BILL BELICHICK, HEAD COACH
BB: Well, it was a great job, really - 16 wins - a great job by this team. The players played great tonight. The coaching staff did a real good job. We had a good week of preparation. I thought we got a lot of things done in the game that we wanted to get done, or needed to get done in order to be competitive against the Steelers. They're a good football team. Give them a lot of credit for the season that they had. I thought our players today just were able to make the plays we needed to make. We had a lot of areas, a lot of guys contribute and we were able to take advantage of some opportunities and turn them into big plays, turnovers, stops, touchdowns, whatever the case might be. A lot of work this week paid off out there tonight. I'm proud of the team, happy for the team, happy for all of these guys. They all deserved it. It's a good, hard working group. We're excited to move on.
Q: What are your thoughts on Tom Brady and yourself now accomplishing the feat of winning seven AFC Championships?
BB: Well, I think everybody had a good week. Tom [Brady] played well tonight. Everybody played well. Our whole team played well. We had a good team effort on all three units, both sides of the ball. I mean, the numbers are nice and all that, but it's really about this team and this year and this group of guys. I'm really happy for our coaching staff, for our players, all of the guys, the practice squad players who gave us such a great look this week. Again, contributions from all three units. It was just a good team victory. It's a good team.
Q: How important was the sequence where they overturned the touchdown call for Jesse James and you were able to subsequently keep them out of the end zone on that drive, followed by the stop you were able to make at the beginning of the third quarter?
BB: Yeah, I mean big. We've seen multiple times games or in some cases seasons come down to a yard, and so that was a big yard there at the end of the half, the tackle, and then the first-down goal line play was stopped. [Vincent] Valentine got the second one and then we were able to get a stop there on third-down, so that was a big four point swing and then the stop in the - what was it, end of the third quarter or fourth quarter? Fourth quarter, right? Obviously it was really 11 points there that we saved, so yeah, it was huge. That was huge. Our red area defense has gotten better throughout the course of the year. It wasn't the first quarter of the season. We've always put a lot of time into it but the results improved and that helped us again tonight.
Q: Can you talk about the chemistry Tom Brady and Chris Hogan have established and what kind of a player Hogan is overall?
BB: Yeah, well again, Chris [Hogan] has done a good job for us all year. He's a good player, he does a lot of things well, he's fast, he runs well after the catch, he's tough. He had some good opportunities. He took advantage of them. Tom [Brady] did a good job of finding open guys. Our protection overall was pretty good. We had an opportunity to extend some plays and to create some separation vertically in the defense and create some space in there. Again, it's just good team execution. Everybody played a good part in it and that's why we had success.
Q: Did the Steelers show you some different schemes this time that led to a pass-heavy attack as opposed to the run-heavy style you used in the first matchup with them?
BB: No, they did a good job on it. We didn't handle the inside very well. They ran a lot of linebackers crossing up the middle. We missed that several times. We finally got a little bit of production there in the fourth quarter, but yeah, we would've liked to have run the ball better. That's for sure. We had a lot of plays in the passing game, good in third-down, so we were able to stay on the field with some third-down conversions, even though we had some longer yardage situations, so that was fortunate. Again, they're a good team. That's why they're playing in this game. They're tough and they made it tough in the running game on us.
Q: What does it say about Tom Brady that he was able to bounce back and have a great performance like he did tonight after perhaps a lesser heralded performance last week versus Houston?
BB: Yeah, I mean Tom [Brady] played well, but again, the whole offense played well. We had good execution, good protection, good spacing in the routes, a lot of good running after the catch, good throwing, good catching. Yeah, it was good offensive production.
Q: What went into the decision to choose to receive the opening kickoff, and secondly what are your early impressions of the Atlanta Falcons team you will be facing in the Super Bowl?
BB: No, I mean I didn't even know they won. We didn't see the first game. Obviously they're a great team or they wouldn't be playing in this game. They've had a great year. Yeah, we took the ball because we thought that was the right thing to do.
Q: Is this achievement evens sweeter given the fact that you had to play the first four games of the season with Tom Brady?
BB: No, I mean like every year, [it] has its own challenges. Whatever they are, they are. Every team faces them. Every team has to deal with them. We've dealt with them. Other teams have dealt with them, whatever it happens to be. It's a special year because it's a special team and it's a special group in the way they've worked together, but there are always challenges that we'll have to overcome and whatever those are, they are.
Q: How did Le'Veon Bell's absence impact the game?
BB: Yeah, well he's a great player. They have another great back in [DeAngelo] Williams and he did a good job. He got downhill on us. He kind of burst through the line of scrimmage, had a little different running style than [Le'Veon] Bell. They're both great backs but just different styles. He was a problem, and you know, we dealt with him last year in the opener in 2015, if you remember, and he ran well against us there. They have great depth in their backfield. Those two guys are both really good. They're different but they're both explosive, hard to tackle and good, tough runners. Whichever one of them is in there is a problem for the defense.
Q: Was not watching the Atlanta versus Green Bay game by intention?
BB: Yeah, we were focused on this game. I mean that game, if we didn't win this game then that game didn't make any difference.
Q: Is there a particular reason why Logan Ryan has seemed to have gotten better over the years on covering receivers who have a two-way go option in their route?
BB: Well, I mean again, Pittsburgh has excellent receivers. They have a great quarterback and a good offense so they challenge you on everything offensively. They're very good in the passing game. Logan [Ryan] works hard. He studies film relentlessly. He does a great job preparing for the overall passing game and the individual matchup that he has. I think he's one of the hardest working players, one of our smarter players that's great at communication and understanding it. He has a lot of experience in this system and he and Devin [McCourty], Pat [Chung], Duron [Harmon], the corners all work well together, but he's kind of right in the middle of it. His experience and overall knowledge of the game and the position are a big help for us defensively.
Q: When you acquire a new player mid-season like Kyle Van Noy or Eric Rowe how do you balance the urgency of this being a ‘win now' league versus having the patience to let those guys develop in the system and hopefully eventually be contributors?
BB: Yeah, well I mean overall fortunately this is a year where I'd say we weren't forced into playing players as quickly sometimes as you are when you have injuries and players that aren't available. That really wasn't the case too often, so we were able to bring the players along and when they were ready we were able to play them, and that certainly would be the case with both of those guys. I don't think they were active when they first got here. Those are two huge plays in the game. Kyle [Van Noy] is long and fast. He has the ability to cover a lot of space and did a great job to get the ball out there. Eric [Rowe] made a good play. It looked like maybe there was some miscommunication on that route between the quarterback and the receiver but he read it well and went up and high-pointed the ball, made a good interception, a good run back. But two big plays in the game - no question about it - and that kind of took the game form being pretty close, pretty competitive, to a bigger separation in gap in part because of the turnovers and then cause the offense was able to convert those into productive points. They were two huge plays in the game.
Q: Dont'a Hightower missed some time tonight and the team was still able to for the most part be effective in stopping the run. How has this team been able to overcome situations like that this season with various guys missing at different times?
BB: Well, I think that linebacker group in particular that you mentioned, Zo [Scott Zolak], has a great chemistry. Those guys really work well together and we've had some moving parts in there, guys playing different roles. Shea [McClellin] and obviously High [Dont'a Hightower], Kyle [Van Noy], Elandon [Roberts], those guys all played a significant role for us. The communication at times is a little bit challenging if the green dot is on one guy and he's not on there then it falls to somebody else. They do a good job of that. Our safeties do a good job with that communication as well, so we've been able to handle it. But it's a little bit of a challenge when the same person is not in there for every single snap as far as that part of it goes. Dont'a has given us great leadership all year. Again, it's a young group. Kyle is new. Shea is new. Shea was really a defensive end and outside linebacker and then we moved him back in midseason. Elandon is a young player so Dont'a has really done a good job of bringing that group together, giving them great leadership, helping the communication and those guys ave embraced it and they've grown themselves. That's a good room. Coach [Brian] Flores has done a real good job with that group, the transition that we had in midseason and so forth, but he's done a great job of improving that every week and those guys work hard. They care. They try to get it better. When we make a mistake they correct it and work hard to fix it. That's been a big improvement over the course of the last second half of the season. It's been huge for us defensively.
Q: Can you talk about the preparation and execution of the defensive secondary and being able to hold Antonio Brown in check and prevent him from having the big day that he is accustomed to?
BB: Right. Well, he was still a problem tonight. No question about that. Malcolm [Butler] was on him most of the night and Malcolm did a good job. He had a couple of big pass breakups. [Antonio] Brown is a great player and they were able to get him the ball on a couple crossing patterns and out-cuts, a couple of plays over the middle, so you're not going to shut this guy out. I mean he's too good of a player and they have too good of a quarterback. We just tried to keep it competitive, not get beat by big, long plays that you can't get back. Keep it in front of you and hope to live for another set of downs. I thought we overall tackled him fairly well and he's a hard guy to tackle. I thought even on the punt return Ryan Allen gave us a great punt there. [Matthew] Slater was down, kind of made him dodge a little bit there and then [Jonathan] Jones was able to come in and trip him up. But if he had gotten through there he would've been a tough guy to corral at that point. So just getting him on the ground with the ball is a hard thing. Playing our leverage, again, good tackling overall by the entire secondary but Malcolm had the primary coverage on him most of the time tonight.
Q: Are you able to reflect back at all on what your team has accomplished despite overcoming some major obstacles this year such as starting three different quarterbacks and missing Rob Gronkowski?
BB: Yeah, well we never dwell on that. We take the hand that we're dealt and play the cards. We're very fortunate. We have a good team. We have a lot of good players. We have good depth. Nick Caserio and his staff, Dave Ziegler on the pro side, Monti [Ossenfort] on the college side and all of the guys that work in there. I mean they've done a great job of helping to build the depth on this team. Look, every team has injuries. Every team loses a player. It's unfortunate, but that's life in the NFL. But we've had players that have been able to work hard, be prepared and take advantage of those opportunities and help the team win in all three units and really in every game. You referenced the beginning of the year but it's been true in every game really. It's a credit to those guys. It's a credit to the depth on our team and the way that those guys prepare. They work hard. They don't know if they're going to get an opportunity or not and then when it finally comes and they do get it, they're usually ready to take advantage of it and help the team win. That's why we're where we are. We have a special team, a special group of guys that really work hard. They deserve the success that they've had. I mean it's hard to win 16 games in this league. You've got to give a lot of credit to the players and the job they've done all year week after week. It's tough but they come in and grind it out. They sit in these seats for hours, and hours, and hours, and prepare, and prepare, and go out there and lay it on the line every week. Again, it's a good group of men.
Q: How were you able to keep Tom Brady upright tonight and clean in the pocket against a Steelers defense that has had a lot of success in getting after the quarterback?
BB: Well, you know, the Steelers - I mean obviously they have good players there. They ran quite a bit of three-man rush. We were able to get some good - I mean first of all - our line did a good job. Certainly Marcus [Cannon] and Nate [Solder] on the edges did a good job, but overall, I mean our protection was pretty solid. They gave us some three-man rush, and again, it's always easier for the quarterback when there are open receivers to throw the ball. The combination of protection and good route running, good distribution against zone coverage by the receivers, then it's easy to get the ball out on time. The hard part for the quarterback is when the protection isn't great and there's nobody open, then what are you going to do with the ball? That's a tough situation. Our receivers did a great job of creating separation, creating space. Our line played well. Again, some of the rush was more designed to cover than it was to pressure, but we had some good extra blocks from guys like [James] Develin, James White, LG [LeGarrette Blount], that we were able to make some of those plays, allow them to extend longer because of the extra time that Tom [Brady] had, and the receivers were able to create separation in those zones. That was, again, good team execution.
TOM BRADY, QUARTERBACK
Q: What does it mean for you to be going back to the Super Bowl?
TB: It hasn't sunk in yet. We've looked, every week it's kind of been one day at a time and one game at a time. I haven't even said those words yet. Well, I said them after the game, but not at all this week or now. It's unbelievable. It's unbelievable.
Q: Can you go back through how the two touchdown passes to Chris Hogan unfolded?
TB: The first one was, he just kind of sprung free there in the back of the end zone when I was holding the ball. We had a really good blitz pick up and I just kind of cut it loose and he was open. Then what was the second one?
*Q: The second one was the flea flicker. *
TB: Oh, the flea flicker. How could I forget that? It was just a great call. They were a little winded I thought. Got the pitch back from D-Lew [Dion Lewis] and I saw Hogs [Chris Hogan] burning up the field and just laid it out there for him. It was a great play.
Q: What has Chris Hogan meant to this offense?
TB: He's been incredible. I mean, to lead the league in average yards per catch is spectacular. He's made big plays for us all season, he made big plays in the biggest game of the year for us. Julian [Edelman], Malcolm [Mitchell], Danny [Amendola], what they've done, and Mike Floyd, what he's done in a short period of time, and Marty [Martellus Bennett] and Matt Lengel, what Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] contributed this year, what the guys up front did, D-Lew [Dion Lewis] and LeGarrette [Blount] and James White and Dev [James Develin], it's been really spectacular. We should enjoy this. It's really - you never know if you'll get these opportunities in life and fortunately this team has got the opportunity and now we've got to do something, go try to take advantage.
Q: Did you know much about Chris Hogan when he was in Buffalo and what was your reaction when you guys got him in free agency?
TB: I obviously followed up because you see a lot of those games and he's been - he was a great player for them. They can't keep everybody, but I'm glad we got him. He's just done an incredible job for us.
Q: There were a lot of games this season where you guys were close, but didn't accomplish exactly what you wanted to do offensively. Was this a little bit closer?
TB: Yeah, it was a good day. I mean, we're going to the Super Bowl, man - [shoot]. You've got to be happy now.
Q: How personally satisfying is this given that you weren't on the field for the first four games of the year?
TB: Well that's because of the hard work of a lot of people from my coaches to my teammates to our families that support us. It takes a lot of people, a lot of hard work and a lot of effort over the course of many months. This didn't start at 6:40 tonight. This thing started in April. It really started before that in free agency when we were picking up guys like [Chris] Hogan and drafting guys like Malcolm Mitchell and guys who were in rehab like LG [LeGarrette Blount] and D-Lew [Dion Lewis] and Dev [James Develin] and Nate [Solder]. It's a lot of hard work. There are only two teams left standing and I'm happy we're one of them. That's what our goal is and it's nice to be able to achieve that.
Q: On the first touchdown to Chris Hogan, did you move the safety a little bit?
TB: Yeah, I moved a little bit to the left because they were pressuring up the middle and the pocket kind of collapsed, so I kind of slid to the left and I had good vision. They kind of bit down on Julian [Edelman] pretty hard and then Hogs [Chris Hogan] just was standing there in the back of the end zone and I saw him, and then I just wanted to kind of confirm that no one was too close to him, and I just tried to put it on him.
Q: How often do you guys work on the play you carried out with Dion Lewis that led to Chris Hogan's second touchdown to get that execution down?
TB: If it's in the plan, we practice it, some weeks more than others. We ran one earlier in the year, against, I think it was Baltimore, and it worked. I hit [Chris] Hogan on that one too on a crossing route. Those were well-executed plays. It's nice when you can take advantage of some of those plays, nice to gain some chunks that way when you kind of get some misdirection or double pass, flea flicker, something like that. It's a big spark for the team. It was a great effort by our team and a great win
Q: How did the no-huddle offense help you guys tonight and what kind of challenge did the Steelers' run defense present?
TB: They played good. I thought their linebackers played great. It's a tough run-stopping defense. It always has been over the years, and I don't think we were as productive as we wanted to be in the run game. It was a little bit of a slug fest there at the line of scrimmage. They've got a lot of big tough guys so to go fast and try to keep them off balance was good. It worked a little bit. I still wish we had made a few more plays out there tonight, but we'll watch the film and try to figure it out for next game.
Q: Was there a specific reason why you took the ball first today after winning the coin toss as you usually defer?
TB: I'm not sure, that surprised me too. I was sitting there saying, ‘We won the toss, great.' I was going to sit down and he goes, we got the ball, and I'm like, ‘What? I thought we won the toss.' I wasn't sure how that all worked.
Q: Have you seen your defense develop as a group over the course of the season and maybe also develop a chip on its shoulder to go out and prove a lot of naysayers wrong?
TB: Yeah, and there was a lot of - I think there's a lot of noise always. Sometimes you don't always have it figured out four games into the year. There are a lot of moving parts. In the second half of the year, you're right, I practice against those guys every day and it's hard to complete passes. I know if I can complete them against our defense then we should be fine on Sunday. Our guys do such a great job in the pass game and so many great pressures they've got, and they've got a lot of great scheme stuff. They've got a good defense, we've got a good defense. To slow down an offense like that was pretty great.
Q: Did you hear the fans chanting Roger Goodell's name at the end of the game and are you comfortable with that being a story line going into the Super Bowl?
TB: I didn't hear that chant. I did hear them singing to Bon Jovi though, that was pretty cool.
DEVIN MCCOURTY, DEFENSIVE BACK
Q: You played against Chris Hogan before. He was signed here and you practiced against him. What is it about him that makes him special and that he's able to fit in here so well?
DM: Just his hard work. It helps that he played high school football in New Jersey like me, so that's always a big help. You know, I got to train with him in March and as soon as I started training with him, I knew this guy was going to be a great receiver for us, he's going to really produce and that's what he's done. He works hard at everything - running routes in the offseason, lifting hard. It's been great just to be around him and learn from him and his work ethic is unbelievable, so I'm extremely happy for him.
Q: I want to talk about the Jesse James play. Patrick Chung gets beat on a post corner, but he doesn't give up on it. There was help over the top with Duron Harmon and you make the tackle. The play was originally signaled a touchdown, but you got a [goal line] stand there. So how important was that play in the game as far as momentum?
DM: That was huge. I told [Duron] as soon as he got in the sideline that was a big tackle, from Chung hustling and then [Duron] making sure he [James] didn't get across the goal line. That gave us a shot and that's how we play defensively. It's all about the next play. It's about everybody fighting hard to finish and I think that's what we were able to do. This defense has been well balanced with the ability to adjust to what teams are doing. Obviously, we had a good game play coming in, then as the game progressed, with no [Le'Veon] Bell out there, we got a lead, the passing game being more prevalent, we were able to just make certain adjustments and do different things that helped us get the win at the end, so really just all 11 guys being attention and being ready to make changes and trying to play well.
Q: Two years ago, when you guys went to the Super Bowl, during the season Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers were acquired and played some big roles. This year, Eric Rowe was acquired early from the Eagles and Kyle Van Noy during the season. What is it about Matt Patricia, the staff and the players in the locker room that allow those players to come in here and get acclimated and then become contributors?
DM: It's been great. Obviously, I don't know the guys' history to a deep extent when they came here, but a guy like KB and a guy like E-Rowe, coming from Philly and going from Detroit, I don't know what their roles were or whether they liked it or not but they came here hungry. I think that's the biggest thing. Obviously, our coaching staff gets guys that they feel skill wise feel can compete and help us, but I think the mentality of the guys that have come in here, whether it was Ayers or Casillas two years ago, or these guys this year, come in with a mentality of hard work and want to play, they want to be a part of it. E-Rowe and KB both didn't play immediately. They had to practice, get in the rhythm, learn the defense, and then after a couple of weeks, they wanted to be out there, and as soon as they got out there, they made plays. I remember E-Rowe all the way back in the Cincinnati game going out there and jumping in A.J. Green's face and making it tough for him. That was big. That attitude and that mentality of coming in and helping the defense, and finding a role on the defense was huge. And now, you look at the AFC championship [those guys] probably played defensively two of the best games for us, so just we've got to continue to do that. Everyone that steps on that field defensively playing for each other and playing their role.
Q: When Le'Veon [Bell] went out, did that affect your anything you were doing and how much did it impact your game?
DM: Not really. We just talked about the difference between him and DeAngelo [Williams]. [They're] a little different style of runners. We played DeAngelo here and he was very effective against us last year. He was able to make some guys miss when he got in there and we knew both backs were very capable. Obviously Bell being the guy that was in there most of the time, it was just an awareness thing. At first we didn't know if he was hurt or not. We saw DeAngelo come in, then he [Bell] came back in for a play or two, so it was really just an awareness of knowing which back was in the game and how to play, but really scheme wise, what we were calling stayed the same.
*Q: There was so much talk this week obviously about Bell and [Antonio] Brown. The job you guys did keeping everything in front of you. How important was that today? *
DM: It was huge. We talked about it all week, not just being Bell and Brown, but also Ben being able to get the ball deep down field, being able to hold the ball, drawing the defense one way and throwing another, so that was huge for us. It was an awareness of knowing who was in the game, knowing the fast guys, knowing the scouting report of their offense, and all 11 guys were in tune. There were times where we had six guys calling out what we thought the type of play was going to be and that's what you need. Once you get in these games, you need everyone zoned in and everyone knowing their keys, knowing what that offense wants to do and that's what we got tonight.
Q: Does this achievement have extra meaning because you guys were given the extra hurdle this year of playing without Tom [Brady] for those first four games.
DM: I think it's a great story, but I think right now our focus is got to go out to Houston in a couple of weeks and try to win it. I think that makes the story even better. A lot of guys here have been there and lost that game and know that feeling, so we're going to definitely celebrate this [win] tonight and then it's going to be getting on to Atlanta and trying to prepare and be ready to go, study them as well as we study teams in the past and just be ready to compete at a high level because they're going be a team ready to go. You get to that game, you both deserve to be there and you'll get the best from both teams.
MATTHEW SLATER, SPECIAL TEAMS CAPTAIN
Q: How gratifying is it to be able to go to the Super Bowl again?
MS: We sacrifice a lot to be a part of this team. There's a lot demanded of you, a lot of pressure put on you and there's a price to be paid. We certainly have paid that price. For that hard work and dedication to pay off in this moment, it's really gratifying, it really is. But at the same time, a lot of teams work hard. A lot of teams pay that price and aren't as fortunate. We've definitely had some good fortune over the years to be able to sustain that success over the years and we don't take it for granted because we understand how hard it is. To work as hard as we've worked here, to give ourselves, to ask of our families to give themselves the way that we all have, it really means a lot to come out and win this game.
Q: Culturally, what are some of the signature aspects of this organization that make it so good?
MS: That's a great question. I think for us, there are a few things. When you come here, and it sounds simple, but when you come here there are a couple things asked of you. Number one: work hard. Secondly, do your job, and then number three is trust the process. I think those sound pretty straight forward and basic, but often times teams are unable to do that. They're unable to get everybody to buy in. They're unable to get everybody to do their specific job and I think what we have here is 60-65 guys who understand what their role is, value their role and they buy into it and they work as hard as they can at their role. When you get that, when you get that buy-in, that consistent buy-in, it often times leads to good things.
Q: Why does everyone buy-in here and not tune the coach out?
MS: I think the proof is in the pudding here. When you come here and you look in the rafters, you look around and see what we've accomplished here, you're already as a player curious, ‘What is it about this place?' Then when you see your leadership, the Tom Bradys of the world, the Devin McCourtys, the buy-in that they give, then it's hard to not buy in because you're going to be the odd man out. Then you look, ‘What are we buying into?' We're buying into a coach who understands how to prepare his team, that's going to give his team the best chance to have success if they'll only trust his process. I think year after year when we've been able to go out there and put great performances on the field then hey, man, obviously this coach knows what he's talking about and knows what he's doing so we're going to continue to try to heed the coaching and advice that he gives us on a daily basis.
Q: Is it the coaching staff that's developed your receiving group into such dangerous threats?
MS: Well certainly, I think you have to give a lot of kudos to Chad O'Shea, our receivers coach. The patience, the dedication that he's shown to our group, he's given a lot of himself over the last eight years. Then Coach [Josh] McDaniels obviously puts us in great positions to have success. But you look at our group, you look at the guys that were out there tonight, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, a lot of teams didn't want those guys. A lot of people would say, ‘Well, that group of guys can't get it done.' But I think the one thing that I've learned from being around those guys is you can't - there's no way to measure heart. There's no way to measure toughness, competitiveness. I'll take those four guys over anyone in the National Football League because they have toughness, they have heart, they compete. Look at Chris Hogan's story - a lacrosse player in college, played one year of football and he has 180 yards receiving in the AFC Championship game. That tells you a lot about the character of that young man. And Julian [Edelman], we all know his story - seventh round pick. Danny, undrafted. Malcolm, a fourth round pick, so a lot of teams pass on these guys, but again, one thing that the Draft, the [NFL] Combine, things like that can't measure is heart and we've got a lot in that room.
Q: How difficult must it have been for Chris Hogan making the transition into the NFL after only one year of college football?
MS: I can't really speak to that because I haven't had to make that transition. I would imagine that it's not an easy one and it takes a special human being to be able to make that transition. Chris [Hogan] is a very gifted athlete. He does a lot of things well and can't speak enough to his toughness, his physical and mental toughness. I think, here's a guy who's pretty much willed himself into being a great NFL receiver after having not played a tremendous amount of college football. I can't speak to how tough the transition may have been but I would imagine it wasn't an easy one.
Q: How quick of a process is it when players are buying into the system?
MS: It varies for every player, but I think for the most part it happens very quickly around here. Like I said, you don't want to be the odd one out, and when you see 55-60 guys buying in, you don't want to be the one guy that's not on board with the process. I think again we've been able to have that continuity because our core has been solid - our ownership, our coach, our quarterback, and then we've been able to build around that. We've been fortunate through the [NFL] Draft to draft high-character guys, I really believe that. You talk about a foundation that's been put in place back in 2001 and we've been able to kind of maintain over that span of time. That's pretty impressive.
Q: What is the feeling like as you are on the sideline watching the seconds tick away and you realize you are returning to the Super Bowl?
MS: Well, I always joked with Chad O'Shea, that's the best playing football, when we get out there in victory formation. That means things have probably gone well for us. But to be in the huddle with those games and experience a different range of emotions from Tom [Brady], to Marty [Martellus Bennett], the offensive lineman, James Develin, those guys. It was pretty special because I realize we can look in one another's eyes and know that we've given all of ourselves to get to this point and it paid off and it worked out for us. It's a special feeling, one that I'll never forget; that's for sure. Hopefully we can keep dialing up those victory formations.
Q: What is it like to experience the postgame locker room tonight where the families were in there to celebrate and how different is that feeling compared to a traditional victory locker room?
MS: It's great to have the families in there. Speaking as a father, there is nothing better than being able to accomplish something and have your son or daughter in there with you. And we ask so much of our families, especially those of us raising children. We're gone from the home a lot and we put the burden on our wives and girlfriends often times to raise our kids, but to have our children there in that moment with us, I know it means a lot to those of us that are fathers. And to look around and see little Malcolm [Butler Jr.], and little LG [LeGarette Blount Jr.] and Brycein Bolden, it's awesome. It's really special that they can share that with us because they're just as much a part of it as we are because when we go home they're our support system. They're our back bone. They're the reason that we do what we do, so pretty cool to have them in there.
Martellus Bennett, Tight End
*(On his feelings after winning the AFC Championship) *
"Honestly, over the years I never really felt like the Super Bowl was a possibility. That's one of your goals. I was talking to my wife this morning. I'm like, ‘I don't really know how to feel about going into this game.' I always dreamed about going to the Super Bowl but it never really felt like an attainable goal in the past because we lost so many games and we were never really in position. You're just hopeful to go to the playoffs. So this is very special—it's a dream come true."
*(On how playing in New England is different than playing anywhere else) *
"I can't really answer that question. I just know that here—you have these goals all the time, individually. But here it was never really individual goals that I set. From the moment I met my teammates, it was all about us and what can we do to get where we're trying to go. Everyone here believes. There wasn't a non-believer in this room at any time about going to the Super Bowl or what our goal was from the moment I got here in March or April. That rubs off on you. Iron sharpens iron and attitude is contagious. A winning attitude is contagious. I definitely got affected since I've been here. I've got the winning disease right now and I'm enjoying this one. I don't need the antidote."
*(On Tom Brady's performance) *
"I think Tom did pretty well. He did OK (laughing). Tom did what Tom does. He's fired up and laser-focused. All the guys just came through for him to make plays when we had the opportunities."
(On what he will tell his brother)
"I'm about to FaceTime him and say, ‘Now I'm going to the Super Bowl…meet me in Houston.' He's in Hawaii right now so I know he's enjoying it. It's still early there so I still have time to call him and kind of rub it in his face and make sure he's feeling OK when he's on the beach right now and I'm getting ready to go to the Super Bowl. I'm sure he'll be in Houston. I think he's going to play in the Pro Bowl and then will come out to Houston, our hometown. So it's good because I'm bringing one back for ‘H-Town.' That's where it all started and that's where I grew up. That's where I played my first football games and everything. It's great to have the top of the mountain to go back home and show everyone I grew up around what you can do with hard work."
LeGarrette Blount, Running Back
*(On QB Tom Brady) *
"He's the best quarterback to ever play the game. He's obviously, in my opinion, the best quarterback to ever play the game."
(On what Brady does to separate himself from other quarterbacks)
"He wins a lot more than most." [laughter]
(On this team doing well in their preparation and how that differs from other places he's played)
"I don't know about as far as defensively, but offensively, we've just got to pay attention to details, stick to the script. Stick to the game plan, play disciplined football and make sure that we don't make mistakes to hurt ourselves. And we have a really high percentage chance of winning if we don't turn the ball over."
(On using the hurry-up offense more today and if they saw an opportunity to do that)
"Whatever it was that Josh [McDaniel] saw that made him do it, obviously you're going to trust in what he says and what he does. He's the offensive coordinator, and he doesn't make too many mistakes. Usually if he says something, most of the time he's right. That's what he wanted to do and it worked."
(On what about this organization has helped it to be so good for so long)
"Just the tradition of winning. Tradition of winning and having the opportunity to get to this position every single year. We always give ourselves a chance to get to this position every single year, but we've just got to stay consistent with it and we've got to finish it off."
Alan Branch, Defensive Lineman
*(On whether he felt the Patriots defense had something to prove in tonight's game) *
"No. Honestly we just wanted to get to the Super Bowl. If you need any more motivation than that, then I feel like you might be in the wrong sport."
*(On the goal line stand in the first half and what the players said to each other before the stand) *
"Honestly, I don't think anyone said anything. When that circumstance comes up, we have to go out there and keep them out of the end zone. We did a great job doing that. We didn't really think to make any motivational speeches or anything. We just went out and did it."
*(On adjusting to Le'Veon Bell leaving the game and DeAngelo Williams replacing him) *
"It wasn't a huge difference. [DeAngelo Williams] is a little bit more downhill, but he's just as great of a running back. His whole career has been awesome so we knew we would have a long day if we didn't stay on our P's and Q's. The game plan pretty much stayed the same. Just build a wall and not give him anywhere to run."
Malcolm Butler, Cornerback
*(On covering Antonio Brown) *
"You got to go out there and match his intensity. He's going to come out there ready to play and leave everything on the line. You just got to go out there and compete every play and just play without thinking."
*(On the play of the defense and winning the AFC Championship) *
"The same thing. We are going to take the same approach and keep doing what we do. Win football games. It won't be easy, but we just have to keep pushing."
*(On how prepared he feels to play in his second Super Bowl) *
"I can realize that I will be in the game plan. I will be playing. I won't be nervous or anything coming off the bench. I will be ready to roll. It all starts at practice and with preparation."
*(On playing Atlanta in the Super Bowl) *
"They are a good team, but right now we are just enjoying the moment. We'll get to them when we get to them, but we are just enjoying the moment."
Julian Edelman, Wide Receiver
*(On going back to the Super Bowl) *
"It's an honor to get to go and play in this game. This is what you fight for. This is what you train for. This is what you get hurt for. This is what you get yelled at for, and prepare for, and go through the ebbs and flows of a season. It's to get an opportunity to play in this game. It's definitely something not to take lightly."
(On the play of the Steelers)
"They did what they did. We were just able to execute today. They're a tough team. We just made plays and have respect for their franchise. They fought hard, but today was just our day."
(On Chris Hogan)
"He had a great week of practice. He's been playing well all year. All those things kind of collided and he had that day. It was an unbelievable day for him. Anytime you've got guys making those plays, it's going to be great for the offense. He deserves it. He's been working his tail off."
(On playing one more game)
"Yeah, one more. I'm not going to take this lightly. It's an unbelievable feeling, but we've got our hands full. Obviously Atlanta… what was the score of that game? They're playing lights out right now. It's just one of those things when there's still a little more meat on the bone."
Trey Flowers, Defensive Line
*(On the defensive three-and-out to start the second half) *
"We knew that throughout the game there was going to be a time where we were able to put them away, put the nail in the coffin. I think there are a lot of those situations out there where you can count the fumble that we got and the three-and-out. We just understood that they were still in the game and that they're a good team so we didn't count them out. We just had to continue to play."
*(On the second down stop on the goal line stand) *
"I think the key is the pad level and the surge that we got and just understanding what type of run they're going to have for us and where they're running the ball at. It was a good play call and a lot of our guys executed well."
*(On the impact of Le'Veon Bell leaving the game) *
"It can make you more aggressive getting off the block and things like that. We dealt with a downhill runner, a guy that's going to see the hole and hit the hole and not really wait for you to make a decision. You're just allowed to play a little more aggressive and more physical through the gap. We just had to do the switch up during the game."
(On the coaches' reaction to Le'Veon Bell leaving the game)
"We have a lot of experienced coaches so they just let us know that there's a different styled [running] back that's in the game. We had to adjust accordingly so he just reiterated to us that there's a more downhill runner so you have to play a little more aggressively and get off the block."
Duron Harmon, Defensive Back
*(On Chris Hogan.) *
"He's an unbelievable teammate that gives his all each and every day. He works hard, he's one of the last out of the locker room and one of the last off the field. I'm just excited to see him have the type of day that he had today."
(On the defense having a chip on their shoulder playing the Steelers today.)
"Oh yeah, definitely. We try not to focus too much on the media, but we hear it, it's everywhere. We heard that we weren't tested all year. We wanted to come out here, do what we were supposed to do, play good fundamental football, take away their key targets and try to make them beat us in other places."
*(On saving a touchdown when he tackled Jesse James short of the goal line.) *
"We always talk about swarming and getting to the ball. Not leaving your man out to dry. I saw the ball thrown over there and I wanted to make sure I got there before he crossed the line. It ended up being a big play for the defense."
*(On how big of a play his touchdown-saving tackle was and what it did for the momentum of the game.) *
"It was big, but what was even bigger was what the defense did after that. All I did was keep him (from scoring) and they were on the one-yard line. We've got to talk about what the defensive line and the linebackers did stuffing them on the first two plays and then got negative yardage to put them in a third-and-five or third-and-six. Then they held them to three so that was a great job by the defensive front and the linebackers really stuffing that line."
Chris Hogan, Wide Receiver
*(On how special it is for him to be a part of this game tonight) *
"I'm just happy to take advantage of this opportunity, you know, to be a part of this team. This whole team has worked so hard starting in April in OTAs. We've grinded throughout this entire year, this is what we worked for and this is what we wanted to get to. It's a special moment for all of these guys in this locker room. We'll enjoy this and get back to work, because we've got one more."
*(On if he thought he had an opportunity to have a big night with this week's game plan) *
"I think that maybe not me personally, but just in general the receivers if they were going to play a lot of zone, and we did a great job. Josh [McDaniels] called great plays, our offensive line was blocking, Tom [Brady] was finding everyone who was open, and after that, it was just taking care of the football and taking advantage of the opportunities when they come to you. That's all I was trying to do."
*(On if he has to pinch himself every once in a while having come a long way since Monmouth) *
"Yeah, it's been a long journey, but I've worked really hard to get to this point and I just couldn't be happier that I get to be a part of this team, this whole thing."
(On setting a franchise record in postseason receiving yardage and what that means to him)
"It'll be something that definitely I'll remember for the rest of my career, and probably for the rest of my life. Someone told me that this was going to be a game that you'll look back on 30 years from now and you'll remember exactly what happened. I'm happy for everyone in this locker room, all these guys in the locker room [and the] the coaches. We've worked so hard to get here, and I was just happy that I was able to help this team get a win tonight."
(On QB Tom Brady setting a new record for passing yards and how it feels to be a part of that)
"Anytime you're on the field with No. 12 it's special. You never take that for granted. He's the greatest and he's a huge part of why we're so successful."
(On if it was stunning how open the receivers were throughout the game)
"We had a good game plan going in there, and they played zone. And after that, after we kind of knew what they were doing, we just … Josh [McDaniels] was calling good plays and Tom [Brady] was able to find the open guys."
Dion Lewis, Running Back
*(On playing for his teammates) *
"Everybody is close. It's like a family here. Everybody works really hard and everybody cares about each other. We want to play well for each other, and that's what makes us a good team."
(On coming back from injury)
"Not being able to play last year and being here this year is definitely a blessing, so I definitely don't take this for granted. Especially having never even been in the playoffs until this year, so we've just got to keep working and we've got one more win to get."
(On Tom Brady)
"He's a great leader. He's the same person every day. He comes in everyday, works extremely hard, and he's extremely focused every day. That's what you want from a leader, and it rubs off on everybody."
*(On the overall win) *
"It's a great feeling. Obviously we've got one more to go, and I'm sure that feeling would be even greater. This is a great win. I'm happy and proud of my teammates, so it's definitely a great win."
Chris Long, Defensive End
*(On how the team feels about making it to the Super Bowl) *
"I think it means a little something different to everybody. But we are all in it together and we've all earned this right to play one more game. We come from different backgrounds and we come from different teams a lot of times so there are different circumstances getting here. It's a melting pot in that way and there are just unselfish guys in this locker room."
*(On what the goal line stand felt like at the end of the first half) *
"It was big for us. It kept it a two-score ball game so it was a momentum swing and from there we really didn't look back."
*(On how he personally feels about going to the Super Bowl) *
"Certainly it means a lot to have the opportunity. We've all worked very hard throughout the year. We've all put a lot of hard work in and we've all grinded it out. But at the end of the day, like tonight, we executed. Everybody works hard in the NFL, execution is what separates you and gives you more opportunities. Tonight, we did that."
Eric Rowe, Defensive Back
*(On if making the Super Bowl was something he envisioned when being traded to the Patriots) *
"Not really because it's a long way away from when I got here since September. Especially me trying to learn a new defense and trying to find a role. It's all worth it."
Logan Ryan, Cornerback
*(On playing the Steelers) *
"It was a challenge and I think we all took it personally. We understood that we had to win our matchups. They have a lot of talent and are a great organization, and ‘Big Ben' (Roethlisberger) is a great quarterback. We had an opportunity on a great stage to go out and play one-on-one with these guys and I think we did a great job. I think Malcolm (Butler) did a tremendous job, I think Eric Rowe played a perfect game, and I think a started a little slow but answered the call when I needed to. We're happy with the win."
(On having doubt fuel the team)
"You have to have a chip on your shoulder in this league, especially to play this position. We're going to keep going and we have each other's backs and we're going to keep working hard. We have tough weeks of practices, but it results in performances like this so we're going to try to replicate it against another great offense in the Super Bowl."
(On Chris Hogan's performance)
"He played tremendous. He plays with such a high effort that he makes every corner expend a lot of energy on every play, and every corner he's gone against I feel like he's done well. That's something I've noticed from practice, and he also plays with so much passion. When you cover a guy you have to match that passion and if you don't he'll make you look bad."
*(On the second-half performance) *
"We didn't make a lot of adjustments. We just settled down and played better and were able to challenge Rogers. He's tremendously quick and a good young player."
*(On the Patriots secondary's performance) *
"We came up with the big ones. Those guys made their plays though. They made some tough catches and had some great concepts. They have a great quarterback who extended plays, but we responded in the third and fourth quarters like we needed to. We knew there was going to be a point in the game where we needed to put a nail in the coffin in a sense, and I think we were able to do that."
Vincent Valentine, Defensive Tackle
(On meeting DeAngelo Williams as soon as he got the ball to make the goal line stand)
"I was just trying to make the play. I didn't know when they handed it off. I just ran in there and tried to make a play."
*(On how big of a play the goal line stand was) *
"I think it was a really big stop. They could have went into the half with momentum. Just to make a big stop right there was really good and it was what our team needed. We came out of the half with a good pace and we got a three-and-out. It just kept rolling for us so I felt like that was a pretty big stop and I felt like it helped the team out a lot."
*(On his excitement and emotions) *
"This is a dream come true. This is what I've been dreaming about my whole life. From being knee-high watching football on TV with my dad in the living room. It's just a dream come true. I'm blessed. I want to thank the lord for everything he's done for me. It's one more. It's time to get the Super Bowl ring."
(On how different the look was with DeAngelo Williams when Le'Veon Bell went out)
"Obviously Bell is a different runner than Williams. They're completely different. He was hitting the hole a little bit faster and we had to get off a little bit quicker. He's definitely a different type of runner. He's got a different game and then they kind of went away from the running game all together."