DEVIN MCCOURTY, DEFENSIVE BACK
Q: What is the overall approach as the team goes through this bye week?
DM: I think it's just to try and keep getting better. I think Bill [Belichick] will put everything, what we need to do, put it all on the table today when we start in squad meetings and stuff. But you know, the usual - take advantage of the couple of days we've got out there on the practice field to work on the things that have come up over the last couple of weeks. We know every play is important now, so just trying to zero in on everything that we might see, or might not see. I think that's the benefit of having the bye week and having some days to reexamine yourself and get ready for the final push of the season.
Q: Why has that been so successful in the past to have this week to self-evaluate during the bye?
DM: I just think it works for this team, probably because Bill [Belichick] and the coaching staff, that's what they believe and decide to do so the guys that have been here, once this week comes up we know what to expect. For new guys and rookies, they kind of already know what to expect because when they're asking questions 'Is this similar to the bye week earlier this year?,' 'Nah, not really.' It's a little bit different, so I think everyone's prepared to take advantage of the couple of days we have where, you know, I think every team is different. How you want to use it, how it works out for your team could be different, but here I think we all understand our goal and what we're trying to do with this week.
Q: When guys that haven't experienced the playoff bye week before ask you how it is different than the regular season bye week, what do you tell them?
DM: Just 'This is it.' I think the first bye week, we were having a bye week to rest up for whatever's left for the season, and the reality of this bye week is we could be rested up and putting in work to play one game. I think once you've been here for a while you realize that you're putting in the work for a couple of games left and then that's it; the season is over. You do whatever you want. I think that's the message you want everyone to know. Whatever you think you want to do right now you can hold off, because the reality is if you don't put everything in then you'll be doing that in two weeks anyways.
Q: How do you get ready for your opponent when you don't know which of the three possibilities it will be? Do you prepare more for one than the other if you are less familiar with that opponent?
DM: No, I think you just try to work on yourself. There's but so much you can do when you don't know who you're playing. I don't think you go into depth in practice for one team. You just can't do that, especially as far as players, I don't know what the coaching staff - the coaching staff probably gets ahead. But I think for us as players, we don't like to get engrained in one team and then you've got to play another team, so for us it's just getting better ourselves and working on the things we haven't done well that the coaches will show us throughout meetings this morning and trying to get better at those things.
Q: Does this bye week seem a little different than last year's playoff bye week due to the thought that you guys are in a little better position health-wise and coming off of a strong finish?
DM: Yeah, I mean I feel better. It's sometimes hard to even remember back a full year ago. I think me - I was battling with an ankle injury - so that was tougher. I think overall, you just look at the list of guys on IR who are in better health. It'll be a little different I think than last year just for the health of the team seems to be better. Hopefully we can take advantage. I thought last year was different but we try to take advantage in the way we could last year. That was a little different than this year. But that's the thing in this league, year by year you hope you get the bye week. How it will play out and how it will work might be a little different, but I think the mentality stays the same.
Q: What are your thoughts on the reports of Matt Patricia interviewing for head coaching positions and what are your thoughts on him in general as a coach?
DM: I would just say for us he's been great. I don't know anything about what it will be or how, but I think for us as players getting the opportunity to play under him has been great. Just his energy, his drive to be perfect, to get everything right for us. I think how much he cares about the defense and about the guys in that room I think really gets guys going and you have a great appreciation for what he's doing and what he's trying to do. I mean the time he spends here, the little things he does for us I think as a defense sticks out. I think that's the first thing new guys, rookies, young guys, you learn as soon as you play under him, is really how much he cares and how much he wants to get better as a group. I think this year showed that he put a lot into it and it's worked out well for us as a defense with him at the top leading us. We've just got to continue to do the things that we've been doing and listen to him.
Q: How is this team able to keep winning despite facing some sort of adversity each year?
DM: All of those things don't equal winning, so we try to block it out. We try to focus on the things that we know can help us win at the end of the week. Whether it's preparing for the first four games without Tom [Brady], there's no reason to harp on it because he wasn't going to play in the first four games. We trade Jamie [Collins]; he can't play for us anymore. He's playing for Cleveland. Let's focus on what we can do and who's here, so those little things seem like clichés but I think as a team when you can zero in and focus on those things, it might not all be perfect but you give yourself a chance to win at the end of the week when you play.
Q: What are your thoughts on Matthew Slater winning the Athletes in Action Bart Starr Award, and how important of a teammate has he been in your time together?
DM: Honestly, it's been an honor to play with him as a teammate and to learn from him and see how he prepares at a professional level and what the does to take care of his body. The guy is here until like 6:30 p.m. every day, trying to do little things to get ahead. But I think for me the best thing is being a friend. I think the opportunity to call him a friend and get to know him, his wife, his child, his son, has really blown me away. The amount I've learned from Slate [Matthew Slater], I mean you can't even explain or write it down on one sheet of paper. He's been a tremendous leader, role model for everybody in the locker room. I think now in his ninth year you can say the same thing about him in year four or five. Older guys that were vets that came in here, you looked at Slate, you looked to see what he did. I mean obviously because he was a great player but his character, I think who he was as a person will always stick out about him. I think for the guys to be a part of him receiving that award and seeing it and seeing what it meant to him was really cool. I'm proud of him and happy he got the acknowledgment that he's really deserved throughout his whole NFL career and really his whole life. It didn't just start now. Honored just to play with him and call him a friend.
Q: What is your hunger level in this playoff atmosphere at this point in your career?
DM: It's simple, just to be ready. The playoffs are a time just to play your best football. I think you've got to put a lot into it but you can't go over the top. It's still just football. I think we talk about it every week, is being prepared but this time you have an opportunity with a couple of extra days to really be prepared, to really be on top of things. Right now it's a little easier because you're not as much studying an opponent but you're studying yourself. If you're able to really look at your game and look to see whether it's a mistake you made in a game that might have hurt the team that time, or a mistake that might've hurt the team, learning from that, refocusing on different fundamentals that we're going to need going forward. What that looks like, you're not sure yet. I think you've just got to keep doing that throughout this week day-in and day-out knowing when we come back next week when we have an opponent locked in, keep doing those things but now putting it towards an opponent. Your hope is by Saturday at 8:00 p.m. we're all ready to go and playing as a unit, playing as a team.
Q: What do you say to go older veterans on the team like Martellus Bennett or Chris Long who have limited playoff experience?
DM: You don't have to say much. I always remember my rookie year when Bill [Belichick] came in there and he always harped on around this time everyone talks about experience and having guys with playoff experience. He came in there and said 'I don't give a damn about playoff experience.' It's all about who executes and plays their best football this time of year. Whether you're a guy who's played in 12 playoff games or whether you're a rookie, he's said he's seen examples of both who have come out and played great and those who have come out and played terrible. He said 'Does it help? Maybe.' He said it doesn't matter if you don't come out and play, so I think for those guys, their biggest thing is they've played, they've played football for years now. Just zero in and playing your best football right now is what's important and I think they understand that more than anybody because this is what they've waited for and this is what they've wanted. So you just let those guys go out there and play. Both of those guys are true professionals, come into work day-in and day-out, put in a lot of work, help the team out. I think they're both ready to go. You look for them to be leaders for even the younger guys or guys that have less NFL experience.
Q: You are sporting your nice 'Blount Force Trauma' sweatshirt I see. Is that a gift?
DM: Yeah, he [LeGarrette Blount] gave me a hoodie a couple of years ago. I figure I'd throw it on, put it in the rotation. I'm a little bit of a fan of him, I guess. He does alright for us.
Q: He must take it easy on you in practice, right?
DM: He doesn't want those problems with me in practice.
MATTHEW SLATER, PATRIOTS WIDE RECEIVER
Q: Congratulations on the Bart Starr Award. What was your reaction to receiving that?
MS: Thank you. Oh man, it was really emotional for me. I think you guys know well enough by covering me now that I really value the human element of football and I really value the relationships that I've made with people over the years. All of that stems from the faith that I have in God and the way that I was raised by my parents. I'm a man who is far from perfect, but I really feel like the Lord has done a lot of great things in my life. He's working on me as a man, as a husband, as a father. I've always tried to keep in perspective that I'm not different than anyone else because I play football. It's just a job. But at the end of the day, the connection you make with people, the way you treat people, the things that you try to stand for and believe in - though it may be, as I said, not perfect at times, it's something that is very important to me. So to win this award, an award that my dad won in 1996, it's really, I don't know, it's hard to put into words. It really is.
Q: How did you learn that you would be receiving the award?
MS: Well they set me up pretty good. We have our bible study on Mondays after the game. They changed the time of the bible study, made it a little bit later, and I was like, 'Oh well, schedule adjust here.' [Patriots Character Coach/Team Development] Jack Easterby tells me, 'Hey, see you at bible study,' and I'm like, 'Yeah,' you know, everything's status quo, and I go into the bible study and there's like 60 guys in there and coaches, and I'm like, 'Man, we're about to have a good bible study right now. This is going to be good.' And then Stacey James is in there and a camera crew and I'm like, 'Man, I don't know if we're doing like a playoff edition of bible study for the fans, but this is great.' I'm thinking to myself, 'Jack, you better have a good one today, man. You better step it up.' Jack's got a sheet that he usually has and he goes through some things, and then his phone starts ringing. I'm like, 'Man, come on Jack you've got to tighten up. You can't have your phone ringing here, we've got all these people.' He answers the phone and there's an older woman on the phone and she's looking for Jack Easterby. They exchange a little bit and she's like, 'Is Matt there? I'm looking for Matt,' and I'm like, 'Where's Matty P. [Matt Patricia]? Is he in here?' I'm not thinking me, but they call me down and the woman on the phone is Mrs. [Cherry] Starr. She tells me I win the award, and they had the cameras in there and my allergies start acting up a little bit. You know, seasonal allergies there. She told me my dad and I were the first father and son to win this award and I mean, I don't know. I'm just blown away by it. I really am.
Q: What does football mean to you on a daily basis - not just on the field but in the locker room and everything you do as a player?
MS: It's a platform. I once heard my dad say that with all the success that he had in football that it was conceivable to him that God gave him that success in order [for him to] have a platform to connect with people and to share with them the things that he believes. I totally agreed with my dad when he said that. It's a platform and it's conceivable to me as well that everything that I've accomplished as a member of this team is solely so that I may have a platform to connect with people, that I can have a platform to share with people my faith, and just to love on people. I really feel like that's what football has given me. That's what football has given my family over two generations now. We're just very thankful for it.
Q: What was your dad's reaction to you winning the award?
MS: It was hard for me to judge my dad's reaction because my mom was going so crazy in the background. We FaceTimed them with my son like we normally do and I broke the news to them. I think it's very humbling for us, an offensive lineman and a special teams player to get this kind of recognition. We don't really hold ourselves in that high of a regard. We're just guys that are thankful for all the opportunities we've had. We've had a special journey, my dad and I, through the last - starting in 1976 for him and starting in 2008 for me.
*Q: What are the keys to maintaining a sense of togetherness on a team when you have so many guys of varying backgrounds and beliefs? *
MS: Respect is huge. We all don't believe the same thing, we all don't live by the same creed, so to speak, but I think respect is important. I think this team, which you've seen this year, has guys that respect one another, respect the differences that we have. We just come together despite those differences. We've been able to come together for a common cause and that common cause is to be as good of a football team as we can be. When you're dealing with people on an individual level, what I've learned through good and bad is that respect is important. Taking the time to learn about the people that you work with, the people that you deal with day in and day out, it really goes a long way.
Q: How important is it for you to show respect not just for your own teammates but for guys on the opposing teams as well?
MS: I think it's big. I've always understood that it's not easy playing in this league. I know you're out there on Sundays, Saturdays, Mondays, Thursdays, whatever it may be, competing and trying to win and trying to impose your will on the other team, but at the same time, I've always tried to be sensitive to the human element and understanding the guy across from me may be motivated by the same things I am. He may be motivated by his love of the game, his passion, providing for his family, representing his family. He's not that much different than me in what his motivation may be, so I think it's important to understand that. In between plays and trying to say, 'Alright, let's keep competing, let's keep doing this, but respecting your opponents.' That's something that I've always believed in as well. Respect for this league, this shield, what it means, it's huge. We have a great opportunity here and I hope that all of us, whether you're covering this game, playing this game, coaching it, that we don't take it for granted.
Q: Have you ever had a moment where you regretted doing something on the field that was out of character?
MS: Oh yeah, there have been some of those moments, certainly. Would you like the details on some of them?
*Q: There are often moments in football where things happen on the field and emotions get involved. Have you ever had one of those moments but then said that's not who you are or how you want to play the game? *
MS: Yeah, I've definitely had those moments whether it [was] a verbal exchange - I wouldn't consider myself a dirty player, but there have been some times where I let my emotions get the best of me. I can recall training camp one year down in Tampa Bay, a little hot down there, may have been out of character. But those things happen, and again, I think it's important to understand, in my opinion, there has only been one man to walk the face of this earth who has been perfect and his name is not Matthew Slater.
Q: Have you ever had a teammate that you really didn't like all that much or didn't care for, and if so, how did you deal with that?
MS: I can honestly say no to that. There have been guys that I haven't seen eye to eye with on things. I disagreed with a lot of what they stood for and believed in, but ultimately we were teammates on the same team, on the same similar grind trying to achieve a similar goal. I can see past those differences to try to make that work professionally. Sometimes it's been a professional relationship, but I've been fortunate to play with a lot of great human beings in this locker room. A lot of guys that I learned a lot from, that I grew from. I can think early in my career to a guy like Ben Watson, a guy that I still talk to and stay in touch with, and the list goes on. I can sit here and name guys all day. I've been fortunate in that regard to play with a lot of quality men.
Q: What is your passion level right now and how are you approaching this week as you go after the ultimate prize again?
MS: I think, and I hinted at this earlier in the week, around here, we've been spoiled with the success that we've had. I hope that every year, and let me just speak for this year, I hope that in the  playoffs that this team realizes how fortunate we are to be in the situation we're in, and also realizes that there are no guarantees that we get this opportunity again. With that being said, we have to do everything within our power to prepare ourselves to be ready to play our best football game come next Saturday. That's really where all our focus needs to be. There are a lot of things going on, important things, but look, we only get so many of these opportunities, maybe never get another one, so we have to take advantage of it. We have to have a good week of practice this week and just say, 'How can the Patriots get better?' Not the Patriots versus whoever it is, how can the Patriots improve themselves as individuals and as a team? Hopefully that's the message we can get across.
Q: What did you know about Bart Starr as a person and as a professional and have you ever had a chance to meet him?
MS: I haven't had a chance to meet Mr. [Bart] Starr. Obviously, his career has been well-documented on the field, but in things that I've read and seen and heard, the type of man that he was, the things that he valued, [he was] a man of faith. A man that was about family, a man that was just - that stood for a lot of the things that I'd like to stand for over the course of my life, so it's an honor to be associated with the name Bart Starr. I looked at the list of guys who have won that award and it blew me away. I'm like, 'Man, these are some guys here.' You look at Steve Largent, the original winner, and I know a lot about Steve and his faith through obviously, my dad, and some other people. But on down the list, I almost feel like I shouldn't be on a list with my dad, either. To be associated with the name, Bart Starr and that award, it really means a lot.
Q: How big is the advantage physically of not playing this weekend?
MS: It definitely helps. I can't lie to you. It definitely helps, but it's only an advantage if we do the right things. We have to maximize our time, take advantage of our time on the field, but also making sure we get the rest and treatment and doing the little things that are going to give us a chance to get our bodies back to as close to where there they were at the beginning of the season. Rest never hurt anyone, so hopefully we can take advantage of it.