January 25, 2007
Grogan's Grade: AFC Championship
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, with their team ahead 21-3 late in the second quarter Patriots Nation was already booking their reservations to Miami and then the roof fell in. I guess since you predicted a Colts' win you weren't caught by surprise like the rest of us?
Steve Grogan: Did I say the Colts would win? I can't even remember to tell you the truth. We're not used to ending on sour notes around here so I think the end of this game came as a surprise to many. It was a great football game to watch. There were so many twists and turns in the second half where it looked like the Patriots had the game back in control only to lose it again. It looked like it was going to come down to one of the kickers either making or missing a field goal but that didn't turn out.
I think the Patriots played hard and gave it everything they had, but Peyton Manning was at his best in the second half and he is one of the best to ever play the game so if anyone is going to beat them I'm glad is was him because now he finally gets to go to a Super Bowl. The Colts offense played exceptionally well in the second half and to be honest I think the Patriots defense got tired. They were on the field for a long time at the end of the first half and then the Colts came out and put together a very long drive to start the second half and it looked like it really deflated the defense. Bill Belichick had said this week how much the trip to San Diego had taken out of his team, and it looked to me like it caught up to them in the second half.
RRM: Doesn't it just seem ironic that after worrying so much about the play of the New England wide receivers and the rookie kicker this season it was the usually reliable Patriots' defense that ultimately let them down when the chips were all on the table?
SG: The Colts have a great offensive football team and you aren't going to stop them very often or for very long. The Patriots did a great job of doing that in the first half but in the second half it just didn't look like the same Patriots defense that we've been watching all year.
RRM: It was a strange game in many ways, including three offensive linemen scoring touchdowns. You don't normally see that in a regular season game, not to mention a conference championship game?
SG: It's funny because when Laurence Maroney fumbled and Logan Mankins recovered for the touchdown you could see Peyton Manning put his head in his hands saying to himself here we go again, it's not going to be my day. Then the Colts wind up getting one themselves when their center Jeff Saturday falls on a ball in the endzone. It looked like our old friend Dan Klecko bulked up a little bit but he still has the good hands and even he managed to lumber in for a score. It was just that kind of a game, and for once the Patriots wound up on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
RRM: One of the overlooked aspects of the game was that the Colts managed to outrush the Patriots by a margin of 125-93, and aside from Corey Dillon's 35-yard burst in the first quarter New England's ground game was not much of a factor. Did you see this as a big advantage in favor of the Colts in this game?
SG: The fact that the Colts were able to run the ball as well as they did helped to put a strain on the Patriots defense since it kept them on field for an awfully long time in the second half. The Patriots inability to run the ball, particularly in that second half, really hurt them because if they had been able to maintain possession of the ball instead of going three and out the few times they did it might have been enough to make a difference.
RRM: Some have said Tom Brady is partly responsible for the loss. How did you assess the game he had against the Colts?
SG: You can't blame Tom Brady, absolutely not. I did not think it was one of his Top 10 games of his career but it certainly wasn't one of his worst. That's a real stretch if you want to hold him responsible. Just because he didn't bring his team back with under a minute left to win the game which is what we expect him to do doesn't mean he's at fault. It's disappointing, but for crying out loud let's not expect too much out of him. Sometimes you just run out of time. If you give Tom Brady the ball in that situation with two minutes left on the clock he might have taken them down and scored, but he had reached a point on that drive where he had to take a chance and it just didn't pay off.
RRM: Prior to 2004 if the Red Sox had lost this kind of game the New England media and fans would have called them the same old chokers. Instead of the Patriots losing this game it is being thought of as Peyton Manning finally winning his big game. Do those three Super Bowl trophies give the Patriots some slack in that regard?
SG: I think that's true in some respects. The morning talk shows were all looking for someone to blame, like you just can't accept defeat for this team. But that's the mentality around here, even for a team that has won three Super Bowls. Personally I don't think you blame anybody. You had two great football teams with two great coaches and two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks battle each other hard for 60 minutes. One had to win and one had to lose, and for once that team wasn't the Patriots.
RRM: The Colts had developed this persona of a finesse team, but after smashing heads against physical teams like Kansas City, Baltimore, and New England I don't believe that label will ever be used to describe them again?
SG: No, they ran the ball extremely well in their three postseason games. You figured after losing their outstanding running back Edgerrin James and using a rookie in Joseph Addai they would have some problems. But Addai got the job done for them and they've been able to maintain their running attack well enough to balance out their offense. The Colts are also playing better defense this year, particularly in the playoffs, and that's really what has helped them reach the big game.
RRM: Would you have like to have seen the Patriots do things a little differently on defense to try and slow the Colts down in that second half?
SG: I really don't think there was that much they could have done from a strategic sense. It just seemed to me that the defense was worn down after the trip to San Diego and the physical game they played against the Chargers. The Patriots were playing against one of the best offenses to come along in a long time, and they are going to make plays. They didn't get a lot of pressure on Manning late in the game and I thought that hurt them. They played such a different defense in this game, starting Eric Alexander at inside linebacker and so they could move Mike Vrabel outside. That change seemed to work in the first half but the Colts were able to make adjustments in the second half and were able to take advantage of that.
RRM: Even though the Patriots lost no one is blaming the failure to keep wide receivers Deion Branch and David Givens as a reason for the defeat. Jabar Gaffney's leaping catch in the back of the endzone late in the third quarter was just a spectacular effort. How would you rate it?
SG: It was one of the better catches I've seen in a postseason game and Gaffney has been a nice find for them. He's bounced around and didn't do too much early in his career, but he's come to New England and developed a nice rapport with Tom Brady and he should be a factor here next season.
RRM: There were some people that thought that Bill Belichick could have been a little more gracious in his postgame press conference, but I guess they don't understand how much he abhors losing and what it takes out of him?
SG: Bill Belichick is just not real comfortable up on the podium after a game, particularly when they lose. Rather than try and tell the media things he really doesn't believe or know about, he just doesn't say anything and it just comes off badly sometimes. He did congratulate the Colts on their victory and if it didn't seem sincere because of his demeanor after the loss people just have to understand that is just Bill Belichick.
RRM: To borrow from a phrase often used to describe a member of the Red Sox, you mean Bill being Bill?
SG: There you go [laughs]!
RRM: As a former quarterback who took his own share of abuse around here you must be happy for Peyton Manning?
SG: I do feel glad for him. He is one of the greatest to ever play the position and like Dan Marino who played for many years and never won the Super Bowl it would have been a shame for Peyton Manning to play his entire career without ever having reached the Super Bowl. He's just a classy guy. I played against his dad Archie and knew him and I can tell you that they are just a great family. I think his Colts will dominate the Chicago Bears so he will finally get his championship ring. I don't think the Bears have enough offensively to overcome what the Colts can throw at them.
RRM: There is a large segment of football fans that just hate Peyton Manning for some reason. He doesn't exactly have a Dennis Rodman personality so why does he generate that kind of a reaction?
SG: I don't think he's hated because he's good; there are some people you just don't care much for. He has a lot of national exposure, and it seems he's in every commercial on TV right now so they get tired of seeing him do that. He's also very straightforward in his comments and that can turn some people off. Believe it or not I had people hate me for no reason and I don't know why [laughs]. It's just the way you look or carry yourself that rubs people the wrong way.
RRM: In the final analysis should we regard this as a good season for the Patriots, or does this loss undo all that they accomplished this season?
SG: It was a good year. They lost a couple of key players to injury in Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau and they were playing with a lot of young players in the secondary. They lost the best place kicker in football, and both of their top wide receivers were gone so aside from Troy Brown they just about had to start from scratch over there. Everything that they had to overcome this year just to reach the conference championship game says volumes about how well schooled this team is. There are 28 other teams that would have given anything to have gotten that far, so from that perspective I would call this a very good season.
RRM: Is there one player on the Patriots that surprised you with his performance more than any other this season?
SG: I would have to say Asante Samuel. The way he played at cornerback this year leading the league in interceptions and returning two for scores in the postseason was just an amazing performance. He really came into his own this year and that was a big surprise to me.
RRM: There are sure to be a lot of changes with this team next season. Asante Samuel is a free agent looking for big $$$ and Tedy Bruschi has hinted about retirement. Do you see either of them returning next season?
SG: I know Tedy Bruschi has talked about possible retirement but after losing this game I'm sure he will change his mind. Tedy Bruschi is a football player, and he's not going to walk away with this kind of bitter taste in his mouth. He's still going to play. I'm not sure if we will see Asante Samuel back next year. I know the Patriots want him back but they have a figure in mind and they aren't going to overpay, and if some team overwhelms him with an offer he'll probably leave. For a good young cornerback someone will overpay, but maybe the Patriots will surprise us. Maybe they'll decide this is a kid who is so talented we need to pay and keep around here. He had a great year, but they will have to determine if he will continue to play at that level or this was just one of those years where everything fell into place for him.
RRM: Bottom line, is this the end of the Patriots dynasty like many of the national media are trumpeting this week after their loss to the Colts?
SG: No, I don't think so. I think what they did with what they had this year just might be Bill Belichick's finest coaching performance. They had to bring in another new defensive coordinator and overcome the loss of key personnel either to injury or free agency. There was just a lot of things going on this year that could have said to the players if this isn't going to be our year let's just get through it and move on. Instead they go on to the AFC Championship Game. I think they now know what they need to tweak to reach the next level in 2007, and that's just going to make them stronger. It may take more than one offseason to address all their needs but they'll find a way to start filling in the holes they will have with the linebacking corp getting up there in age. They are just too good at doing those kinds of things not to get it done.
RRM: I'll ask for the final time this season, what are Grogan's grades for the heart-breaking, season-ending 38-34 defeat to the Colts in the AFC Championship Game?
SG: I think a B+ is a fair grade. They played hard and battled right to the finish but in the end they came up a little short. I know you might think I'm being overly generous to the defense but they played a great first half before they gave up a lot of points in the second half and couldn't get the Colts off the field in the third quarter. You can't help but think what would have happened if the Patriots had won that regular season game against the Colts so that this game would have been played in the cold at Foxboro. It just goes to show how important it is to secure home field for the playoffs because looking back asking this team to win back-to-back road games in San Diego and Indianapolis was just a little bit too much to ask. That trip to the West Coast is a long one and you just don't recover the same way when you do that.
It's a sad time of the year. When football is over what do we do [laughs]? It's going to be boring for a few months now but the 2007 season will come soon enough and we'll all be talking football again in the fall. I've really enjoyed doing this because it gives me an outlet to talk to all the Patriots fans not only in New England but throughout the country. See you all again next fall.
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