New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2008.
MV: For this [press conference]? No. I think we're excited. I think we look forward to playing big games. I think as a player who has been there, like a lot of the guys on our team have, you realize how fun they are when you go out there to compete against another team in a Championship Game.
Q:Is this really an announcement that you're into the final four now?
MV: I think it's an announcement that we're close, close to game time and we are starting to button things up for less than 48 hours or close right there. I think that's what it tells us, that we're close.
Q:How helpful has it been in the past, to bring in hungry veteran guys who have had individual success in other places, but haven't achieved team success, guys like Rodney Harrison and now Junior Seau and Randy Moss; how much does that help you keep the fire burning?
MV: Well, I think that we have a lot of guys on our team that have been successful, like you said, and have had individual success on other teams. I think that they bring a lot to this team. I think all the way back in 2001, when I think Bill [Belichick] and Scott [Pioli] kind of started to transform this team into what they wanted it to be, and then it's been a tough team to make ever since then. They always bring in talented guys and positions are deep at training camp and every position has eight or 10 guys and it's a tough team to make.
Q:The beginning of the week Bill Belichick said the team would look at week two but focus on what the Chargers have done in the last few weeks; what have they done so well down in the stretch?
MV: It's just a team that is executing that much better. It's the same guys, the same guys we saw in week two. They added Chris Chambers. The receivers are playing a lot better, so not only do they have the playmakers that they had before, you know, with L.T. [LaDainian Tomlinson] and [Antonio] Gates and [Darren] Sproles and [Michael] Turner, but they have added the receivers that have showed up the last half of the season, and their record has shown and their offensive numbers have shown and their offensive production has shown because of it.
Q:The last two games, what is has been the difficulty in getting to the quarterback?
MV: If you look, I don't think that we put terrible pressure on David [Garrard] last week. I think that he played well. I think that we forced him to not stand back there and hold the ball. I don't think he held the ball. I think you can go around and around about sacks and numbers. I think sometimes you can have a lot of pressures and not have any sacks. If somebody was standing back there and we are not getting to him or guys are not getting in his face, then I think it's an issue. Certainly, I will say that the Giants game, I don't think that the front four, we didn't rush how we needed to rush. I'll say [in] the Giants game, we probably could have done better. But you know, last week I think that the pressure was there. I don't think that the sack numbers were there.
Q:What is the overall feeling now on defense, after you mentioned the Giants game and last week, Garrard had quite a few long drives; is that a concern still and have you done special things to correct those?
MV: Well, I think that you can play really well against the run-We played a Jacksonville team last week that averaged 150 yards rushing a game and I thought we played a run pretty well, but when you don't get off the field on third down, that's all negated. That means nothing. We've had games where we haven't played well against the run. Played really well on third down and nobody really cares how you play against the run because you get off the field. For us it comes down to third down, it comes down to living in the times that they are able to go out there and convert. Certainly if they have the ball for 12 or 14 plays, two things are happening. One, Tom Brady doesn't have the ball and two, they have a chance to score.
Q:If Philip Rivers doesn't play or if he's more hobbled than he is normally, how much of an advantage is that for your pass rush and for your defense? Can you talk about the play of their offensive line so far this season?
MV: Well, I think the offensive line--I think that they work really well, the three guys inside work really well together. You know, [Marcus] McNeill is obviously a great athlete out there at left tackle. And then [Jeromey] Clary, he played on my side. You know, they work well together and then Brandon [Manumaleuna], the big fella, I'm not going to try to pronounce his name, he's Brandon to us, he kinds of provides -- he's kind of that searchlight back there for them and an added blocker. So they do, they play well together. That's really been the key the last, I think, half of the season for them is keeping Philip clean, keeping him upright and his numbers have shown because of it.
Q:There seems to be a consensus among media and maybe even the general population that the outcome of this game depends on the Patriots, if they play a typical Patriot football game, this game is well in hand; do the players have that same feeling?
MV: I think we think that every week. I think every team would; that if they went out there and they played their best that they would win the game. I think that's the attitude we take every week is that if we play well and we do what we're supposed to do that we are going to win. If you don't have that attitude, I think guys are on the wrong team. Q. Your defense throws something different that they just didn't expect, what is it like walking into your defensive meetings every week and seeing a new wrinkle; what is it like, does it jazz you up when you know there's something completely different?
MV: Well, I mean, I think you have to be -- I hear that a lot. I think you have to be pretty conscious of just changing the whole defense just to change it. We don't do things just for the sake of doing them. We try to do things that really are pertinent to what we are trying to stop and what we are trying to take away. You know, you have to study and you have to be on top of things and you have to be able to adjust on the fly. There were things that we changed last week and the week before. You know, we don't wait till halftime. We try to come over on the sidelines and say, this is working and this isn't working. You know, you've got to be truthful. You've got to be honest with the coaches. If you're getting handled, you've got to say, "I got blocked" or "this is what they did." Bill is like, "I don't need everybody coming over here telling me they got double-teamed. They can't double-team everybody."
Q:How difficult is it to be talking about the anticipation of the game on the Friday, and two, why is this team so good at staying within itself, staying on an even keel, looking at that proverbial one game at a time?
MV: Well, I just think that's just what we are used to doing. That's the way we approach every week and that's the way we approach every day is: this is Friday, here is our schedule on Friday, we do short yardage, goal line, red zone, move the field, whatever it is. You know, come in and get out of here. And then Saturday is another day and Sunday we'll try to amp it up for the game. It makes the weeks go by so much faster when you're not looking down the road when you just stay inside yourself and stay focused.
Q:Since the Eagles game, the games have had a different tone. They have been closer for the most part. Would you just assess the two different --
MV: This is professional football --
Q:What have you observed about the sheer effort teams are bringing in and the schemes --
MV: I think probably offensively they get it a little more than what we would. I think we're seeing -- you know, this is a copycat league for the most part. A lot of teams are going to run what they have seen be successful on film. The games are close. I think everybody in here in this locker room anticipated that we weren't going to win every game by four touchdowns. So sooner or later, you have to go out there -- and I'm glad that we were able to make plays under pressure, in the fourth quarter and coming down the stretch when it mattered.
Q:Each of the last two playoff runs you have not had Rodney Harrison available; what difference does it make this year to have him?
MV: Just emotion. You see him making a huge play to end the game last week, and he's always played very, very well in playoff games that he's been healthy for that I can remember. You know, in the Super Bowl, with the pick, a touchdown against [Ben] Roethlisberger and I'm sure I'll forget some sacks, but the best players, they have got to play great in the big games, so I don't expect anything less from Rodney. Certainly he's done that in the past and shown that he can do it when he's out there.
Q:Can you talk about the role of James Sanders?
MV: [It has been] just a maturation process for James. He learned under Rodney, studied under Rodney and did the right things. He's smart and he's tough. It's a good fit for our defense. He's a young guy that came in and really learned the system, and so I'm happy for James and the amount of time that he's been able to play and he's had that opportunity when guys went down and he made the most of his opportunity.
Q:How much has the linebacker core in particular and the defense in general missed Roosevelt Colvin, and how do you feel the adjustments have been since he went on injured reserve?
MV: Well, I think we missed Rosie. We miss all our players. When you show up and Bill and Scott form a team and you end up with 53 guys, you know that you're not going to play the whole season with those same 53 guys. So with that in mind, you understand that there's going to be some changes. You're going to go through the season and you're going to lose guys to injury or to whatever. We've missed Rosie, not only on the field but off the field, his attitude in the locker room, and just the way that he carried himself and kind of kept everybody light. So we see him, and we certainly miss him on the field but we also miss him in the locker room as well.
Q:You've had situations where you played against quarterbacks in the same game with varied abilities. Is there a great difference between what Philip Rivers and Billy Volek does?
MV: Well, I think both guys--I think any quarterback in this league is going to try to rely on his playmakers. And they have plenty of them. As far as advantages go, I think that we're going to have to be prepared for the starter and then if the backup comes in, we'll also have to be prepared for that, as well. I would say you're not looking at, you know, Tom Brady and Vince Young different, but I would say more similar than dissimilar.
Q:On a personal level, how important was remaining at the same position to your own individual success this season?
MV: Well, I think personally it's helped, but I think that you just do what you have to do, I think, to get by. Sometimes that was moving inside and sometimes that was playing outside. To be able to play outside, it's just been-- for the whole season, it's just been reflective in the rush and everything else. But I don't have any interceptions so I'm not dropping as much. [For the] interceptions, I was inside. It's just kind of -- what you do is what you're expected. You know, those are the plays you're expected to make.
Q:Just recently a young girl was booed at the Indianapolis game at the RCA Dome building up the whole "Evil Empire" that's starting to come up, calling us the "Evil Empire" in New England; do you notice that deeper into the playoffs that players are making that comment?
MV: I think it's great that a girl can go out and win and beat a bunch of boys in a punt, pass and kick competition and she had a New England Patriots jersey on. I did hear that we are going to honor her and I'm sure our fans will appreciate the fact that she had the guts to go into the RCA Dome with a Patriots jersey on.