January 15, 2008
Grogan's Grade: Divisional Playoff
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots took on that tough, physical Jacksonville football team that no one wanted to play and ended up beating them at their own game by a count of 31-20. What was your take on the game?
Steve Grogan: I thought it was a very well played game by both teams. As you mentioned it was a very physical contest and the Patriots played a lot more physical football than they have all year, and that's exactly what they needed to do against this Jacksonville team. It was a close game for a half but at no point did I ever feel like the game was in doubt. The Patriots' offense was so proficient you just knew they were going to score every time they had the ball and that eventually Jacksonville's young quarterback David Garrard was going to make a mistake, and he ended up making a couple that hurt them and that was the difference in the game.
RRM: This was a different kind of game from what Patriots' fans were used to seeing. Big plays were replaced by long, methodical scoring drives and at times it seemed like a throwback game to your era of ball control football?
SG: In some respects it was surprising to see the Patriots be that patient on offense because they have been just zinging it down the field and scoring so easily on big plays. It takes a lot of discipline to just grind it out like they did, but they really did a nice job of just taking the short gains that Jacksonville was giving them and moving the ball slowly but steadily down field on every possession. It must have driven the Jacksonville defensive coaches crazy because they game planned to take away the quick strike from the Patriots offense and instead they just slowly bled them to death.
RRM: Just when you thought he couldn't get any better Tom Brady completes an NFL playoff record 26 of 28 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns and oh, by the way, the two incompletions were drops by his receivers. I wonder if that one guy who didn't make Brady's MVP selection unanimous would like to have his vote back?
SG: I've never thought about this before but they may well want to do a DNA test on Tom Brady to make sure he is actually human! It's just impossible for a human being to play that perfectly in the game of football, it really is! I played the position for 16 years in the NFL and I can tell you it's not that easy, and yet he makes it look easy. He's just incredible.
RRM: I have to get your impression of the touchdown pass to Wes Welker that gave the Patriots the lead for good at 21-14. The play was called Double Pop where they faked the direct snap to Kevin Faulk with Brady hiding the ball on his hip before the Patriots All-Pro quarterback found Welker in the back of the end zone. Brady said he deserved an Academy Award for his performance on that play, did he get your vote?
SG: I lost track of the ball like everyone else, including the announcers [laughs]. It looked just like the play when they snap it directly to Faulk. People talk about the sophisticated NFL terminology for offensive plays nowadays, like XY-Double Z, and all this was called was Double Pop! The only way that play works is if the quarterback does sell the fake; it was kind of like the bootleg I used to run where if you showed the ball too quickly someone would catch on. Brady did just a great job of being patient and holding the ball with his back to the line of scrimmage until it was time to turn around and throw it, and then he threw a strike. Like they always say, it was just like they drew it up on the blackboard!
RRM: Jacksonville went up and down the field on the Patriots all night long and yet only came away with 6 points in the second half. Are we being a little overly critical of this defense?
SG: I think we're expecting a little much of this Patriots' defense. It looked to me like they had a specific game plan going into this contest. Jacksonville had run the ball extremely well all season behind Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew and the Patriots' plan was to stop their running game which they did and force the young quarterback David Garrard to try and beat them. He played very well, there's no question about that, but he didn't play quite well enough to win the game and that was the plan the Patriots had on defense.
RRM: The running game was supposed to be a big feature of this game but it turned out to be the running attack of the Patriots and not the Jaguars that made the headlines. Were you just as surprised as everyone else to see Laurence Maroney running wild (122 rushing yards) against the Jags with so much authority?
SG: The fact that Maroney ran so well was a little surprising to all of us I guess, but it was good to see. It looked like he had a fire lit under his rear end, and I don't know who lit it but it was fun to see him just ram the ball up in there. There were a couple of times where he did break the big one because he just did ram it up in there. The kid is a talented player and they really need him to continue to do that kind of thing. We've talked about how a good team has to run the ball during the playoff time of year, but the Patriots hadn't been running the football and we all assumed they wouldn't be able to once the weather got colder. They fooled us all and really kicked it into gear against the Jags, and it was a lot of fun to watch.
RRM: The Patriots did not have the benefit of having Rodney Harrison in the line up for the playoffs last year and he certainly made his presence felt this time around with some key plays (as well as a couple of personal foul penalties)?
SG: Rodney Harrison does do some stupid things sometimes but he does so many good things you tend to overlook the stupid things. Like you mentioned he had a couple of stupid personal foul penalties that could have hurt them, but he helps bring his team to play at another level and he made the interception that sealed the win. He does have that reputation now where if he makes a hit along the sideline that is questionable the referee is probably going to throw the flag on him. But his value on this team is just so much that his good plays outweigh his occasional lapses in judgment.
RRM: No Colts? No Cowboys? No Way!
SG: It was a little bit surprising to see both those teams go down in the playoffs the same day. I was watching the San Diego-Colts game and it was like neither team really played that well. The Colts' defense was not that good and Peyton Manning just didn't look comfortable with what they were trying to do on offense. The way the Colts were playing they certainly didn't scare me, and I found myself actually rooting for them because San Diego has something to prove after last year when the Patriots knocked them out in the first round.
RRM: They don't like us very much, do they?
SG: No, they don't. There's a lot of animosity that has built up between these two teams in a relatively short amount of time and it will be interesting to see if any of that spills out onto the field on Sunday afternoon.
RRM: After their big upset win in Indianapolis whatever remains of the San Diego Chargers will limp into Gillette Stadium at 3 PM next Sunday to decide the AFC Championship. Will their walking wounded be able to play?
SG: I would expect we will see all their injured players, especially LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers, on the field to start the game. Whether they can hold up for the entire 60 minute will become the operative question, but this is a good football team. They have some good players on offense and it should be a contest for a half or so but again I don't see the San Diego Chargers being able to hang with these guys
It's going to be 15 degrees up here on Sunday and I don't think they will be able to simulate that in San Diego this week. I thought Philip Rivers played pretty well for the Chargers but he doesn't scare me. He has some skills and has the benefit of a good running game which helps any young quarterback. I saw him do a couple of things against the Colts like yelling at the crowd when he was going into the locker room to get checked out and then yelling at them again after the game. That shows me that he is the kind of player you can fluster a bit if you start getting in his face, and that was something that I really didn't like about him. I think he needs to tone that down a little bit.
RRM: Last year it was the Patriots that had to fly back and forth across the country to play both the Chargers and the Colts in the playoffs and it seemed to take its toll on them in the AFC Championship Game. This year it is the Chargers turn to crisscross the country before arriving in Foxboro, but do you expect it to be a factor on Sunday?
SG: Did anyone feel badly for the Patriots last year when that happened to them? Not really. I think it will take a little bit of a toll on the Chargers but this time of year you're not going to practice that hard anyway. What you're trying to get done on the practice field is more mental, so I wouldn't expect it to have a huge effect from a physical aspect.
RRM: The Chargers turned their season around after acquiring wide receiver Chris Chambers from Miami. The addition of a deep threat seemed to balance out their offense, and assuming both LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers are healthy they appear to be a much different team than the one the Patriots faced in the second week of the season?
SG: They are more balanced now and they have a couple of receivers that look like they are pretty good-sized players which can cause the Patriots some problems with their small cornerbacks. I'm pretty confident that Bill Belichick will come up with a defensive game plan to stop them. I expect LaDainian Tomlinson will play but if he doesn't that really changes the entire complexion of their offense and makes their task that much more difficult.
RRM: Jacksonville opted not to blitz Tom Brady, but with linebackers like Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips you can expect the Chargers to come hard after the Patriots' quarterback. That being the case do you think we'll see more big plays in this game than we saw last week?
SG: That's definitely the risk when you blitz a quarterback like Tom Brady. San Diego's secondary has really improved since cornerback Antonio Cromartie took over as a starter, and I believe you are correct they will come after Brady rather than sitting back like Jacksonville did and just letting Brady pick them apart.
RRM: The match up of a big corner like Cromartie on Randy Moss should be intriguing to say the least. Don't you still have to believe that Moss will end up with more than one catch like he did against Jacksonville?
SG: I think it's a safe bet that he will have more than one catch in this game. I thought Moss showed remarkable composure after the game when the press asked him about him having only one reception. It didn't seem to bother him that much, and a lot of receivers of his caliber would not be too happy about it. But I think he really does want to win a championship and is willing to do whatever it takes.
RRM: Do you think this AFC Championship will be anticlimactic since we had been building towards a Colts-Patriots, Manning-Brady showdown all season long, just like in 1986 when the Celtics ended up playing the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals instead of the archrival Lakers?
SG: Yes, I guess the San Diego upset spoiled a lot of people's predictions. After the Patriots game on Saturday night everyone was talking about what would happen when the Colts would be coming in next Sunday, and then all of a sudden it's not going to happen. This will be a tough match up for the Patriots, but in my opinion they are just playing too well right now for anyone to stop them.
RRM: You know the Dallas fans will be all over Tony Romo for his jaunt to Cabo with Jessica Simpson. Is that fair or unfair?
SG: To be honest I'm not really surprised that the Cowboys lost to the Giants. The Giants defense has been playing really well lately and they can really get after the quarterback which they did on Sunday, and Eli Manning has been playing really well so that didn't totally surprise me. The Tony Romo-Jessica Simpson thing has been blown way out of proportion. With today's players when they get a day off if they have enough money they go home and go out to different places; it's just part of their normal routine so I think he has been unfairly criticized. I probably would not have done what he did and if he could have seen her without anyone finding out it would have been no big deal, but in today's day and age the press knows everything about celebrities, and when you have a high profile actress-singer like her going out with a starting NFL quarterback someone is going to get the story. There's no doubt Tony Romo would have been smarter staying home, there's no question about that. Did it affect his play? I don't think so.
RRM: Who do you like in the NFC Championship Game, New York at Green Bay in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field?
SG: I have to like the Giants. I know they'll be on the road for the third straight week but their defensive line really brings the pressure, and while Brett Favre can run around a little bit that's still a young football team in Green Bay that will have a lot of pressure on them. Eli Manning has played really well and I think he has one more good game left in him. I'm also not sure that the Packers defense is good enough to really rattle him that much. You probably have to give Green Bay an edge when the weather is like it is right now, although the Giants will be practicing in this stuff as well. It's going to be really cold in Green Bay so it could be a low-scoring game, but I just like the way the Giants are playing right now.
RRM: Does the Colts' upset loss mean we will finally see the end of all those annoying Peyton Manning commercials?
SG: Probably not [laughs]! At least it looks like he'll be riding his younger brother's coattails for awhile now!
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the solid 31-20 playoff win over the Jags at Foxboro to get them one win away from a trip to Super Bowl XLII?
SG: I think it should be a solid A for this effort. The offense played at a really high level and they only had to punt one time, and that was at the end of the game when they were killing the clock. The defense gave up a lot of yardage but when they needed to turn the Jags back in the second half they did. Aside from a couple of personal foul penalties the only things you could really fault them on were a dropped ball by Wes Welker and a missed field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
It is going to take a perfect performance by somebody to beat this football team. Offensively you can't stop them; they are going to score on 90% of their possessions and there aren't too many teams out there that can match points with them like that. In order for San Diego or the winner of the Green Bay-New York Giants game to stay with them they will really have to play a perfect football game. But this Patriots team is unbelievably focused right now, and I just don't see them tripping up.
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