Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater
Q: How happy are you that this week is finally here and you finally have an opponent to prepare for?
MS: I think our team considers itself very fortunate to be in this position here. There are only eight teams left playing. It's an honor to be one of those teams, and we certainly feel like we have a very tough opponent to prepare for this week. They're a team that's playing as well as anybody in the National Football League. They pose a lot of different problems in all three phases, so we definitely have our work cut out for us. We know that they're going to be ready to go, and we're going to do the best we can to be ready to go.
Q: Does watching the Chiefs return that kickoff for a touchdown on Saturday get your attention a little bit?
MS: Certainly, certainly, and they do a great job in the kicking game. They always have, and their special teams coach has a tremendous history working with Devin Hester during the prime of his career. So they know what they're doing. They do it well, and I think that game, in all three phases, they really had their way. So this is going to be a tough football team, as I said, and we're going to have to do everything we can and be ready for a fight on Saturday.
Q: Speaking of special teams coach Dave Toub, do you pick up any tendencies or characteristics about his special teams units, or is it different game by game?
MS: I think their team, they're going to do what they do, and if they see a weakness that you have, they're going to attack it. And I think they do a great job of just playing to their strengths. They have guys who play with a lot of effort, and a lot of times they just outwork teams. It's very evident when you turn on the film. They're hungry to make plays, and sometimes it's just an effort thing. They out-effort a lot of the guys that they go against, and I think that mentality starts with him. If you know anything about his background, he has a military background. He was a D-line coach. Excuse me, not a military background, he was a D-line coach and he has a strength coach background. So I think that says a lot about him, and I think that character that he has pours over into his unit.
Q: How much weight do you put into momentum this time of year?
MS: I don't know how much that comes into play. I think the most important thing is who plays the best game on Saturday. I think obviously they're going to be coming in confident, as they should. They've been playing at an extremely high level, but at the end of the day, it's not really about momentum. It's about executing on Saturday, and whatever team executes better and makes more plays is probably going to leave the game happy.
Q: This team usually plays really well in December, but struggled at the end of the season this year. Is there anything you can attribute that to?
MS: I think there are a number of reasons for that, but at the end of the day, we just haven't played the way we would've liked here these last six games. And I think it's important for people to understand that this is the National Football League. There are a lot of good teams out there who work extremely hard. We're very spoiled because we're accustomed to having a certain level of success in December and January as you said, but every year is different, every team is different, and I think we're just fortunate and excited about being in the position that we're in at this point.
Q: Are you guys trying to forget about the game from last September or use it as motivation?
MS: I think there are some things to look at from that game, and I think there are some things to learn. Obviously it's not fun watching that tape because it wasn't one of our finest outings, but I think history is a great teacher and we can learn from the way that game played out last year.
Q: When you watched the games from this weekend and saw some of the things that went wrong on special teams, how much does it take you back to fundamentals going into this game? How do you guys make sure you're not losing yards on special teams and things like that when you take the field on Saturday?
MS: It's just a reminder of, like you said, how important the hidden yardage is. Every yard counts, and a lot of times these games come down to yards and it's a game of inches. You hear that all the time, but as you watched the playoffs this weekend, it was very evident that that's the case. You look at Kansas City, and I think they're one or two in the league in field position where their defense starts and their offense starts, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to the way they play in the kicking game. So it's a reminder that the 20-25 snaps that we get on Saturday are going to be very important, and I think we need to have a heightened sense of urgency as we prepare this week, understanding that our role in the game is going to be vital.
Q: What specifically can you learn from last September's game?
MS: Well, I think when folks look at that game, they automatically think we did everything bad, but I think there are some things that we did well. I think we competed in a way that we could've been proud of there, when things weren't going the way we would've liked, and I think obviously, there's a lot to learn from the way that they played us, the matchups that went in their favor. So you look at that film and see what we did poorly and see some of the things we did well and try to apply that moving forward.
Q: How important is it to have an impact right away on special teams?
MS: I think it's important, but I think we need to play within ourselves. We don't need to go out and make a heroic play or do anything out of the ordinary. We just need to play sound football. We need to play the way we played during stretches earlier in the season when we really were on top of everything and made some game-changing plays, and I think we're capable of playing that way. But I don't think it's going to take anything out of the ordinary or extra special. We just have to play sound and fundamental.
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski
Q: You're wearing the Zdeno Chara jersey today.
SG: Well, we lift the same weight and we're the same size, so I figured it would work out pretty well.
Q: How much more difficult can it be to kick at this time of year in the cold?
SG: Yeah, I think the hardest thing about playing in the northeast is the weather, especially for kicking, but the advantage that we have is we practice outside every day. And you're out there enough to where you don't know any different, and that becomes the norm. And then for me personally it's ... Like other teams that come up here from a warm climate to a cold climate, it's hard for them, hence the same reason why it's kind of harder for us sometimes to go from a cold climate to a warm climate. It's kind of a shock to the body. You don't feel the same, so for me, kicking here, kicking at home, a lot of the playoff games that I've been in have been windy, have been cold, have been rainy. You never know what you're going to get this time of year. I mean, I remember last year the first game against the Ravens was blistering cold and super windy, and the room for error when it comes to kicking a field goal or kicking off or punting or snapping, it shrinks the worse the conditions [get]. But you just have to be ready for the challenge. That's why we practice all week. That's why we practice all year. You don't get scared or shy away from taking advantage of your opportunity when the weather gets bad or the situation gets heightened. You just up the focus and up the concentration and go out there and give it your best shot.
Q: Do you have to scale back your expectations a little bit knowing you might not be able to blast the kick out of the end zone maybe?
SG: A little bit, yeah. Obviously there are some games where the weather is so bad to where you're not going to be going out and trying a bunch of 55-yard field goals, and we do talk about the fact that you can't count on a touchback every kick once it turns November, December here. We've been fortunate with a couple of warm games like the one at the Jets and stuff like that, but touchbacks are no guarantee here past November. So we'll be ready to go. We've got a big returner we're facing off against. He had a huge play in the game, and you know, we keep our focus on that. For me personally, when I go out there to play I focus on one kick at a time, making every kick, and if something goes wrong, mentally getting myself ready to go the next time. If I have a good week at practice and I feel confident and I feel like I'm in rhythm, I feel very confident and under control and good going into the game. It's more nerve-racking watching the game for me than actually going out there and playing in it, which is kind of weird to say. I was getting nervous watching the Wild Card games, and I'm just sitting at home eating dinner. So it's cool, it's exciting. The opportunity – I know a lot of us say this every year – it's an opportunity we don't take for granted. Even though I've been in this opportunity a bunch with this team, you're very fortunate and thankful to be around a group of guys who know how to win and get in this spot, and I'm looking forward to trying to take advantage of it.
Q: What went through your mind when you watched what happened to Blair Walsh?
SG: I actually didn't see it. I was swimming at the pool at the YMCA with my son. Obviously I saw the replays. I didn't see it in the moment. I knew what happened, but you know, when you don't have control over it, it's just nerve-racking to watch. When it's me out there, I'm just focused on what I've got to do to put a good kick out there. It's unfortunate. Personally, I feel really bad for Blair. Professionally, it's part of the game. It's something that happens. We've all been there. I've seen the best of the best miss kicks – miss big kicks, miss short kicks. It happens to everybody. Sometimes just timing is very unfortunate. I was at least proud of the way he stood up there and took it on his shoulders. Like I said, personally, I feel terrible for him. Professionally, it's what we sign up for. You've got to be able to take the good and the bad. He was man enough to do that. And he didn't succeed on the field, but he handled himself with class after the game, which at least he can hang his head on that.
Q: How important are the mechanics and spinning the laces? Regardless of weather, do you always want to go through the same mechanics?
SG: I don't want to get too in depth into that. Everyone is going to have their different opinion. All I know is we work to do the best that we can to get the situation perfect, and all I know is what we've done here is we have, you know, Ryan [Allen] is the best holder in the league. Joe Cardona has done a great job snapping. They put me in position to put a good swing on the ball every time. Obviously there are times where it's not perfect and you have to make do with what you get and you only have a split second to react. And sometimes you're fortunate and you can get away with it, and sometimes you don't. You never really know until you get in that situation. I mean, you see the ball for a split second. Sometimes it can throw you off. Sometimes it doesn't. It just kind of depends on where you're at in that moment.
Q: Have you guys put more on yourselves to improve the special teams performance overall given the lapses over the last month or so?
SG: I haven't been on any other teams, but it seems like we work on special teams a lot more than other teams, at least hearing from what guys on other teams, you know ... Before the Philadelphia game, we were working on it probably 10 times more than any other team, and we always will continue to do that. Coach [Bill] Belichick puts a huge emphasis on special teams and takes a lot of pride in us doing well. And I know there might have been some, that one game in particular, but I still think we have really good field position, and that's what special teams is all about. We have scored a lot of points on field goals. We've got a ton of really good players who have made a ton of good plays. I think we probably think more about the positives than the one game where special teams kind of didn't help us out. So we focus on the positives around here. Obviously we would correct everything that goes wrong, but this team always works hard. That's one thing that we can stand up here and not lie about. We work really hard on what we do, and we take advantage of it.
Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty
Q: How much did this bye week help you guys out?
DM: I think it was big. It's what you try to succeed in the regular season for. I think every team, obviously you want to make the playoffs first and win your division, but being able to be a top two seed and get a week to rest up, to work on yourself as a team, you're playing to earn the right to play again next week, so anytime you get an extra week, an extra couple days, I think it's huge. Obviously in this case, with our team at this time of the year, it seems like we really needed it from a physical standpoint, but even mentally I think it's been key for us. We've been able to slow everything down, go back over the season as a total from the coaching standpoint to the players and try to fix things that have hurt us and really focus going ahead on trying to do the right things.
Q: Was there a lot of season-long review last week?
DM: You always, any time we get some extra time whether it's a bye week, I don't want to say like, obviously we don't have time to dissect every single game, but it's definitely a focus on things we need to do better, so that goes from things that have hurt us throughout the season, things that we've done well that have really helped us, just trying to zero down on those things as you go forward. You don't have a next game so you want your best to be out there every time you step on the field.
Q: Did it help to find out your opponent Saturday night so you have that extra day to focus on Kansas City?
DM: I think so. I know from a players' standpoint, I think our coaches do a better job of being able to … I'm sure last week probably throughout the week they were watching all three teams that we could possibly play but as a player, especially myself, I don't like watching a bunch of different teams, so we were all waiting till Saturday to see who we got, so Sunday was great to start getting ahead. Obviously most of us watched the games live, but being able to go back and watch the Houston and Kansas City game and then watching a couple more games, getting ahead on watching film, so it was huge just having that extra day. But I think Bill [Belichick] always says it to us, the extra week, the extra couple days are only important if we use them, so I think this team is a veteran team that tries to show the way to the younger guys and did a good job of trying to take advantage of it.
Q: How difficult is it for you guys as a defense to defend Alex Smith?
DM: He's another one of the quarterbacks throughout the NFL that are just dangerous to play from a standpoint of he's very smart in reading coverages and understanding, so that's where you can see his physical ability of being able to scramble and run and make plays with his legs. He's not always just dropping back and trying to run. He kind of knows what coverage when he can run, when he should just stay in the pocket and get the ball to the open guy, so he's definitely going to be a tough challenge to go along with all the other quarterbacks we've faced this season. He creates that challenge of understanding what defenses are thrown at him, where to get the ball to and then also understanding when he can affect the game by being a runner.
Q: How much does Kansas City make you defend the zone read and the misdirection plays and screen passes?
DM: I think they do a little bit of everything. When you first watch them, you think of them just trying to control the game with the passing game and then you see a series of plays that are shots down the field. Even the Houston game, the one they just missed by a yard route, the guy runs a good route and gets open, so you definitely have to cover in space, whether it be a running back, [Travis] Kelce, the tight end, a receiver, they do a good job of spreading the ball around and getting I think guys in positions to be successful. I think when you play an offense like that it's not as easy to say, 'This is what they did against Houston or this is what they did against this team so this is who they are, this is what they do.' They have that ability of this is a weakness of a defense, let's attack this, this is our strength, let's use that, so defensively it's going to definitely be you've got to put a lot of hard work and time I think in preparation but you also have to be ready to adapt within the game. I think we talk about that a lot of being able to adjust within the game and see how everything plays out and what exactly they're trying to do to beat us rather than what they've done all season against teams that might not be like us or they might have been at different stages of the season.
Q: Does the game from last September leave a sour taste in your mouth or is that ancient history?
DM: Yeah, I mean the actual loss of the game, no, I couldn't care less about. But I think it's always good to go back and see when a team has success against you, it's not like we're just opposite ends of the spectrum of where we were defensively last year and this year, so I'm sure they're going to turn on the film and say this worked, that didn't work, but these things did, maybe we need to attack that and try it again or get to it in a different way. I think that's always good to go back and look at just from an X's and O's standpoint. But the actual emotion of the loss, no, I couldn't care less about.
Q: What is the mood in the locker room like as you approach the playoffs? Is there a calming sense about the playoffs or do you notice a little extra energy?
DM: Yeah, I think it's energetic. I think today guys had a lot of energy. I mean you guys know how the week was last year where it was a little slower pace-wise and I think guys came out today and were anxious to get back out there. You watch four games throughout the weekend, playoff football, and you see how fine of a line it is between winning and losing and I think that gives everyone a sense of urgency of we've got to earn the chance to come in here next Monday and still be working this season, so I thought guys, whether it's Tom [Brady], the oldest guy in the locker room, down to one of the rookies, the youngest guy, a lot of energy today knowing it kind of starts, this is the buildup of going into the week and being ready. We know each day we go out there and have a good practice it gives us a better chance to go out there and win on Saturday.
Q: They've won 11 in a row and you guys lost your last two games. Is there any meaning to momentum going into the playoffs?
DM: No, I just look at this week and you look at Green Bay, who I mean the stats show I think they lost their last two regular season games, they were terrible on third down, and then I mean you could argue and say they looked the best offensively out of all those teams. It's tough. I think the regular season is obviously important to see what teams are doing, but when you turn the page and you go into the playoffs you've got to win that night, that day, go out there and beat another team. I think obviously for Kansas City coming off the 10-game winning streak in the regular season, they looked just as good against Houston playing good football, and I think that's more important than the so-called momentum is. We've got to make sure that we go out there and play good football and not let them come out there and out-play us. You have to watch the regular season to learn about a team and prepare, but I'm not a big believer in you played last week and because you play well it just happens again. I think they've done a good job preparing and playing their brand of football and imposing that on the other team each week.
Q: When you're at home on Saturday on your couch watching the games on TV, can that actually do you any good?
DM: I watch more for situations. I watched with a couple of the guys Saturday night and it's funny as things come up we're talking about … We kind of hear ourselves talking just like Bill about a situation, not from a standpoint of watching and trying to learn X's and O's of they're in two tight-end set, they're trying to do this. For me it's hard to watch the game copies of that and see everything, but we're watching this like, four-down territory, they don't need to get everything on third down, maybe they'll probably go for it on fourth down and then it happens, and some guys are wrong, some guys are right. I think we more watch from just situations and try to learn from that standpoint because anything can happen in these playoffs, so I think that's always a good thing when you're watching these games as a so-called fan.
Q: Do you take lessons from the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game about not losing your cool?
DM: Definitely, I mean that's important in the regular season and it's very important now because that's the difference between your season being over and you coming out of a tough game with a win and pushing forward and having another day to go out there and win the next round. I think the good thing about this team is that's always very important. It's always that choice of putting yourself first or putting your team first or what might hurt your team but make you happy at the moment. I think Coach Belichick talks about that all the way back in the preseason, and I think guys understand that's not really acceptable of whether it's a personal foul or just a stupid play out there on the field. I think obviously everyone sees it in a bigger moment in the playoffs, but I think that's always an important part of how this team is built.
Patriots safety Patrick Chung
Q: Are you a big fan of The Rock?
PC: Kind of. [He's a] very talented guy.
Q: What have you seen from Travis Kelce and does practicing against Rob Gronkowski help you prepare at all?
PC: Yeah, Kelce's good. Kelce's good. He's explosive, good hands, good run-after-the-catch. [That's] key with him. He's good. He wouldn't be in the playoffs – that team wouldn't be in the playoffs if he wasn't good, so he's a good player and we've just got to try to limit his production as best we can.
Q: What was it like watching the games as a fan this past weekend?
PC: Same as every Saturday, just watching. You can't really see the whole scheme of the play. The film we watch, you get to see everything so as far as just – we just watch the game. You watch it as a fan but then you sometimes you do watch it like, 'Alright it's fourth-and-one, what might they do, what might they not do,' and kind of like that. You can't really get a full grasp of what you're really going to see until you watch film coming into here.
Q: Devin McCourty said some guys were right and some guys were wrong, which category were you?
PC: I was wrong. We had a little bet on it, but it was cool – not a money bet, we were just like 10 pushups or whatever. It was fun. It was fun watching it but you can't really, when you have your time off – take your time off and be able to laugh and have fun like that – because you know when you get here it's business time, you know.
Q: Did you feel there was a lot of urgency out there at practice today?
PC: Yeah, it was like we didn't skip a beat. It was like straight, just go. Whatever we have that we need to work on we're working on, and whatever we're good at just try to stay good at those things. It wasn't like a walkthrough practice today. It was a full-go, so it was good. It's good to get back out there.
Q: How much did you benefit physically from the week off?
PC: I think we all benefited. A week, really a week-and-a-half-ish if you want to put it that way, but we all benefited from it. You can sit down and just relax and get your cold tubs and your massages and everything that's going to make you feel a little fresh. So we were fresh out there today, just to get back into it and now it's full-go. We've got a couple more days.
Q: Can you draw any comparisons between Ryan Tannehill and Alex Smith in the sense that they aren't traditional mobile quarterbacks but can still escape the pocket?
PC: I mean you can't really compare anybody to someone else because they're their own person, but I mean Alex is good. He gets the ball out quick, he makes good decisions. He can run the ball just like Tannehill. They're kind of the same guys in a different offense, if you can see it that way, but they're not the same. It's kind of hard to say, 'Oh Tannehill's just like Smith,' because they're not, but as far as having a running quarterback that can extend the plays when no one's open then yeah, if you put it in that aspect then yeah, they're definitely the same.
Q: Is it refreshing to be playing at home this week?
PC: Yeah, of course. We don't have to fly anywhere, so we're relaxed and waiting for them to come in so it should be a good game.
Q: Does Jeremy Maclin's uncertainty health-wise make it difficult for the secondary to prepare?
PC: You've got to prepare as if he's going to be there and if he's not there then you make your adjustments because he's a great player and they're not going to have a guy – this could be the last game, could be the second- or third-to-last game – but you've got to play with the guys that you have and you've got to go out there and try to compete, so we've got to practice as if he's going to be playing in the game and just go from there.
Q: What do you see from Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware and the overall running game of the Chiefs?
PC: They're good. I mean they're good, they're downhill and those guys back in the backfield can make plays. Not having [Jamaal] Charles and those guys is going to hurt, but those guys are good, too. They're producing in getting the ball and outside catching the ball. It'll be good. They're a good team, a very explosive team as a whole, so we have to do what we can, just play our game and not worry about what they're going to do, just kind of worry about us and us playing good and executing as consistent as possible is what's going to be key for us.
Q: How good is it to have Julian Edelman back out there?
PC: It's all good. Jules, what do they call him – the flying squirrel? It was good. It was good to have him out there. We were all out there practicing, so it was good.