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Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower, TE Matt Lengel, C David Andrews, TE Martellus Bennett, and WR Julian Edelman address the media at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, January 5, 2017.


Q: How do you guys prepare this week without knowing your opponent? Is there a lot of self-scouting to be done?

DH: Absolutely. I think you already knew the answer to that.

Q: How much can you learn about your own defense this year during this week in the self-evaluation process? Are you learning more about the newer guys that are contributing now?

DH: It's part of that. It's part of us learning and still growing as a defense and it's also us going back and seeing and looking to see what was making us successful and then, also, what guys were doing to us to attack us. It's more or less about us getting better, getting us better this week because we don't know who we're playing yet. The best thing for us is to get ourselves ready.

Q: How much does the defense work on tackling technique, how much pride do you take in it and how well do you think some of your defensive teammates are at it?

DH: We take a lot of pride in it. It seems like a simple task, just getting somebody down on the ground, but it's a lot harder than it looks, obviously. We take a lot of pride in it. That was a problem early in the year that we wanted to get fixed. A big part of us playing the way we've been playing is because we've been tackling well, so that's something we want to continue to harp on. We missed a couple of tackles last week so that something obviously we want to harp on - being able to get off the field on third-down and making things a little bit easier for us. But we take a lot of pride in tackling.

Q: Does the communication on defense seem to be more fluid or do you feel you guys still have some room to grow?

DH: Absolutely. I feel like the communication aspect of that is big and it's a lot better. Earlier in the year, like you said, we had a lot of new pieces, even with Shea [McClellin] coming in and Chris [Long] coming in and guys moving around and playing different spots and doing things that they weren't necessarily accustomed to, and then obviously Trey [Flowers] coming in and stepping up as well as he's playing. The communication has gotten a lot better. I think guys have gotten comfortable. I think we've kind of got that chemistry kind of built. There have been times now that me and KV [Kyle Van Noy] can kind of just look at each other and we kind of know what to expect, what we're thinking. Whenever you get that, you can play a lot faster and kind of anticipate things. You try and get a jump on the offense. I think we're finally at that point.

Q: How impressed have you been by the play of Trey Flowers this season?

DH: Honestly, when Trey [Flowers] came in - I mean Trey's been one of the hardest workers on the team. He's one of the guys who's first in, last out. He stays hard after practice. For him to be playing the way he's playing, it doesn't surprise me at all. I'm impressed, absolutely, but it's expected from a guy who works as hard as he does. We're able to do a lot of different things with him in there. He's kind of a smaller build guy but he plays a lot bigger than that. You've seen that in the first three or four plays in the Miami game. I think he was in on every play. As long as he can continue to grow as a player and we can all just grow and learn from a lot of things that he's doing, a lot of those pass rush moves. [He] and Chris Long go back and forth. [He] and [Rob] Ninkovich go back and forth. It's good to see that brotherhood and that chemistry building. It's taken on not just in the front seven but the whole team.

Q: How important is it at this point of the year to be able to make in-game adjustments as quickly as you've been able to?

DH: It's big, especially with fast-moving offenses and really good offensive coordinators like [Dolphins head coach Adam] Gase is who finds vulnerability in the defense, especially on that drive or series or whatever. [It's important] to be able to fix it as quick as you can, because obviously you're going to keep coming back to it and keep coming back to it. A lot of times you see do that, start out slow and then you see one big play and then you see they start to build, and the next thing you know they're in the red area. Whenever we can do that and make adjustments and get off the field and actually get it cleared up and actually know what's going on, it really helps. It helps kind of diffuse the situation. 

Q: What is your level of excitement right now and how do you balance that with executing at this time of year?

DH: I think all of that kind of ties in together. You want to play with passion, you want to play with emotion, but you also want to play smart. That's one thing we're able to do that's a real big key around here, especially in the Patriot way, is smart football. All of it kind of boils down to when to play with emotion and when not to, and we have the right preparation, we do the right study and everything else, so it really comes down to execution. You don't want to let down your brothers and everybody that's worked so hard to get up to this point just for an emotional play. 

Q: Do you have any teammates from Clemson in the locker room?

DH: No, I don't think so. 

Q: What are your feelings about Matt Patricia as a coach and what has he brought to this team?

DH: Matty P. [Matt Patricia] has definitely helped. He was one of the guys who helped bring me up. Besides [Jerod] Mayo and Pat Graham and Pep [Pepper Johnson], Matty P. was one of the guys who helped me move along at an accelerated pace, we'll say that, as far as him working with me and getting me to understand the defense and what he really wanted me to do as far as me coming in. I love him, he's a great coach and even a better man, so looking down the road hopefully he gets what he deserves. 

Q: How important is it for coaches to keep things simple and composed when communicating with players in-game so that you are able to execute immediately on the field?

DH: Well I can guarantee you those [NFL Films] snippets aren't all the truth. It really is amazing and a lot of times early in the game, there are plays that give you trouble and you know you're not able to get it done much like we were talking about. We're getting those adjustments on the sideline and those can really make or break you. A lot of teams sometimes don't really come in with a really thick game plan, they come in with what they believe. If you can't really get that situation fixed, then obviously they're just going to keep coming back to it and that becomes a problem the whole game. You can never get it fixed, then it's the end of the game and you probably lost it. Just the composure and the matter of how we get things fixed, and just overall, obviously, I mean, [Matt Patricia] is a smart guy, he's a rocket scientist, man. For him to be able to diagnose those things and just get them answered is truly amazing. 


(On how excited he is at this time of year)
"Very, it's a special place to be, in the playoffs. I'm just anxious for the opportunity and excited and just looking forward to whatever the game has."

(On how he balances the excitement with having a game to play)
"Yeah, you just have to take it that way. You can't be thinking towards the next week. You've just got to take it one day at a time. I'm really focused on, right now, the things that I need to do to get better and then move forward from there."

(On if he'll use the next few days to recharge or if there is still a big football focus)
"Yeah, definitely a football focus. You recharge the batteries, you kind of rest and do the things you need to do to make sure you're ready to go when you come back, but you can't dial all the way out. You've got to stay focused. It's a one-game season from here on out."

(On if he takes cues from a lot of the guys around him that have been through this before)
"Yeah, definitely. Different guys have different stories here, like Chris Long or other guys. They have different stories and you just kind of take what they have experienced through their careers, you see them come to work every day and you see them do it the right way. You just want to follow in their lead and make sure that every day you come in and make sure that you put your work in so that we can all experience a great playoff."

(On what it's like for him to have an opportunity to make it to a Super Bowl)
"That goes along with the whole day-at-a-time thing. You can't get caught thinking about that too much. As a little kid, you think about it and dream of what it would be like and wonder if you'll ever even get the opportunity. Now that it's here, just coming to the playoffs and everything, it's one day at a time, one play at a time, one game at a time. You've just got to keep yourself contained. 

(On if that it is easier said than done)
"It's exciting, for sure, but it's just a special place to be in the playoffs and I'm excited to put in work."


(On how he balances approaching this next game as just another football game, but also understanding that it's the playoffs)
"I mean, it is, it's the next game on our schedule. We're 0-0 right now so it's just, whenever that card gets drawn, that's what we're going to get out there and do and prepare like we've been doing."

(On how much it helps to have so many guys who have been in this situation before)
"It's just everyone coming to work every day. You have it every year that people no one's ever heard of make plays, or experienced guys make plays, so it's just everyone doing their job and doing their role." 

(On what the key is for them offensively at this time of year)
"I just think we've just got to keep improving, keep going upwards and just keep playing good ball. That starts today out there on the practice field, it started yesterday. It's just all those things you've done in the offseason and OTAs adding up, and just taking that and moving forward and getting better and improving." 

(On how important it is to have this time to improve themselves without having an opponent yet)
"I don't know what it's like any different, but just going out there every week and preparing gives us a chance to step back personally and see where you can improve and what you can do better to help the football team." 


(On if he wants to be here next year)
"Oh yeah, I love it here. We'll figure it out when it's time to figure it out, but my family loves it here, I love being a part of this team, this organization and this city. When it comes around, it comes around. I'm not really tripping, like I said. I save my money pretty good. I've got a good, diverse portfolio, so I'm not really tripping right now."

(On his level of excitement right now for the postseason)
"I'm not very excited - it's the bye week right now so I'm just chilling. I just save my energy, build up as it goes on. There's no reason to have a lot of highs and lows this week, so I'm just trying to have good focus in practice and get better this week, take some time off and see what I can do to contribute and make the team better for the next game. We don't know who we're playing, so it's hard to get excited about ghosts. But for overall, I'm just chilling."

(On why there is still such passion from New England fans after they experience success year after year)
"I mean, I don't know. I like cake a lot and every time I get a new slice, I'm just as happy. So I don't know."

(On if he recalls a moment during his time in the league where he became more present)
"I think it was the first time I got to be a starter with the Giants. I loved New York and they gave me my first opportunity to start. At that moment it started to change for me a little bit more. [The Patriots] win a lot of games. I hadn't really won that many games in my career. I've been able to do a lot of individual things as far as numbers go, but individual goals aren't really important. This is a lot more fun than catching 90 balls and losing 10 games."

(On if he is craving the ring as he has an opportunity to make a Super Bowl with the Patriots)
"I wouldn't really say craving the ring, I just crave the big game moments and playing in games that matter. A lot of times, you don't really get to do things that matter and I have a chance to do that right now." 


(On the competition during practice)
"Going out and getting to compete against Logan [Ryan], Malc [Malcolm Butler], [Eric] Rowe, [Jonathan] Jones, [Devin] McCourty, Harm [Duron Harmon], all those guys, it's a competitive environment and iron sharpens iron, so it's fun to go out there and compete with them."

(On how much of this week is focused on working on themselves and making themselves better)
"That's exactly what it is because we don't know who we're playing, so it's a time to reflect on the year, how we've done and what we can do to improve ourselves. It's only an opportunity to take advantage of the time and that's what we're trying to do."

(On if that outlook changes their intensity this week)
"I would say the intensity naturally rises when it's playoff season, so the intensity is definitely there."

(On how he reflects on how he did this season)
"The season's not over, so I'm still reflecting on what I can do to make myself better."

(On what it meant to receive the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award)
"I mean, it's cool, but I'm worried about the playoffs."

(On how the team's success in the running game has opened up the passing game)
"Definitely, a complementary offense is a good offense. Our offensive line has worked their tail off to help LG [LeGarrette Blount], Dion [Lewis] and James [White] go out there and make plays not only in the run game, but in the passing game, sets up the play action, all that kind of stuff. The running game is the offense's best friend."

(On how competitive and diverse this wide receiver group is now)
"It's very diverse and it's very competitive. We've got a room full of brothers in there. Everyone, I can tell you right now, is mentally and physically tough. The addition of Mike [Michael Floyd], he's been a stud; a guy that's come in and worked hard and showed and displayed toughness. When we get those kinds of things, we like those kinds of guys."  

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