January 03, 2007
Grogan's Grade: Week 16
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots were supposed to take the day off in Nashville but instead played their regulars for most of the game and put up 40 points to notch their 12th victory of the season. Just when you think you have Bill Belichick figured out he does the opposite just to keep you guessing.
Steve Grogan: I think we should have stopped trying to figure Bill Belichick out a long time ago [laughs]. I kind of wonder whether the fact that after the game got kind of a little chippy maybe he decided he wanted to win it a little more than he did going in. That's just speculation on my part, but it may well have been one of those scenarios where you plan on resting your main guys but the other team starts ticking you off a little bit so you leave them in and try to win.
RRM: There's a fine line between being a physical football team and a dirty one. What side of that line are the Tennessee Titans on?
SG: To be honest the kinds of things I kept seeing from both teams were so ticky tack that I thought the officials really overreacted, particularly after the hit on Rodney Harrison. They just started calling everything (19 total penalties combined between the two teams) and it slowed the game down to the point where it wasn't much fun to watch. This was the longest game I can remember in quite some time and from that aspect it was just horrible.
RRM: I can't remember the last game the Patriots were involved in where there was so much trash talking going on after plays. I thought I was watching the NBA, not the NFL!
SG: There was a lot of talking, and I guess Tennessee has a reputation of being a little bit chippy and known for talking trash. They are a young team feeling pretty good about themselves after winning six games in a row, then they run into a veteran team like the Patriots and don't show them the respect that they should be showing them and the veterans don't appreciate that very much. It's like a rookie in a locker room talking too much and finally someone sits him down in a corner and tells him the way it's supposed to be. That's kind of what the Patriots did to Tennessee in this game.
RRM: The hit by Tennessee's Bobby Wade on Rodney Harrison really infuriated Belichick and the rest of the Patriots' players. Was it an illegal block in your opinion?
SG: It looked to me that Wade got him squared up and delivered a legal hit. He got in front of him and Rodney Harrison knew he was coming, and that's what the whole rule is about. You can't come in from the side and block low when some guy isn't expecting you.
RRM: Even if the hit was legal is it one of those plays that is looked down upon in the NFL as something you don't do to another player because of the risk of serious injury?
SG: No, not that I know of. If you get squared up on a guy you can go low, go high, go wherever it is. I really did think it was good block, it was just a shame Harrison had to get hurt after all the hard work he has done to get back this year.
RRM: History was made when 43-year old Vinny Testaverde fired a scoring strike to Troy Brown in the final moments, Vinny's 20th consecutive season of throwing at least one touchdown pass. Belichick called it giving a great player a chance to make some history while many on the Tennessee side considered it rubbing salt in the wounds. How did you see it?
SG: I could see where Tennessee wasn't too happy about what happened, but in many ways it was similar to what happened in the Patriots' last game a year ago. Just like last year with Doug Flutie's drop kick in the last game of the season it all depends on your point of view. The Patriots were losing that game and no one seemed to care about it so it was no big deal, but when you are already up by double figures the way the Patriots were against the Titans and throw a touchdown pass I could see why it would make them a little upset. But that's all Bill Belichick. He has a deep appreciation for the history of the game and he does things for guys like that, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it. The Titans will get over it, and even if they don't they aren't in the same division as the Patriots so we don't see them all that often!
RRM: Tom Brady and Reche Caldwell dusted off the long pass section of the playbook and hit some big plays against the Titans' secondary. Are the Patriots trying to show their future playoff opponents they can throw the long ball so the defenses will play them honest?
SG: I'm not sure why all of a sudden they were able to go to the deep passing game so successfully after basically going the entire season without doing it. They had two or three big ones down the field and Caldwell had a big game (four catches for 134 yards and a touchdown) so they must have seen something in the Tennessee pass coverage that they thought they could exploit. I don't think they were trying to send a message to any future opponent in the playoffs, I think it was just the way Tennessee was playing defense.
RRM: The special teams aspect of this game left a lot to be desired. You had to hold your breath every time the Patriots kicked the ball, and that's not a good thing heading into the postseason, is it?
SG: This was the first time I've gotten a chance to see Pacman Jones play and that kid is a special player. He's is just an unbelievable kick returner, and when Todd Sauerbrun outkicked his coverage and Jones took it the distance I thought after the exchange Sauerbrun had with Belichick it looked like he had almost kicked his way off the bus home [laughs]! It has to be frustrating as a coach when you are trying to defend against a player that has that kind of speed and agility returning kicks. You don't want to put it out of bounds for a kick of only 30 yards, but you almost have to after what he did to them on that one play. This Jones kid is going to be a major talent in this league for a long time.
RRM: Chad Jackson made some significant contributions running the reverse and returning punts, including a nifty 39-yard return. Do you think we will see Jackson returning punts in the postseason?
SG: I think you will see Troy Brown back there on punts any time the ball is kicked down close to the endzone. Any time the other team is punting from deep in their own territory you will see Chad Jackson back deep for returns. You also have to like what Ellis Hobbs has done returning kickoffs over the last few games for this team. Between the two young guys Jackson and Hobbs they have some real speed that can help them break some long ones, and they could be a factor in the playoffs. Field position becomes even more of a critical factor in the postseason, and these guys can help you win that battle.
RRM: The Patriots finished 12-4 as many predicted at the start of the season but it just didn't seem like a 12-4 season. Why is that?
SG: No, it didn't and I think it had a lot to do with all the injuries the Patriots had to overcome this year. They've had to do that several times over the last few seasons, but this year seemed like there was more of that. I also think because they lost to teams like Denver, Indianapolis, Miami, and New York it made it seem worse than it was. Usually when you are 12-4 you're probably one of the top two seeds in the conference and this year that's only good enough to give the Patriots a fourth-seed. Then you look over at the NFC with an 8-8 team in the postseason, and you wonder why a 12-4 record only gives you one home game in the playoffs. It just doesn't seem right.
RRM: I was surprised to hear that Tom Brady keeps in touch with his former quarterback coach from his younger days. I don't think the average fan has a clue as to the actual function of the quarterback coach. What are his duties?
SG: It varies from team to team and coach to coach. I never had a quarterback coach that worked a heck of a lot with my mechanics. It was more just game planning and play calling and what you can expect to see from a defense. There were only a few guys I heard of that ever got into that area that deeply, and I don't think that has changed that much. Just watching David Carr of Houston a few weeks back his mechanics looked terrible. His head coach Gary Kubiak is someone that played the position and was around one of the greatest to ever play the game in John Elway, but he is supposedly the one trying to break him down. The quarterback coach should be doing that, not the head coach. I think there are only a few guys that really understand the fundamentals of playing quarterback like how to hold the ball, how to throw it, etc.
RRM: That's surprising to hear because it would seem observing a quarterback's mechanics would be one of the primary responsibilities of the quarterback coach, similar to a pitching coach in baseball always checking the mechanics of the pitchers on his staff?
SG: There are just so many other things involved with coaching the position that they don't delve into the mechanics aspects of it. The entire time I was in the NFL I only had one quarterback coach that actually played quarterback in the NFL and that was former Boston Patriots quarterback Babe Parilli. That doesn't mean you can't coach the position or show a guy what his fundamentals should be, but I think what Brady is doing with a guy that has seen him from start to finish is a lot easier than some coach that you've only known for a few years who may want to change some of the things you do without knowing what you've done in the past. These coaches change way too often for any of them to come in and try and change what a quarterback is doing unless it's just horribly wrong. If a guy comes in and I'm in my seventh or eighth year in the league and he really hasn't seen how I threw the ball in my rookie year or even in college how's he going to tell me what I'm doing wrong or what I need to do to get back to where I was? It is a highly specialized skill. Certain people can watch an athlete mechanically do things and be able to tell what they need to do to get better. Usually it's not the great stars that have the ability. They were just able to do it without understanding how it really got done. It's like a good teacher who isn't the most brilliant person in his field but if he is able to impart to people how to get certain things done that makes them special.
RRM: The Broncos blew a game at home to the 49ners that knocked them out of the postseason and ended up sending the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets to Foxboro next Sunday. There are a lot of people that just assume not see the Patriots play Denver again, so do you think the Pats got the better draw here?
SG: I was wondering about that watching the Broncos play their game against the 49ners on Sunday. They have been playing so poorly and it's pretty obvious they are no longer the same team that beat the Patriots earlier this season so maybe it would have been better for them to pull that game out and come to Foxboro this weekend. Then again, Denver always seems to give the Patriots fits, so I think you're better off playing against a team in your own division that you know a lot about and have beaten once already this year. The Jets may have beaten the Patriots once this year but Belichick knows how they beat them so I think that's advantage Patriots. I was sad to hear the news about the Denver defensive back Darrent Williams getting shot and killed early Monday morning. It was a real shame and my heart goes out to his family and the Denver organization.
RRM: It's hard to imagine Eric Mangini's Jets beating his former mentor's team twice in their own stadium at home in one season. It can't happen, can it?
SG: We are going to get a lot of different storylines this week but many will center about the Belichick-Mangini angle. Neither coach cares much about that, all they care about is getting their teams ready to play. I'm sure they will also make sure their players aren't talking about the two of them as well. I just don't see the Jets beating the Patriots twice at home in one season. The Jets have had a great year but it is still a young team with no playoff experience going up against a veteran team that is playing some pretty good football right now. I can't see Belichick allowing the Jets to beat them with that ball control attack that they were so successful with last time out, so Mangini is going to have to figure out something else to try. I really think the Jets are going to have a hard time trying to win up here, and I feel pretty good about the Patriots advancing to the next round of the playoffs.
RRM: What's your take on the rest of the AFC playoff field?
SG: I think with Kansas City's ground game the Chiefs are going to give the Colts a run for their money even though the game is in Indianapolis. The Chargers are going to be tough but we all know how Marty Schottenheimer has had his troubles in the postseason. No one is talking much about Baltimore, a team that is playing great defense and their offense has gotten better since Brian Billick has taken over the play calling. There are some good teams in the AFC this year and it is going to be a real dog fight before it is over.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 40-23 win over the Titans in the regular season finale?
SG: It will be B+'s across the board for this one. This wasn't a very important game but they went out and won it anyway. I thought there were just enough penalties and mistakes not to merit an A, but all in all it was a good effort and a good win for them. Let's hope some of the injured players that have been missing in action like Vince Wilfork and Ben Watson return this week and Rodney Harrison suits up as well. I really am optimistic about the Patriots making another Super Bowl run this season. Right now I think they can play with anybody in the playoffs, there is no question about that. If they continue to avoid turning the ball over and keep playing that good defense they have been playing there is no team out there that they do not match up well against. They have a chance, and this time of the year that is all you can ask for from your football team.
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