John Hannah and Steve Grogan sat on the unforgiving turf of Sullivan Stadium, looking like bad little boys in a sandbox deciding whether or not to trust one another. Grogan, New England's Lazarus, had just completed a 26-yard pass down the middle to tight end Lin Dawson before being bounced to the seat of his pants. Grogan was decked despite the efforts of Hannah, his All-Pro guard. In previous years, there had been no love lost between the two.
However, two days earlier, Hannah, speaking just loudly enough for Grogan to hear, had said, "There's only a few quarterbacks who'll do what Steve does now—he holds that ball. He'll sit there, hold it, know he'll get that lick, then throw. It makes you want to give up a little bit of your life for him. You can see that gritted-teeth determination in him now." So on Sunday Hannah had given up a little bit of his life, and now they sat on the turf together. Hannah spoke first.
"You all right, Steve?"
Grogan said, "You all right, John?"
They both were just fine. They'd done it again. They'd won.
The pass to Dawson hardly mattered. It came in the fourth quarter, and Grogan and the Patriots had already laid waste to the Indianapolis Colts on their way to a 34-15 victory. Grogan set the course, but the Patriots seem to be flying on automatic these days.
The Patriots (7-3) have won five straight games, something they haven't done since 1980, and were 5-0 in the AFC East, to the surprise of everyone but themselves. The Pats weren't chilling any champagne yet, but they weren't booking January golf junkets, either.
"Defense wins championships," Grogan said after the game, an ice wrap the size of a basketball comforting his sore Tight elbow. "Quarterbacks only keep championships from being lost."
It may be premature, even revolutionary, to discuss championships in the same breath with the Patriots—they have been 8-4 three times since 1979, but have made the playoffs only once since '78, and that was in the Super Bowl tournament of the strike-shortened '82 season. "We've had the talent before," Grogan said. "But never this kind of depth. Never this kind of experience. Never this kind of chance."
And never have the Patriots had this kind of quarterback, even though Grogan has been with the team for 10 years. Last year, he and everyone else thought his career had run its course; Grogan had been beaten out by Tony Eason. But this year Tony ran the club aground with a 2-3 start, and when he suffered a separated shoulder on Oct. 13, Grogan came off the bench and rallied the Patriots to a 14-3 win over Buffalo—and he has been No. 1 ever since.