Q: Things are going pretty well around here, but they're going pretty well where you are, too, especially after winning seven games in the last eight weeks. What happened during the period where you started out rocky?
JF: Well, initially in the opener, we had lost a number of players. As you know, we lost Jevon Kearse 48 seconds into the game and then, of course, Randall Godfrey, we lost Randall and we lost a couple of tight ends, so we kind of struggled through the injury bug. Then, also, we're very young on defense. We have nine rookies on the roster and we had been starting some rookies and it just took them time. It was a combination of things. But, we battled through it and we felt like we were a pretty good team and they never lost focus and kept working and we seemed to pull through it.
Q: Are you a stronger team now because of that experience?
JF: Yeah, there's no question. I think that with each win that you're able to build. You gain more confidence. But, you also realize how difficult games are to win and how fragile it is each weekend.
Q: It's kind of odd, Jeff, that the better teams at this juncture of the season in the AFC, Oakland, the Patriots, even the Steelers, the Jets and yourself, had to go through some kind of a down period, a swoon, a four-game losing streak. The Patriots certainly did and they're a far stronger team now, more resilient, and I wonder if that's the nature of the game today?
JF: I think if you're going to go through a losing streak then you'd better do it early in the year rather than late in the year. Obviously, you don't want to go through it and it's important to build wins early and get out to a fast start, but you look around the league and it's happened to a number of clubs. It's very competitive right now and there are a number of clubs that are reaching their potential and peaking right now. Obviously, the Patriots are one of them.
Q: You had a big win last week against the archrival that you have in your division now. To that point, that's probably your biggest win of the year, I assume.
JF: I think each one of them has its own significance. The last couple of weeks, we beat … Three weeks ago, we beat Indianapolis and took over sole possession of the division lead. The next week, Indy goes and plays a tough game at Philly and beats Philly decisively and we lose to Baltimore and suddenly the next week, we're out of the playoffs completely if the playoffs were to start. We've bounced back and forth. But, last week was a good win for us. It was a good win for these reasons: because we played well in all three phases. We didn't play a mistake-free game, but we had very few penalties and the players responded during the week. They accepted the challenge. They had a number of one-on-one battles that they had to win in order for us to be successful.
Q: Jeff, what's Kearse's status for this week? Will he play on the right side or back on the left side?
JF: Well, he's questionable right now. We'll try to get him on the practice field and see how much we can get done during the week. Then, we'll just wait and see. He's probably a little better suited to play on the left right now, but that doesn't mean to say he won't play the right side. If you can visualize it, the injury was to the left foot, and cornering from the right side, all the pressure goes on to the left foot as you corner. That's been difficult for him to do, but we saw some improvement late in the week last week as far as that was concerned. Hopefully if he continues to improve the way he did the last couple of weeks, he should be a factor for us.
Q: You're the winningest coach since 1999 in this league. You've been around a long time and you're the senior man, I guess you could say, in many respects. How has it been that you've had pretty much the same cast of characters since 1999, or maybe '98, I guess?
JF: Well, we've had a great deal of change. There's only a handful of players left here who played in the Super Bowl. But, the handful that we do have have become our nucleus, those being Steve [McNair] and Eddie [George] and Jevon and a number of players. So, we've had to rebuild the secondary with youth and some experience, but we have a philosophy that's really no different than Bill [Belichick]'s; you just work hard during the week and try to give yourself every opportunity for the players to have a chance to win and go out with a high expectation level and play hard. Often times, that translates into success.
Q: There are a lot of good quarterbacks in the league right now and a lot are being considered for MVP. Steve McNair has been a particularly efficient and effective quarterback, but probably isn't spoken of in the same way as [Brett] Favre and some of the other guys. How do you view his performance?
JF: Well, Steve's performance the last couple of weeks has been exceptional. I haven't been around a quarterback that's been able to do what he did the last two weeks without practicing and playing with the pain that he's been in. I have a great deal of respect for him as a person and a player. We have a great relationship and I haven't seen a tougher quarterback in all my years in this league than Steve. He's a quiet leader, he's the inspirational leader of this football team and has a way of making plays when you need them. As you say, he probably hasn't gotten the attention that he deserves, but that's okay. It kind of follows suit with the club, and it's okay by him. What's important to Steve is not the rating, it's not touchdown-interception ratios, it's none of that stuff. What's important to Steve is simply winning games.
Q: Hey, Jeff, have you noticed that statistically and kind of in style, too, your offense is very similar to the Patriots offense.
JF: I think when you look at the stats as a whole, there's a great deal of similarities. If you get past the rankings and where both clubs are, defensively the sack numbers are identical, the interception numbers are one or two apart, the third-down efficiencies are fairly even and our field goal numbers are almost the same. Then, you look at the teams offensively, they're averaging 333 yards per game and we're averaging 335. Then you look at the third down efficiencies and it's like two tenths of a point. So, there are a lot of similarities. We lost a very good receiver, a starting receiver, and it looks like the Patriots may be without a very productive receiver this week. So, there are a lot of similarities between the two clubs. I think that the difference in the two clubs is that it looks as though New England is making fewer mistakes on the field than we have in the last four or five weeks, which is the reason they've won a number of games. I think they have a little more experience on defense, and that shows with the type of system that they use and the ever-changing looks that they give to your offense.
Q: How can the similarities that you have in style and output affect this game, even though you guys aren't usually matched up year in and year out?
JF: Well, this one's going to come down to tackling on defense. There's going to be a lot of plays made, but the defensive club that's able to minimize gains is going to have the best chance to win, and it very well may be determined by turnovers. Both clubs have had success obtaining the football for their offense, and they have done a pretty good job overall of protecting it.
Q: Jeff, I think McNair has had the turf toe problem several times. Is that the same injury? If it is, it there something about his running style or surfaces that he practices on that makes him susceptible to that kind of injury?
JF: No, I don't believe he's more susceptible than anybody else. It's a common problem in the league; a common injury. It's not the same injury that he had a couple of years ago. That's the other toe. It has bothered him a little bit, but it has been improving, simply because he hasn't practiced. But, Steve's going to run when he feels like he has to, as compared to his first couple of years in the league when he was looking to run and to get himself out of trouble, and now he's a passer and he's proven he can do that over the years, and yet he still has that ability to pull it down and make big plays with his legs. He's made several big plays, especially the run in the fourth quarter for us to set up our final field goal. That was probably the biggest play in the game for us.
Q: So it's just the other big toe?
Q: Jeff, we know the big players in the game step it up this time of the year, but it seems like the great coaches also step it up this time of the year as well. Do you approach December any differently than the other months?
JF: We kind of break the season down into quarters. This being the fourth quarter, it's the most important. It's acceptable to go into the middle part of the season at halftime trailing a little bit or with a little lead or tied. But, the fourth quarter is always December and that's when teams make their move. The teams I've been associated with that have had success typically were able to dominate in December. That starts up front, provided that you're healthy, it starts up front with your offensive and defensive line, and also the ability to run the football and get off the field on third down. Bill has had a great run in December, obviously he made a great run last year and it looks like he's in position to do so again. That's what makes this one so exciting.
Q: What do you do motivationally for your team in December? For instance, do you make sure they know the urgency of what's happening?
JF: You have to start with the younger players, first and foremost, because their bodies have told them that their season's been over for a month. So, you have to bring them back and you have to encourage them to do the right things, the rest, the exercise, the nutrition, and point out to them that they're all a play away from contributing to a playoff run. So, you have to have them prepared. Then, of course, your veterans have a tendency to buckle down and I think when you're able to put a couple of wins together in late November and early December, that also helps to give you some momentum.
Q: Jeff, we haven't even talked about one of your classic players, Eddie George. You're 7-1 when he carries the ball 20 times or more. Tell me about his performance and what he's done this year.
JF: Eddie over the last year had some difficulty with his offseason surgery prior to last season. They had to correct some things that had occurred in the big toe. He had some difficulty in that in essence, he had to learn how to run all over again. Prior to last year he did not have the offseason program that he's used to having. This past offseason, he had a great offseason. He was in great shape and was determined to get back to where he was. Then, unfortunately, the team circumstances did not allow him to do that in the first five or six weeks when we were trailing and he only had a couple of carries in the second half and so on. Since we've gone on the winning streak in October, Eddie's numbers have picked up and he's been able to carry the ball in the second half. He doesn't have the numbers that he's had in the last couple of years, primarily because teams have taken some of that away from him. We're carrying balance throughout the game and we've been able to use Robert Holcombe in different situations, which is taking some of the load off Eddie. But, Eddie is healthy, he's in great shape right now, and Eddie's determined to make a difference in December. This is always a good month for Eddie and he's hoping to do that once again.
Q: Jeff, as a guy who's made his reputation in the league on defense, what impresses you the most about the way Belichick and Romeo [Crennel] design their defense?
JF: The thing that is such a challenge for you offensively is that what you see on film from the previous few weeks is not necessarily what you're going to get. They do a great job adjusting the window dressing and changing from a four-man line to a three-man line and the blitz scheme and the pressures, they do a great job with that. That's always been the case, but it seems you see more of it in the last couple of years because of the experience that they have on the defensive side of the ball and the very little turnover that they've had. But, they're very innovative, and they take advantage of the strength of their individual players. Just look at Ty Law's performance in the last month for example. He's lined up all over the place. They line him up on who they determine to be the best receiver on the opposing offense and he basically shuts them down. They force you to do some things and it's a common sense defensive philosophy that they force you to do things that you're not used to doing. In a lot of ways, they have the ability to dictate on defense.
Q: With the season going the way it is, where you never know with all of the upsets and everything, do you have time to stop and look at the big picture when you're coming into a game like this, what all the implications are?
JF: For both clubs, the Patriots and ourselves, this is a huge game. We're very evenly matched and for our sake it can have a lot to do with our ability to win the division. Because of where our records are and where the records are around the league, it's not a do-or-die game. The team that wins is going to be a lot better off than the team that loses, but the loser's not really going to be eliminated from the playoff race.
Q: Jeff, what's impressed you most about Tom Brady this year?
JF: I've obviously studied him quite a bit here in the last couple of days, and he just makes very good decisions. He sees very well. He does a real good job in the pocket, feeling the pressure and stepping up in the pocket. When young quarterbacks feel pressure, they typically try to escape. But, he feels the pressure, steps up and makes plays, and that's obviously a tribute to him and the coaching staff. He spreads the ball around. He does a great job with the screen game. He's not asked to do things deep down the field as much as most quarterbacks, but he relies on timing. He stays on schedule, gets the ball out and most of the time he gives his receivers a chance to run with the football.
Q: Would you say his game is changing a little bit? Is it evolving this year? At the start of the year he was throwing 300, 400 yards every week. He threw for under 200 last week. Do you see any difference?
JF: Again, he's doing what they ask him to do. Oftentimes the philosophy will be to run it to keep the ball away from opposing offenses, so he's doing simply what they ask him to do to win ballgames. I think when we went up to beat Indy at Indy in our first matchup, Steve McNair had 109 yards passing. That's the mark of a good quarterback. He steps in there, he converts third downs. He drives the football and puts points on the board, and it doesn't have to be a 300- or 400-yard passing day every week. I think that part of why his numbers have maybe come down recently is that the weather's changed and we're relying more heavily on the run game. Obviously, New England is very capable of running the football, and that's something that has to be done at this time of the year.
Q: Terrific, anything else, boys? Thank you, Jeff.
JF: Thanks, see you Monday night.