February 05, 2008
Grogan's Grade: Super Bowl XXXLII
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, that thud you heard late Sunday night was the Patriots' dream of an undefeated season crashing back to Earth. I'll ask you what everyone has been asking me, WHAT HAPPENED?
Steve Grogan: The Giants were the better football team on Sunday night, there's no doubt about that. It was what they call in football terms a pure ass kicking. It's hard to explain how that happened. They just got beat up and beat out physically, and I'm sure it's embarrassing to all of them to have that happen. It was also terribly disappointing to their fandom to have that happen. After going 18-0 this season you would think the Patriots would be the best football team out there but on any given night any team can play better than you, and that's kind of what happened to them in the Super Bowl.
The key to the game in my opinion was that the Patriots could not get any pressure on Eli Manning and the Giants got a lot of pressure on Tom Brady (they knocked him down or sacked him nearly 20 times). It looked like the Giants were just pinning their ears back and coming after him. Brady didn't have his normal time to throw the football and that put a real kink in the Patriots' offense that they just couldn't resolve. The biggest surprise to me was that the Giants continued to get in Brady's face all night. Usually that offensive line finds a way to start protecting him as the game goes on, but on this night they never found that way.
RRM: I thought the tone for this game was set right from the opening drive when the Giants held the ball for nearly 10 minutes. Although the Patriots held them to three points on that drive didn't you think the seeds for the upset were sown right there?
SG: You definitely saw what the Giants' game plan was right from the start, to get physical and to control the ball, and they did a great job of keeping the football out of the Patriots' hands. I agree that the tone was probably set there, but the game wasn't won offensively by the Giants; the game was won on defense by the Giants. The way they just came after Brady relentlessly and wouldn't allow the Patriots to run the ball was just an extraordinary display of defensive football, and that's where the Giants won the game.
RRM: Randy Moss felt that his team did not match the Giants' intensity. Did you get that impression as well?
SG: No, not really. The Giants didn't have anything to lose and since no one expected them to win they were very loose and played like they wanted to show people they belonged there. The Patriots had a lot to lose and they may have been a little more cautious or tight because of the whole deal with the 19-0 season. They certainly didn't handle it well, but there are some weeks when your plan isn't as good as their plan and their guys play harder than your guys. I don't think the Patriots felt they were just going to just cakewalk through this game. It was just one of those games where the game plan didn't work for the players that were out there.
RRM: With all the talk about the plans for the Patriots' victory parade and the team trying to patent the phrase 19-0 do you think that gave the Giants some extra incentive?
SG: You don't want to give the opposition any bulletin board material during Super Bowl week and I'm sure that had something to do with it. I heard Michael Strahan's postgame interview and he was joking about them having to move the parade route from Boston to New York so I know they noticed it, and I'm sure that had a little bit to do with the way they played.
RRM: Tom Brady was not the Tom Brady we were used to seeing in the spotlight of the Super Bowl. Was that bad ankle bothering him?
SG: Brady was off, and when you are getting hit as often as he was you don't know if you are going to have the same amount of time to get the ball off as you usually do. Sometimes you get in a little bit of a hurry and it throws off your aim and the ball starts to sail on you. There was one play where Randy Moss had a step on two defenders and Brady overthrew him by a good five yards. Brady probably makes that throw if he hadn't been getting hammered and who knows how the game turns out then.
It was hard to tell if that ankle bothered him. I don't think it affected him a lot, instead I think it was the pressure he was feeling more than anything that through him off. He's not used to getting hit like that, and there were a couple of times it looked like they were about to rip his arm off.
RRM: What would you have done to counteract that relentless pressure by the Giants?
SG: I would have like to have seen the Patriots spread it out and go to that five-wide receiver formation and use that quick passing game that had been so successful for them all year. Maybe they even should have gone no-huddle and let Tom Brady just try and pick them apart. The other thing they could have done is go to two tight ends and let them help block before they got out into their pass routes, but they just didn't seem to try and help the offensive line when you could tell they were struggling.
RRM: Bill Belichick's decision to pass up a field goal attempt and go for it on fourth-and-13 from the Giants 32-yardline in the 1st quarter in retrospect looms large. Those three points could have forced overtime, so did you understand that decision?
SG: That was a strange call, it really was. You have your field kicker in perfect conditions in a domed stadium and apparently Stephen Gostkowski was hitting them from that distance in pregame warm ups. If you miss the kick you end up giving the Giants pretty good field position, but if you don't convert the fourth down you are going to give them pretty good field position regardless so I'm not sure what Belichick was thinking there.
That was far from the only thing I didn't understand. I thought it was strange the way the Patriots handled the last 30 seconds. Just heaving the ball as far as you could down the field three times with three time outs and only needing a field goal surprised me. I thought they would try and get some 15 yard plays, call time out, do it again, call timeout, and try and get themselves into position to possibly tie the game. The sack disrupted things but they still had time, and heaving it down there like they did didn't make sense to me.
RRM: Eli Manning finally emerged from his brother Peyton's shadow and won the Super Bowl MVP award. Will he now be considered an elite NFL quarterback?
SG: He definitely has to be taken more seriously. He really put together a nice run in the postseason and showed he had the kind of ability to play in this league and be extremely successful. That play he made to David Tyree where he broke away from three Patriots defenders was just a killer. If they keep enough talent around him and give him game plans he's comfortable with like they did in this game he'll be as good as anybody.
RRM: While the Giants were able to keep constant pressure on Brady the Patriots had trouble mounting any on Eli Manning. Didn't you feel the Patriot' inability to rush the passer was their Achilles Heel that came back to haunt them?
SG: We can look back to the Philadelphia game where A.J. Feeley had the game of his life and they weren't able to get much of a pass rush on him, so that has to be one of their concerns going into the offseason. You never heard the names of the Patriots defensive linemen called all night and they certainly weren't the ones putting pressure on Manning. Rather than relying on their defensive line to rush the passer like the Giants do the Patriots count on their outside linebackers to mount their pass rush. Mike Vrabel had flashes at times this year but when they lost Rosevelt Colvin I thought that took them out of what they could do. Although Adalius Thomas pushed the pocket well in this game he never quite got there so it's an area that definitely needs to be addressed.
RRM: After the Randy Moss touchdown that put the Patriots ahead 14-10 with 2:34 left to play Patriots' Nation had a collective sigh of relief. Unfortunately we all know what happened next, but aren't championship defenses not supposed to allow 83-yard game-winning touchdown drives late in a title game?
SG: The Patriots' defense did everything they needed to do except make plays, and they had chances to make plays. Asante Samuel missed a potential game-winning interception and nine times out of 10 Rodney Harrison knocks that ball out of David Tyree's hands. On that same play they had Manning trapped in the pocket by his jersey with four guys around him and they let him come out of there and make a big play. They were in position to win the game and they just couldn't put it away, which is highly unusual for a Bill Belichick coached team.
RRM: Were you as shocked as everyone else to see everyone's favorite whipping boy Ellis Hobbs get put in single coverage on Plaxico Burress on the game-winning touchdown?
SG: That was tough on him, to put him out there all alone on a big wide receiver like Burress. He had to take one thing away and try to get to the other, and he took away the slant and just couldn't get back in time for the fade. You can't point the finger at Hobbs, but you can question the decision to come with a blitz on that play that left him singled up on Burress.
RRM: So you don't think Hobbs will become the latest Bill Buckner in the Boston Sports Hall of Infamy?
SG: No, I don't think that's fair. There were a lot of other people that could have made plays throughout the game and failed to do so. He had plenty of company.
RRM: For the superstitious types out there you had to have a bad feeling when Bill Belichick came out wearing a red sweatshirt as opposed to the gray one he usually dons?
SG: I think everyone in New England had the same feeling. I really don't know what that was all about.
RRM: You're one of the few people that can answer this question. Does this game now surpass the infamous defeat to the Raiders in the '76 playoff game with Ben Dreith's phantom roughing the passer call as the most painful defeat in franchise history?
SG: Probably, at least for the fans that are old enough to remember it. Not for us guys that played in that '76 game, though. Believe me, nothing will ever replace that as far as we're concerned [laughs]! But as far this team goes it was so anticipated that they were going to go 19-0 and that they would have no problem with the Giants, including myself. I felt this would be no big deal for the Patriots, and it was disappointing to see it end the way it did.
RRM: Could this devastating defeat possibly signal the end of the Patriots Dynasty?
SG: That's a good question, and it will be interesting to see how they handle it going forward. It was pretty devastating last year to lose in the AFC Championship Game, but they came back and strung together an undefeated regular season so they are mentally tough enough to handle this kind of thing. Will there be some changes along the way? Absolutely. There's some age creeping into that defense and that needs to be addressed, and they might lose an assistant coach or two. But I still believe as long as they have Belichick and Brady there they've got a chance to go to the Super Bowl every year.
RRM: Do you expect to see a lot of turnover in the team before the start of the 2008 season?
SG: I think you'll see some changes. Junior Seau is going to have a hard time coming back after all these years but you never say never I guess. He's an extremely motivated guy that wanted to win a championship and I have a feeling he'll be back. I feel the same way about Tedy Bruschi who I know was mulling retirement but since they didn't win I have a feeling he'll want to come back as well. The one player they may end up losing is Asante Samuel who is young and has a chance to score a ton of money in the free agent market.
RRM: What about the Randy Moss? Will we see #81 streaking downfield again next season for the Pats?
SG: I think the Patriots will try to get Randy Moss to return. He's an integral part of this team and I know they liked what he did this year. I think part of it will depend on how this off-field incident works out in the next several weeks and all indications are it's not a big deal so I think they'll want him back. Will he play for as little as he played for this year? Probably not, but I would think he would play here for less than he would be able to get on the open market. He's found a guy in Tom Brady that can get him the ball and make him look good while possibly turning him into a sure fire Hall of Famer, so I would be surprised to see him wanting to go any place else just to grab a few extra dollars.
RRM: I have to ask. What are Grogan's grades for the Patriots' devastating 17-14 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII?
SG: This was a hard one to grade. Being the last game of the year it's like a final exam so I almost have to consider it a pass/fail, and the Patriots would fail in that aspect. It doesn't matter how well you play, if you win you pass if you lose you fail. If you had to put a grade on it was just an average effort on both sides of the ball on their part. It was just a major disappointment all around.
I'm sure the average fan will consider this the best Super Bowl game ever played. The game went back and forth right down to the end in what was a real chess match between the two coaches. Outside of the Patriots being behind and ultimately losing it was a fun game to watch because you never knew what was going to happen next. It didn't turn out the way we wanted but like they say wait 'til next year. It was a fun ride until the end and I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. Let's hope for a better ending next year. Enjoy baseball season!
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