peterson, who do you think the voters will elect as the MVP?
SG: The voters I think will probably pick Peyton Manning just because he’s the sentimental favorite and he’s a quarterback and that puts him a step ahead. But again, in my book, if you look at what Adrian Peterson meant to his team compared to what Peyton Manning did for his team, I’d have to go with Adrian Peterson but I think the voters will probably go with Manning.
RRM: Well, we should take a moment to recognize long time Patriots radio voice Gil Santos, who along with his longtime broadcast partner Gino Cappelletti were both honored before the start of the last regular-season game. For those who don’t know Gil he’s been doing games for, I think 10 years before you arrived on the scene with the Patriots in 1975 and has been there long after you left. That’s quite a legacy to sum up.
SG: It really is. The two of them I think I heard them say worked together for 28 years and Gil’s been doing it for 30. There was a time back in the 80s where Gil wasn’t doing it, but then he came back in the early 90s. The two of them had a great combination going. Gil’s a true professional, can broadcast any kind of sport and Gino’s, of course, Gino Cappelletti – he’s a legend in New England. He was with the team when it started, scored the first points in the AFL and became a very, very good color commentator for a long time. So it’s going to be a sad day next year when the season starts and we’re not going to hear Gil and of course Gino retired before the season which, he just got tired of the travel at his age. But the two of them together were the best.
RRM: And for those who never had the pleasure of meeting either of them at any of these events, they’re two of the nicest people you would ever want to meet.
SG: There’s no question about that, two of the nicest people you would ever want to meet.
RRM: Thanks to the Indianapolis Colts knocking off Houston the Patriots will have a bye week on Wild Card weekend. Give us your thoughts on the upcoming match-ups: #6 Cincinnati at #3 Houston and #5 Indy at #4 Baltimore?
SG: Both of those games you look at home-field advantage being the decisive factor. I think Houston’s played well at home, they’ve been struggling lately but I don’t think Cincinnati has enough to beat them in Houston. The Colts have had nice a story, a nice run and did a great thing for the Patriots on Sunday by beating Houston. But having to go in the Baltimore and win there is going to be very difficult, I would give the edge to Baltimore. But that’s going to be an interesting matchup because it’s the old Colts going back to where they came from, playing the new team in Baltimore and I’m sure it’ll get a lot of press this week.
RRM: With the way this shakes down the Patriots can’t play the lowest seed, #6 Cincinnati. But if they did manage to upset Houston, who would you like to see emerge from that Indy – Baltimore matchup and come up here and play New England the week after?
SG: I think I’d rather play Indianapolis if I had to. It’s young quarterback, Bill Belichick’s always had a way of getting into young quarterbacks heads with different kinds of looks and the patriots have struggled at times over the years playing the Baltimore Ravens, particularly in the playoffs. So I think the Ravens would be a far more formidable foe to try and beat as opposed to Indianapolis.
RRM: Well if things hold true to form and Houston wins, the Texas will make a return visit Foxboro in two weeks. We talked about the time when the Patriots took them out to the woodshed that’s sometimes when you beat a team that badly it can come back to bite you. If this game should emerge, do you think Houston is capable of rebounding, especially the way they finished the season, be able to put up a good road effort in the cold at New England?
SG: Of course they’re capable of doing that, but I think it’ll be very difficult for Houston to come into it New England and play in the cold. They’re a dome team, to come play in the cold, who knows what the weather will be like. Knowing that the Patriots manhandled them the first time around, I think that would be a difficult game for them to come up to New England and have to try to win.
RRM: And of course the age-old question, but are the Patriots better off with the week off, or do the teams that play this week actually have an advantage because they stayed fresh and rhythm?
SG: I don’t know if anybody’s ever done a study to see what the percentages are, but my guess would be the people that have the bye week that have a week to kind of heal up and lick their wounds and get ready for their first playoff game have a better percentage of winning than the ones that don’t. So I would say this is a good time for the Patriots. They could take a couple days off in the coaches have two weeks to prepare for whatever team they’re going to play against and that gives them an advantage.
RRM: So what are Grogan’s Grades for the season-ending 28-0 win?
SG: I have to give them A’s across the board. I thought everybody played well on every aspect of the game. A’s are what they deserve.
RRM: Aside from Welker and Brady, I thought one guy we might want to mention is Justin Francis who had three sacks. His name’s kind of come out of nowhere this last month of the season, but certainly at an opportune time?
SG: Yeah, he had a big game and I don’t remember them calling his name at all earlier in the year so it’s nice to see a young guy like that come out and have a big game. It’s great for his confidence and hopefully he’ll keep it up.
Special Teams: A