TB: Yes it does. It’s December.
Q: Do you see this game as a bit of a measuring stick for your team?
TB: Well, they're a great football team, so any time you play the best, you want to see how you match up. I think that our guys are excited and it’s a big challenge for us. They’re an excellent football team in all three phases. They do a great job. It will be fun.
Q: In general, how do you combat a team that’s that aggressive?
TB: They certainly get after the football. They can rush the quarterback. They do a great job stopping the run. I think Coach said [in] pretty much every statistic that you could name, they're on top of the league. That’s why they’re 11-1 – they're playing great. They're taking the ball away; they get a lot of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage, interceptions, fumbles. They’ve won a lot of close games. They’ve won overtime games. They’ve come from behind. They’ve won on the road – they're 6-0 on the road. I think our guys understand the challenge and we have to play our best game. I think that’s what it means.
Q: You don’t typically see an end in a 3-4 defense have 15.5 sacks. What about J.J. Watt makes that possible?
TB: Yeah, he’s an incredible player. The way that he gets after the quarterback, stops the run, I think he does both of those things well – stopping the run, rushing the quarterback, as well as defending in the pass game with those balls batted down. He's impressive as a player, as you can see on film with his agility, his quickness, his length, his instinctiveness in getting his hands up in the air and getting ready to jump and bat balls down. He’s a great player for that defense; they really rely on him.
Q: How much do they move him around on the line?
TB: He's in a bunch of different places, so you can’t really nail down where he's going to be at. I think all those different guys on our offensive line will get a matchup at one point in the game, but they do a good job of moving him around: he’s on the right side, he’s on the left side, he's outside, he’s inside. He does pretty much everything for them.
Q: When you're looking at the defense, is he one of the guys you yourself will always keep your eye on and know where he is?
TB: There’s a lot of trust that you have to have in the offensive line, so I don’t concern myself so much with worrying about a particular pass rusher on the D-line. For me, it’s more coverage oriented and trying to read out the coverage so I can try to get the ball to the open guy as fast as I can. It can’t be too much about looking at where they're at. I mean, it’s not like there’s any special formula to blocking a good defensive lineman. You just have to stand up and try to go out and play a great game. That’s what makes it so hard for an offense to stop a guy like that who is so capable of winning his matchups.
Q: What do you lose with
TB: Julian was having a great year. It’s an unfortunate injury. I think we’ve all dealt with them; I’m sure every team’s dealing with important players [being injured]. Donte’s got an opportunity to come back. It’s always nice to see familiar faces and people that have played within our system and kind of understand the expectations for that position and Donte’ is really a professional, so it’s great to see him.
Q: You guys haven’t lost in December at home in years. Is there something special about playing at home in December and once the game starts are you very aware of the home field advantage?
TB: I think we’re trying to focus on playing well and I think the better you play, the better your home field advantage is because the more the crowd is into it. I think the mark of our teams over the years has been we’ve improved as the season has gone along. December is the last month to really improve. I think our team has always tried to – Coach puts pressure on us in practice every day to improve to get better and not to make the same mistakes [and] to learn from our mistakes. I think we as a team have responded to that and played well. That's what’s important this time of the year: to not make the same mistakes we were making in September and to play our best football. This will be a great week to see if we can accomplish that.
Q: As a quarterback, is there a way to try to avoid their ability to bat down balls?
TB: It’s hard. It’s challenging. There are ways to work on it in practice with different guys. I know Coach Belichick likes to bring guys with racquetball paddles and stick those up in the air. I'm sure there will be a whole bunch of those there this week, which doesn’t always make me very happy, but that’s probably a good way to prepare for it. It’s like throwing over this wall: it’s hard. You've just got to try to find an area. We’ve played other big D-lines before, tall guys that are rangy and really instinctive. The Giants did a great job of that last year. This is another team that really challenges you to do that.
Q: With the division and the playoffs clinched, how important is it to look towards home field advantage or a bye?
TB: We don’t put too much thought into that, certainly not this week. Coach always tells us ‘Don’t even think about the playoffs. They’re so far away.’ And that’s the truth. This game is hugely important to our season. It’s an AFC opponent that’s 11-1. They lost one game to an NFC team in Green Bay who played great that night. This team doesn’t give you anything; you have to really go out there and earn it. I think for us as a team, there’s not really much more you could ask for than that: to play Monday Night Football in December against one of the best teams in the NFL and see what we’re capable of.
Q: You mentioned this team getting better as the season goes on – why is that?
TB: I think it’s just constant improvement. It’s day to day coming to work focused with an intention to do better than you did the previous day, so over the course of three or four months, that really pays off. The different guys that come in in September, October, November, you're working to get better. You're working with your new teammates, and you're at a different place than you were three months ago. That's probably the reason.
TB: Well, it’s not only Sunday; it’s Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for him, too. I think that’s the exceptional part: how he takes care of himself. Wes loves to play football. There’s nothing more important in Wes’s life than being a football player and thinking about football and making the big play and running the right route and getting open when it’s most important. That's what quarterbacks dream about too: having receivers that do that. And Wes is everything you look for in his ability, not only when he catches the ball to be an important part of the play, but also on plays when other guys are supposed to get the ball, he busts his butt harder than anybody to make sure he’s doing his job to clear out on a certain route or to take some coverage with him so another guy can get the ball. I think that’s what makes Wes really special is his selflessness as a player. But the ball always seems to find a way to him.
Q: How often does Bill Belichick use that racquet technique?
TB: He does it. They’re always out there. They're in the bag and they’ll be out there starting today and going all week. It’s not something he does every week, but it’s out there plenty.
Q: How do you balance getting ready for this big game and all the prep work with the possibility of becoming a father again any day now?
TB: I don’t have to do too much work at home, so I just kind of focus on my job here and what I need to do and my preparation and making sure I'm doing everything I need to do to be prepared for Monday night.
Q: A lot of teams are crippled by major injuries, but that hasn’t seemed to be the case with you guys, even in the year you were out. What is it about this organization and the ’next guy in’ mentality?
TB: Well, I think there’re always quality players on our roster from top to bottom. I don’t think it’s about one or two players on this team and it never has been; it’s about what we do collectively to achieve our goals. When you lose a certain player, a particular player that maybe had an important role, then it gives other guys opportunities and the guys that try to fulfill those opportunities take a lot of pride in getting their chance. Once you get your chance, you never want to give it back.
Q: You've dealt with Wade Phillips’ defenses before. Is it a changeable defense? What characterizes what he does?
TB: They do a very good job doing what they do. It’s not like there’re 120 calls that they have on their call sheet for this game, but there are always wrinkles that you'll see and new things that you haven’t prepared for. What they do, they do very well. And I think he allows his players to go out there and play aggressively and make plays. Certainly when you have guys who can rush the passer the way that he does, you kind of turn those guys loose and let them go do their job. And they get home, and you don’t have to come up with 25 overload blitz schemes to do that when you’ve got players like J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin. They can rush the quarterback and get home and he expect those guys in the secondary to cover, and they can all do that.
Q: Must be a good week for you guys to play fast?
TB: You might have to tune in Monday night and find out what we do.
Q: They're going to honor Matt Light on Monday night. What did it mean being in the locker room with him? I know you guys had some good pranks.
TB: Matt was the prankster; I was probably the recipient of some pranks.
Q: Maybe a good time to get back at him Monday night?
TB: I’m too busy Monday night. He’s a great friend and what a player he was; to block at that position and to face the kind of rushers that you face every week. Usually the best athlete is that defensive end on the offensive left side and Matt kind of took that position and worked extremely hard over the years to be the best in the league at it. He probably never got as much credit as he deserved but we really knew the value that he had and he really added to our team. He was a phenomenal player and a great teammate and great in the locker room. He had a great attitude and he’s just a great person and friend.
Q: I know your preparation won’t change but does the idea of a big game, does it get you as excited, if not more excited, than it did early in your career?
TB: I’m always pretty excited. I always enjoy playing Monday night games and Sunday night games and we play on Thursday night. Those are fun moments and as your career goes on, you realize the opportunities are fewer and fewer. You appreciate them and you relish the opportunity to go out there with your teammates and accomplish something. Whether it was 1:00 last Sunday, which was an exciting game for us or 8:30 on Monday night, it will be a fun environment and it’s even more fun when we go out and play well.
Q: Is there a different feeling in the locker room because of the atmosphere and what’s coming? Do you get that sense of excitement from your teammates too as you go along?
TB: I think it builds. I think the Monday night game still is when everyone always…there’s a little bit of a different feeling just because of how special it is to play on Monday Night Football.
Q: Half of your completions went to two guys on Sunday. Do you look at that as throwing to your best receivers or do you see that as you need to diversify and spread it around?
TB: I have a lot of confidence in all those guys that are out there. All five eligible receivers are options on any play. As a quarterback, your responsibility is to move the ball down the field and however you feel you need to do that, that’s what you do. I don’t always make the right decisions, unfortunately; I wish I did. There are opportunities where I come out of the game and I realize I blew them. You have to get the ball to everybody. I think the more guys that you can get the ball to, the harder you are to defend.