January 16, 2007
Grogan's Grade: AFC Divisional Playoff
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, when the Patriots fell behind San Diego 14-3 in the second quarter it looked like it was lights out time. Little did Patriots Nation know their team had the Chargers right where they wanted them?
Steve Grogan: I thought San Diego really outplayed the Patriots for three and a half quarters, but they did some really stupid things at the end of the game that wound up costing them the ballgame. They had a couple of costly penalties that put the Patriots in good field position and suffered an inopportune turnover which I thought turned the game around in favor of New England. It was a real struggle offensively for the Patriots during the first half until that last drive. They just didn't seem to have anything that would work against that San Diego defense. Although they weren't really getting to Brady and sacking him they were knocking him down a lot. He was under throwing balls and I didn't think he threw the ball very well, particularly in the first half. Then they came up with that touchdown drive at the end of the first half that gave them some momentum. In the second half the Chargers just self-destructed and the Patriots took full advantage. This was San Diego's game to win or lose, and they decided to lose it.
RRM: There's an old adage that experience trumps individual talent in the NFL postseason. That certainly seemed to be the case on this particular Sunday?
SG: The Patriots are an experienced playoff team and I don't care what anybody says, when so many of your players have been there in that situation before you don't panic. You don't see them doing things that they normally do not do, but San Diego with little playoff experience did a lot of uncharacteristic things that cost them the game.
RRM: We talked about the Marty Schottenheimer factor going into the game and he certainly made his presence felt with some strange decisions. Don't you almost feel sorry for him?
SG: Everyone wants to blame Marty Schottenheimer but how do you blame him for this one? I thought it was the stupid penalties and turnovers that really did his team him. Schottenheimer has had a great record as an NFL coach in the regular season and while he hasn't fared well in the postseason what ultimately cost his team the game wasn't his decisions but the lack of execution by his players. Unfortunately for him it might wind up costing him his job.
RRM: There were so many key plays in this game, but if Troy Brown doesn't strip San Diego's Marlon McCree after his interception on fourth down you and I are probably doing our season wrap up column right now. Talk about a play that doesn't end up in the box score?
SG: Troy Brown just always seems to make a play when he needs to. That interception probably would have put the last nail in the Patriots' coffin, but it turned out to be just one of so many stupid things San Diego did in the second half. Besides that fumble there was that penalty on the extra point, the head butt after a fourth down stop that resulted in a personal foul for a first down, and using up their time outs in questionable fashion. But you're right, if Troy Brown doesn't make that play the big comeback probably doesn't happen.
RRM: If the Patriots do go on to win the Super Bowl Brown's play will certainly go down in NFL history. Quick, let's come up with a name for it like the Immaculate Reception before anyone else does. How about the Propitious Poke?
SG: I think you need to keep working on that [laughs]!
RRM: So many of Tom Brady's throws were low, including one to a wide open Ben Watson that should have been a touchdown. Was the San Diego pass rush bothering him that much?
SG: The Chargers only sacked Brady twice but they were getting good pressure on him especially early in the game, and I think he was throwing them low because of that intense pressure. Sometimes you are afraid to step into the throw because you feel people around you, and you have a tendency not to get your body behind the throw and the ball winds up coming up short. That may have been what was happening to him for part of this game.
RRM: In a way Brady reminded me of an ace pitcher that didn't have his best stuff but anytime there were some runners on base he came up with the pitch he needed to get out of the inning. Then with the game on the line he came on strong when they needed him the most?
SG: I think that's a pretty good comparison. This was by far one of Tom Brady's poorer games. He was struggling with his accuracy in the first half, and to me there are times he doesn't seem comfortable with the game plan and what they are trying to do. But when the chips were on the line and they needed him to make some play he made them. It looked like he got more comfortable once they got out of the two-tight end offense and went to the three wides because that's when he really started letting it rip. The Patriots were searching for something that would work in the first half and didn't find anything until the two-minute warning. I thought they did a pretty good job of adjusting in the second half. They got the ball to Kevin Faulk on some runs out of the spread formation, so some of those second half adjustments really worked for them.
RRM: Speaking of Kevin Faulk I called his play on the two-point conversion, and if I was looking for it how come the Chargers weren't?
SG: Faulk said the Chargers actually had it defensed pretty well. The linebacker saw what was happening and ran to the hole he was supposed to hit, so Faulk broke it back to the other side and the linebacker got caught up in the wash of the down block and Faulk barreled in for the score. It was a gutsy call and I really like it a lot. Of course if it hadn't worked everyone would be questioning Josh McDaniel and Bill Belichick.
RRM: This had to be a great homecoming for Reche Caldwell. Not only does he make seven catches for 80 yards but he scores the game-tying touchdown and grabs a 49-yard bomb to set up the game-winning field goal. I don't think a Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't have come up with a better ending?
SG: It's fun to see a guy like Caldwell go back and have a great game against his former team. I have to be honest when I looked at the final stats the morning after the game I had no idea the Patriots had thrown the ball 51 times. I didn't think Caldwell had made seven catches and Jabar Gaffney had made 10. So it was little deceiving because when you look at the third down conversions the Patriots were only four of 17, so how do you throw the ball 51 times if you're not moving the football? It looked like the Chargers really made covering the Patriots' tight ends a priority and they left the wide receivers in single coverage most of the time. They also blitzed a lot which meant a lot of man-to-man coverage, so Caldwell and Gaffney racked up the catches.
RRM: We hear so often that the Patriots use the disrespect card to get themselves motivated for games like this. Is that overblown or is that a genuine factor in their success, even for a veteran team?
SG: I think that has a lot to do with getting the Patriots ready to go. San Diego was already talking to city officials about the Super Bowl parade and I'm sure the Patriots' players knew about that. You can be sure they used the disrespect card to get themselves motivated.
RRM: LaDainian Tomlinson had some unkind words for the Patriots in his postgame press conference, accusing them of having no class and saying it comes from their head coach. Where did that come from?
SG: Tomlinson was really mad after the game, so I think it was just out of frustration on his part. This is a great football player who I think in his mind had it all figured out how he was going to go to the Super Bowl and win a championship and suddenly it was all taken away from him. He was just blowing off steam; I don't think he really meant that.
RRM: Tomlinson was upset that the some of the Patriots' players mimicked Shawne Merriman's "lights out" dance at midfield at the end of the game. I guess he won't be following Emmitt Smith's example on Dancing With the Stars anytime soon!
SG: That's what got him so upset? He considers that disrespectful and it's not disrespectful to sack a quarterback and then show him up by dancing around? Give me a break.
RRM: The Indianapolis Colts have surprised many by reaching the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 2003, but Peyton Manning sounded a little reserved in his postgame comments about having to face the Patriots in this game. What will he be going through this week?
SG: Peyton Manning has had his troubles in the playoffs, there's no question about that. He's been able to do it in the regular season but the month of January has been a problem for him. But for the first time in the postseason he's got the Patriots at home in the Dome and that will be an advantage for him. I can tell you this; Peyton Manning is feeling very good about his football team right now, especially the way his defense is playing. But the first time something goes wrong in the game, like when he throws an interception, I think the doubts will start creeping into his head again. It's just human nature to have that happen to you. It would be great to have Rodney Harrison back for this game because he seems to have Manning's number but I don't think that's going to happen.
RRM: There are so many storylines for this game featuring these old foes. What are your thoughts on this game?
SG: You have another coach in Indianapolis' Tony Dungy that has been very successful in the regular season but never been to the big one so that will get a lot of play this week. Peyton Manning has been able to kick the Patriots' tails in their last two regular season meetings but for some reason can't do it in the playoffs. Lastly you have a Patriots team that feels like no one is respecting them and they will be playing with a lot of emotion again. It should be a great football game.
RRM: I actually felt the Pats had a great chance to upset the overconfident Chargers last week, but I'm a little antsy about them having to win two straight playoff games on the road to reach the Super Bowl. What does your gut tell you about this one?
SG: I hate to say it but it is kind of looking like it may be the Colts year. They were struggling at the end of the season and all the experts wrote them off saying they didn't have the defense to get to the Super Bowl. All of a sudden over these last two games their defense has looked like the '85 Bears. Peyton Manning is not playing that well and they are still winning and that's not a good sign. This is just not the same type of Colts team the Patriots have beaten in past playoff games. They don't rely on the big play but use runs and short passes to hold the ball for long periods of time. Playing in Indianapolis is going to make it even tougher. But don't count the Patriots out, because every time we do they find a way to win [laughs]!
This is going to be a great match up. Both these teams know each other very well. The Indianapolis defense struggled all season against the run but they've been stopping the run during the playoffs. I think the Patriots have to run the ball against them with Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney, because if they can do that they can keep Peyton Manning off the field. It's going to be a tough battle. It's been strange because the Colts have played differently in the playoffs than they did during the regular season. You wonder why that happens, but when you get into the playoffs teams can get hot and Indianapolis has gotten hot because their defense has been playing exceedingly well. The Patriots have gotten hot at the end of the season and right into the playoffs so you have two teams playing their best football right now, and when they go out to bang heads next Sunday whichever team makes the fewest mistakes will win the game.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the scintillating 24-21 playoff win in San Diego?
SG: This was without a doubt the best team the Patriots have played this year and while it wasn't pretty for much of the game they found a way to win. The Patriots didn't play their best football in this game, and San Diego gave them a lot of breaks that helped them win the game so because of that I can't give them an A this week. The Patriots were a good enough team to take advantage of the mistakes the Chargers made, but there's no doubt in my mind that they will have to play better next week to win in Indianapolis. I'm going to give the offense a C+ and the defense a B+. I didn't think they tackled very well on defense, and while part of that is Tomlinson they weren't wrapping people up and getting guys on the ground.
I thought the Patriots' special teams played really well in this game. Their kick coverage was excellent and they came up with a turnover on a fumbled punt return. The new punter Todd Sauerbrun had a really good day. He helped them change field position several times when the Patriots were really backed up deep in their own end of the field a lot in the first half, and he was really bailing them out with some huge kicks. The rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski came through in a clutch situation, and he still hasn't missed a kick in the postseason. They will have to get those kind of efforts from both of their kickers again because as we all know they will be up against the best kicker in the game in old friend Adam Vinatieri this week, and I would really prefer the game doesn't come down to a field goal. I'm sure you all know what I mean.
Congratulations to former Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett on being named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2007. Everyone from PatsFans.com will be rooting for you on Super Bowl weekend.
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