HEAD COACH KEVIN O'CONNELL
Postgame Press Conference
Thursday, November 24, 2022
OPENING STATEMENT: Want to start out and wish everybody a Happy Thanksgiving. Appreciate all of you guys and what an unbelievable atmosphere tonight. Four days after being here with a pretty dejected feeling and asking our team to respond and our coaches to respond and show up tonight on a mission to try and play a really good football team and try to get a win. I could not be more proud of my football team and our staff and all that goes into it as an organization. Really excited and happy. Feel very fortunate, including being very thankful, to be the head coach of this team and that locker room in there. Also, want to make sure I mention John Madden and all that he has meant to us coaches and our game, our league. Seeing his name on our field and I'm very thankful for his impact on our game and that we got the opportunity to honor him on one of his absolute special most favorite holidays. It was great to see our players come in our locker room with some turkey legs, unfortunately, I didn't get any but that will be for me tomorrow.
Q. What allowed this team to move on so quickly from the Dallas loss just four days ago?
A: Well, I know sometimes I stand up here and talk about things like culture, I talk about our locker room in my opinion being one of the most connected, close-knit groups in the entire National Football League that I've been around. I think sometimes people shrug their shoulders, shake their head, Yeah, that's not going to matter. Four days' time to turn around after a loss that could leave a lot of teams searching. Our guys searched, they wanted to show up back to work, on a short week, prepare. Our coaching staff put together a great plan. They came out here and had a ton of energy. I give Tyler Williams, Uriah (Myrie) a great deal of credit for getting our guys turned over. How we prepare is an important part of it. My goal here is to have our organization ready to put it all together, even when people don't give us a chance or when adversity hits, that's when I happen to believe the best parts of our team come out. I think that will continue to serve us well as we continue to improve as a football team this year.
Q. What kind ways did you see that come out this week, as far as guys being at their best, move on quickly?
A: You could feel it Monday when we had those guys in. You could feel it Monday. Each week in this league is its own challenge. If you don't play your best or play well against good football teams, bad results can happen. I think our team learned coming off of that emotional Buffalo win, I didn't necessarily think we didn't have a good week of prep, but what I thought was we really needed to challenge ourselves to emotionally and physically play with unbelievable energy and enthusiasm. I think our fans, what an atmosphere tonight. Every time we needed them to be with us on defense and make that extra stop or special teams with Kene's huge kick return, Ryan Wright punting it three times inside the 20, I feel like our crowd willed our organization forward coming off a tough loss. That is something I'll forever remember in these tough circumstances. But we got to continue to improve and try to show up each and every week with purpose and not need to have setbacks to find our best. I think that's what we're going to need to do as the season moves forward and hopefully on into January.
Q. What was the key to the vast improvement in pass protection?
A: Well, we had a real plan, kind of knowing where we'd be at. We wanted to try to run the football. It's a tough group to run it against, not a lot of average per carry tonight. But we were able to churn out runs to then allow us to activate some play passes. We used a lot of different techniques on the edges to try to condense that rush, try to let Kirk (Cousins) have some clean pockets. I will say they got the NFL sack leader over there, some really good interior rushers, timely pressures. Kirk Cousins was phenomenal tonight getting us in and out of the plays he did, standing back there and making some big-time throws. I can't say enough about the protection as well, those guys doing their jobs. It was not easy. It's never going to be easy against that defensive structure, team or coaching staff. So I give our guys a ton of credit for making plays and just consistently finding ways to drive the football.
Q. Some guys in the locker room mentioned they were anxious to get to the call that lead to the Thielen touchdown. What were you looking for to make that play call?
A: I was stubborn. I was going to continue to try to find the look that we were looking for. Like great coaching staffs do on the other side, they were varying some things up. We were able to finally get kind of the look we were looking for there. But our whole group was ready. A clean pocket. I think Kirk had three or four hitches right there. Even though it's a play pass, you still have to block the man over you, you have to block on the edges. I thought that was one of the cleanest pockets all night, when he's able to set his feet frontside to Justin, having Adam screaming across the back. We figured we would have one of those guys. Kirk made a great decision. What an unbelievable throw in that moment to put the extra rpms to beat that undercutting defender.
Q. Did you flip anything at the end for your pass-rush?
A: I thought Ed (Donatell) had some real-timely pressures that he called. It looked like he activated some kind of mugged-up looks, sent some pressure. Both times I think were successful either getting him off the spot or potentially getting the sack. That sack to start the last drive that they had, to really knock 'em back, no timeouts. I know sometimes it can be painful in those four-minute modes, but I'm making sure they had to use their last two timeouts so there wasn't a chance for an explosive by them, then a timeout, then all of a sudden they could potentially move it. I just have so much faith in our guys in that closer's mentality we have. Give Ed credit for the timely pressures he called in the second half. Duke Shelley stepping up, making some plays there in the red zone, our guys being able to finish it out.
Q. What was painful?
A: When we're on offense in that mode (4-minute). You're going to run it three times or potentially have a safe play-action that if you get it, great, otherwise you're more than likely going to take a sack. The key in that situation is the clock, making sure they use their timeouts so when they get the ball back after a very, very successful Ryan Wright punt, third inside the 20 of the night, great coverage by our guys, it's going to be awfully hard to go 90 plus yards 85 yards without a timeout in that situation. Situationally not always pretty from a yardage standpoint, things like that, but our guys got the job done and mission accomplished in that scenario.
Q. Do you find yourself saying 'wow' with what Justin Jefferson can do?
A: I do. I do. He's one of absolutely the most special players I've ever been around as a player or coach. He tends to show up and be ready to go every time we put on the uniform and go out there. He was double-teamed a lot tonight. Had some success against some of those double-team looks when he got single coverage. Kirk found him a few times. Got a great double move there to set up Adam's go-ahead touchdown. He's a special player, means a whole heck of a lot to our offense, to our team. It was a big night for Justin. Quite frankly, I'm just so proud of the way he battles and the grit and the determination and the preparation that he's put into this. People forget sometimes it's still only year three and he's learning so much each and every week. But the talent and the competitive drive that he has just makes him a very special player.
Q. Kirk threw the interception early. To see him settle back in and keep making plays, what do you think about him is able to move on, put in the rearview mirror and go forward?
A: I think he had a very, very good week of preparation on a short week. His ownership, I know we've talked a lot about that. You don't play like he did tonight without really starting to develop some ownership of our offense. I think the way he played at Buffalo to kind of will us to a victory, then we all had to learn some lessons coming out of Sunday, me included. Maybe me more so than anybody. But I can tell you that Kirk played really, really well tonight. There's really so many plays you can kind of go back to and call on, third-down plays, play-action shots, great decisions to check the ball down. Didn't allow the rush when it did get there to really affect him. He overcomes the early adversity of the interception. That's probably a bad play call by me. Trying to do too much on a third-and-long. I'll continue to improve, always look inward. Really spend a lot time over this mini bye making sure that I am at my best when we show up ready to roll next week.
Q. What was your view on the overturned touchdown?
A: I thought for the most part we were looking at a fourth and inches or it was incomplete. They did a great job communicating with me through that whole scenario. It just ended up being overturned. I think it's one of those things that could have gone a lot of different ways. I was very happy that it went the way it did.
Q. How big was that in terms of taking control of the game?
A: Yeah, I just thought our ability to drive the football tonight. When Justin is getting doubled, there's some things going on, you have to convert some third downs. I think we were 8-of-15, the final number, against a team like that, that's going to come in trying to take away your best player. I knew that they would try to take 18 out of the game, especially in those situational downs. We worked really hard and kind of prepared him for that, some unique things that we tried. But ultimately Kirk making that whole thing come to life, the protection holding up, allowing some things to develop, those critical third downs were key I thought to allowing us to get new sets of downs and generate some explosives when we could.
Q. What did this game mean to you, have the postgame handshake with Coach Belichick?
A: This one means a whole heck of a lot just because I have so much respect for that organization and Coach Belichick. So many unbelievable players and coaches have gone through that organization. In my short time there, you guys know I've talked about it, it had a monumental impact on my football journey. To see just the longevity of success playing such good football for so long, you can't say enough about Coach Belichick and what he's accomplished. But to shake his hand, get a win on our home field in front of our home fans, that's a really good football team over there, very well-coached football team. Just really proud of our guys. Nothing but respect and admiration for that organization over there.
Q. What does it do for you when you can answer a touchdown with a kickoff return like that?
A: All year long I hit him (Kene) at pregame meals. Is today the day? Is today the day? He's just so talented, such a special athlete. I've got so much confidence in Matt Daniels and Ben Kotwica. Our special teams units have had game-defining plays for us all season long. I just thought in that moment for Kene, even when it looked like maybe they were closing in on him there, he's just so explosive, to get that thing going. Then to finish that in a moment where it was a huge play for our team. You'd like to think we would have gone on the field right there and drove for a touchdown. But to get that immediate response allowed the defense to get their cleats back in the ground and be ready to go on the next drive. Ultimately as an offense, when we got our op, to make sure we drove the football and got points. That's three phases of our team. You have heard me talk about that a lot. Complementary football coming together at its finest. We're going to need to win like that. We're going to need to play well like that when it matters in all three phases and win big football games against good teams.
QUARTERBACK KIRK COUSINS
Postgame Press Conference
Thursday, November 24, 2022
OPENING STATEMENT: Another great team win. Just so many people to really be grateful for in the way they contributed tonight. Obviously the kickoff return, the whole unit, it was an unbelievable return that really made a difference in the game. I think they might have drawn that one up at halftime, so halftime was pretty productive. Our defense, holding them in the red zone to field goals, had a huge impact on the game. Their ability to get off the field on third down. They really kept us in it. We had a lot of long drives, sustained drives. Found a way to get more explosives today, which I think was important, to get more explosive plays. It was a bit of a challenge throughout the game to be aware of how much they were trying to really take Justin out of the game and then how much they were still going to give us opportunities to get him the football. I thought our coaches and Kevin did a great job with the plan all week but then executing the plan or calling the game to give us a great chance to have success. And then I just heard David Blough make the comment, he said, "That's probably the loudest stadium I've ever been in in my career," which is saying something. It was just a great atmosphere tonight. The way that our fans bring it and make it challenging for the opponent, I never take that for granted because not every team in the league gets to have a fanbase like ours. Really grateful to be able to play at a place like we have, with a crowd like we have. Big win. We got to use this long weekend to our advantage and try to keep building from here.
Q. The touchdown to Adam, trying to get to that look, what made that the moment to come back to it there?
A: We called that play like several times. We just didn't get the look we wanted, so I just kept checking to something else.
He called it again and we got the look. He even said to me in the headset, because we got the line before the headset cut out, I knew we got the look, but he says it, "You got the look." I should have gotten him faster. I was trying to make sure they truly went with Justin, and they did, so Adam got through there. Just a phenomenal catch by him. I thought the way that he's able to catch that football, keep his feet inbounds, it just says a lot about his ability. One of the things he does really well is his body control and overall athleticism, and he showed it there. Great play by him.
Q. What did you see from their defense with what they were trying to do with Justin?
A: What they do well is it is a mix-up. It is a mix-up. What they're not going to do is make you feel like you got a beat on him. They did a great job of just constantly changing it or at least changing the pre-snap feel. You really had to make a lot of post-snap decisions, which can be difficult.
Q. He wasn't necessarily doubled all the time? They did different things?
A: You know, a lot of different doubles. The long third down that he caught was a double, but it was an east-west double, and he had a north-south route, so he had the ability to still go past the double-team. There were times where the safety just left the post to double him.
Q. Talking about the one right before Adam's touchdown?
A: No, no. I think it was either third quarter or first half, it all runs together. A third-and-five after they jumped offsides, and we converted. I think it was the end of the second quarter, winding down. There were a couple others where the safety just left the post and went to his side to kind of help and double. Then there were others where he is singled up. You just have to kind of read them out. Other times they pass him off to the help player and fall off into coverage. They did a good job mixing it up.
Q. Is that the mark of a truly great player, even when the defense is trying to take him away, trying to double him, he is still able to come through with big plays?
A: Yes, I do think that at some point if they truly want to take him away play after play after play, he can be a great player, he's still not going to get the ball. I think it was the mark also of great coaching, or scheming, to still find opportunities for him in spite of that. So it was kind of a combination, but, yes, when he's doubled and we throw him the ball and he still makes the play, obviously that's a great player. There were a couple times where the ball's in the air, he is in the right position with who's defending him, but there's another player on his way. His ability to not hear footsteps, not alligator arm it, but bring it in and get popped, that's one of his many traits. When the ball goes up in the air, it's his ball, and he's not going to allow somebody to affect that.
Q. Why are you giving him more 50/50 balls?
A: He's put on tape time and again that he's earned those opportunities. The eye in the sky don't lie, we say. When he puts that stuff on tape, it earns the right to keep getting the ball.
Q. Another late-game comeback. What is it about this team where your back is against the wall, you play your best football?
A: Yeah, I mean, I'd love to put games away earlier. This was a good football team we played tonight. They made it hard for us. What I think has been unique about our journey this season has just been the team factor. We needed a kickoff return tonight, we've needed interceptions, fumble recoveries, pass-rush, run game, pass game. There's just been a lot of contributions. For us to win it would seem we really do need the whole team to contribute. That's what I think has been a unique theme to this year, is we win as a team and really lean on all three phases.
Q. Does anything feel different for you in your individual game making all these plays late in games when the team needs you to?
A: Well, it's funny because we're winning, so I feel like talking to you guys has been a lot easier this year, but I'm not playing any better. If anything, I'm coming to these press conferences trying to smile, having to work to smile, because I'm thinking to myself, "Man, I've got to play better." I appreciate winning because it does make this a little easier. But, yeah, there's a lot in the game where you're always saying, "I got to be better." Kickoff returns help. Big-time pass rush helps. Pinning them back field position-wise helps. There's a lot of things that I'm not really involved in that are helping us win. I believe, I'm optimistic, that the longer I'm in this system, we're in this system, it's only going to get cleaner, it's only going to get better. As I said in August, we don't have time. Thankfully we've been finding a way to win in spite of it being year one in this system. There have been moments where you feel like, "Man, we, I got to be better here on offense for us to go where we want to go." I think that's where you still feel like you're developing.
Q. You did have the one interception, but you look at this game and think you should have been better?
A: Yeah, if you look at the pass to K.J. in the flat that I left a little short, threw too quickly. I tried to put touch on it. I just need to stick my back foot in the ground and rifle that thing to him. Way too close for comfort. The third down with Justin in the first quarter, it all runs together. The one I left inside, could have been intercepted. This is the way I am, man. I'm kind of hard on myself. I go back there and think of all the plays I need to be better.
Q. Will you ever allow yourself to say this was a great game?
A: No. I don't know. I probably drive myself crazy, my family crazy being this way. It's just the way I'm wired. I'm an improver. I'm kind of obsessed with improvement. Even when things are good, my mind goes to how can they be better? You kind of torture yourself that way. I much more enjoy talking to you guys and thinking about how we can be better after a win than after a loss.
Q. Do you feel like the confidence that the guys have in you is complete?
A: Kevin has empowered me so much; this team has empowered me so much. The guys have just been tremendous. I can't say enough about the way that they have had my back after these interceptions, support me all week long, support me pregame in the locker room. Adam came over to me before we kicked off in the locker room and pulled me aside and shared an encouraging word. At times it almost brings me to tears the way these guys support me and have my back. It really adds to the fun of playing and working together.
Q. What do you appreciate most about T.J. Hockenson?
A: He's done a great job. There's a lot we're throwing at him. But he's been an asset for our team. If we're going to continue to play well and win down the way, that acquisition or his contribution will have been a major factor.
Q. It's a home game, so no flight home so what will you do about the chains?
A: I'm glad you brought that up. The young kid in the stands who was shirtless, that was just tremendous. We may have to hire him as a team mascot. That was awesome. We had a TV timeout and the guys in the huddle are just loving it, just laughing so hard. We may have to come up with a name for him, get him some tickets, bring him back. They asked me after the game, "Where do you go from here?" I said, "I really got to call my dentist in Holland, Michigan, and ask for some custom grills." It's been fun. When you win, you get to do things like that. When you lose, you don't. There was no jewelry being worn Sunday night after that Dallas game. It's been fun, and hopefully we can keep this thing rolling.