December 06, 2004
Grogan's Grade: Week 12
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, Bethel Johnson started off what turned out to be a 42-15 Patriots win in Cleveland by returning the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. It looked like the Browns were never able to recover after that?
Steve Grogan: It was a great way to open the game running back a kickoff for a touchdown like that. The Browns came into that game with an interim head coach in Terry Robiskie and the fans were all jacked up to have the defending World Champions in town, and then with one great effort Bethel Johnson brings them all back down to earth. I thought the Patriots played pretty well all the way around. They did what they were supposed to do; they beat a bad football team very handily and walked away with an easy victory. They were able to play a lot of different players in the fourth quarter while giving some of the regulars a little rest for next week. It was another business-like game for this team that just keeps on winning.
RRM: The Patriots rushed for a season-high 225 yards against the Browns and laid to rest any further notion that they are strictly a passing team. Having played on those great Patriots’ teams that rushed the ball so well in the late 1970’s that must make you feel really good about this team right now?
SG: They really pounded the ball at Cleveland in this game. Corey Dillon had 100 yards and Kevin Faulk had almost 90 (87). It was also good to see the rookie Cedric Cobbs get some playing time and he looked good on a few carries. There’s no doubt this team knows how to run the football, and that is going to pay dividends for them as they get later into the month of December. They will find themselves in situations where they need to run the football to control the game, and it’s been a lot of fun watching them do that so far.
RRM: Did Bill Belichick do something a little unusual for him and allow Corey Dillon to go back into the game so he could crack the 100-yard mark and register his seventh 100-yard game this season?
SG: Yes, he did, and neither one of them is admitting that’s what happened! But Belichick obviously put Dillon back in for one carry in the second half to get the two yards he needed to reach the 100-yard mark. You hear players talk all the time about not worrying about individual statistics, but in this case I think it was important for both the team and for Corey Dillon that he get that 100 yards. Corey may have some incentive in his contract where if he gets so many 100-yard rushing games he gets a bonus, so it was nice to see Bill Belichick allow him to do that. When I was playing a lot of coaches would pull guys out of the game so they wouldn’t reach the bonus because (then owner) Billy Sullivan didn’t have enough money to cover the bonuses!
RRM: Does having a one-sided game like yesterday help the psyche of a team, or are the Patriots such a veteran team that it really doesn’t matter?
SG: I think anytime you can win that easily it helps. They got a chance to get a lot of players who otherwise wouldn’t have played onto the field so they can get some experience in case they have to play at some point. A game like this certainly isn’t much fun for a fan to watch. You like to see your team win easily but the fourth quarter seemed like it took forever to play. Things got a little sloppy and I’m sure a few people drifted off to sleep! But it was a good win for them and no one got seriously injured so they can start preparing this week for Cincinnati.
RRM: With the head coaching vacancy in Cleveland the talk has resurfaced about the Patriots assistant coaches leaving after the season. What do you think the chances are of Charlie Weis landing a head coaching position?
SG: I think both Charlie and Romeo Crennel have proven they are among the best coordinators in the National Football League, and I fully expect they will be candidates in Cleveland as well as other places. These guys have enjoyed tremendous success and their names are going to be tossed around for the next month or two. The problem is as was the case last season when your team goes deep into the playoffs (which should be the case again this year) that will work against them because teams want their head coaching slots filled as soon as possible.
I know whoever takes the Cleveland job is going to find things tough. They aren’t going to hire a head coach until they find a general manager, and once they have a GM in place that will put whoever they bring in as head coach in a predicament because he won’t have control of the player personnel decisions. That’s something all head coaches want in today’s NFL. It’s what Butch Davis had in Cleveland and it didn’t work out for him, so the Cleveland ownership may be wary of giving a head coach that much power again. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out because Cleveland has a loyal fan base and the team is well supported, and their fans are dying for a winner.
RRM: The big win over the Browns was dampened somewhat by the Steelers’ pulling out a 17-16 on Sunday Night Football. It appeared that was the best chance for Pittsburgh to drop a game going down the stretch, so it has to be a little deflating for Patriots fans who would like to see the AFC Championship decided in Foxboro?
SG: The Steelers are playing really well right now and that was a big hurdle for them to get over in Jacksonville. Their young quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is continuing to make the plays he needs to make. That is amazing to me because at some point you would expect a young quarterback like him would eventually make some mistakes, but he hasn’t yet. They do have a tougher schedule than the Patriots over the last four games which may favor us a little bit. Should both teams win out the rest of the way and the Steelers end up securing homefield for the playoffs that would mean the Patriots would have to win in Pittsburgh to go back to the Super Bowl, and one way to look at it is beating Pittsburgh down there again would make things pretty special.
RRM: The steroid scandal that broke last week didn’t touch the football world as much as the other major sports, but with this undetectable steroid in wide use you can’t help but wonder how deeply this affects the NFL?
SG: The good thing about the NFL is that both management and the players union work have worked together to clean the game up as much as possible. That’s the difference between baseball and football, where baseball has a much more powerful player’s union and the owners haven’t been able to do that much to rid the game of these performance enhancing drugs. Baseball has a long way to go but I believe football is doing the best they can to keep up with the trends. Even though some of these drugs are not detectable it won’t be long before the technology allows them to detect them so the playing field becomes even for everybody.
RRM: Did you have any inkling during your playing days how prevalent steroids were in the game?
SG: I really have no idea. I never needed to do that kind of thing, but I have talked to some former players that mentioned they did use them for a little while not knowing at the time how bad they were for you. A couple of guys that were using them surprised the heck out of me. At that time it was still a new phenomenon and it had the promise of helping you stay healthy and getting you stronger. Now that we know that steroids can lead to life-threatening illnesses it amazes me that modern day athletes choose to take them. Everybody wants to be the best you can be, but having seen what it has done to some former athletes like Lyle Alzado I just don’t see why anyone would want to take that risk. The money and the fame are great but it has the potential to screw up your body for the rest of your life, so it’s just not worth it.
RRM: There’s a fine line between mediocrity and parity in the NFL, and a quick glance at the standings shows that currently there are 10 teams with four or fewer wins. Why are there so many bad teams this year?
SG: There are a lot of teams that are struggling to win and it’s hard to explain why that is happening. I really don’t think it’s a good thing for the league. You have three teams that are 11-1 including the Patriots and then a few contenders and then a whole bunch of teams that are struggling, and I don’t think that sets too well with the fans. There’s the real possibility of having a division champion with a record under .500, and that doesn’t say much for the game. Hopefully this is just a one-time aberration, but if this trend continues next year they will have to do something.
RRM: We heard your son Tyler tried out for the Manchester Wolves arena football team over the weekend. Is he trying to follow in his old man’s footsteps?
SG: He’s a pretty good athlete who loves to play football and he’s looking to find a way to continue to play after his college career at Northeastern. He tried out at wide receiver which was the position he played in college. He’s also a very good punter but they don’t punt in arena football. I’m happy to offer him encouragement and if it works out for him that’s great. If he does make the team I may try out for quarterback so we can play together [laughs]!
RRM: The Patriots return home this Sunday for a game against a hungry Cincinnati Bengals team. How do you see this one shaping up?
SG: The Cincinnati offense has been putting some points on the board lately, and their young quarterback Carson Palmer looks like he is coming into his own. He is coming off the best game of his young career, throwing for over 380 yards and three touchdowns against a very good Baltimore defense, so I believe this game isn’t going to be a cakewalk like the Cleveland game was. He has some guys to throw the ball to like Chad Johnson, and they will provide the Patriots with a good test. The Bengals are coming off of a great win over Baltimore that has to fill them with confidence that they can play with anyone.
I know people have brought up the beating the Bengals gave the Patriots during the preseason but I don’t think that will be a factor. The fact that they have seen each other this year and are familiar with each other’s personnel will help both teams. But the Bengals still have to come into a hostile environment in Foxboro, and this is a Patriots’ team that has shown me that they are always ready to play no matter who the opponent is. I think the big key will be for the Patriots to get a pass rush on Palmer and mix up their blitzes and coverages to confuse him.
RRM: When he first joined the Patriots Corey Dillon said he had circled the Cincinnati game in red on his calendar. Now that the game is a week away he’s saying it’s just another game. Has he been fully immersed in the Bill Belichick School of Game-Week Rhetoric?
SG: He’s taken a sip of the punch, no doubt about it! He’s become exactly the kind of player they look for, someone who just looks ahead one week at a time with one game not being any more special than another. That’s how this team gets it done and it’s hard to argue with the success that they’ve had.
RRM: Isn’t that called brainwashing in other segments of society away from the NFL?
SG: Yup, there’s probably a little bit of that going on over there. But that’s a good thing in this instance! You don’t want him being too excited about playing his former team. He just has to go out and play the kind of football he’s played all year.
RRM: What are Grogan’s Grades for the blowout over the Browns in Week #12?
SG: It’s has to be A’s all around this week. They went into a hostile environment and beat a team handily that they were supposed to beat. They put the game away early enough so they could get their regulars out of the game and get the back ups in there. The only sticking point to me was that the Browns were able to put on a tremendously heavy pass rush on Tom Brady early in the game, and Tom didn’t exactly have the best game he’s ever had but it didn’t matter. The offensive line didn’t do a very good job of protecting him in the first half, and I was also a little concerned that they fumbled four times and lost two of them. But that just means they have a few things to work on in practice this week.
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