PATRIOTS HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
BB:** I'd like to start off by saying on behalf of the team and the organization it's a great honor to be in this game, to have the opportunity to compete for the AFC Championship. It's something that the team's worked obviously extremely hard and long to get to this point, to have this opportunity. We're excited about it. We have a tremendous amount of respect for our opponent. I think this is the toughest team that we've played all year. The Colts are a very good football team, really done a good job in the kicking game. They've got a great kicker, a great punter, added [Josh] Cribbs in the return game. They're at the top of the league in kickoff coverage, kickoff returns. They do a great job with field position. Defensively, [they're] a little bit different than the team we saw a couple months ago, but certainly [LaRon] Landry has given them a big lift, Art Jones. They're very disruptive up front with [Erik] Walden, [Cory] Redding, [Jonathan] Newsome. The front is good with [Josh] Chapman and Redding, Jones, [Ricky Jean] Francois, [Montori] Hughes, all those guys. They do a good job. The linebackers are active, run well. D'Qwell Jackson is probably one of the most instinctive players in the league. [Mike] Adams, the safety, the same thing. They've got big corners with [Greg] Toler and [Vontae] Davis, and those guys do a great job for them. I thought they played extremely well in the playoffs, especially last week against the great Denver receivers. [They're a] very good football team, well coached, good fundamentals, and offensively they're as explosive as it gets. They've got so many big play guys. Of course, it starts with [Andrew] Luck, but he's got a great receiving corps. They run the ball well, been consistent. They've got productive players at tight end, receiver, running back, quarterback, a lot to defend. Again, [they're] as explosive a team as there is in the league. Both in the regular season and the postseason, they've been very consistent making big plays from everywhere by everybody. This will be a big challenge for us this week, all the things that we have to deal with. Again, [they're] a good football team, a good organization and a team that we're going to have to play our best game of the year is the way I look at it – play and coach our best game of the year.
Q:** When you're facing a team for the second time in the season, do you find that it simplifies the preparation, or does it complicate it because you have to add new wrinkles?
BB: I think it's really pretty much the same every week. Whatever the information is that you can access, and that can come from a lot of different perspectives, sometimes it's too much information, sometimes it's not enough, sometimes it's right there in the middle. But whatever it is, you just have to try to sort it all out and make some decisions and figure out what you're going to go with. The challenges that the Colts bring are different than the next team or another team, but they're certainly numerous and we'll have to just sort through all of it. All the points you brought up are all certainly relevant. We'll just have to filter it out and try to figure out what we think is best.
Q: We always talk about Ben Roethlisberger being the strongest quarterback. Is Andrew Luck harder to bring down or is he on that same level?
BB: Well, Luck is hard to bring down. He runs very well, he's athletic, [and] he can get outside and make yards with his legs. They also use him on some keep-type plays – the one he scored on for example in the Denver game last week. And he's strong; he's strong in the pocket. He's got good lower body strength. He's got strong legs. He's hard to wrap up. A lot of times, he's got guys draped all over him and he can throw the ball. He's strong, he's fast, [and] he's athletic. He does a good job of throwing on the run. He's got good vision down the field. So, he can be a sixth receiver in the passing game. [He's a] really dangerous guy, tough guy to handle, great quarterback.
Q:** How has the return of LaRon Landry changed what they do defensively, and does he match up on tight ends?
BB: Absolutely, yeah, he's matched up on tight ends. It's certainly one of the matchups I think that they like. They did last week against Denver and [against Jason] Witten and some other good tight ends that they've faced. He's a physical guy, runs well. I mean, he's 220 pounds, whatever he is. He runs a 4.4, he's big, fast, tough, good blitzer, so he definitely adds a physical element to that defense, which already has a lot of it. He only played seven or eight plays against us in the first game. That's a guy that we didn't see a lot of, but he's definitely a force.
Q: How much growth have you seen from Josh Kline since he's been here, and how do you think he did filling in on Saturday?
BB: Josh has come a long way. He's an undrafted player, spent time on the practice squad, spent time on the roster, hasn't had a lot of playing time, but I think he's a really, tough competitive guy. He's smart, he learns well. He's been a multi-position player for us in his roles. He's tough and he's a battler, and when he's had to play he's played very competitively for us.
Q: In multiple games this year, your team has had some unfortunate execution at the end of the first half. How bothersome is that for you?
BB: Every situation is critical, and we've got to do a great job in every situation – beginning of the game, end of the game, end of the half, third down, red area, short yardage, goal line, four minute, two minute, special teams. You name it, they're all important. They're critical, and we can't afford mistakes in any of them.
Q:** How long did it take you to realize the kind of versatility that Julian Edelman can provide the team?
BB: We drafted him because we thought he had potential in some different areas. He's a player who had a lot of things to develop because he just lacked experience playing the positons that he ended up playing for us or that I think he would play in the NFL for any team for that matter. Nobody works harder than Julian. He's tough. He's a grinder – in-season, offseason – all those things. He's developed a lot of those skills, which there were certainly signs of that he had, but he's worked hard to develop them.
Q: How difficult is it for certain role players to come in and execute when they don't have a chance to get in rhythm, especially in a game as big as this?
BB: We've all got a job to do in this game, whatever it is, and every job is important. Each one of us will put everything in to this week of preparation to try to do the best that we can in each of our roles. And nobody can do anybody else's role. Everybody can just do their own and do it as well as they can. That's what I expect from everybody, every player and every coach on our team.
Q:** This is your ninth AFC Championship Game. Can you appreciate that success, and what have you learned from your experience?
BB: Well, it's obvious. You need to play well at this time. Every team is good. The Colts are a great team. We're going to have to play our best game. That's what I've learned. But right now, I don't really care about any of the other games – last week, last year, 10 years ago, whatever it was. All our focus is on the Colts, and we've got to do a good job with our preparation for Indianapolis. We've got to execute well and we've got to coach well and we've got to play well. That's our challenge.
Q: How drastically has Andrew Luck changed since coming into the league?
BB: He's pretty good. He was pretty good when he came in, and he's even better now. He's a great player. He does everything well. He's got a lot of strengths, no weaknesses. He's got a great future in front of him. He's already produced a lot. He's already done a lot in the time that he's been in the league, and I'm sure by the time he gets done he'll pass a lot of guys by.
Q:** The year you guys drafted Nate Solder, Anthony Costanzo was also in that draft class. What did you see from him during the draft process, and what have you seen from him since he's been in the league?
BB: [He's a] good player, local guy. He could play [multiple] positions, he's athletic, [and] he's got great length. [He's a] tough guy, durable, dependable. He's blocked a lot of good players in this league.
Q: Does anything during the draft process stand out?
BB: I mean right now I'm just really thinking about him as our opponent this week. Again, I don't think like four years ago or whatever it was is that relevant.
Q: What is it about Patrick Chung's skill set that allows him to be effective covering tight ends?
BB: Pat's athletic, he's an athletic kid, runs well, [and] he's got good quickness. I think athletically he can match up with a lot of guys, play in the slot, been on tight ends, he's done that. [He's] played in the nickel position for us various times throughout his career. I think athletically, I'm not saying he's a corner, but he's an athletic safety. He's somewhere between a safety and a corner.
Q:** How much did you know about Brandon LaFell's toughness before you signed him and how much have you learned about him since he's been here?
BB: I think we definitely saw that from competing against him and following him through his career, but when you have a player every day and you're with him every day, every week throughout the course of the season, you know him a lot better and can appreciate that. But I would say that Brandon's been like that. He's really impressive. He's a tough kid, competes very well. We've seen that since back into last spring, all the way through training camp, all the way through the season. He comes to work every day and he's tough. He can play through the bumps and bruises. He blocks well, plays in the kicking game. I love his toughness.
Q: How do they use their tight ends to manipulate matchups? When Dwayne Allen went out during the game against you guys in the regular season, how did that change things?
BB: They really replaced him with [Jack] Doyle on most of the things where they had two tight ends in the game, I'd say that's what happened. If it was one tight end, then it was [Coby] Fleener. If it was Fleener, which it might have been Fleener anyways, and Doyle in Doyle's role or Doyle taking Allen's role. They use them all. Sometimes there is one, two or three on the field. With two, it can be a combination of any two of the three guys. They just try to create different matchups. They move them around, but they also have definite roles in their formations and their personnel groupings, so it gives you a lot to defend. They've been consistent for them; they've been productive. Doyle has the fewest catches and probably has more blocking responsibilities. But Allen is a good blocker and Fleener is obviously a big playmaker for them.
Patriots team photographer, Keith Nordstrom, offers his best photos from the Patriots - Colts game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, November 16, 2014.
Q:** Given Indianapolis' development of [Donte] Moncrief and [Dan] Herron's emergence of late, how much has that complicated defending this team? How does it impact how you have to defend the whole field, especially with Herron, who has been such a weapon in the passing game?
BB: All their backs have been productive in the passing game – [Ahmad] Bradshaw when he played, [Trent] Richardson. And then when you include Doyle, I'm sure that those backs have over 100 catches – whatever you want to call Doyle, a back or a tight end – he plays both. But their running back position just by itself between Bradhsaw, Richardson and Herron, there's got to be 80-some catches in that ballpark there with those guys. So they've always been involved in the passing game. And Moncrief is just another weapon for them. Moncrief, [Hakeem] Nicks, [Reggie] Wayne and T.Y. [Hilton], plus Fleener, who's really part receiver, part tight end, that's a lot of juice at that position. [They're] guys that can all make catches down the field, they've all made catch and run plays. They're fast, they're athletic, they're big, there are a lot of them, and they've got a great quarterback throwing to them. Moncrief is definitely a problem. He took an under route against somebody – I forget who it was, Tennessee or somebody – a two-yard pass ends up being a 50-yard gain. He can run through the defense and take it over the top, too, which they all can. Hilton has done that, I know Fleener's done it, they've all done it. They stretch the field. You've got to defend from sideline to sideline and from the line of scrimmage to the goal line. They can take short plays and turn them into long plays and they can throw it over the top and they can throw it in between. Really, it's a very explosive group.
PATRIOTS QB TOM BRADY
Q:** In general, what have you learned about getting ready to play a team for a second time and is there a difference in the second time in the regular season versus the second time in a playoff situation?
TB: Well, all the games take on a little bit of a different feel. Anytime you play a team a second time around, you hope you can go in there and do a lot of the same things that you were successful with and, obviously, they know that too, so that's always the chess match; you try to determine the things that you do well versus the things that they didn't do well and they know their matchups, too, so you have to prepare for a lot of things. We've played this team quite a few times over the last few years and none of them as important as this game here, so I'm sure they're going to be doing the things they're most confident in, we're going to do the things that we're most confident in and then see how it all shakes out.
View photos from media access during AFC Championship week as the Patriots prepare to face the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, January 18, 2015.
Q:** This is going to be your ninth AFC Championship Game, but for you what's different, unique, special about this team that you're leading there?
TB: That's a good question. I haven't had much time to reflect on this particular group of guys, but you know it's been a lot of fun to be on this team. We've fought through a lot of adversity over the course of the year. We've got a lot of mental toughness, we've got a lot of guys that can grind with the best of them. We've shown a lot of improvement and it all leads to this moment, so we've got to be at our best. Obviously, you want to play your best, you've got to be at your best physically and mentally, so whatever it takes for us to get there over the course of the next four or five days is what we have to do. I just try to stress that to everybody and hopefully we can go out and execute as well as we can on Sunday.
Q: Can you use the experience factor of being there nine times to help you guys? Especially the veterans leading this team?
TB: Well, I mean at some point you don't have the experience and that's certainly [like] when I was younger and it didn't matter much to me when I was younger. As you get older, experience is definitely good as long as you play well. It's a game like all the other games; I think it's just, there's a finality to this game and obviously only one team advances. It was the same as last week, so we're very fortunate to be in this position; to have a chance to play in it, I think more so than anything, you're just excited for the opportunity to be able to do it. It's hard to do and our team found a way to get there this year, so hopefully we can take advantage of the opportunity.
Q:** Are there still nerves as you are going through the process? Like you said, every game has a different kind of feel to it and the bigger the game, the bigger the feel. Do you still have that nervous energy as you start these championship games and playoff games?
TB: Absolutely. I think that's part of playing sports. Being in a competitive situation like we are, I don't think that ever goes away. You never know what's going to happen on game day, you work as hard as you can to kind of prepare for everything and like I said, to be physically and mentally right, but no one can predict what's going to happen. You have your vision of the way you want things to turn out on a particular play or scheme or something like that and if it does, great; if it doesn't happen the way you want it to, which is most of the time, you've got to figure out something to do. I think that's where a lot of the nerves come into play, the anxiousness of just the anticipation of what's going to happen versus what we've prepared for, so you just have to prepare for a lot of things.
Q: You mentioned a few questions ago the adversity you guys faced this season. In hindsight, was that almost beneficial for this team to go through some negative times and toughen it up?
TB: Well, I think it's good to always build on whatever experiences you have, so there's definitely times where you're kind of back against the wall and you've got to show a lot of mental toughness and a lot of fight. When you can draw on certain things – and we've been in tough situations over the course of the year, and I think coach [Bill Belichick] makes it pretty tough for us on a daily basis. I think he tries to really challenge us mentally to be at our best every day, so when you get put in tough situations on the field you've got something that you put in the bank. The best teams that I've been around have been the most mentally and physically tough teams and anything that can challenge those and strengthen those definitely ends up being a positive.
Q:** Neither your or Julian [Edelman] was drafted real high, as you know. Have you talked to him about that because now you're one of the best combinations in football? What does that say to you either about scouting or how once you're here, no matter where you were drafted, you can succeed?
TB: Yeah, I think that's something that's really great about the NFL. Everyone starts at a certain place, but you earn what you get in the NFL. The competition is tough, so a guy like Julian, for example, who has fought every single day of his life to get to this point; talk about something that strengthened him over time, obviously his experience as a younger athlete did. When you get to the competition and that's just what's in your character. He fought every day since he got here and he doesn't stop now, even though that you'd think, 'Wow, take the foot of the gas a little bit,' but he's become that kind of dependable, consistent player for us where he just wants to be better and better and better and he stays after and works on different things and every week tries to elevate his game. He's a great teammate to have and he's got a great work ethic. He's going to need to come up big for us this weekend, he knows that. A lot of guys are going to have to come up big, that's what it's going to take. We're playing the other best team in the AFC, so it's going to take everything that we've got.
Q: You alluded to Julian taking his foot off the gas a little, maybe. You haven't changed in terms of on-field, day-of-game intensity. Whether it was John Mobley in 2001 or Drew Bledsoe before the Super Bowl or Daniel Graham, you're still bananas when the game starts. Is there ever a point when you say, 'Alright, I have to back it off a little bit when the game starts,' or does that level of intensity help you with your edge?
TB: I'm not sure. I'm not sure, I know it's an emotional game and I need to be emotional out there to play at my highest. I try to rest up all week and I'm actually pretty mellow most of the time, as you guys know. It's just for those three hours on Sunday that you get to let it rip, which is really, I think, when you can be yourself. You've got to go out there and bring a level of energy and enthusiasm and all the guys do that. And certainly making good plays helps that. When you see your teammates make good plays that's all part of it. Hopefully we make a lot of good plays.
Q:** In your role, you can't necessarily play like a safety or linebacker, you have to have that poise in between plays. Have you ever had discussions where you said, 'You know what, I went a little bit off the rails in terms of intensity and getting swept up?'
TB: I mean, I can always find a way to bring it back to balance, however I need to be able to; I don't think I ever lose track of plays or things that I need to do to help coordinate our offense when we're on the field. I just think the emotional part is a really important part for me and I think that's always been a part of the way that I play. It's a lot of fun, what we get to do for a living, so certainly to get to this moment and play in this game, there's nothing better.
Q: You probably don't know much about the guys that Bill brings in here. Whether they're drafted guys or free agents, but you said earlier this week that Brandon LaFell is one of the toughest guys that you've ever played with. What exactly has he done that has impressed you so much because you've played with a lot of receivers in 15 years?
TB: Yeah, a lot of great players. He's brought a real toughness to our team, physically. Playing through injuries, playing through bumps and bruises and then when he gets out on the field he brings the physical presence that you don't often get from the receiver position. He's in there on crack blocks, he's in there blocking down field, like he did on Danny's [Amendola] score. He's a big, strong guy, so he has that physical element to his game. We haven't always had the biggest guys at receiver here, but having someone like that, who can really bring a little more of that physical presence at that position brings an edge to it. I think he's had that since he got here and, like I said, he's fought through some injuries this year, been mentally tough, never complains, always does what you ask him to do, even though it may not be the most glamorous thing, he just wants to do it to help the team win. It's a great trait.
Q:** You mentioned the mental toughness. I think he had zero catches in his first couple of games and he even, sort of, publicly said he would love to be more involved. How did he get through that? He was so determined to not be that guy that we've seen come in here and flame out. How did he work through that?
TB: Yeah, I think that's part of his mental toughness and his ability to, like, say even early in the year it was – whenever you get a new player, it's hard to really figure out exactly how it shows up on game day until you get to game day and see how it shows up. In training camp there's no tackling. Mental toughness comes into play a little bit during training camp, but not much. The games don't matter. When you really see what someone is all about is when it matters. And when they're not feeling good and when you've been at it for awhile, you can really see what someone's character is. It's been great to see. Certainly him showing up last week and fighting through some injuries to get to the game and then for him to make a game-winning catch was pretty sweet.
Q: You mentioned revving it up for the three hours during the game. A few minutes earlier you also said you have a case of nerves, even after all of these years. In that spirit, how does that manifest itself during the week? Are you cranky, edgy, happy, anecdotal? What's your mood as a departure from other weeks?
TB: Yeah, it depends. Yeah, it's a good question. My wife asks the same thing, 'What's your problem?' But I get pretty edgy. I just think there's a high level of pressure every week and I think the pressure is on from the moment that – I'd say it's like watching the games on Sunday. You watch the first game, like the Cowboys-Packers game, and it's kind of fun and you get to watch the game. And then all of a sudden, you watch the Denver game and Indy play, and as soon as that game ends it's like, 'Boom,' and the clock starts. It's a race to see who can prepare the best over the course of the week. There's not many opportunities you get during the season to have a time where you don't know who your opponent is. After, obviously, we won on Saturday and then you have that little moment of time where you're not really preparing for anybody and then as soon as you know the opponent the anxiousness starts building and building. You do everything you can through the preparation to get an understanding of what the team is doing and how you're going to play and which plays you're going to install and how you're going to run the plays and did you execute the plays and then did you execute the plays and all of those things lessen your anxiety because you can go out and perform and build confidence in what you're doing. It's kind of the ebbs and flows of the week. Sometimes in a good mood, sometimes in a [bad] mood. Sometimes it just ebbs and flows.
Q:** You've played for one coach. How has that continuity helped you coming into these games and how have you seen coach change over those years that has kind of helped you?
TB: Coach hasn't changed much. I think he's so consistent and I think we as players know what we can count on with him and he always talks about consistent, dependable players and we have the most consistent, dependable coach. Every day we show up to work knowing what to expect and he expects a high level of concentration from us. He wants us to go out there and perform at our best every day and when we don't he lets us know. He motivates us in different ways and he's always trying to get the best out of us. He holds everybody accountable, certainly holds himself accountable and I'm very fortunate to play for him.
Q: How does a picture of you riding an Indianapolis Colt end up on your Facebook page? A team that doesn't like bulletin board material.
TB: That was just a friendly post. You don't' like that? You've got to like that [laughs]. I didn't make that graphic.
Q: But the people responsible, you're OK with that?
TB: Yeah, I liked it. Thank you guys. Have a good night.
DL VINCE WILFORK
Q:** I guess can you first start talking about what this means to be going to another AFC Championship and how the veterans can help you guys with the experience factor?
VW: I mean, it's always a pleasure and an honor to be playing in this game. We don't take anything for granted. Winning is hard. It's hard to go this level. And you just look back at everything you've been through from offseason, from OTAs to mini-camp, offseason workouts and training camp and the season, midseason and towards the end of the season and boom, the playoffs are here. You play a playoff game and all of a sudden – boom – AFC Championship. So it's a lot of work we put in to get to this level. A lot of hard work. A lot of things we've done good, some we did not do so good, but to be playing in this game is always a great feeling. Everybody needs to enjoy this feeling. It's exciting because you've worked your tail off to get here. So as far as having experience in this game, you know, one thing I always try to do is try to treat it like a regular game. Our next opponent, which is a good opponent, a team that's different now than the last time we faced them. A lot better team. I think they played well together as a team in all three phases. They're coached well. They have great playmakers. A great offense. I mean, (Andrew) Luck is probably one of the best quarterbacks in the game. He's a young stud. And you'll be seeing a lot of more of him in his future. So we know how important it is for us to get off to a good start and play good football to be successful this Sunday. But it's going to take everything we have. Everything we work for, you just kind of have to reflect back on everything you've been through and the moment that you're in because you can't let anything slip away at this point. Because like I said, we worked so hard to get here so the last thing you want thing is now leave a stone unturned. And we don't want to do that, so everything we have to do leading up this game we have to do it at the highest level. Gameday we have to be play at the highest level. You know, the things that you have in the game now you won't have a lot of opportunities. So when you do have an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it. But these teams are good. The Colts are good. They give you too many opportunities and when we do get a chance to have an opportunity we have to take advantage of it. So it's going to be a good matchup. It's a good matchup for us.
Q:** Vince, it's been a few years now that you have gotten to this game but not gotten over the proverbial hump. So is there anything at all that you are changing this week? Even like, different toothpaste, anything?
VW: No, I think it's execution at the highest level. You want to look at it as the next game, but the only thing with that is you lose and you go home. And I don't think anybody in this locker room wants to go home. So everything we have to do we gotta do it. And it starts with practice. It starts with preparation first, in the classroom, going to practice, watching the film, making the corrections, coming back in, getting a good understanding of how we want to play the game, getting a good gameplan together and just everybody executing at the highest level. And I think if we do that and everybody just knocks away and chips away at that approach we'll be okay. So the past is the past. We deal with the future around here and right now we're in the present and that's what we're going to deal with. And there's no better way to deal with that than to tackle it starting today. We got a chance to see them play Sunday and you could just tell they're playing with a lot of energy. Like I said, they're different ball club from the last time we saw them so I don't think anything we did from the last time to now is going to be... it's going to be a totally different ball game because they're such a different team now. They found a running game, they found some guys that can make plays for them and they're playing well. They're playing really, really good as a unit and as a team and they're coached really well. It all starts with us in practice and just getting off to a good start and being able to execute come gameday.
Team photographer, Keith Nordstrom, offers his best photos from the Patriot divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, January 10, 2015.
Q:** You and Tom Brady are the longest-tenured guys here. I wanted to ask you just two things about how you view him. First, emotionally on gameday, he plays with kind of almost a linebacker's mentality emotionally. And secondly, he's pretty relaxed during the week. It seems like he puts on a different mask on gameday. What's he like, in general? He seems different.
VW: He is so competitive. That's the first thing I always see. And everybody always asks me, 'How is Tom?' I don't think there's anybody else in this locker room that is more competitive than Tom. I mean, I don't care if it's a conversation, I don't if it's practice, I don't care if it's seven-on-seven, I don't care if it's gameday, I don't care if it's in the film room. He wants to be at his best. He wants everybody else around him to be at his best so as a teammate it's easy to see my top leader coming to work, smiling, having fun and being at his best in the practice. It's easy for me to go to work to see that guy do it. And he demands the same thing out of us, so I think a lot of the things he does he doesn't realize how it affects everyone around him. He doesn't have to say much. When he's here in this building, he's working. When he's home, he's working. A lot of the guys don't understand that. That's the type of person that he is. He's going to give you everything he has. I mean, I don't care how he's feeling – mentally or physically – but he's going to put his best on that field and you have to love that. You have to respect that. And that's what I love and respect about Tom. I mean he always comes to work and trust me, we trash talk a lot in practice, I'm in his ear and he's in my ear, but at the same time we make practice live and we make practice competitive because we try to get is as close to a game [atmosphere] as possible. And I think the only way to do that is to have some of your guys go out there and make practice upbeat. And when we do that, we've been so successful around here doing that. And that's one of the things we've been doing around here for a while to try to go to practice and make those practices the best practices we can have.
Q: When you see him flip out like the other night, lost his mind after a play, do you say, "Ah, that's just Tom?" Or do you say anything different?
VW: No, that's just Tom. It's just Tom. Like I said, everything he does he wants it to be perfect. He strives for greatness. That's your leader. That's what you want to follow – somebody that's always going to strive to be great at whatever he does. And that's he does and that's what he brings to this game for us.
Q:** Vince, from your advantage point what does Jaime Collins and Don't'a Hightower bring to the defense? And what kind of impact have they had on what you guys have been able to do over the course of the season and to reaching this point?
VW: Well, I've seen them grow over the past year. They're like younger brothers or my kids grow up and where they were last year to now is so amazing to see that. There's a lot of credit that goes to those guys. From taking the coaching, taking it upon themselves to be a better football player, a smarter football player, understanding the game the way it needs to be played, things that we change on a daily basis/weekly basis and being able to get in and out of things. And as a backer, especially in this defense, but in general as a linebacker, you're sort of the quarterback of your defense. And we have two guys with Jerod Mayo being out, we have two guys that have rose to the occasion this year and they've done a great job for us, a phenomenal job for us. Like I said, a lot of credit goes to those guys individually, but at the same time the coaching that they've received, just says a lot about where they're minds are at, how focused they are, they know that they have to run the defense so they didn't back down from a challenge. They stood firm and they're still standing firm. And those guys we can kind of line them up wherever we want to line them up. It gives our opponents problems to see them in different spots. So that's the advantage that we have. When teams play [us] they know that 75 is going to have his hand in the dirt, but from Dont'a and Jamie they can be in the dirt, in the turf, standing up, lined up wide. They have to identify what they are, who they are and what they're going to do. That forces a lot of communication for an offense and our opponents and that's a good situation for us to be in as a defense. So they've done a great job this year and they're going to continue to do a great job. They're going to be some good players from here on moving forward.
Q: You talked about playing the game a 100-perfcent, that's every game you talk about that. And this morning you talked about playing at the highest level for this game. Is it more of a mental mindset to get the body to just execute without mistakes? Is that really what you're talking about?
VW: No, when I say execute it's from your body from a physical standpoint to a mental standpoint. To take what you saw on film and in the meeting rooms to apply it in practice to make it work and see if it works. If works, we know we have a good shot in the game if we execute it well. Things happen in the games where sometimes we prepare for them and sometimes it's something different. And that's where sideline adjustments come in at and we've done a great job over the years. As long as I've been here going over to the sideline, or going in at halftime, making adjustments and coming back being a totally different ball club. And that credit goes to the coaching staff understanding what they're trying to do to us, what we need to do, how we need to get there and once they give us that, now it's up to us to execute it. Most of the time we practice everything. But we just throw out a lot of stuff because we have certain things we want to do and if we need to get to it, we'll get to it. It's mentally and physically when I talk about executing at the highest level. It's playing good situational football, understanding situations, just understanding everything and what's going on just besides the play that you're playing. Understanding what the down-and-distance is, the red area, goal line, third-down, [shotgun]...it's so many things that go on with that and from our studies and our film study and our preparation we have a good understanding of what we want to do in those situations. So when those situations occur we have to be at our best. We have to be able to execute whatever we call, understand where we're all at, what we want to do, who has what, where such and such is going to be, just understanding the whole scheme to the thing defensively and offensively to get us successful. When I speak execution, it's from a standpoint where you will only imagine. You will only imagine. But it's not just what we're doing, it's basically everything from the clock to the play clock to sometimes thinking about if it's a four-down situation understanding third-down, what they want to do and if they do go for it on fourth down what we want to do, what we want to be in, anticipating what they're going to be in so everybody at a high level just alert level goes up.
OL DAN CONNOLLY
Q:** What is it like playing for Bill Belichick? Has he changed in the time that you've been here?
DC: I just have to say it's an honor to play for an organization like this. Coach Belichick is my coach. He asks a lot of us, and we come to work every day and prepare to work hard. It's a good organization to play for.
Q: Has he changed much?
DC:** Not that I know of. We're working hard every day. That's one thing that has remained constant.
Q: There has been a lot of talk all season long about overcoming adversity and what lessons were taught over the first four weeks. Last week, you guys were down 14 points twice. How much did you draw upon that and how much do you want to avoid being in that same situation on Sunday?
DC: Yeah, we prepare to kind of face any situation. We try to focus a lot on different situations that could come up in a game. We try to always be prepared for that. You never want to be down like that, but you never know what's going to happen in a football game. So, if you're ever confronted with that, presented with that, you just have to be prepared. So, we try to always prepare for certain things that could come up.
Q: Last week you only ran the ball 13 times. Against the Colts the last few times, you have run the ball a little bit more. As an offensive lineman, I am assuming you want to run the ball more, right?
DC: Sure. It's always nice to run the ball on a defense. I can't comment on what we're going to do this week. That's up to [offensive coordinator/quarterbacks] coach [Josh] McDaniels and Coach Belichick to call the plays. But, whatever is called, I am going to try to do my best to get the job done.
Q: With the shifting along the line early in the season, how much did that help last week when Bryan Stork goes out, Ryan Wendell goes to center and you guys were still able to produce?
DC: I think it helps out a lot. We always try to prepare as many guys as we can to be able to fill in a spot. You never know what's going to happen in a game. Guys get hurt; that's just the nature of the business. So, you try to prepare guys to come in and not slow down at all. We've got to keep going when somebody steps in. Yeah, having the different combinations early in the year definitely prepared us for what we've faced late in the season."
Q: How special is it for you to be in this spot right now, playing in the AFC Championship Game?
DC: It's a great place to be, obviously. We put in a lot of hard work, but we just have to keep pushing, keep working. We can't be comfortable just being in this game. We have to keep working hard.
WR MATTHEW SLATER
Q:** Back in the AFC Championship Game, how will your experiences in the past ones help you going forward this week?
MS: That's really tough to say because each season is so unique and each team is so unique and each situation that we've been in has been different. I don't really think you can compare this situation to past ones. Certainly, knowing the atmosphere and what that's going to be like, the competitive nature of the game, what that's going to look like, will be somewhat helpful. At the end of the day, it's about showing up and playing well. That's really all that matters.
Q: It seemed last week there was a sense of fear about the Ravens. This week, because of history, there's maybe a sense of comfort. I know you guys say that history doesn't make a difference, but what do you guys do to make sure you're not resting on your laurels and overlooking the Colts?
MS: I certainly wouldn't say there's a sense of comfort amongst the players and the coaches in our locker room. I think we have a sense of urgency and understanding of what this football team is capable of. They've won two games and are arguably the hottest team in the AFC, with one of the best young players in this league with Andrew Luck, so we understand that this game is going to be a dog fight. Whoever doesn't play well, whoever doesn't show up, their season is over. That's the reality. A sense of comfort is not what we have at all. I think there's a sense of urgency. We understand that we have to play better than we did last week or we will be watching the next game.
Q:** Have you found through your experience in these types of games that special teams, which are important all the time, take on an even greater importance than they normally do?
MS: Certainly. As I've spoken with many of you about this over the season, those plays are unexpected. Big plays in the kicking game are unexpected and when you're able to have a huge momentum play like that, especially in a game of this magnitude, it really can be the difference in the ball game. I think that those are plays we can't take for granted. We have to go out each snap and have a sense of urgency and understanding that that could be the play that changes the game. We have to prepare with that same sense of urgency and understand that our phase of the game – it may be 20 snaps a game – but it could be all the difference at the end of the game.
Q: Tom Brady was in here earlier saying that during the week he's a pretty mellow guy, but for those three hours on Sunday he just lets it rip with his emotions and everything. Do you ever look at him during the game and say, 'What is this guy doing? Is he going nuts? Why is he going so crazy?' Is that what he's like?
MS: After playing with him for seven years now, you just know that Tom is a competitor and he wants to do well. He'll do whatever he can, whatever is in his power, to encourage us to play better, to motivate himself to play better and at the end of the day, for us to win the game. Whatever that takes, if that's him yelling at us, going crazy, then so be it. We're just out there to compete, play well and hopefully have team success at the end of the day.
Q: Josh Cribbs wasn't on the team the first time you played the Colts. Can you talk a little bit about what he brings to the return game?
MS: Certainly when you look at Josh Cribbs, he's one of the best return men to have ever played in this league. I think that dynamic that he brings is going to have to change the way we prepare this week. How aggressive he is – he's willing to take chances, he's willing to put his body in compromising situations sometimes for the betterment of his team, all in the name of field position and making a big play. I think he's unique in that he's such a large man. I know we said that last week with [Ravens return specialist] Jacoby [Jones], but it's the same thing this week with him. With how aggressive he is, as cover guys we can't allow ourselves to get comfortable and assume anything with this guy because he's liable to take it the distance any play.
WIDE RECEIVER DANNY AMENDOLA
(On Tom Brady's emotion and enthusiasm)
"He's very emotional. He has a great ability to lift the players around him to their best. He's our leader and we love playing for him."
(On starting faster after being down by 14 twice last week)
"You never want to be in that position but at the same time you want to be successful in every single play. Sometimes it doesn't go that way but at the same time all we can do is focus on this week and prepare our tail off to try to make as many positive plays this weekend."
(On how different the Colts look defensively)
"They're playing well. They play hard. They've got a bunch of great athletes – really the same guys that we faced last time, here and there [they] have a couple new guys in new spots. They've been playing really hard, they've been playing really well and we're excited for it."
(On whether there is advantage of already facing the Colts this season)
"Every game is different. That's why we get out there and play. We're going to watch their film from last year [and] we're going to watch all their film this year and try to get out there and make plays."
(On his confidence after making a big play last week)
"You want to make as many plays as you can just to help your team to get points on the board. If that happens you're going to naturally gain confidence. There's a lot of work to be done this week and we're all looking forward to it."
(On the effect of weather – specifically to special teams)
"Wind, weather, everything comes into play when you're in the kicking game – how far the ball is going to traveling in the air, where it's going to travel with the wind. Every play is different too."
(On if playing on special teams has helped his confidence)
"I love playing special teams. It's fun, it's like Braveheart sometimes but it's a lot of fun. I love every aspect of football, so getting out on the field is fun for me."
(On having Rob Gronkowski healthy for this game as opposed to last year)
"Gronk is obviously a great tight end, one of the best. He does a lot of great things for us. A health Gronk is a good Gronk."
(On what getting to the Superbowl means)
"We want to win the championship. We want to be the last team standing. It goes unsaid in this locker room. That's what we're working for. We're focused on this week and we're going to go out there and prepare today and try to get ready for it."
TIGHT END ROB GRONKOWSKI
(On controlling emotions during a game of this magnitude)
"You just got to go out there and play football, and definitely it's an emotional game. When the emotions get rolling you've got to put the team first, that's all. You've got to play with emotions – go out there play hard, play physical and be mentally ready. Emotions definitely come into play but you've got to be emotionally ready too, no doubt."
(On whether he feeds off emotion or tries to control it)
"Both – you don't want to hurt the team at all but at the same time you want to go out there with some fire underneath you and go out there with some passion."
(On whether the focus ramps up as the team advances deeper into the playoffs)
"Every single game we put details and work into the game. We prepare every single week to the max. This week is like no other, [we'll] definitely prepare to the max of our ability – put details in and make sure we prepare together as a team and go out there and execute and play like a team, no doubt."
(On what he sees from LaRon Landry)
"He's a good player. He's big, he's fast and he can keep up with you. [He's] definitely very good player. They've got a lot of great players also so you've got to be prepared for anyone and be ready for anyone."
(On Tom Brady's emotion on the sidelines)
"That's always good to see a teammate like that – it gets everyone fired up, it gets everyone passionate. I hope every player does that on the team, but definitely when you see Tom do it, it motivates you and shows how much passion he's got going on at the moment. It definitely gets you going."
(On his relationship with Bill Belichick)
"We're here together as a team. We're all here for the same goal – to prepare hard, practice hard and go out and get the W this week. We're just here together to work together, work as a team and get the job done. Whatever it takes"
(On Bill Belichick saying the Colts are the best team they've faced, despite beating them by 22 points earlier this season)
"It doesn't matter about the last game. Teams change, teams get better, teams get worse. Definitely the Colts are playing unbelievable right now. They've won two playoff games and they're very, very good. [We've] definitely got to be ready. I would have to agree they're definitely going to be the best team that we've played all year. They're ready, they're prepared, they're fast, they're big, [and] they're physical. We've just got to be prepared ourselves and go out there and be ready."
DE ROB NINKOVICH
(On recording at least eight sacks in each of the last three seasons and the importance of playing with consistency)
"I'd like to break that number. I had that in college, too. I think I had a couple of penalties that took a couple away from me. Again, being consistent and not dropping below that number, because that's the line, that's the goal. You always have to be consistent throughout the year and I always like to say, 'be better than you were the year before.' Or match what you did the year before."
(On thinking about the big picture as it relates to the AFC Championship Game and what's next if the team advances)
"Honestly, I just focus in on what I have to do right now and that's getting ready for practice and go out there and get better because it all starts right now. This is going to be a big game. They're a good football team. They've improved throughout the season and it's another big challenge for us. We've got to play well."
(On whether he likes not being bigger than the opposing quarterback)
"I'm bigger [laughs]. I'm just kidding. [Andrew] Luck's a big guy. He's a strong guy; can run, very smart. Again, it's another challenge for us."
(On the team's success in forcing Luck to make mistakes in the past)
"Everyone has got to do their job and play within the responsibilities of the defense. He's a guy that's extended plays in the past. He does a good job of breaking the pocket, getting out and looking for a guy down field and making a good throw. You're always conscious of that to be under control and understand where he is and not to let him go where he wants to go."
(On the difficulty, as a defensive player, to play fast but be under control)
"You just have to understand that that's the way it is going to be. So you go into the week preparing for that. You practice those situations and you just can't go out there and run up the field, pin your ears back, otherwise it's just going to hurt you. You do your best to be under control, but still beat the guy in front of you."