R.R. Marshall: Steve the Patriots came up short on Monday night in Carolina, falling to the up and coming Panthers 24-20 in a game that went down to the final play. Where do you stand on the now the now infamous picked up flag controversy?
Steve Grogan: I stand right in the middle I think. It was an interesting call, non-call. I think if that was a wide receiver out in the field during the game, it would have been pass interference because he couldn't get back the ball. You see it all the time. But there is a little bit of question about whether Rob Gronkowski was too deep in the endzone to get back and make a play on the ball. I think if that play happens in Foxboro, they probably get the call. But you don't get that kind of call on the road and unfortunately it could have cost them the game.
RRM: Just to expand on your point, I heard somebody else say the same thing. If you look at some of these controversial last calls on Monday night, it does seem to go in favor of the home team. Why do you have that in your opinion?
SG: The home team always kind of gets the benefit of the doubt, I believe, because of the crowd. The officials are trying to do a good job and not to be biased, but when you're in a stadium with 60-70 thousand people that are rooting for their home team, you have a tendency to kind of lean toward the home team and I think that probably had something to do with it.
RRM: Did you see the final shot of Tom Brady walking off the field with the officials?
SG: I did. Everybody was upset because there was no explanation really. It was just the flag was picked up, the referee said the game's over, and there was no real explanation. I think Brady was not only venting on the referee as he left the field, but he was trying to get an explanation and, of course, wasn't getting one.
RRM: But you know all the anti-Brady people are going see it and say, "There goes Brady, he gets the benefit of these calls and now he's trying to get another one?"
SG: I think anybody would have done that. There's detractors for Tom Brady out there that are going to say that. But I think any quarterback in that situation would probably be chasing the official down and trying to get an explanation. I thought Brady handled it really well in the press conference after the fact. But you're emotional, you've got a chance to come back in the last minute and win a game, and then to have something like that happen, you're just looking for an explanation and he wasn't getting one.
RRM: In retrospect, did you feel that the game really seemed to shift momentum on the third-and-one play on the Patriots' second to last drive where they were running the ball so well and Brady goes with the play-action pass and the best thing that they can do is throw the ball away with no outlet receiver available and they ended up settling for the field goal?
SG: Yes, that was a tough one. I know what they were thinking, that Carolina was expecting run and they thought they could sneak somebody out there and get the ball in the endzone. But when you're running it well like that, I think in my opinion, you want to show them that you're as physical or more physical than they are and you try and run it right at them and get the first down. They gambled and it didn't pay off.
RRM: Given the fact that the Patriots had two weeks to prepare for this game and had a full compliment of offensive weapons for the first time this season, doesn't this loss have to be considered perhaps the major disappointment of the season so far?
SG: I don't think so. Honestly, I don't think most of us up here in this part of the world have seen that much of Carolina. I was really impressed with how they played, especially defensively. They've got a really good defensive football team and they played better than I expected them to. They've got some great young players on that defense and they showed it Monday night. They weren't intimidated by the Patriots, they came right at them and they made plays when they needed to. I just thought both teams played a really good football game and unfortunately the Patriots just ran out of time.
RRM: Once again the Patriots lost a close game to a more physical NFC opponent. Are we at that point now where it's going to be surprising to see them actually pull off a victory against a team of that type?
SG: That's a tough question. People are talking about whether the Patriots can win a physical football game, I think they can. What we saw Sunday night on defense, with as many guys that were banged up, it's hurting them defensively a little bit. But I think they could play with anybody.
RRM: Aqib Talib and Steve Smith continued their on-field rivalry throughout the football game, but I thought Talib took it a bit too far to the detriment of his team. Did you feel the same way?
SG: They had quite a battle. I thought Talib let it get a little out of control early in the game but they're both competitors. They've both been talked about coming into the game, what they were going to do. And when you get two competitors in close quarters like that, sometimes tempers flare.
RRM: This team has now lost three of their road games this year. Does this reflect the kind of lack of mental toughness on their part, or is it just the injuries proving to be too much for them to overcome?
"if you can beat the Broncos at home on the big stage again on Sunday Night Football, then I think you're right there in the conversation about who's the better team in the AFC. If you lose, you've got an uphill battle the rest of the way." - Steve Grogan on the task facing Bill Belichick and the Patriots this weekend.
(PHOTO: USA TODAY Images)
SG: I think a lot of it's got to do with the injuries and who they've had on the field. Early in the year some offensive guys were missing, now they've got defensive guys missing. They had the bye week to get healthy and they got Shane Vereen back, which was good. They've got to get healthy, stay healthy, and try not to make any mistakes. I thought the fumble by Stevan Ridley, as good as he's been playing and doing so much for the offense running the football, to put the ball on the ground in the red zone like he did early in the game Monday night, I thought that was a tough play.
RRM: You mention that he was taken out of the game for a stretch, but he did end up coming back and actually scoring the touchdown that put the Patriots ahead for the only time in the game. So apparently Bill Belichick is going to stick with him?
SG: It looks like he is. He's got to get focused on covering that ball up, especially down when they get in the red zone. You can't make mistakes like that against a good football team and expect to not have it come back and bite you, and that's what it did Monday night.
RRM: Well, this loss makes Sunday's game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos even more important for the Patriots. A victory elevates them to the level of a Super Bowl contender, and a loss translates to the feeling that the Patriots can't be considered among the NFL's elite. Fair or unfair?
SG: I think that would be a fair comment. Denver, I think, is unquestionably
the best team in the AFC right now. You're playing them on your home field which should give you somewhat of an advantage, maybe you'll get the calls like Carolina got Sunday night. But if you can beat the Broncos at home on the big stage again on Sunday Night Football, then I think you're right there in the conversation about who's the better team in the AFC. If you lose, you've got an uphill battle the rest of the way.
RRM: This is certain to be a different type of a football game than the one we saw on Monday night, with both teams likely to put up a lot of points and yardage. Is that what you're anticipating as well?
SG: Every time you see two teams like this come together and play and you expect a lot of points in the game, it always seems to turn out that neither one of them score that many times. So I think this is going to be a real battle. It could be 45-40, or it could be 17-14. It's one of those games where you just don't know what to expect. With the weapons Manning has, more than likely he'll put up some points and hopefully Brady and his guys can do the same thing.
RRM: After watching Peyton pick apart the AFC's best defense in the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, you can't feel all that great about the Patriots now suddenly exposed secondary trying to contend against them this week?
SG: No, they've got their work cut out for them. Hopefully Steve Gregory will be back and Aqib Talib's not too banged up with that hip that kept him out of the game late last Sunday night. But Manning's got weapons and he's really comfortable in that offense out there. He's going to more than likely put up a number of points and it's going to be one of those challenges. This defense can bend a little bit but don't break, and they can kick field goals if they have to. But the offense is going to have to respond in the same mode if Manning does start racking up the points early in that first half.
RRM: We've all heard the same, "It's Bill and Brady vs Manning" but of course they don't actually play against each other. But after Brady came off his nice five days away at the beach with Gisele and the kids, you know after this loss he has to look at this match-up with Peyton as almost a personal challenge. Is that the feeling you get?
SG: I would say that's a fair statement. I think he really, really wants to play well in this game because of the fact everyone's talking about Manning and what he's doing out there. He's got Welker playing for him now, Welker's a question mark with the concussion, but I think that Brady will take this definitely as a personal challenge and really be as focused as we've probably seen him all year.
RRM: I only do this a few times per season, but I'm going to put you on the spot and ask you to offer us your official prediction for the Brady/Manning showdown on Sunday night football?
SG: I think it's going to be a tie game [Laughs].
RRM: Even with the NFL's new overtime rules? [Laughs].
SG: No [Laughs], I'm just kidding. I think is going to be one that is won in the last minute of the game again, very similar to last week's game. I would like to think the Patriots are going to win it 33-30. But Sunday night's game was a well played game, a fun game to watch, and I think you're going to see the same thing this week.
RRM: I can't let you go without backtracking a week since we were off for the bye week and ask you about this whole Richie Incognito affair with the Dolphins. Have you ever seen anything quite like this before?
SG: No, I haven't. Guys rib each other in the locker room all the time and say things that you wouldn't say in a normal workplace, but this looks to be a little bit overboard. Although it sounds like both guys were saying things to each other that most normal people wouldn't say. There are a lot of things that go on in the locker room that seem strange to the outside world, and you would have thought that this would have affected the Dolphins and how they played this last weekend, but they went out and won the football game. So hopefully this will get settled and put behind everybody and the NFL can move on.
RRM: This thing probably would have died by now if not for the fact that the investigation lead to involvement by the coaching staff and I think that's when it took on a whole new life of its own.
SG: Right. You've got accusations that the coaching staff asked him to do that to toughen the kid up. The general manager made some statements...it's just gone crazy. It's been talked about as bullying, I don't see it as bullying as much as it is just two friends that are getting on each other that let things get a little bit out of control.
RRM: It's funny, but I couldn't help but harken back to the days of the Patriots where it just seemed to be one thing after the other with the players involved with DUI's, harassment of the press...
SG: It reminds me more of my last year, 1990, with the Lisa Olsen thing when they had lawyers coming in and taking depositions and people were accusing certain guys of doing certain things, and it was just very disruptive. Like I said, I thought this would be very disruptive to the Miami Dolphins. It wasn't last week, it may become that in the future. But that 1990 season was a long one for us. We only won one game and a lot it had to do with the fact that we were preoccupied with things that had happened in the locker room off the field and it was hard to overcome.
RRM: The reference I was making was the fact that it just seems to me like with poorly organizations, things like this, if it's not this it's something else that happens and it just reflects that something is not being run right down there?
SG: To a point that's true. I mean, everything you hear about Joe Philbin, the head coach, he's a great guy, everybody respects him. He paid his dues, finally got to be a head coach, but apparently he wasn't on top of things and that doesn't bode well for anybody down there in that organization.
RRM: And my point being, you just don't see things like that happening with Belichick run teams.
SG: No, good teams don't let that kind of stuff go on.
RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 24-20 loss to the Panthers on Monday night?
SG: Well, this may surprise some people but I thought, as I said before, it was a great game by two very good football teams. I thought both of them played extremely well, the Patriots just ran out time and as Vince Lombardi used to say, "They didn't get beat, the clock ran out." I'm going to give everybody a B+ across the board for their effort Sunday night.
RRM: I guess you could call that a lenient grade for a loss...
SG: Like I said, I knew you and everybody else would probably wonder about that grade, but I just think the Patriots played a good football game, the Carolina Panthers played one play better.
GROGAN'S GRADES FOR WEEK 11: