New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium on January 15, 2008.
BB: As I said the other day on the conference call, it's a privilege for the New England Patriots and our football team [to play] for the AFC Conference Championship. Obviously it's a huge game and a huge honor to be involved in the game. There's so much at stake [and] a lot of hard work and a lot of wins have gone into this season on both sides. I really feel like we're playing the best team in the AFC, and San Diego -- certainly in the second half of the year -- they're an outstanding football team in every stage of the game. They have great talent, they have great production in every phase of the game [and] they're well-coached. I think that Norv [Turner] and A.J. [Smith] have done a tremendous job putting this team together and they're playing as well as you can play right now. I thought that in the second half of the year Jacksonville and San Diego, statistically, have really dominated the league and that's certainly true. San Diego scores a lot; they're averaging almost 30 points a game, giving up 13, 12, whatever it is. [They're] outstanding on special teams. They have a very experienced group of players, as well as some young guys in there, some great depth on both sides of the ball in all areas: linemen, linebackers, tight ends, running backs, skill players, special teams. I think they match up well with everybody they've played and I think that's been reflected in their record since Thanksgiving, which is really when you want to be playing your best football. I would say that they are certainly doing that. [They're] a tremendous football team, they had two outstanding playoff wins against two other good football teams and I know we're going to have to be at our best on Sunday to be able to compete with them. They do a lot of things well. They're just -- They're outstanding all the way across the board.
Q: You alluded to it, but how different is this Chargers team than the one you faced in September?
BB: They're a lot better. They're doing things a lot better. I don't think they've schematically made any big changes, but they're executing very well. They've made a few personnel changes: they traded for [Chris] Chambers, they put [Jeromy] Clary in there, they put [Antonio] Cromartie in there, and they made changes they wanted to make. But as I said, [in] the second half of the season, they've been better than everybody. They're tough, all the way across the board. I think what happened back in September has no bearing on this week. This week will be about what happens between today and Sunday.
Q: What does Chambers add to this offense that you have to prepare for?
BB: They've gotten a lot of production out of their receivers: [Buster] Davis, [Vincent] Jackson and Chambers. And Chambers -- We know what kind of athlete he is [and] what kind of receiver he is from Miami, of course, and so did Norv, that's why they traded for him. He gives them big play ability, he gives then run after the catch ability, he's a good blocker, he's a smart guy, he can do it all. And Jackson has stepped up big for them, so they've gotten a lot of production out of their receivers as well as their tight ends, their running backs, I mean, everybody produced, just like what happened in Indianapolis: they got contributions from everybody.
Q: The weather forecast for Sunday is supposed to be high of 16--
BB: I'm not really too worried about the weather. I'm worried about the Chargers, that's who we're playing. We're playing the Chargers and they're a great football team, so we're just going to have to play our best against the Chargers. The weather will be the same for both teams, whatever it is. I'm not worried about the weather; I'm worried about San Diego.
Q: You talked about how different San Diego is now, but how different is your team than they were when the two teams last met?
BB: I think the big thing for us is that we need to play our best football this week, so that's what our goal is. We're going to put everything we have into that. We're going to try to play and coach our best football of the entire season this week against San Diego. That's what it's going take, and that's what our goal is. So whatever did or didn't happen in the past, whatever was or wasn't successful, in a way it doesn't really mean anything. The only thing that means anything is how good it's going to be this weekend or not good. That's all there is to it. It's a one-game season. We're going to put everything we've got into this game.
Q: Can you address the challenge LaDainian Tomlinson presents?
BB: [He had] another 1,500-yard season. He's outstanding in the passing game too. He caught that Ram Pass there against Tennessee to get the ball down to the one-yard line. [It was] a critical play in the game. [He caught] a screen pass last week against Indianapolis and he got one last year against us in the playoffs. [He is a] great runner. He can run anywhere. The goal line run he had against Tennessee was a great run. He can break them on first down, second down, short yardage, goal line -- you name it. He's a great player -- and the MVP of the league. I mean, what else do you want to say about him?
Q: Does he put particular pressure on the secondary?
BB: He puts pressure on everybody. You don't know where he's going to go. Wherever he goes he puts pressure on them. He's a complete player. He can do it all. He can run over people, run around them, run past them. He can catch the ball inside, outside, you name it.
Q: You mentioned Antonio Cromartie. What impact has he had for them to turn games around?
BB: They have an outstanding secondary: Cromartie, [Drayton] Florence, [Eric] Weddle has gone in there and done a good job for them. The safeties, of coarse, [Marlon] McCree and [Clinton] Hart, [Quentin] Jammer in there; they have great depth in the secondary. They have 30 interceptions; that would be a couple years' worth for a lot of teams. [They have] 18 fumbles [and] five turnovers in the playoffs. They're a great turnover team, I think second only to the Ravens in the last -- in a long time. They have a great ability to knock the ball loose and make plays on it. Cromartie's done a lot of that and he's returned them for big yardage after he's gotten his hands on the ball, but that's true with the whole secondary. They're all good and they have great depth, so it doesn't matter which ones they play or how many they play. They're all productive and they're all good players.
Q: Can you talk about how special it is to be back in the AFC Championship game with Tom Brady? And are you two cut from the same cloth; are you the same in a lot of ways?
BB: Right now it's a privilege to be in the game, and as a team. All I'm thinking about is our entire football team, [and] how we can put ourselves in the best position compete against San Diego on Sunday. I'm glad Tom is our quarterback. He's an outstanding player. He's done a great job for us, not just this year, but every year he's been here. But right now, it's all about one game. It's a one-game season, so the rest of it, I think at some point it will be good to reflect on it, but right now the only thing we're focused on is San Diego.
Q: With the uncertainty of Phillip Rivers with his injury, how much does that change the way you prepare?
BB: We need to be ready for all 53 players on the active roster. That's the way we do it every week and that's the way we'll do it this week. It doesn't make any difference -- It doesn't look like it makes much difference who's in there. They can all make plays: all the backs, all the receivers, the quarterbacks, the tight ends, the defensive linemen, the DBs, they all make plays. We've got to be ready to play for whoever they decide to put in the game, whoever's in there playing.
Q: How different are [Billy] Volek and Rivers? Do they do different things depending on who is playing?
BB: We've got to prepare for everybody. Sure, each player has got his own unique style, but they're still going to run their offense and they're going to run their defense, no matter which players are in there. We've seen that all year, too. They have a good system; it's a proven system. It's been very successful. They'll change it up a little from week-to-week to attack you as a football team, but at the same time they're very good at what they do and I'm sure they won't deviate too much from what they've been so successful with.
Q: How much do you know about Volek?
BB: He's had a couple big games in his career. He certainly played well yesterday, or Sunday, whatever day it was. He played well Sunday. He's a tough kid, he's accurate [and] he's got a little mobility back there.
Q: There's a lot of focus on their outside linebackers, but can you talk a little bit about what you see in Steven Cooper on the inside?
BB: Coopers been very productive for them. He's had a lot of tackles, he does a good job in the passing game, they blitz him a lot, he does a good job in the running game, he's all over the field. He and [Matt] Wilhelm have done a good job for them, [Tim] Dobbins when he's had to play in there. So they've gotten a lot of production out of their inside linebackers as well as their outside linebackers and all of their defensive linemen who they rotate through there, including [Ryon] Bingham and [Jacques] Cesaire and as well as the other guys. So they are very solid on defense. Cooper has had a very productive year; he must have close to 200 tackles. He's got a lot of them. [It] seems like he makes about 10 or 15 every game. He's around the ball a lot.
Q: You said size is Jacksonville's trademark. Is speed something San Diego has drafted and prides itself on?
BB: Well, I think they have a very athletic team all the way across the board. I think you see that on their special teams and it shows up on both their offensive and defensive units, and that includes the linemen. They're very athletic up front with their offensive line, with the O-men and those guys, [Nick] Hardwick, [Marcus] McNeill. They're very active on the defensive line, so I think they have good team speed and [are] good at basically at all the positions on the field. And they have a lot of depth. It's not just the -- It's all 53 guys. They have a lot of depth; they have a lot of good players at a lot of positions all the way across the board, including the specialists. They have a great punter, a great kicker, snapper, returner, cover players, like [Kassim] Osgood and Cromartie and those. They're good at everything.
Q: Can you talk a little about Richard Seymour's progression health-wise and what he brings to the table?
BB: His health is good. Richard has been out there very consistently since he came back in the middle of the season, or after he came off the PUP. I think he's done a good job for us. Richard's a player that can do it all, in terms of the running game: pass rush, pursuit, play the point of attack. He's got a lot of skills, a lot of experience and he's done a good job for us. I thought he played well last week. He's playing more and he's playing well.
Q: Obviously Laurence Maroney's results have picked up. Is he running a different style towards the end of the season?
BB: No. No, I think Laurence has run well for us all year, and we measure that by how many yards he gets per opportunity, based on what's there -- not how many yards he gains, but how many yards he gains based on where the play is blocked and what's there. I think he's run well for us all year, and I think he's been very -- one of our most consistent players on our team.
Q: You mentioned earlier that San Diego was the best team in football during the second half of the season. Were you including your own team in that?
BB: Statistically, Jacksonville and San Diego were the two best teams since Thanksgiving and their records are actually better than ours. They've won one more playoff game than we have in that time. They're good. They're real good. [They] beat the Colts twice. I don't know what else they need to do or can do. They couldn't do any more; they've done everything they could do since that middle part of the season.
Q: Do you see any schematic changes in the 3-4 under [San Diego Defensive Coordinator Ted] Cottrell?
BB: Not dramatic. There are some subtle things. I wouldn't say a lot of dramatic changes, but subtly there are, yeah.
Q: You had a couple of personal fouls against Jacksonville. Has that been a point of emphasis this week?
BB: Penalties are always a point of emphasis. Every game we try to go into each game and not have any penalties. It doesn't often work out that way, but that's our goal every week. We don't coach them, we don't try to have them, we try to avoid them, so it's always a point of emphasis. It's been a point of emphasis for eight years. [It] always will be.
Q: What has been the strength of your team this season?
BB: I think some of our success has varied from game to game, from situation to situation, but right now our strength needs to be our preparation and our focus on San Diego. That needs to be our strength this week, and if it is, then we'll have a chance to be competitive on Sunday, and it if isn't, we'll probably be in for a long day.
Q: You mentioned San Diego's eight-game winning streak and how they have the best numbers. What kind of bearing does that have on this game?
BB: I think everybody wants to be playing their best football in December and January and hopefully you put yourself in a position where you've won enough games up to that point that you're still playing. It doesn't do you any good to be 4-9 and then play good football in December; that's kind of too late. But San Diego has played their best football since Thanksgiving, really, and that's the best time to be playing it. And right now is the best time for us to play ours and I'm sure San Diego feels like the best time for them to play theirs is this week. It comes down to a one-game season. They're a great football team and we have a great history of competitiveness with them. We know what they bring to the table, what they're capable of, and we know that we have to be at out best. That's what we're going to prepare for.