BB:** Sorry I'm a little late this morning. How's it going?
Q: Good, how's it going?
BB: Good, I'm excited to play. Well, coach.
Q: How would you characterize how the week has gone so far?
BB: Everybody is putting everything they've got into it. It's a one-game season. Nothing to save it for, so I think everybody is trying as hard as they can.
Q: Do you feel like you know how the team will perform given how they practice, or is there always an element of the unknown?
BB: I think each game is its own game. How are they practicing? I mean, I don't know.
Q: Several players talked yesterday about the quizzes they take each week. How important is mental preparation when it is a one-game season?
BB: It's important every week. We stress it every week. We'll stress it this week just like we stress it every other week.
Q:** Going into a game like this, do you want everybody to prepare the same way or do you want to see more urgency because the stakes are a lot higher?
BB: I think it's actually a combination of both of them. We've got a good football team. We've won a lot of games. We must be doing something right, so we want to keep doing that. At the same time, each game you play at this time of year is more important. We've been saying that for the last month or month-and-a-half or whatever it's been. As they ramp up, we're closer and closer to the finish line. It's a one-week season right now, so there's nothing to save it for. Put everything you've got into it, so there's definitely more urgency. But I don't think you want to get too far away from doing the things that you've been successful doing. So, there's a little bit of balance there.
Q: How do you talk to the receivers about beating press coverage?
BB: It's a long answer, but some of the things you need to think about are: who's the receiver and who's the defender? And they're not all the same. Different players would use different techniques. They have different body types, different skill sets and so forth on your team that you're trying to release and you're up against different players on the other side of the ball. Some guys are longer, some guys are faster, some guys are stronger, some guys want to jam you, some guys really don't; they just want to get in position off the line of scrimmage. It's more of a struggle for position than it is trying to physically knock the guy down or something like that. So, I think all those things come into play, and then of course what route are we talking about? There's a difference between running a deep vertical route or running an intermediate route or running some type of crossing route or something like that. I don't think press coverage is that big of an advantage because you're not trying to go through the defender, you're trying to get on one side or the other and trying to create leverage. What's the receiver's split? Where is his help? Is it half help? Is it middle of the field help? It's a long, much longer discussion than, 'Oh, it's press coverage.' It's all the other things involved, too. That's something that we talk a lot about and the quarterbacks also need to be aware of that. But it can change the timing of the route. Then it gets into the whole timing element, so a 16-yard route on air and a 16[-yard] route against competitive press coverage, it's not the same timing. It's just not. You either hold the ball longer or that 16[-yard] route becomes a 12-yard route. It becomes a timing issue. It depends on the jam, too. Sometimes guys get up there and they aren't able to jam their receivers or they miss them. There are a lot of variables there and they all come in to play. That's where timing and execution is so critical.
Q:** What kind of impact has Chuck Pagano brought to that secondary? He had a reputation for reviving the secondary in Baltimore. Have you seen that from him in Indianapolis?
BB: I'd say they pretty much do what they do. They have a variety of things in their scheme. They do all of them. They play some press coverage. They play off coverage. They play single high. They play split safety. They pressure; they pressure quite a bit – sometimes pressure man, pressure zone. They have a variety of things and they do that to keep you off balance. You're not going to get all one coverage or one technique or all one anything.
Q: Is it similar to what he did when he was in Baltimore?
BB: I'd say there is definitely a foundation there. There's carryover, too.
Q: Can you talk about the progression the Colts have had in the postseason since Pagano has been there? How difficult is that to accomplish?
BB: Right now, none of that really matters to me, so I don't really care what somebody did last year, two years ago, five years ago. I don't really care. We're just trying to get ready for this game. That's all. It's a one-game season. Whatever did or didn't happen in some other game or some other season, it is what it is.
Q: How much does the Colts success with field position and special teams impact this game?
BB: It's huge. The Colts do a great job of it. They're one of the best kickoff teams in the league. They get a lot of touchbacks. They cover well. They're a good kickoff return team and I think they've gotten better with [Josh] Cribbs. He's really good at that. [Pat] McAfee can control the field position with the punting game, which he did in our game. They averaged over 50 yards net punt. And Cribbs can make plays in the return game, too. And they have a great field goal kicker. Their specialists are good. Their special teams are good. They control field position. They make big plays. They cover well. They do a real good job. It'll be a big challenge for us.
Q:** How much has Andrew Luck developed this season?
BB: He's been good. He was good. He is good. He does everything well.
Q: When preparing for a game like this, do you ever reach a point where you feel like you prepared as well as you possibly could, and it's simply up to executing? Or, do you always keep thinking what more can you do to prepare?
BB: I think you always get to that point at some point. At some point, you get as far as you can go, and you want to get your team to that point and then you let the game unfold. No matter how much preparation you do, it's still going to be different in the game. Going back to Dwight Eisenhower's quote, 'Preparation is everything until the battle starts.' Then it doesn't mean anything. Then you're reacting to what happens in the game, or in his case, what happens in the battle. It's an important part of going into it, but really once you're in it - I mean, it has relevance, don't get me wrong, but then the game becomes the game and then you've got to deal with that. I think you can only prepare to a point. Once it starts, then it's going to change to some degree. It's going to change.
Q: You had two weeks to prepare for the Ravens and now just one week to prepare for the Colts. How do you balance rest and readiness, and which do you prefer?
BB: Well, first of all, we didn't know we were going to play the Ravens until a week before we played them. We had a week to prepare for the Ravens, so that's what we did.
Q: Chuck Pagano said that if they aren't able to stop the run, they'll be in for a long, hard day. Since you had success running the ball against them, we haven't seen much from the running game. Do you go back to what worked in the first game?
BB: We'll do what we think is best, same thing we do every week. We'll do what we think is best.
Q:** Going into your fourth straight conference championship game, how do you sustain success in a league with so much roster turnover?
BB: As I've said many times before, the games we've won here are the result of the players we've had that have played well and made plays in order for us to win. But again, all that is in the past. I don't think any of it really means anything right now. It's a one-game season, and I hope that we can coach and play our best football game of the year Sunday night. That's really all we're focused on. That's our goal.
Q: You've talked about the jump in play from year one to year two. How have you seen Logan Ryan progress over the course of this season?
BB: I think more experience, better understanding of what we do, better understanding of our opponents and the players that they play against. It's a big jump from college to the NFL, no matter what college or what level you played at. It's a big jump. The game is different and the level of competition is different. All of us had to make it at one point or another. I think when you come into this league at whatever capacity you come into it at, you get shocked by a lot of things that take place at this level that are just different than any other level you've been at or you've seen. And then you somehow either manage to swim or sink. You catch up to it, you figure it out, and you adjust to it, or you don't and somebody else takes your spot. That's the nature of the competition of the National Football League, whether you're a player or a coach. It's a very competitive league. We get judged on our performance and results, and if they're not very good, then you won't be around very long. It's no secret. We've seen plenty of that this week.
Q: Having previously quoted Dwight Eisenhower, how much do you enjoy the process of preparation leading into battle?
BB: I enjoy it all. I enjoy it from the start of the season in February and the combine and the draft process to putting the roster together to bringing players in who haven't been in the National Football League. It's a new process, bringing new players onto the team, working with them, working throughout the course of the year, preparation, game days, coaching some of the best players in the league, some great players – probably some of the best players that'll ever play in the league at their position – being able to do things with them that 99.9 percent of the players that play that position couldn't do or will never be able to do, just as much as working with the guys who don't know anything or in some cases can't do anything, but they work to improve and rise above that. So, I enjoy all of it.
Q: You have twice as many players who have played at this stage compared to the Colts. How much of a factor will that be?
Q:** Why is that?
BB: I think it'll be the team that plays the best. I don't think it's about how many All-Pros or how many playoff games or anything. I don't think it has anything to do with it. I've been on plenty of teams that didn't have any experience and won. We can go through the league and find just as many examples of that. So, zero.
Q: Going into the game on Sunday, knowing it's a one-game season, is part of that fun? Do you allow yourself that moment?
BB: Well, I mean, it's what you work all year for. This is what we've worked for since basically a year ago this time last year – myself and everybody who is a part of the organization – is to play in this game. It's a great opportunity, but it's a great challenge. We're playing the best team we've played all year. We're going to have to play and coach our best football. But it's what you live for. It's what you want to do. It's where you want to be. It's a great challenge, but it's a great opportunity, so we're all looking forward to it, and we know we'll have to be at our best.
Q: Jonas Gray played really well against the Colts in Week 11. What's changed since then?
BB: I'd say not much. Jonas was injured in the Jets game, missed a couple weeks, but I'd say not a lot's changed.
Q: Do you get nervous before big games like this?
BB: I think anybody who competes in any of these games has anxiety. I think it would be not normal if you didn't. I mean, I've never talked to anybody that hasn't had anxiousness about any game for that matter. I mean, it's competition. Certainly, you always have a level of confidence. Competition brings anxiety. They go hand-in-hand.
Q: Do you think your experience in the playoffs helps you manage that anxiety?
BB: I don't know. Again, we've seen plenty of examples in all sports at all levels of people who have and haven't been in games, and we can find results on both sides of it, so I don't think really in the end it has anything to do with it. I think the team that performs the best on Sunday is the team that will win. I think all the rest of it; it's a bunch of hot air. Write whatever you want. I don't think it matters. It doesn't mean anything.
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:** How much of game-day decision making for you is instinctive vs. past experience?
BB: Every game is its own game. Every game is different. I don't think any two games are the same. No two situations are the same. I have to do what I think is the best decision at that time and that game for that team that I'm coaching. Even though we might be wearing the same uniforms, it's not the same team. It changes every week. Our opponent changes every week. So, it's never the same.
Q: They're using more check-downs now. Does that make Andrew Luck more able to play within himself, or has he gotten better?
BB: I don't really think they've changed their offense. I think it just comes down to decision making. I think Luck does a good job of getting the ball to the open guy, does a good job taking advantage of what the defense gives him. You've got guys open down the field, he's not throwing check downs, I'll tell you that right now. If anybody thinks that, I can't imagine what games they watch. He's not just throwing it to the check-down guy because that's a primary receiver. He throws it because the rest of the patterns are covered. If it's not covered, then that ball is going down the field to the receivers who are open. That's what a quarterback's job is.
Q: Are they a team that substitutes a lot during a drive, from what you've seen?
BB: They do it. They do it. Sometimes they leave guys out there, but there's a lot of substitution. They mix the personnel groups up. They basically have four receivers. Any three of them can be out there really at any time. I would say there's a lot of [T.Y.] Hilton, but the other guys, it could be [Donte] Moncrief, [Hakeem] Nicks, [Reggie] Wayne, they move them around. They've got three tight ends, they all play, and they play their backs. I don't think you can count on anything. You can't count on who's going to be out there, you can't count on who's not going to be out there. Sometimes they play at a tempo and play fast and keep the same guys out there. Most of the time they don't, but I don't think you can count on either one of those, either. You might get a no-huddle series or a no-huddle game where they're playing at a faster tempo, and you might not. But that's the way it always is on defense, you can never control who they're going to put out there. All you can do is defend what they give you. If you're on defense, if they want to play fast they can play fast. If they want to play slow, they can play slow. If they want to put four tight ends out there, then there are four tight ends out there. If they want to put four receivers out there, then you've got to defend four receivers. That's what playing defense is. You have to defend what they give you. You can't control it. Offensively, you control all those things. You control who's out there, you can control who gets the ball and who doesn't get it. They're the reverse of each other.
Q: Does it make it more challenging to defend a team with man-to-man when they're using no-huddle and going up tempo?
BB: Any team that changes a lot, there are going to be moving parts no matter what you do, unless you can just leave the same players out there throughout every personnel group they have. I mean, you could, but then that creates other problems, and then you've got some matchup issues. If you want to get matchups, then you substitute with them. If you don't care about the matchups or you're comfortable with the matchups or whatever, then you don't substitute and you play your guys out there. But I think in this league, it's pretty hard not to get mismatched somewhere along the line if you keep the same 11 players on the field all the time. I'm not saying you can't do it. I'm just saying you've got to deal with some matchups. If you can live with those matchups or you can somehow neutralize them, then great, then you can do that. If you can't, then somewhere along the line, you're probably going to have to substitute and change the matchup. That's your choice defensively. You don't have to matchup, but if you don't, then you have to deal with their receivers against your linebackers or their tight ends against your DBs [defensive backs] or whatever it is.
Q: Were matchups big when you were first breaking in?
BB: No, because the same 11 guys stayed on the field in all situations. It'd be third-and-20, and they might flex a tight end out, but basically had the same guys on the field, and you had the same defense on the field, same 11 guys. The nickel defense was originally, like George Allen brought in a safety for the Will linebacker. It was the same exact defense. They just had, in their mind, maybe a better coverage player playing that position. There was no change in the defense. The ball was on the one-yard line, you'd still have two receivers out there. It's just regular offensive formation. You didn't have the goal line. The roster sizes were different. You didn't have the specialization that you have now. You had 10 less players, so you didn't have multiple tight ends. You didn't have all those extra guys. You had a couple backups here or there, and they played in the kicking game. And you had a long snapper and you had a kicker and a punter that played somewhere else for the most part. That transitioned pretty quickly. That was totally different. Now, [there's] bigger roster size, more specialization, more matchups on one side of the ball, more matchups therefore on the other side of the ball. It's totally different.
PATRIOTS LB DONT'A HIGHTOWER PRESS CONFERENCE**
Q: Bill Belichick quoted Dwight Eisenhower this morning, saying that preparation means everything up until you actually play the game or get to the battle. What are your thoughts when you hear that from him?
DH:: Obviously, we're going to address things the way coach Belichick feels right and obviously it's worked for him and I definitely feel like it's worked for us throughout this year. We're definitely following in the footsteps that he set in front of us and kind of the guideline of what we want to do this week, what we want to be able to accomplish come game day. So, whatever formula he's laid out throughout this week, leaders of the team – Tom [Brady], Vince [Wilfork], Devin [McCourty] – all those guys know, we're just following right in line behind those guys.
Q: In your time here, how much does he quote past Presidents or Army Generals?
DH:: Coach Belichick is real big on history. There are times throughout the year – Veterans Day, Memorial Day – just different historic events that happened throughout the year that occasionally he'll bring to our attention. I guess sometimes throughout the year, it's kind of like a history lesson somewhat.
Q:** It's often talked about that he can tell if the team is ready for the game based on the week of practice. How much can you gauge how important a week of good, hard practice is to good results on Sunday?
DH:: You kind of hit the nail on the head at first. Vince has been there for a while. He's played a lot of football. Fortunate for me, I've been around here these past couple of years. I'm a young player, but I can feel that sometimes. There are some times throughout the week where me, myself, as far as in the front seven, I take a bigger burden on trying to get the right stuff right and the stunts and everything coordinated, because I mean that's my responsibility. There will be times earlier in the week where V [Vince] will be like, 'It's Monday, let's see how things fold out Tuesday.' We get back in the film room and we get things situated and Tuesday, I mean, things are perfect. I'm just trying to get the same feel that he's getting.
Q: You've played in the AFC Championship Game a couple of times before; not with the results I think you would like. Is there some personal motivation to get over the hump or put the past in the past and make it right?
DH:: Yeah. Like you said, unfortunately, since I've been here, we've kind of got stopped a little bit quicker than we wanted to, but you kind of want to leave those things in the past, but unfortunately it is what it is. At the same time, we want to take one game at a time and that's what we're going to have to do, but I definitely feel like throughout this week we've all been kind of approaching it as doing as much as you can each day, so you can wake up the next morning or that night and you look in the mirror and ask yourself, 'Do you regret anything? Did you not do something today that you will regret come game day?' That one more rep you could have done at practice; that one more mental rep, so I feel like we are all taking that approach.
Q: Are you nervous at all? Are there a little bit of nerves heading into these games?
DH:: I mean, it's football. When you've been playing football this long; I mean it is what it is. We got the game plan, we just got to go out and execute it.
Q:** Is there an added layer of complexity when you have played a team three times and beaten them as convincingly as the Patriots have the Colts?
DH:: Could you ask that again?
Q: Is there an added layer of complexity – does something concern you when you've beaten a team so convincingly; you have to play them again?
DH:: I guess that could be the case, but with this team that we're playing; these guys have a lot of skills players, offensively – not even going on the defensive side of the ball, or even their special teams. I mean, Andrew Luck himself is a dynamic player and then you throw in T.Y. Hilton and [Coby] Fleener and Daniel Herron and all those extra guys and I mean they can do anything. They can score at anytime, so the fact that we've played them before and we've played them pretty well earlier this season, I mean that helps, but at the same time, I'm sure they've got something cooking. We are just going to have to go out there and execute the game plan and make halftime decisions and sideline corrections.
Q: What kind of challenge does a Bill Belichick defense have on a young quarterback like Andrew Luck?
DH:: I feel like with this defense that we've had this year, I feel like we've used a lot of versatility and coach Belichick has always said the more you can do the better. I definitely feel like this year, on the defensive side of the ball, we've been able to use a lot of guy's versatility, whether it's me and Jamie [Collins] rushing up the middle or outside, or having [Rob] Ninkovich or Akeem [Ayers] or Chandler [Jones] drop out and give the quarterback a different look, as far as zone coverages and man coverages. And then, as well as having Patrick Chung come down and play like a linebacker and do the things he does and that he's been doing really well. I definitely feel like we're able to show different approaches and different things as opposed to some teams that lack versatility.
Q:** How have the Colts changed since you saw them the first time around?
DH:: I just feel like the game management is a lot better. Luck makes a lot of big plays and some things that he was trying to do is not make those mistakes, try to make a bigger play. I definitely feel like he's more comfortable now with the running back and the run-game situation. He trusts those guys, dumping the ball off and shorter down and distance and letting those guys get 20 or 30 yards. I definitely feel like Luck has really been the key as far as how well they've been playing lately on offense.
Q: You talk about the mental preparation and Bill Belichick has been portrayed in the media this week as a tough quiz master. Do you worry about getting caught in the hallway?
DH:: No, I've learned my lesson quite a long time ago. So, I mean, it's just more or less him wanting guys to take more ownership as far as watching film and not getting caught by surprise. There's a lot of film out there, but a lot of the defensive coaches do a great job as far as keeping us well-grounded and what they've done three or four years ago or something like that.
Q: How did you learn your lesson?
DH:: He [Belichick] actually did catch me in the hallway whenever I was a rookie and he asked me a question a couple of years ago about a play, I can't remember which one it was, but apparently it was a big play by a big player and I didn't get it. It's kind of frowned upon by all the other guys, so I learned my lesson then.
Q: Belichick talked about the Colts having so many weapons in the passing game that they are able to substitute in and out a good amount if they want to. Does it make it difficult for a defense to play man-to-man against a group like that because they are moving guys in and out and you have to figure out whose man is who in that situation?
DH:: It could be, but what it really boils down to and I feel like we try to do a really good job of, as far as practice goes, as far as making it hard on ourselves, is just communication. Knowing exactly what we're going to do, whether they line up a certain way or put a tight end in a different position other than what we expect it to be. It's just more or less about communication and about guys being on the same page. If you're on the same page and maybe we didn't line up, but if we can get out the down and get on the sideline and get it corrected we will be fine. More or less, I think communication is a big key on that.
Q: Is there ever a fear of over-confidence or is all confidence just confidence?
DH:: That's an older guy question. That confidence is definitely something that you want to have no matter what you do. But being over-confident can sometimes bite you in the butt. Being confident, you still got to respect your opponent at the same time. I guess it can go either way.
Q: Has the team talked openly about what success means and if you don't make it to Arizona and you don't win the Super Bowl, is this a successful season?
DH:: You know, we haven't really discussed anything about that. I don't know how to answer that. I'm going to let one of the captains, Devin McCourty, answer that. I appreciate it guys.
PATRIOTS DB DEVIN MCCOURTY **
Q: Is this team taught openly about what success means? If you don't make it to Arizona and you don't win the Super Bowl is this a successful season?
DM:: We'll see. I mean right now we've got the AFC Championship game. I don't think it's fair with the work we put in to start talking about 'if we lose' so [we'll] just keep doing what we've been doing and try to go and win.
Q: Congratulations on the Man of the Year nomination. Your mom is pretty proud that both sons were nominated.
DM:: I appreciate it. She did a good job.
Q: What does the nomination mean to you?
DM:: It's an honor. I think that speaks more about who you are as a person than as a football player. I think that's what's important in life. A lot of what we do is god given ability, not much we had to do being able to be out here playing football, you know. It's hard work but god gave us those abilities, but to go out and be recognized for your work in the community and service I think that's an honor of who you are as a person.
Q: You've been a part of a lot of these Colts-Patriots match-ups. Do you consider this a rivalry in the NFL?
DM:: Yeah – I think so. I think anytime that you get a team, two teams, that have won their division a good amount of times so they match up and play each other every year, in the regular season and playing each other in the playoffs, you just see each other a lot and it's usually good games and it's important games. I think that's really how rivalries are started: playing key big games. Like you said, it's no secret the Colts and Patriots have played in a lot of big ones.
Q:** Do you still associate Peyton Manning with any part of the Colts?
DM:: I think for me obviously growing up watching, but as far as playing I've played [Andrew] Luck as a Colt more than I've played Peyton as a Colt. I really think of it as Luck's team, but growing up I definitely remember the things Peyton did in Indy.
Q: To have beaten the Colts as soundly as you did twice in the 2014 calendar year, what makes them dangerous this time?
DM:: I think when you go and you watch every game you can easily look at the score and see certain things. I think as football players and with our coaches when you dissect the game you see that there are certain points that usually result in what the score is. If it goes another way it can totally change the outcome of the game. I think in all of the games we've watched there are moments and there are plays that the game has turned in our favor, but it can easily go the other way. When you've got a team as dangerous as they are, as far as offensively with so many great skill players and a great quarterback, you realize that on any given day this game – it could be that game – where that goes the other way. So you've always got to be prepared.
Q: Coach Belichick had said that your interception against the Ravens was the same play as one they had previously ran successfully. He said that was one of your strengths. How important is that for you?
DM:: I think it's key. I think the more football you play, you've got to be able to do that. You can't be a guy that's out there and they just keep running the same play on you. You've got to be able to recognize things and here they are always on us. I think one of the key things is trying to see those things within a series. Sometimes it's a little easier when you get to the sideline and we are able to go over it, talk about it and the next time it comes up you just hope you see it. That was a play that I saw and was able to react. It's key not just myself, but us as a defense to see those things and make plays. That's happened a couple times this year for us: different guys and different situations, but recognizing a play either from earlier in the game or from something they did maybe five weeks before we played them, but we talked about it and seeing it right away and making a play on it.
Q: You've played many mobile quarterbacks, but with Andrew Luck it seems like when he takes off to run it seems like his eyes are still downfield. What kind of challenges does that present for the defense?
DM:: It's huge – for him, he's so good in the pocket that you want to keep him there, but at the same [time] he can still hurt you, but then you realize when he gets outside of the pocket he's even more dangerous because he can run. And then with his arm strength, he can throw over the top of the defense. Against Cincinnati the throw he made to [Donte] Moncrief running, he was actually kind of running through a tackle too as he threw the ball, and it was a perfect pass. I think you realize, especially in the secondary, how much harder it is to cover a guy when the play extends. We already know that and then when you've got a guy that can get the ball there perfectly it almost makes it impossible in some situations, like that throw I don't know if Cincinnati could have covered it better. It was just a great throw and catch.
Q:** You talk about the mental preparation and remembering plays and we've heard about Belichick's quizzes. Have you gotten caught?
DM:: I mean, we've all gotten caught. Some of the questions he asks you, you don't even think about it. I mean it usually results in us being very prepared at the end of the week when you start of your week that way with a bunch of questions. Yeah, I've gotten caught multiple times.
Q: So some of the questions are just so obscure?
DM:: Yeah – it could be anything. I mean Bill knows everything about a team, from personnel to the coaching staff, the players, everything. By the end of the week we usually know it too.
Q: So in a jeopardy game with the team, how would you do?
DM:: I would probably be the best.
Q: Having lost the last couple of AFC Championship games, how do you place that in terms of your will to win on Sunday?
DM:: It makes it strong. I always look at it [as] how much work we put in to get to that game last year. This year we've put in even more work and we're in the same position we were last year. You don't get further ahead just by working harder. You still got to come back to this same game and hopefully you play your best game Sunday to advance, or you put in all the extra work and you still get to the same spot. I think for every player as you get older in the NFL you realize opportunities are going to happen less. It's just the way of life. I think for myself, I've put in a lot this week to try to make sure I go out there and have a good game and try to help the other guys around me have a good game in my role as a safety on defense. I think each year you're here in the NFL you realize it could be one chance, one opportunity. I've played with guys that have come here before and they've played in their first playoff game with us in a 13, 14-year career. Having a twin brother six years in who still hasn't, you realize you want to take advantage of it.
Q: Earlier this morning Belichick used an Eisenhower quote, 'preparation entering battle is all good, but once that battle starts it doesn't mean much.' When you hear that what do you think?
DM:: You can put as much work and study in and trying to prepare, but I think we all know as football players sometimes we get in the game and the first five plays could be plays we've never seen before. I think that's when you've got to count on your preparation to understand that we prepared and we wanted to know what was coming, but we also prepared our fundamentals and what we do no matter what happens. That's when you've got to go to those. You stick to what you've been doing all year as far as your fundamentals – whether it's for us tackling, catching, playing a gap, covering a guy – that will never steer you wrong. It's not the exact same as battle – those guys' lives are at stake – but it has that element that you just don't know what will happen once the kick off happens.
Q:** How much do you hear from him about history?
DM:: A lot – he's into that. For us in the offseason, Memorial Day, we could come in and we'll have 20 minutes on whatever topic of Memorial Day he wants to go on. I think it helps. It relates to the game we play in a way. I think it's a lot of useful information.
Q: Playing this late in the season as you've done for four years in a row, do you ever take it for granted?
DM:: No – you just never know when you won't be able to play this late in the season. I think on the outside everyone thinks that this is what we expect every year. In the same season this year, we were the last team in the NFL, the last team in the AFC, [and] the best team in the AFC. It's a roller coaster every year and it's all just to get to this one point. You don't take it for granted; you understand it's an honor to play in this game, to be one of the two best teams left in the AFC with the opportunity to go play for a league championship. It's an honor.
Q: You talked about your brother not making the playoffs during his career. What kind of sympathy do you give him? Obviously he would have liked to have been in your shoes once or twice by now? What are those conversations like?
DM:: We talk – I don't give him much sympathy; I don't think that'll do anything to help him. You can just see he wants to play. He's up here, he's around it, we talk football all the time. There's not much I can say to him to kind of ease that or help him out.
Q: Which is the better football family, the McCourtys, Gronkowskis or Joneses?
DM:: Come on man, that's an easy question. It's us, the McCourtys.
Q: Do you find yourself going to mental reps up until game time or do you take some time this weekend to kind of get your mind away?
DM:: You do other things but it's impossible to get this game out of your mind. You just always envision it and see certain things. There's not a game that I've ever played in that I didn't envision myself having an interception in. It doesn't always happen, but in my mind it always happens before the game. I think that's how all football players are wired, or any competitors. You might do other things, things you have to do in your daily routine, but you're always thinking about – especially for us we've got one game at the end of the week every week, and this one happens to be the biggest one of the year, so it's definitely – you can't get it out of your mind.
Q: You've played a lot of man to man defense this year, what are the biggest challenges going up against a team like the Colts who have a lot of different weapons and have the ability to substitute in and out? How does that make it difficult?
DM:**: The simple answer is just covering everybody. When you're playing man, it comes down not just one guy but everybody covering their guy and doing a good job. Then it comes down to the guys up front rushing the passer. Like you said, it's hard because they have a lot of good players, they have a lot of good weapons and it's a constant rotation. You don't really know – if it's three wider receivers in, you don't know what three are going to be in. You don't know where they're going to be all the time. That makes it a little harder as far as trying to know exactly how you want to play every guy in every situation. You can't. Reggie Wayne will be inside, he'll be outside; TY Hilton will be inside or outside, Moncrief, [Hakeem] Nicks – all of those guys will be in the game. The challenge is covering them, trying to stay with them, trying to make it hard and make Luck throw into the tightest window possible.
Q: A paper recently surveyed they've only caught seven smiles out of Belichick in post-game press conferences. Does he smile more than we think?
DM:: He smiles with us. You've got to give him a reason to smile. I don't know what you guys are doing in here, but give him a reason to smile.
Q: Can you get him to crack a smile?
DM:: I can't let that out. That's top secret.
Q: Is there ever a fear of overconfidence? Or is all confidence good confidence?
DM:: I think overconfidence is not preparing. I think if you prepare I think you give yourself the right and the chance to be confident going in there. I think if you don't prepare, you try to fool yourself with being overconfident. That's not something I really worry about with this team. We have a blue collar team and it starts with our quarterback. There's been plenty of games that we've played away on the road and on the plane after a win, and as everyone is up walking around, he's in his seat watching film. It starts there and it trickles down throughout this whole team. I think this game, being the biggest game of the year, we've gone over everything as a group [and] talked about everything. I think that gives us the opportunity to be confident going into the game.
Q: When you look at their tight ends, is there anything they do differently in how they use them or is it just that they have good personnel there?
DM:: Well, they do have really good personnel. First I think you realize they catch a lot of touchdowns. I think what makes them hard is [that] they do do different things. [Dwayne] Allen only doesn't do one thing, [Coby] Fleener only do one thing or [Jack] Doyle only do one thing. All three of those guys can be in at the same time. Fleener could be playing like a wide receiver, and Doyle in the slot, and Allen in line at the true tight end position, or it could be all the way vise-versa. That's what makes it hard. When you have tight ends in this league that can line up all over the field, it's a tough match up. You don't know what personnel you kind of want on the field defensively; you don't know how you want to match up against them. They have three good ones that do a lot of things for them so it makes it a challenge to the defense.
Q: What kind of trust do you have for Logan Ryan in the secondary?
DM:: A lot of trust – since he's been here last year as a rookie he's played in big games and he's made big plays for us. He led the team in interceptions last year. He's made big plays throughout this whole year when we've needed him. I think none bigger than last week coming in when [Brandon] Browner when out. I think the biggest thing is when a guy comes in for another guy, it's just no drop off. That shows that this guy is preparing; he's ready to start. Coach Belichick always says when you're in the game, you're the starter. It doesn't matter who started the game, who was on the depth chart first. Whoever is on the field, you are one of the starting 11 guys out there. Logan does that, whether he's starting a game or if he has to come in, if he's in a sub role where he's only in on certain downs. He's always ready to go and he makes plays for us.
PATRIOTS RB SHANE VEREEN**
Q: Bill Belichick brought up an Eisenhower quote this morning saying that preparation is important, but once you get to the game it doesn't mean much. What are your thoughts on that?
SV:: I think what he means by that [is] you can only prepare so much. When it comes down to game time it's game time, and what's going to happen is going to happen. Preparation means nothing if you can't bring it over to the game. You've got to be able to execute in the important times, in the game times, not only just in practice.
Q: How much does he talk to you guys about history?
SV:: We hit it every now and then. Depending on the situation, depending on what part of history he kind of wants to bring up and how it pertains to us and our group. I wouldn't say it's an everyday thing, but occasionally.
Q: What improvements have you seen from the Colts run defense since you've last played them?
SV:: Just in the playoffs alone they've done a great job against both Cincinnati and Denver as far as stopping the run game. Just being more of a presence up front – I think the defensive line has gotten better; I think their backers are playing a lot better. I think as a whole their defense is a lot different. It's a different defense than what we saw earlier this season.
Q: Bill Belichick has been suggested to be a tough quiz master. Has he ever caught you?
SV:: Yeah – in my younger years I was caught a couple times not knowing the answer. Now being in it for so long you kind of know to be prepared for every team meeting whenever he may pop some questions off.
Q: As a young guy it's a scary prospect?
SV:: Oh yeah – heart's pounding, palms are sweating, for sure.
Q: These two teams have a long history in and out of the playoffs. Would you consider this a rivalry in the NFL?
SV:: Me personally, I'm not looking at the game in that light. I'm looking at it as a tough competition game. I'm looking at it as an AFC Championship Game. It doesn't get much bigger than this. That's enough in itself; you don't really need to add too much rivalry talk or anything like that to it. It's a huge game in itself; just by the media room today you can feel it. That says enough.
Q: Can you take us back to those ineligible moves you used last week? Did that catch you by surprise as well?
SV:: Caught me by surprise – no. We had gone over it. We knew it was something that we could possibly call and when we called it we have our positions where to line up and [we] lined up.
Q: They were confused?
SV:: Yeah – that was the design.
Q: Do you get nervous before big games like this? What is the feeling in the locker room?
SV:: There's a lot of emotions. I think you go through mood swings in a sense – you get excited, then you get nervous, then you get anxious. It's a bunch jumbled up and compiled into one big emotion. I think at this point everyone is just feeling good, feeling excited. Me personally, I'm ready. I just can't wait for this game.
Q: Do you think having been there before gives you a level of comfort that maybe the Colts don't have?
SV:: I think it can play to our advantage as long as we play too it, as long as we play well – if we go out there and lay an egg then it's really null and void. It really doesn't matter if we've been here before or not. Each year is something different. Each team each year is a different animal, a different beast. We have our hands full this Sunday.
Q: How much did last year's AFC Championship loss to Denver motivate you?
SV:: The AFC loss two years ago to Baltimore is still with me. These are huge games, big games. It's the championship. It doesn't really get much bigger like I said earlier. Those type of games stick with you and you remember those for a long time.
Q: What is there about California, Berkeley and their success with running backs?
SV:: Yeah – you know what it was we had a terrific coach in coach Ron Gould. He got us prepared every day and we came to work and he knew the direction to take us and he's been successful himself.
Q: Given that none of the running backs have been taxed much recently in terms of carries. If an emphasis is on the run on Sunday, do you think a lot of you will have fresh legs?
SV:: I think that goes a lot into the preparation. I think each week we prepare for any type of game plan, any type of play-calling style. It's our job to be prepared, it's our job to have fresh legs, it's our job to be ready to go whenever they call us.
Q: What is on your sweatshirt?
SV:: This is a nice little bear. Yeah – he's holding a red cup full of water. I got it in California, actually.
Q: Was it a gift?
SV:: No – Pac Sun special. It was on sale.
Q: How much does it help playing at home in this situation?
SV:: It helps as far [comfort] levels, but once the ball is kicked off I don't think it's much of an advantage or disadvantage. It comes down to who is going to play best on that day. It's not much more than that.
Q: Is it nice to be in your own bed knowing that come Saturday you don't have to travel? How big of a deal is that to you?
SV:: I think what it is is just one less thing you have to worry about. Like I said, as far as just being comfortable, just your routine – it's kind of like a routine you are used to just being at home and not traveling. At the same, traveling isn't that big of a thing. I don't think that it's really going to set the Colts up any less prepared than they are going to be already.
Q: This team always talks about having mental toughness. How do you think that early season adversity has helped you guys to get this point where you are now?
SV:: I think it has to do a lot with how we got to this point. I think our trials and tribulations early in this season has led to our success later in the season just because we've been down. We've been at the bottom at the lowest you could possibly be in, and we had to fight our way back up. That chip on our shoulder we've carried with us for quite some time now and now this week [we'll] just go in work hard and hope for the best
Q: Where you at Cal when Andrew Luck was at Stanford?
SV:: I was. [I] played against him.
Q: Did you meet him?
SV:: On the field a little bit – yeah. I'm impressed. It's hard not to be impressed. He's done well ever since he stepped foot in this league. He was a lot to handle for us in college as well – we got lucky a couple of times. Other than that, it is what it is. His play speaks for itself.
Q: They say that he compliments guys that tackle or sack him? Have you heard that dating back to your days at Cal?
SV:: No – I can't so. I mean it's a huge rivalry. We didn't really like Andrew Luck too much back in college, so I'm not too sure. No, I can't say that.
Q: In your fourth season, the only thing you know is an AFC Championship Game appearance. Do you take a moment to realize how important that part of this process has been to your growth?
SV:: Yeah – absolutely. I remember after we were able to win the game last week I looked over at Nate Solder. He just had the biggest smile on his face and he was like, 'how did we do this? Four years in a row?' It's awesome. It's a testament to our team. It's a testament to the guys we've been blessed to play with and their hard work.
Q: So your exchange with Nate indicates it never gets old?
SV:: Yeah – it doesn't. It's a special game and it's a special feeling when you are able to win big games. The playoffs – it's the best time of the year.
Q: The Wall Street Journal just recently surveyed and said that they only found seven smiles out of Belichick out of all his post-game press conferences this year. Are there some smiles behind the scenes?
SV:: Yeah they are some smiles behind the scenes, but there's not too much and that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that.
Q: Success means different things to different franchises. For this one that means winning three games. Is there any talk of that in the locker room going into this game?
SV:: I think going into this game the talk is execution. The talk is we handle what we need to handle and let the rest take care of itself – do what we can do on Sunday, play well together, play as a team and leave the rest up and we'll be alright.
LINEBACKER AKEEM AYERS **
(On the improvement of Andrew Luck and the challenge he presents the defense)
"He's made huge improvements. They've gotten different guys on the offensive side of the ball, their running game's picked up; I think that helps out a lot and as far as the running back catching passes out of the backfield, I think that was huge for them, too. I think he's playing better than he played before and it's just showed these past two weeks." (On how much it would mean to him to win an AFC Championship)
"Anybody who plays football wants to win championships, so it's definitely something you always dream about as a kid. Anytime you're playing football, a championship is what you play for and is why you want to be a good player and a good teammate to get opportunities like this."
(On Andrew Luck's size and the challenge that presents)
"As far as guys trying to tackle him, bring him down, he makes a lot of guys miss as far as when they're coming in for sacks and those turn into big plays because he's able to shake defenders off and use his legs to get big passes down the field, so it's definitely a challenge for guys rushing him to make sure that you wrap him up and you get a good tackle on him."
(On whether playing in the AFC Championship Game was what he hoped for when he was traded to New England)
"Yeah, I mean, when I first got here, I just really wanted to work on just being able to come in and just help any way I can, that's the main thing. As the weeks progress, winning games, each week you are just getting closer to your goal and once you're here you just want to continue to build off [it]. All the hard work you put in, you just want it to show each week and especially weeks like this, championship [games], you put a lot of work in to get to this point and you really just want it to pay off."
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN DAN CONNOLLY**
(On how the Colts have evolved over the past two months)
"They're playing well right now. They've obviously won the last two games and they're big wins for the team. They've got guys who were injured and are healthy and back like Arthur Jones. He adds some good size on that line."
(On whether they expect the Colts to blitz regularly)
"Yeah, I would expect that. They've shown a lot of pressures and different combinations and things like that, so I would expect that they probably will give us something."
(On whether the team plans to attack the Colts on the ground like they did in the last game)
"For us, I'm not going to discuss our scheme, but they are definitely going to prepare for us for what we did last time and we've got to prepare for what they've been doing and what they've been successful with, so it will take a lot of preparation this week."
(On Josh Kline stepping in for Bryan Stork on the offensive line at a critical time of the season)
"Josh has played a few times this year already and he's done a great job when he's stepped in. We always make a point during the week during practice to rotate guys in and get guys good reps so when they have the opportunity or are called upon to come in we try to just do that flawlessly."
(On whether coach Bill Belichick has ever caught him with a question he didn't know the answer to)
"He definitely knows more than I do, so he could probably stump me, I'm sure."
RUNNING BACK JONAS GRAY**
(On if the Colts' defense is playing their best this time of the year)
"I think they're playing with a lot of momentum. I think they are playing their best football. I think they have a few guys in a few key areas [in] LaRon Landry and Arthur Jones, getting him back. They're doing a good job of just tackling the ball, doing a good job of getting a lot of hats to the ball and playing with a lot of confidence. This by far will be the best defense we've played all year."
(On if their defense looks a lot different than when he had his big game against them this year)
"I think they're a different team, obviously they're a top two team in the AFC. This is why they're here. They earned the right to be here. They've played well on defense. They got [Jonathan] Newsome on the edge now, he's doing a good job. And Arthur Jones in there and LaRon Landry helping, too. They're doing a better of just tackling the ball and getting lot of hats to the ball. They're just playing better team defense."
(On what his favorite recollections of the game he had against them)
"Probably my biggest recollection is just getting a team win against a good AFC opponent. But like everybody else in this locker room, we know that this team is different than the one we faced before so we haven't put a lot into that fact of how we won last game. We just have to focus on things we need to do to win this game."
(On if there are things they did in the last meeting that they could use to exploit them)
"We'll see how the game goes. You never know how a game can go in terms if we'll run the ball a lot or if we'll pass it a lot. They're doing a lot of things well. I think we have a good game plan [that] we're ready to execute. And we'll see what happens."
(On how fresh he is and if he has a lot to prove after not playing recently)
"I don't like to look at it like it's something to prove. I'm just kind of playing my role and I'm one of those guys that loves to compete. That's what I go out there and do whatever I can to help the team win. We're playing in the AFC Championship. It's the biggest game of my life. I'm excited to play. I do feel as fresh as I've felt in a long time and I'm excited. Enough talking, just go out and do it in between the lines."
(On if he has a sense of frustration)
No, there's no frustration. When the team's winning... I'm coming in everyday, I'm getting better and I'm getting in my preparation and better in the little things. I'm also staying healthy so I'm excited about the opportunity to play and I'm excited about the opportunity to play my role. And whatever it is, I'm excited to do it. We have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Just focus on this one game."
TIGHT END MICHAEL HOOMANAWANUI**
(On if there's any motivation to get over the hump after not winning previous AFC Championship games)
"We try to treat it is another game, but obviously with the importance of it. We have to keep a regular week as we go on and just build and improve for Sunday night."
(On how those experiences from previous Championship game helps)
"Absolutely it helps. We know the significance of it. We have to lay it all out on the field."
(On if he considers it an advantage playing in Championship games before)
"We'd like to think so, but at 6:30 on Sunday night we're going to have to be at our best and that's all that matters."
(On what he's seen from their defense)
"Very improved. They've gotten some guys back on defense that are a big part of it. We have to be ready for them. They've gotten a lot better."
(On if it would seem logical to use the running game after a successful rushing performance in their last meeting)
"It would be the logical thing, but we'll have everything ready."
(On if he's nervous at about the game)
Not right now. We still have a couple of days. Before, I'm sure we'll have some butterflies but once you get that first play in we'll be alright."
(On how different this Colts team is than when they first played them this year)
"They've been playing really well. They beat two good teams in the playoffs."
WIDE RECEIVER BRANDON LAFELL**
(On the challenge of balancing the run vs. the pass)
"The challenge is staying balanced. We can't go out there and throw the ball all day. We have to stay balanced, get something from our running game which we had in the first game. But we know it's going to be much tougher this go around. We have to stick with the run a little bit more, we have to be able to pass the ball and stay out of third-and-long."
(On if it's an advantage playing for a team with AFC Championship Game experience)
"I can't speak for that because I've never played in one. This is my first one, so there's no advantage here or there. It's all about playing good football. It's the playoffs and at this time of year the advantage is to whoever's playing the best football."
(On how he's processed his career to where he is now in getting to within one game of the Super Bowl)
"You're thinking ahead. We're not in the Super Bowl, we're at the AFC Championship Game. This week, how to process it, we had a good season. We're here now and we have to finish the job. We started the season with certain goals and to get to our main goal we have to finish it off this week at home."
(On if he's just ready to play this game after all of the talk about preparation)
"It felt like this has been the longest week of the season. We always say from the last week in the preseason to the first game is long because you've been through all that work and you're ready to show it. It seems like this week has taken so long and everyone is just anxious and ready to go play."
(On if anyone here talks about what success means to this team and comparing it to Carolina)
"I left Carolina in Carolina. I don't compare the two. This is a new year, new team, new season and I'm just happy with the success we had. I'm happy for the success my guys in Carolina had, too."
(On if he can tell what his role in the game plan will be) "Make plays whenever my number is called."
(On what the vibe has been this week knowing that the stakes are higher)
"We always pay attention. We always pay attention to detail around here. It's mad focus this week. Everybody's focused, everybody's out there in practice making plays. We're cheering for each other on the sideline. If somebody makes a mistake we're getting on each other's butts a little bit more. Everybody's into it."
(On if he has to hide his emotions or if it's okay to be excited)
"This is an emotional game. You work all season long to get to this point to earn the right to go to the next game, so you gotta show your emotions. You gotta play like that."
DEFENSIVE END ROB NINKOVICH**
(On if he's amazed at how quickly they were able to transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck and make it back to this level so quickly)
"They have a really talented quarterback. He can do a lot of great things out there. They've had tremendous quarterbacks under center for a long time now."
(On if the defense is better than they played last week)
"Last week's over with. This is a new week. It started after that game in preparation for another good football team. Again, the Colts do a lot of good things and it's going to be a big challenge for us so we have to a lot of things that we need to do on defense as a unit and everyone has to do their job."
(On if he sees any similarities with Baltimore and their play-action and Daniel Herron)
"There's a lot of things that they're successful at, so again, we all have to do our jobs very well. And again, a really good football team. They run the ball well and they can get the ball down the field with a lot of different weapons on the field."
(On some of the challenges that Coby Fleener presents)
"Again, a big, tall guy. He can get down the field and he can go up and make some plays. Again, everyone has to do their job and he's a good football player and a big target."
(On if it gives the team an edge to have players with AFC Championship game experience)
"Obviously I've been there a few times and it's all about playing well. You can have a lot of experience but if you don't play well it doesn't mean anything. It's all about hitting the reset button and playing a good football game come Sunday."