Q: Steve, can you talk about the significance of this game for you and how you view the Patriots coming in and what kind of challenges they present?**
SM: They're definitely a challenge for us. They do so much defensively that really you've just got to just kind of cut back and do what you do best. The last three games, they've played everything different, so you really can't pinpoint their tendencies. So, this is a big game for us and we're 8-5 and we both hold our own destiny and can go to the playoffs. That means a lot.
Q: Are you proof that practicing isn't maybe as important as coaches think it is?**
SM: Well, they do a good job of just giving me the things that I do best in the course of a game. I think that when you've been doing things for so long, it doesn't take that much practicing. That's what we've been doing the last two weeks, doing things that I know I can do without practice. I think if you put a new game plan in then that needs practice, but we've just been continuing to do the things we've been doing. Hopefully I can get out there this week and practice a little bit, but like I said, my ribs are going to be sore as long as I play on it.
Q: Has the toe problem gone away?**
SM: Not all the way. It's still a little sore and it gets sore after the games because of the running and all of the trauma that goes on in the course of the game. It swells up during the course of the week, but it's getting better. I think that's a plus.
Q: What would the return of Jevon Kearse mean to you guys?**
SM: I think it means a whole lot to this team. The guys who have been filling in for him have been doing a terrific job, but just the name of Jevon Kearse in the lineup forces people to worry about where he's at and it's giving the other guys the opportunities to make plays and to have one-on-one situations. I think it helps the whole defensive line mentally and physically.
Q: Have you surprised yourself at all in how well you've been able to perform with your various injuries?
SM: I take every Monday and figure out how I could have possibly gone out there and done that. I think as a team, the guys around me played well. It's not just how I play. Those guys go out there and block well and give me time to throw and the receivers go out there and catch the ball and make runs after the catch. That's what makes my job a lot easier, and it has in the last two or three weeks.
Q: How bad typically do you feel the day after a game or right after a game?
SM: You don't want to even know. It's real bad. From my toe to my ribs, it's real sore for two days after the game. Then by the third day I feel a little better and get loosened up and try to move around, but for a couple of days afterwards, I'm in serious pain.
Q: Do you feel a lot of responsibility since a lot of the offense is built around what you do and your mobility and the flexibility you bring to the offense? Do you feel an obligation to get out there?
SM: I think so. I think this team believes in me, regardless of how healthy I am. If I'm 50 percent and I think I can go out there and get the job done, then they have confidence in me. It's just a matter of the coaching staff being willing to give me that opportunity. A lot of coaches wouldn't give a guy like me that opportunity, but they know that in the past I've been injured and came out and played well. The things that we do offensively, like moving around in the pocket and spreading things out is built on what I do best. They feel like in order to do that, I need to be out there.
Q: When was the first time in your career when you've had a serious injury and how do you go about ignoring pain?
SM: Well, like I said, in '99, coming off of our Super Bowl year, I had back surgery and came back within five weeks. I think that once you go out there and play the game, you don't even think about the pain. You just think about doing the things that you need to do to put your team in a position to win. The pain is there, but mentally you've just got to focus on what you've got to do and the pain actually helps you concentrate more on what you've got to do because there's always a sense of urgency to go out there and do the right things and not have a letdown.
Q: So when Donovan McNabb played with a broken ankle for most of that game a few weeks ago, a lot of people thought, 'Well, that's crazy. How could you do that?' Is that something that you can relate to, that you can put that pain off and just keep playing?
SM: I think so. He did a wonderful job playing with a broken ankle. When you do out there, with the competitiveness of the quarterbacks in the National Football League, you always want to go out there whether you're healthy or not. You want to go out there and get the job done, especially when your team is in an important game and they need you. I can relate to that in various different areas, with my toe, my ribs and my back. I think he did a wonderful job of going out there and playing hurt. This league is almost like mind over matter.
Q: Are you aware of some of the impact that a mobile quarterback like Daunte Culpepper had against the Patriots defense? Will you keep that in mind when you game plan?
SM: I think so. They're a team on defense that does a lot of different things. You might see two D-linemen and the rest of them are linebackers and cornerbacks. I think they do a lot of things to try to put pressure on you. You have to use your mobility and instincts to elude that and try to get the ball downfield or run for a first down. I think that's going to play a very important role this week.
Q: Could you talk at all about your ability to be a good passer in the league versus when you first came into the league and were mostly reliant on your running?
SM: When you're a young quarterback, you tend to have quick feet and a quick mind to get outside the box and make things happen. That's what you were taught and that's what you'd been doing for a long time. You have to change yourself to be that drop-back passer. I wouldn't say I was the best drop-back passer, but that's what I consider myself. When I came in here, I just used my legs when I had to. But, that's just an added incentive that a defense has to worry about. In this league, as a young quarterback, you're anxious and you tend to run out of the pocket more. But now, with the experience and with the things that I know and have seen over my eight years, you've always got to make sure that when you're running, there's also a guy out there that's probably open in the check-down. So, I always try to find my check-downs now.
Q: How tough is it mentally to start out 1-4 and know that you have to play pretty well for a number of weeks in a row just to get back to square one, back to .500?
SM: It's very hard. Mentally, we were at the same time mad and disturbed about the 1-4 start, but also in our minds, we had to remember that it's a long season. All we needed was to get that first win after the 1-4 start and go from there. Once we got that first win, our confidence level shot sky high and we've been playing well ever since.
Q: Did you ever watch Monday Night Football growing up? Were you a fan of that?
SM: Yeah. I was a very big fan of Monday Night Football.
Q: What did it feel like the first time you played on Monday night?
SM: Just the idea that you're the only game on that day. You just hear the music come on and you know that everybody across the world is watching Monday Night Football and you want to go out there and do well. But, at the same time, you've got to keep your patience and keep your character in check and just go out and play the game. But, it's very exciting, probably one of the most exciting things that can happen, other than the Super Bowl.
Q: Do you have arthritis in your toes yet?
Q: Do the doctors counsel you about what you might face after your career is over?
SM: Yes, I've heard all that already. I know the background on all of these things that are going on in my body.
Q: So do you just laugh it off when the doctors say things?
SM: I don't laugh it off, but at the same time, this is a physical game and things like this are going to happen in the course of your career. I've just got to keep my body maintained and healthy otherwise, my career's over with.
Q: Do you ever worry about your image in this league, because you're not often mentioned in the same breath as a lot of the other good quarterbacks?
SM: I don't even worry about that. If it's mentioned, it's mentioned. If it's not, it's not. All I care about is winning and that's my mindset about the whole deal. I don't care about how much publicity I'm getting or how little I'm getting. It doesn't bother me. I'm just here to play football.
Q: What does the New England defense pose for you specifically in terms of a challenge?
SM: Like I said, they can do a lot of different coverages. They try to make you adjust to them. They want to predict the situations and they bring a lot of things at you on third down. They're fast, they're quick and they use a lot of different formations in their defensive scheme to try to corrupt you. That's what we've got to worry about.
Q: What would be the key for you to be successful against that?
SM: I think that offensively we've just got to stay plain and simple and do what we do best and be good at it the whole game. That is the key, and to protect the football.
Q: Do the players pay attention to Jeff Fisher maybe a little more since he's played in the NFL? Do you think that's a positive that he's been there through the wars, sort of?
SM: I think so. Jeff is a team's dream. He's a young guy and knows the situation and hasn't been long out of the league. He can relate to players. He's a players' coach. We love him and I've dealt with him for eight years ever since I've been here and I wouldn't change it for the world. He understands people. He understands the game. When you have that, you can do good things.