Q: Did the Patriots grant permission for Josh McDaniels to speak with the Browns and what are your thoughts on Josh being a head coaching candidate for the Browns and other teams as well this offseason?
BB: I'm not going to get into any of that. The procedures are in place with the league and so forth. Any comments on that I don't think are appropriate to come from me so I won't make any.
Q: You've had a first-round bye the past few years. Have you found a nice rhythm to this week because you're familiar with the bye and the uncertainty of who you'll play and not having a game?
BB: I don't really think it's that difficult. You have an opportunity to use the time and I think you take a look at the things that you can potentially use it for and take the ones that you feel like will be most productive. Every team and every week and every year and every situation is different. Like I said, I just kind of explained what we will be doing and I think those things are all important for us. What other teams are doing, I don't really know but I'm sure they're going to use their time as productively as they can for their team.
Q: There's been a lot of talk about the toughness of this team. When you're looking to either draft players or sign free agents, how much does their mental and physical toughness weigh into your decision? Can it sometimes outweigh some measurables that we see?
BB: I think it's definitely part of the equation. It's hard to put percentages or anything on any of those kind of traits but whenever you bring a player into your organization, you get everything that comes with the player: his physical skills, his toughness, his learning ability, his personality, his leadership and so forth and so on. We try to evaluate all of those things and then put kind of a composite grade – we look at them individually, but then in the end you have to put some kind of composite, overall value on the player. If you're going to bring them onto the team, then that's what that player is. We certainly work to try to improve some of those things: the study habits and the intangibles and the mental and physical toughness and all those kinds of things and to a degree that happens. It's no different probably than anything else. You can work on a player's speed and strength and explosion and you can probably improve it to a degree. I don't think you're ever going to take a slow guy and make him a real fast guy or take a weak guy and make him a real strong guy. But you can definitely improve it. There's always an element of trying to improve in all those areas. That's part of the evaluation. Then it's kind of all put together. Does it have value? Yes. How much? I don't know if I could quantify it. Is it the overriding thing? No, because there are so many other things involved, although, again, as we've talked about before, when it's below the line or so far below the line in any area then you really have to decide whether a player on your team who is so far deficient or below the line in one of those areas that everything else can make up for it. I'm not saying it can't, but it certainly is more challenging if that's the case.
Q: In terms of toughness, where does this team compare with all your Patriots teams- especially with all the injuries you've overcome, the mental toughness to overcome all that?
BB: I don't know if I could make a comparison or rank them or anything, but this team has certainly shown the ability to do that. I have a lot of respect for what they've done and how many times they've been able to do it. We've had a lot of tough, competitive players play here and we've had other tough, competitive teams. I don't know where one ranks or the other ranks but I certainly think this team has shown examples of that many times. I think we'll need it – if we're going to be successful, I think we're going to need it going forward.
BB: I think Scott and Joe Judge, our two special teams coaches, have both worked extremely hard and diligently from the very beginning of the season, all the way back to our offseason workouts and OTAs and training camp and all through the year on the kicking game, whether it be individual techniques with the specialists or other players on those units to schemes and coordination of things that [we] needed to execute in the kicking game, whether it's double team blocks or the wedge in the returners or the vice on punt return or punt protection, whatever it happens to be. We've just continued to try to work on those things throughout the course of the year. We've had several different kickoff returners. We tried to start with Leon Washington and that really never materialized the way that we thought that it might. Then [we used] a number of other players, because he really was never able to do that for us. I think that the hard work and the perseverance of all those guys – Joe, Scott, and the core special teams players, the specialists – it's paid off throughout the year in different areas. We've certainly seen it the last few weeks with big plays in many different areas of the kicking game; contributions of field position and points and turnovers and onside kicks. It's just situational plays. You never know when some of those situational plays are going to happen but being able to execute them at critical times, like in the Cleveland game, it's vital to being able to win in those situations. The field position that the kicking game can provide for us, whether it be for the defense or the offense is again, so critical to that unit's success. It's all tied in there together. I think we've had a lot of good production from our special teams over the past few weeks. I think that really goes back to their hard work and certainly the leadership that Scott has provided the entire unit.
Q: You've had quite a few young and first-year players play this year. Does that experience, especially in comeback situations, help them in the playoffs or will it be a completely different experience for them?
BB: I really think at this point in the season after 16 regular season games that all of our players, even our young ones, should be pretty well acclimated to what NFL football is about. I think the big thing about the playoffs is that it's the best teams so everybody is good, everybody has a good team, everybody has good players, everybody has a lot of confidence. You just have to be at your best against that level of competition, which is even higher than you see in the regular season because there are some teams that are obviously better than others. At this point in the year, when you play a team, you're playing one of the very best teams in the league. I wouldn't say that's a difference because we play good teams throughout the year, but there's no doubt about it, our next opponent will be as good as any team we've faced all year. We'll have to be at our best. I think that's the key thing about the playoffs. I think the rest of it is [not] really anything that is that out of the ordinary. We just have to recognize how good we have to perform, prepare and be ready for everything, how critical every play is because the level of competition is just heightened at this time of year, given the quality of the opponents.
BB: I think that's definitely a big instinctive element to it. I think Nate has shown that from all the opportunities that he's had with us. Even though he has more experience in the kicking game than he does defensively, based on his college playing time and playing time with us as well, he showed a high level of instinctive all the way around. So, even for a guy that hasn't played a lot of defense, he's still a pretty – given his level of experience – he's still a pretty instinctive player, he's a smart player and he does things defensively even though he hasn't had a lot of opportunities to do them, does things pretty well. In the kicking game, just to be able to be the personal protector on the punt team that in itself is a huge responsibility for the team and certainly for that unit. I think his ability to understand schemes, to understand situations, which again, more of them come up for that position probably than any other one. His instinctiveness in terms of finding the ball, slipping blocks, timing of his blocks on the return game, recognition of different coverage or return patterns from our opponents. All those things he does at a high level. For a player who hasn't had a lot of football playing experience, he does them very well. I think he definitely has a natural feel for it. Certainly film study and the coaches' preparation and so forth can add to that, but he has a lot of that just naturally on his own. It's been impressive.