TB: Like every team, we put a lot of work into a season and we’re trying to go out there and perform well, trying to make improvements every week. 4-0 is obviously off to a good start. Hopefully we can continue that. Really, what’s happened we’re trying to learn from, we’re trying to get better this week. This is a very good team that we’re playing. They were in the playoffs last year, not much has changed. Lot of strengths, going on the road, they play well at home. This is going to be as tough a game as we’ve had all year, we’ll see where we match up.
Q: This defense is pretty highly regarded and they’ve got a lot of first round picks in the front and back ends.
TB: Yeah, they can rush the quarterback. They have guys at all four spots that can rush and then when they bring the backups in, those guys rush. It’s really unique in that pretty much whoever is in there can get an edge on a guy, can get to the quarterback, force the ball out quickly. Then with [Terence] Newman, Pacman [Adam Jones], Leon [Hall], Reggie Nelson, they have first down draft picks everywhere. [Rey] Maualuga and [Vontaze] Burfict and [James] Harrison, they’re loaded. That’s why they have one of the best defenses in the league. There’s really no easy yards out there. They’ve been in some tight games this year; they pulled them out, especially the ones at home. They’re 2-0 at home. They play well, they’re good. I know the guys on defense really respect that offense and what they’re able to do. They’re explosive. We have to do our part as an offense to try to keep their offense off the field as well as going and scoring points.
Q: How do you fill the void of
TB: He’s a great leader. I’m sure that won’t change. He’ll be here giving everything he can to the team still. His presence in the locker room, on the field will be missed. At the same time, the train keeps moving. No one feels sorry for the Patriots. We have to keep fighting on, just as Vince would want us to do. He wants us to go out there and play well and he’ll encourage us. There are big shoes to fill, literally and figuratively, because he’s such a unique talent and player and person but we have to still go out there and try to win games.
Q: When you had your season-ending injury, did you find it difficult to maintain that same presence that you usually have in the locker room?
TB: Everybody has different circumstances, so mine was a little bit different at the time with what I was going through. There have been a lot of guys that have been around encouraging guys. A lot of the rehab takes place here so it’s always good to see everyone around, contributing really in any way they can, to whatever level they can contribute.
Q: How important is it to have a receiver who can fight for the ball when it’s in the air? It seems like
TB: Yeah, that’s so important to trust that a guy can make a play when there’s one-on-one coverage. When the ball is up in the air, it’s up for grabs. I’ve been around a lot of players where, especially guys with defensive mentalities like defensive backs, they feel they need to go attack the ball. When I was in college with Charles Woodson, he would go after that football as a defensive player and that was his ball when it was in the air. Then when we put him at receiver, it was really the same way which made him probably one of the best receivers on our team at the time too. That’s really where I learned that, is you – not only professionally – you watch guys that attack the football. We’ve had a lot of guys that have played with us: Kevin Faulk, Troy [Brown] definitely did. You watch Tony Gonzalez the other night, he goes and gets the football when it’s in the air. That’s what a quarterback can really gain trust in: when that ball is there, your guy is either going to come down with it and certainly their guy won’t and if nobody does, nobody does. The risk-reward in a situation like that, which football is a game of risk-reward, especially when you’re throwing it, when you put it in a place where your guy can make a play on it and the other guy comes down with it, you have to think twice the next time you’re in that situation. But if your guy is always coming down with it, then you keep giving him opportunities. That’s how trust works and you build that in practice, you build it in games and you just keep working on it.
Q: Does Kenbrell Thompkins have that knack? That long reception, he stuck in there even though he’d have a player coming at him.
TB: Yeah, he did. He’s done great since he got here; that’s why he’s been out there so much, why he’s had so many opportunities because he continues to do those things. That gains trust, certainly in me but also Coach [Bill] Belichick, [Offensive Coordinator] Josh [McDaniels], the other players on the team. When the ball is going to a particular guy and good things are happening, you just want to keep giving him the ball. You have to find different ways to get it, but whenever you’re coming down with those balls, that’s a great thing.
Q: What happened physically or mentally to cause the fumbles in the Buffalo and Atlanta games and what are you working on to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
TB: It’s an execution thing. It’s something that we talk about. When those don’t really go right, we try to make them right. We practice them and try to go over them and hopefully they don’t come up again. Those types of plays, like I said after the game, you can’t ever really take those for granted. [I’m] trying to do a better job with that and hopefully it doesn’t happen.
Q: How important is it for you and the offense to be able to establish the play-action and establish the run game for that?
TB: Those really feed off one another, especially with what we did the other night running the ball. Defenses, when you can put them in run-pass conflicts, especially, ‘Look, I’ve got this guy in coverage but if the ball comes at me, I’ve got to force it,’ and then we’re running it, running it, running it and he’s playing the run and now you play-action pass and your guy is behind him running a particular route. That’s what great running games do for an offense. You can sell it, play-action pass. Our running game has been really solid for us this year, very consistent, dependable. The backs have all been dependable. The offensive line has been a big strength of our team. We have to keep running it. That’s really a great strength of ours. The more we do that, the more that’s going to set up what we do; play-action and you can get some really clean, easy throws if we continue to do it well.
Q: What about Kenbrell Thompkins’ mental resilience? He had that diving catch one play after dropping a pass.
TB: The mental toughness that you show in those situations to put those past plays behind you is so important for all of us. You’re going to make some poor plays out there. You have to be able to put those behind you and move forward. He did that the other night. He’s done a great job of that, putting those plays behind him and saying, ‘Alright, what’s next?’ even when we win the game, he’s like, ‘That was good, but let’s keep getting after it.’ That’s what I really appreciate about him: his willingness to get better and make the improvements and like all of us, come to work every day and see what he can do to help the team win.
Q: Has there been a more concerted effort to run the ball this year or has it been pretty much the same?
TB: Well, we always want to stay balanced. I think it’s the efficiency of what we’re doing. There are some games you go into where maybe the strength is to throw it more; there are some games you go into where the strength, we feel, is to run it more. I think the important thing is when you choose to run it, you have to be efficient. If you run it 20 times, you have to run it for hopefully 80 to 100 yards, hopefully more. You don’t want to run it 20 times just to run it and gain 30 yards. You have to run it and you have to run it well, if that’s what you choose to do.
TB: He’s done great taking advantage of his opportunities. He and I spent a lot of time together over the years. I’m glad it’s really paying off. He had a great opportunity to take advantage of and he’s done it. It’s a credit to him and his work ethic, his mental toughness. To play college quarterback with such – I’d love to see those old tapes of him running around because he’s kind of a spaz, I don’t know if you guys know that. I always say, ‘God, what were you like in the huddle as a quarterback? How could anyone look at you seriously?’ But I guess he did pretty good. He definitely can’t throw the ball so he made the right switch to receiver at the right time. He’s been great. Very hard worker, he’s dedicated, nobody works harder than Julian. It’s hard when you’re playing behind Wes [Welker] for all these years. You’re just not going to get a lot of opportunity because Wes was such a great player, was durable and Jules never got a chance. Now he’s got it and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down at all.
Q: The touchdown pass to Matt Mulligan, how did you find him and why were you looking for him? He’s not a receiver.
TB: Matt’s done great since he got here too. He got here four weeks ago and you throw the whole offense at him and you go, ‘OK, learn these 1,000 things here and know them very well in the next 24 hours.’ He’s just been working really hard to understand what we do. If him to go out there and make that play, that was pretty cool for a guy that wasn’t even on the roster five weeks ago, to make a play like that in the game. It was a goal-line route, he was part of one of the guys out on the route. I was looking for Hooman [