PATRIOTS DL VINCE WILFORK PRESS CONFERENCE
Q:** What are some of the challenges in facing a team that runs a zone blocking scheme as opposed to a more traditional scheme?
VW: The first thing you have to deal with is a lot of cut blocks. Facing a team like this, they cut block and then also they make the play-action pass look the same exact way. That's probably one of the hardest things to figure out during the course of the play is if it's a boot or if it's a run. And they make it look exactly the same, so that's a credit to them. We're going to have to do a real good job of actually understanding and doing our job, just going through all of our film work, what we saw on film and trusting our techniques. It's going to be challenging. It's always challenging to face a team that runs this type of an offense just because there are so many things that they can do off of it with the cut blocks, with the play-action pass, trying to get the ball vertical, not knowing where the running back is going to cut. So, it gives their offense a lot of different areas that they can actually create lanes up front. So, we're going to have to do a real good job up front of just playing good technique and hopefully that'll be good enough.
Q:** Is Justin Forsett's production more a result of the zone blocking scheme or him as a running back?
VW: I think it's both. I think sometimes you see that you think guys actually have him tackled and he spurts out of the pack, and I think their offensive line does a real good job. I think they do a real good job as an offense up front with the tight ends and blocking downfield and the running back being able to see those holes and see where he can crease you. So, they do a real good job of working together. I think that's how this offense is built. If they all work together, which they have been doing, they've been very successful running the football. That's something they want to do, that's something they've been doing very well, so I don't think they'll change this week just because they're coming to face us. We have our hands full. It's a challenge for us, but at the same time, we welcome the challenge.
Q: Is he different than any running back they've had in the past? He seems smaller and quicker than most of their previous backs.
VW: For one point, Ray Rice was a pretty good all-around back. But I think for what they're trying to do right now, he's probably best for that team with what they've done, what they've been doing with the zone running, stretch zone, catching the ball out of the backfield – you name it – blitz pickup. So, for what they want to do, I think he fits their scheme perfectly and it's shown.
Q: How aware do you have to be of Joe Flacco's mobility?
VW: You have to always be worried about it. He doesn't run much, but when he does, he has some pretty good speed where he can outrun most defensive linemen, especially our defensive line. We have to do a real good job up front of just making sure we have him contained, understand where he's at. He's been playing good football. He played great football in the postseason. We understand that this team coming in is very confident. They won a game last week, so they already have a game up under their belt in the playoffs this year. They came here and played well before, so we understand that they're going to be riding high coming into this ball game, so we're going to have to be able to match that intensity. Being our first game in the playoffs this year, we have to be ready to go from the first snap. I don't care if it's offense, defense – whoever takes the field – we have to be ready to go because they're going to be ready to go.
Check out photos from access to players and coaches as the Patriots prepare to take on the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Q:** In light of the way the season ended for you last year, how did it feel to play all 16 games this year and take on a heavy workload in each of those games?
VW: I'm a football player and I always say that. I wasn't surprised that I can play and be effective at this level. Health was never an issue with me this year, thinking about it. My goal was just getting back on this team and helping my teammates win, and we've done a lot of that around here. I'm just fortunate and grateful to be playing another postseason game this week coming up. That's always been my goal to get back and help my teammates win. That's how I approach the season.
Q: How important is it for Chandler Jones to break out this postseason and become the player he has been at times in the regular season?
VW: I think it's important for all of us. [When you've] been playing the game for as long as I've been playing, you want to be playing your best football now. Every player, every guy that strapped on the helmet this year, you want to be playing at your highest level now. It doesn't matter what you've done before this season, 10 years ago, 11 years ago, this season. It really doesn't matter. I think everybody is starting fresh now. You lose, you go home. There is no game planning if you lose this game. There is no game planning for next week. I think we have to really understand that to be successful. This game is going to give you what you give it. Whatever you put into this game, it's going to give it to you back. You can't shortcut anything, especially around this time of year. Every team you face is a good football team. It seems like the Baltimore Ravens are a division opponent, we play them so much. So they know us, we know them. It's going to be one of those tough, old-school football games I feel – a game that's going to have to be played in the trenches up front. Offensive and defensive line, we have to do a real good job to be successful. You have to be playing at your highest level, no matter who you are, at this time of year if you want to be successful.
Q: What do you do for cold weather games? Do you go short sleeve, long sleeve?
VW: I do what I've been doing for 11 years – go out there like I'm playing in 80 degrees. I'm a big believer in, 'I'm not playing the weather,' so I'm not going to switch my routine up just because of what's going on outside. Deal with it. I think at that point in the game, I don't care if it's minus-two or 98, you have to be able to play that football game, and the more you can just focus on your opponent and everything else just block it out, the better you'll be, the more successful you'll be. I'm not going to change much going into this game.
Q: Have you ever gone out there without sleeves and regretted your decision?
VW: No, never, never. I'll tell you what, when it gets close to the end of the game, I'm ready to get inside. I won't lie about that. But during the course of the game, with the heated benches, going on and off the field and moving around, as a player you really don't feel that coldness. You'll be so focused, you'll be so pumped up and by the time you get a chance to feel it, you're on the sidelines sitting on heated benches. For me, it's never a problem, and I'm not trying to make it a problem.
Q: It feels good at the end?
VW: I feel awesome. It feels awesome at the end.
Q: How much do you trust the young guys behind you, namely Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins? How much has your trust grown throughout the season?
VW: It's at an all-time high with these guys. That's one of the things that we try to preach around here. No matter what happens, if your number is called, you have to be ready to play. And those guys, their number has been called last year and this year, this season, and they stepped up. It's not hard for me to sit back and say, 'You know what, I know they're going to be where they need to be. I know they're going to put us in the right situation.' They understand the game, they understand the game plan, they understand what the offense is trying to do to us, so it makes our jobs a lot easier up front to understand that everybody that's on that field at that moment, we trust them. Without trust, you have a lot of problems. And I think I've been fortunate being around this organization, this ball club for a while that the times we had those issues, we had problems. But now, with the guys that came in, whether it's drafted or free agents or whatever it may be, they come in and they pick it up and we have no issues. It says a lot about that player as an individual and the system that we have in place, the coaching staff and how they get us prepared [and] ready to play. It's a team effort. It's definitely a team effort, but at the same time, at the end of the day when we take that field, we trust one another, and I think the good teams, they do that. They don't panic. No matter how good you are or how bad you're sucking, you just stick together and you just ride it out. I think we had our course over the year where we had to do some of those things and we rallied together as a team, and I think that's what a good football team does.
Q: How valuable was that bye week for you guys after 16 regular season games, and how did you balance wanting to recover with wanting to stay sharp?
VW: I mean, [it's] easy. We come in, Bill [Belichick] gets us in here, and we got some stuff done that we needed to do. I think it took the stress level off not preparing for a game, but at the same time preparing for things that we might need to do down the road or what makes us better as a team. We had good days of practice where it was very competitive. Nobody was complaining. We had fun. We got some good work done. So, I think that helped our ball club. But at the same time, just to get out and do some things, kind of move around and stay kind of sharp, like you said, I think that was the best thing for the team instead of sitting out for seven days and talk about coming back to work this week, and then you're sluggish and you've got to take two days to get back going, and before you know it you're in the middle of the week playing on Saturday. And then now you're looking at the end of the week saying, 'We blew that chance.' So, I think we've done a great job last week with the bye week approaching and how we approached it – getting a chance to get a little rest and get off our feet and then come back to work ready to go. It's going to be everything for us. We're going to have to put everything we have in one basket, and hopefully it's good enough. If it's not good enough, we have to find something before it's too late. But I'm very confident in this group. I'm very confident in the team. I'm confident in what we've done. I'm confident in what we're doing. So, we just have to be able to execute at a high level come Saturday. It's not going to be perfect. It's not going to be a blowout. It's playoff football. It's going to be a tough fought football game that's going to take 60 minutes. Who knows – it might be even more than that. But we have to be prepared to play for however long it's going to take to walk away with a 'W.' But it's going to be tough.
PATRIOTS WR MATTHEW SLATER PRESS CONFERENCE
Q:** You've been in this situation before. How much does it mean to you at this time of year?
MS: It means everything when it comes down to all the work that we've put in since the offseason to get to this point. This is why you play the game. I truly believe this is the ultimate team sport and you work so hard as a team to get to this point in the season and you can't take it for granted. There are eight teams left. We're really fortunate to be in the position that we're in. hopefully we can do everything we can to take advantage of our opportunity.
Q: With John Harbaugh being a former special teams coach, do you see more attention to detail from that unit?
MS: Certainly. I think not only this season but over the course of my career playing against these guys, they're one of the better coached, more disciplined, more physical units that we'll see over the course of the season and it's no different this year. These guys play the game the right way. You can tell that they're well coached. You can tell that they take a lot of pride in what they do over there. Certainly they have some players that are special. They're a great unit.
Q:** Is stopping Jacoby Jones priority number one?
MS: No question. I think Jacoby, there's no other combo returner in the league like him. He poses a lot of problems with his size and speed. You look across the board, there aren't too many guys like that. Any time he touches the ball we have to have a sense of urgency because he can hit a home run at any time. He is definitely priority number one. We have to do a good job with him.
Q: How many guys have his mentality that they'll take it out no matter where it is?
MS: I think very few that you see will play as aggressively as he does. It's not only returning kickoffs, but punts as well. I think he has a great deal of confidence in his ability to make plays and rightfully so. Then obviously the other 10 guys out there, when they see you have a guy like this, they're going to go the extra mile to make sure they give him a chance to spring it. They're aggressive, he's aggressive and we have to be ready to counter that.
Q: How would you characterize the intensity of this rivalry?
MS: It's a special matchup. I think that organization and what they do there, they really play the game the right way. They coach it the right way. Organizationally, they have good leadership. Obviously their coach is one of the better coaches in this league and we feel strongly about our program over here. So, you have two programs that try to approach this game and play it a certain way and as a result you get a physical, well-played football game usually when these two teams matchup. It's going to be a battle. It always has been. We have to get ourselves ready for the challenge.
Q: What defines playing the right way?
MS: I think playing disciplined, playing together, playing hard; preparation. You can tell when teams are prepared. I think they do all of those things. It starts at the top obviously and it goes on down through the ranks. They certainly have all those attributes as a football team.
Q: How key is it to make a play on special teams early?
MS: We feel it's important that we go out and set the tone. Obviously we're the first play of the game. I think it's important in a game like this where the teams are so evenly matched, if you can gain an edge in that third phase, it can make a huge difference. I think if we can go out and set the tone early, it would be big for us. We know they're going to be ready to go. We know Jacoby is going to be ready to go. We have to match their intensity and hopefully come out and start well.
PATRIOTS LB DONT'A HIGHTOWER PRESS CONFERENCE
Q:** What do you usually do in terms of preparations for the cold and what you plan on wearing? Do you just brave it?
DH: No, I just kind of wait to feel it out on game day. I usually wear sleeves. I kind of roll them up, just to see how I feel in warmups and then after that, if I need to go thicker, then I'll go thicker. But most of the time, I just wear half sleeves. That will probably be what I do.
Q: Why do these guys run around with no sleeves?
DH: I'm not that guy. I've learned my lesson in the past and I'm definitely not trying to be a tough guy when it comes to that. Whatever way I play more comfortable, which would be the sleeves, so I'm going to rock the sleeves.
Q:** From your experience with C.J. Mosley at Alabama, what do you think has allowed him to come in as a rookie and have the success he's had?
DH: C.J. is a really athletic linebacker and he's gifted. He's really smart. I could tell that back in college, just the way that he picks up things a lot quicker than others. I feel like that might be one of the reasons why he's played as well as he has. He's a great athlete, he's a great football player, but whenever you can anticipate things coming – which is what he does – I think that's one reason why he's been able to play the way he has.
Q: You and C.J. both went from Alabama to teams with a lot of tradition. As a young guy, do you feel like there's a responsibility to uphold the tradition that was set here before you?
DH: Most definitely. There's a lot in both organizations, but I can only speak for this one. It's the only one I've been a part of. But a lot, especially in that linebacker corps. With [Tedy] Bruschi and Willie Mac [McGinest] and [Mike] Vrabel, there are a lot of guys that have been in that role. Sometimes there's a lot of pressure, but with the setup we have here, there's always an older guy for you to learn from. In that case, it was [Jerod] Mayo for me. It's not as much pressure. It's a lot easier having that older guy kind of walk you through tings.
Q: What do you see as your most important duty on Saturday?
DH: I definitely want to stop the run. I know these guys want to come in and they're going to want to run the ball. They have a great running back and a really good offensive line as far as rushing is concerned. They do a good job. Receivers like Steve Smith and Owen Daniels comes in and they're all willing to block. We definitely want to be able to stop the run coming in Saturday and make those guys one-dimensional.
Q: What are the challenges in defending the stretch run?
DH: The stretch run is definitely a big play for them. They've had a lot of success with the great offensive line they have, especially [Marshal] Yanda, running behind him. It's just going to be [getting] off blocks. [Justin] Forsett does a great job and so does [Bernard] Pierce as far as getting yards after contact. Everybody is just going to have to get to the ball and play hard up front as far as the front seven goes.
Q: What is the challenge of getting off a cut block? How do you prepare for that?
DH: It just starts with playing fast and being alert and knowing what they want to do as far as front-side and backside goes. And just getting work at it at practice, whether it be drills or just us doing something after practice where it's linebackers and defensive line.
Q: Is this a trash talking group defensively? It always seems like their side, like Steve Smith seems to get going the more he's able to talk and go back and forth? Do you converse with the other team?
DH: We're not really ones to start it, but we're not going to back down. We're obviously not going to do [anything] stupid, trying to avoid 15-yard penalties or whatever. I think the best answer to that is we're going to talk in-between the plays.
Q: Have you been surprised how much Joe Flacco has been on the move this year? How much do you have to watch for that?
DH: Flacco is one of those guys who kind of has deceptive speed. A lot of people don't expect him to move the way he does – a lot like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Sometimes they're not looking to run, but they're able to make plays longer. Flacco does a really good job of that. Those receivers and tight ends do a great job of getting open downfield. We're definitely going to have to contain him and make sure he's not able to roll out and be able to throw up a shot downfield.
Q: What are your impressions of Owen Daniels this year?
DH: I definitely feel like he's somewhat of a security blanket. Flacco really trusts him. A lot of go-to situations, he kind of looks for Daniels a lot. I definitely respect Daniels and what he's done ever since he's been in the league. He's definitely become one of those craftier vets who can push by or get a push off here and just throw different things to offset technique. We definitely have to respect him and take care of him as far as the passing game goes.
Q: You've played in big games at Alabama. How much does that experience on the national stage help you during the NFL playoffs?
DH: Those are almost two completely different things. My mindset at the end of the day is football is football. Big players have to show up in big-time games. More or less, it's just going out there and executing and getting the game plan down and going out there and playing hard.
Q: Do you keep up with Courtney Upshaw and those Alabama guys?
DH: We try to stay close throughout the season and offseason.
Q: Do you guys keep quiet this week?
DH: Just a couple of texts, joking back and forth. Not [anything] too serious.
Q: What's your take on the role they've taken on with the Ravens this season?
DH: I feel like they both have done their fair share as far as helping out that defense, whether it's Mosley making a big play guarding a running back or a tight end or Courtney getting pressure on the quarterback. I'm definitely keeping eyes on those guys as far as their success and what they're doing.
Q: Do you still use Jerod Mayo as a sounding board?
DH: Most definitely. A guy that's been in this defense as long as he's been in [it] and a lot of games, big games he's played in and a lot of big plays he has. We all still stay pretty close. We'll run [things] by him, we'll catch film, he'll throw pointers out there and different things. He's run this defense for so long. Me, him and Jamie [Collins], we're always still picking each other's brains as far as different perspectives on things.
Q: Do you feel for him not being able to be part of these huge games over the last two years? You must have some sympathy for him in that regard.
DH: Most definitely. Mayo is a great player and he means a lot to this team and this organization. He's not taking it for granted. He's still, what little he can do as far as off the field, as far as his film study or giving us actual notes, maybe he's watched the game a week or two in advance that we haven't and he sees some things. He's still in our ear and our back pocket. He's still out there with us.
Q: Vince Wilfork said that his confidence in you and Jamie is at an all-time high. How has he helped you and Jamie get to that position where you trust him and he trusts you along the front?
DH: A lot. Last year in this spot we weren't able to have as much meat – best way to say it – in the front. Vince helps a lot, especially having an older guy, a veteran guy who knows the game as well as he does. It slows everything down. It slows the offensive line from getting on top of us. Nobody is just going to leave Vince Wilfork single-blocked at all. He helps a lot, as well as Sealver [Siliga] and [Alan] Branch and Chris Jones as well.
Q: How would you describe how your defense has evolved this season?
DH: I definitely feel like we're able to use a lot of people as far as versatility goes. We have DBs rushing more; we have defensive ends dropping in coverage. We're able to do a lot of different things that we weren't able to do last year, as opposed to now. We have more pass rushers in there now, we have a lot of guys dropping and we're able to understand the game. We're all interchangeable. Maybe if we're misaligned we're able to correct it. As far as versatility goes, it's not just about rushing or dropping or running a guy man-to-man. It's also knowing what all 11 people are doing out there. I definitely feel like the 11 that people that have been out there on defense, I feel like we all play well together, we have a lot of chemistry.
CORNERBACK DARRELLE REVIS
(On how it feels being back in the playoffs)
"It feels great man. We accomplished a lot of things this year as a team. It's been great."
(On the excitement leading into the playoffs)
"We're very excited. We were excited to get back to practice this week. This is what's on the schedule; it's the second round of playoffs. We're definitely excited. "
(On the Ravens offense hitting their stride)
"They're very explosive. You've got the Smith brothers, or whatever you want to call them – Torrey Smith and Steve [Smith, Sr.] – and you've got [Owen] Daniels at tight end and [Justin] Forsett at running back. They're a very explosive offense. You see it all on the time on film, you watch film [and] Forsett is making long runs and [Joe] Flacco is throwing the ball deep and they're making big plays. They're a big play offensive team and that's something that we've really got to focus on as a defense."
(On if Joe Flacco's mobility and ability to throw deep adds pressure to the cornerbacks)
"We recognize that he can extend plays. The only thing that we've got to do as a secondary is just plaster our guys, and when he does scramble – because he is great at doing it – that's something that I think we have to focus on too. He's a pocket passer but he can hurt you with his feel as well. Flacco is real great at that."
(On the evolution of the secondary throughout the season)
"We've just been trying to get better and better as the weeks [have] been going. We've been improving. Playoffs are a new season, and this is our first game on the playoffs. This is a fresh start for us and we've got to continue to play at a high level and continue to play elite ball."
WIDE RECEIVER JULIAN EDELMAN
(On what the last few weeks have been like for him)
"Anytime you don't get to go out and play with your teammates it's very tough, especially at the end of the year where you are preparing for postseason, but all of that is in the past. I'm looking forward to today and preparing for the Ravens and getting ready for this game."
(On the excitement leading up to the postseason)
"It's exciting. We get to the play Ravens again. I've probably played this team the most out of any team I've played in my career here. It's going to be fun. You know these guys are going to bring it. Everybody thinks that we hate them, but these are the types of games where it's cold, it's a battle. You like competing against the Baltimore Ravens because you know they're a good team. We have a few more days to prepare and we're going to get ready for that."
(On if the Raven's defense has changed since the departure of Ed Reed)
"They're still Baltimore. Every year they are a little different. They are different this year. They still have a lot of explosive players at all positions. They're a real savvy team in the playoffs. Once they are in here in this tournament it seems like they always do good things. We're definitely going to have our work cut out for us. It's definitely going to be a battle and we're going to have to take advantage of these last few days to prepare. That's what we're doing."
(On what changes with catching the ball in colder weather)
"The ball is harder, but it's harder for both teams. There's like a study where your grip strength goes down like 30 percent when it's a certain amount of degrees out – I don't know. We are practicing out there and we're going to get used to it, and I'm sure they are doing the same."
(On the offense's strides in December)
"What happened in December, happened in December. It's January and we've taken this last week and these last few days and we've tried to take advantage of them by preparing ourselves and making ourselves better. You take last week and you self-scout and you do everything you can to make your strengths stronger and your weaknesses better. Then we start this week – we find out who we're playing, which is Baltimore – and we go and we try to get after what we have to do against them. That's what we've been doing and we've got a couple more days of it."
(On the challenges getting back on the field after almost a month)
"Our coaches do a great job of preparing us in practice and simulating game situations and getting our minds ready for the fast pace of a game. Sometimes it's even harder in practice so you rely on your coaches and the people here that get you ready and prepare for you, the training staff. That's how you get ready for that."
(On reestablishing timing with Tom Brady)
"We've been practicing the last week and a half or something. I know Tom a little bit here now over these last few years and I'm sure he knows me, so there's a foundation. Even if whatever happened didn't happen, we still have to continue to get better. With that said that's what we're trying to do, going out each day maybe staying out after throwing a couple extra routes. Seeing each other and doing that kind of stuff and bouncing ideas off each other. It's like any other week I guess, just the stakes are a little higher."