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New England Patriots Postgame Transcripts 12/17

New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick and select players comment on their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, December 17, 2017.

Head Coach Bill Belichick

Postgame Press Conference
Sunday, December 17, 2017

OPENING STATEMENT:That was quite a football game. I really give all the credit to our players. Those guys just battled for 60 minutes. It's a back and forth game. The Steelers made a lot of plays. We made some plays. Luckily, we made one more than they did, but it was very competitive game and our guys just kept battling and battling, and in the end, we were able to make enough plays to win. A lot of credit goes to our players, our team, and just the way they competed tonight against a very good Pittsburgh team. Those guys are well coached. They have a lot of great players. They are very talented, and they play hard. They're tough. It's good to come in here and win, but it was a hard-fought game, and they're a good football team. 

How often do guys practice the fake spike at the end?
It comes up in our two-minute preparation.

Is that one of those plays that you touch on once or twice or do you refresh it a lot throughout the season?
Our offense does it sometimes so it comes up there four, five, or six times maybe. 

RE: Being proud of your team and how they were prepared for that play:
I'm proud of the way the team played and competed all day. Everything. From the opening kickoff to the final gun. 

At what point did you know when they were reviewing the catch from Jesse James?
When they came over and told us. They were lining up for the extra point, and they said they were going to take a look at it.

Were you surprised they overturned it?
The ball moved. I don't know. I have to talk the crew about that. 

Where were the Steelers a challenge to you on the defensive side of the ball for the first half, and early in the third quarter?
They are a good defensive team. They got good players all the way across the board. D-line, linebackers, DBs, they have a good scheme. They play hard, they're tough. Again, we just kept battling, and they made some plays and we made some plays. 

You went for it on fourth down, what was your thinking in that situation?
It was fourth-and-one. I thought we'd get a yard. 

You have seen Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski together over the years, how big was that final drive?
A lot of guys played well. Tom played well. Rob played well but we got a lot of great play from really everybody on the team. You can just go right down the line. Every play was a big play. The kickoff after we scored was a big play. If that had been a touchback I don't know, they might have scored on that pass. It would have been maybe on the one yard line. Every play is a big play but Rob and Tom made a lot of them. Obviously, they are very good players. We have a lot of plays from everybody. 

With everything, do you ever feel lucky?
Just keep competing. Just compete for 60 minutes. That's what you do. Just keep competing. 

Duron [Harmon] seems to come up with key fourth quarter interceptions. Why do you think he's able to make big plays like that?
I don't know. I'd probably have to go back and look at the play. It looked like [Eric] Rowe tipped it. It bounced up in the air. Duron is around the ball. He reads the quarterback and the ball well. So does Devin [McCourty]. Those guys give us a lot of range and plays back there from their position, so I'm not sure exactly how that unfolded. 

When Dion [Lewis] scored was there any thought of working the clock?
You can't be too cute. You have to score. I don't think you want to kneel on the ball there. So, I guess you could, but you have to score. Then you have to play defense. So it was a good run by Dion. I'm sure they were trying to keep him out, but he made a good run and got in. They got a big play on the under route, broke a couple tackles. We could have obviously played that better, but when you have to score, go ahead. Then defense has to play defense. 

RE: Tom Brady connecting with Rob Gronkowski on contested catches:
Even when Rob is covered he's open because he is so long, and he has such great range and reach. If you can put the ball away from the player who's covering him even though he's close, Rob can get it and the other guy can't. That happens to us a lot defensively too with those types of receivers. Even though you're right there, the quarterback puts the ball where only the receiver can get it and the defender can't have enough reach to get there. Then that's a good throw and a good catch. 

Quarterback Tom Brady

Postgame Press Conference
Sunday, December 17, 2017

How much fun was that one?
That was great. It was a lot of fun. It was a great environment and a great team that we played that played really well. The weather conditions – it kind of rained the whole game. It was just one of those days where you go back and forth, you play right to the end and the ball bounces some weird ways. I'm glad it bounced our way today.

How has today's Steelers defense compared to ones in the past?
They are a good team. They were 11-2 to this point. I thought they were playing well all year and obviously it takes a lot to beat them. It's not like there was anyone who was running away with it. It was a tight game. We just made one more play than they did.

How were you able to get Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] so involved on that last drive?
He was doing it himself. I think they were trying to challenge us and he made a lot of good plays. Other guys make a lot of good plays too, but when he's open he gets it. It was just a great game by him. He played so, so great.

Did you feel that you were limited on your opportunities?
We didn't have many opportunities in the first half. We had three possessions. We started well but then threw the pick on the next one. It's not like we had a ton the entire game, but football is a crazy game. You just keep fighting and fight until the end. Our defense did a great job. They gave up a play, but then it got overturned. We came back and made a good tackle on the second down play, and then made a great play on the third down play.

Re: Sharing the post-game celebration with his family.
They are pretty emotional, too. It's nice to have kids to share it with. They are up and down with you, so just to see their face kind of bring everything full circle. It's pretty special.

What did they do to take away Rob Gronkowski in the first half that they didn't in the second?
We only 18 plays in the first half - 13 passes, we hit ten of them. I don't know what Gronk had in the first half. We ended up throwing the ball more in the second half because we had the ball more. He just kept getting free. I thought he did a great job of separating and making the catches. I gave him some chances on one-on-one throws. He got the pass interference on the one. He's a tough matchup with his size and speed. He's a big part of our offense.

Re: The 50-50 throws to Rob Gronkowski.
Yeah you have those. It's just risk-reward I think for the quarterback. Anytime with Gronk though, we've played so much football together. I have so much trust in him. It may look like it's 50-50, but it might be 95-5. You try to develop that chemistry over time, and Gronk's earned it. He played a hell of a game. I'm just really proud of him. That guy fights his ass off every day. I'm happy for him and happy for our team. Now we have to go take care of business at home.

Re: Watching his defense at the end.
Even when we scored, I knew that we needed the two-point conversion, and that was big. Gronk made a great play on that, and then 55 seconds, that's still a lot of time. They hit the one big play and before you know it they are knocking on our end zone's door. He [Roethlisberger] made a really great throw, but they just couldn't come up with it. Then the great tackle on the crossing route. They tried to fake spike it on third down, but our guys were aware and made a great play.

Would you not be surprised if you see these guys again?
We have to take care of a lot of business ourselves. That's a long time down the road. We will keep fighting and keep battling. I'm proud of our team. We can play better than we did today but that's NFL football.

Tight End Rob Gronkowski

Postgame Press Conference
Sunday, December 17, 2017

How fun was that one?
It was fun. Coming to Pitt., it's always a football atmosphere. I went to high school here for my senior year, and I remember they are all about the Steelers. They are Steeler-crazy. They are football-crazy around here, which is great. Coming into the stadium here, we knew that it was going to be a great football atmosphere and a great game and it was. It was awesome.

Can you describe that final offensive drive?
There were two minutes left. I knew we had to go down, make a drive and just do what you have to do. If the ball is coming to you, you just have to make some plays. It just went well. Tom [Brady] found me. I made a couple of catches to keep the drive going. Then Dion [Lewis] had a great run to get that touchdown. That was huge – we needed to score. You can bring it all you want down to the end zone, but if you don't score you don't get any points. Dion ran hard. He's been running super hard. For everyone saying how small he is, he's not really that small. He's a beast. He plays big which is a great trait to have for him.

Were you itching to get back on the field after sitting out last week?
Always. I missed the boys. They are always grinding every single week. These guys are my teammates and they are great to be around. I definitely miss them and it's great to be back.

What were your emotions like watching that last defensive play?
The emptions were up and down on that last defensive drive. I can tell you that. On that big catch and run it was like a rollercoaster. Then the first and second down in the red zone. You're down, and then you're up and then you're up again. Your down because you think he catches it, but then the ball pops up in the air and you are like, 'Ohhhhhh,' and then we intercept it. The ride ended very well. 

Re: Flexing after his catches.
It was just spontaneous.

How did you feel after that?
I love getting in that zone. It feels good. I wish I could be like that 24-7, every week and every day.

Re: 50-50 balls thrown his way during tight coverage.
They are great team. They play hard. They hit hard. They cover well. They play the run well. You have to be ready mentally and definitely physically. They bring it. You're not just going to be open – it's the NFL. You have to make tough catches. When the ball is in the air I just try to do my best to make a play. When you see the ball, you just have to go make a play. You're not going to come down with them all, but you are going to try your hardest. 

Defensive Back Devin McCourty

Postgame Press Conference
Sunday, December 17, 2017

Can you talk about how you had to regroup in the final seconds?
It's just crazy sometimes what you speak about before the game and how a game plays out exactly. All week we had talked about playing for the man next to you and playing together, not worrying about the AFC East division, just playing for the man next to you. Flo [Brian Flores] said it yesterday, when you're playing these types of games, it's about the next play, good or bad. We saw it all tonight. You go out there for two minutes, one timeout and have to go the length of the field, and we let up a huge play. That was it right there, next play. Watching the call with [Jesse] James if he caught it or didn't, after that it was just about trying to get everybody in for the call and be ready to go. The fake spike is something we see all the time. I think all great quarterbacks do that. If they can catch you sleeping and get an easy play, they're going to try to do it. You could see us yelling and screaming the coverage, trying to line guys up and get set because we knew there was a chance. If they spike it, they spike it. 

So you were ready for the fake spike on that play?
Yes. It's something we talk about when they get back to the ball, getting the call out and just playing. There are only a couple of routes they can do. It's either got to be an incomplete pass or a touchdown. You just really want to get on your guy because if they hold it too long, like tonight, it's a tough play to make because you can't take a sack. I think us just being alert helped us out a lot. 

What happened on the JuJu Smith-Schuster play before that?
It was just a play where [Le'Veon] Bell on the sideline blocked Jordan Richards and came off kind of getting me in a generous slip. It's a play we all wanted back. But it was a good job of finishing the play. Those plays you see a lot where a guy gets to the sideline and everybody starts jogging, and they score. Then it's game over. I think we just did a good job getting him down and being able to play a couple more plays. 

When did you realize they were reviewing the James touchdown for a catch?
Not until Elandon Roberts told me it was probably incomplete. I was trying to just watch and see to see what happened. 

Did you think it was a catch?
Once I thought about it that way, then no. I know it's always hard to know when he hits the ground, is it a catch or not a catch? When you see it, it was kind of like his hands weren't under it. Obviously I'm a little biased.

Patriots Locker Room

Cornerback Eric Rowe

Re: On the last play.
There was a lot of urgency on that last play. I see them – rushing to the ball. I see Matty P. [Matt Patricia] give the call, and I was like you know I'm the star. I was like man, no one is one the outside. I need to go on the outside. Then everybody was in panic mode trying to get lined up, and I see Big Ben [Roethliesberger] fake it and I was like, 'Oh they are running a play.' I got my eyes on the receiver and noticed he was doing a slant. I didn't really think he was going to throw it because I was right on his hip. I mean he threw it, and I was like I need to break this up, boom. I thought they caught it, I was like oh my god. We came down with it, and I was ecstatic.

Re: If he felt the energy during the game.
Oh, definitely from the start. It actually started at practice. We all knew how much this game meant to us and the Steelers. From the start of the game we knew it was going to be a battle until the last second. We were really prepared for the game. 

Re: The replay on the Jesse James catch at the end of the game.
Once I saw the replay, I did see the ball move. I wasn't too sure. It could of went either way. I am obviously glad it went our way. We took it to the last play.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore

Re: Wearing the divisional championship hat.
It feels great. We are AFC divisional champs. It's my first one. We are taking it one game at a time. Keep winning, it's a great feeling.

Re: Winning the first divisional championship.
The Patriots have been beating me my whole career. I am glad I'm on this side now. These guys play together as a team. Everybody is out to win. That is one thing that I was looking for.

Re: The defense's emotions during the Steelers' last offensive drive.
Just playing with these guys, they always say next play, next play. Everybody comes together as a team.

Defensive End Deatrich Wise Jr.

Re: His perspective on the last play with Ben Roethlisberger.
We thought it was going to be a fake spike so we jammed the line and then I realized and saw him pump to throw the ball. I turned around and watched everything happen and came with the win.

Were you expecting it to be a fake spike?
I thought it was going to be a spike. 

How do you keep your composure?
With vets and coaches who've been here and players who have been here they just kept telling us to keep playing because you never know one play can change the whole game. 

This is your rookie year. Have you ever experienced a game like this?
This is a big game and this is the first time experiencing a game like this.

How would you describe the emotion in the crowd?
Electrifying. Very electrifying.

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