Special Teams Captain MATTHEW SLATER
Q: How do you approach this bye week? Is it all about self-scouting?
MS: Well, you know, I'll start by saying we're very fortunate to be in the position that we're in not having to compete in the first round. We certainly earned that, so we're thankful to be where we're at. But, this is a very important week for us. I think you hit it on the head. It's an opportunity for us to look back upon the past 16 games and see some of the things that we've done well, see some of the things that we need to improve upon and try to address those things that we need to improve upon. Then, obviously, it's tough this week because you can't really prepare for an opponent. We'll be looking at different things situationally from the three potential teams that we can play and go from there. But, I think really this week is about us focusing on the Patriots and how we can improve because our mentality needs to be that of, 'OK, we need to continue to work towards improvement.' Even though it's the postseason we can't feel like we've done enough at this point.
Q: Can you talk about the job that Ryan Allen does as a punter and handling all of the elements he deals with here in New England?
MS: Absolutely. You know, its different punting here. I think what you're asked to do here is a little bit different than other places. Ryan could easily go out and be one of the top average guys in the league, but he's asked to do a lot directionally. He punts a lot in the plus-50 situation because of how good our offense is, but he takes that in stride. He's really shown a great deal of improvement since the day he got here. He's always worked to get himself better. He really takes his craft very seriously and it's good to see that hard work really pay off. He played as well as I've seen him play this past week with the conditions, with being able to pin those guys deep in there and help us win the field positon battle. You can't say enough good things about Ryan, how he is as a professional, how he is for our locker room, how he approaches his craft week in and week out. Those results, him kicking the way he is; it's going to be big for us in the next game. We're going to need to win the field positon battle and he's a big part of that. It really says a lot about who he is as a professional to be able to come here in New England and play the way that he has over the course of his career.
Q: With heavy snow expected tomorrow, how much do you tell other guys on the team to be prepared to get here early because Coach Belichick isn't going to accept excuses?
MS: You certainly better leave yourself enough time to get here on time tomorrow. We all know there's weather. Coach has mentioned that several times to the team. I wouldn't want to be the guy who's late tomorrow. But look, I don't think we're going to have an issue. Guys understand we need to be here. The expectation is what it is. We live in New England. There's going to be weather. Give yourself some extra time; as simple as that.
Q: Do you prefer to shovel or use a snow blower?
MS: I don't have a snow blower, so I guess I'm a shoveler. I'm a California kid so I'm really neither. We just kind of drive over the snow and clear the wife's spot out as best we can and have a little help around the house. That's how we operate.
Q: How important has the organizational consistency and ability to maintain the same people on the staff been to the success of this franchise?
MS: Well, consistency is big in whatever you're doing. If you're trying to build up an organization and you want that organization to be successful, whether it's in pro sport, whether it's a business, I think consistency is something that you strive for. When you're able to have foundational pieces in place it allows you the opportunity to build upon those foundational pieces. We've been fortunate with the leadership that we've had around here with Mr. [Robert] Kraft and Coach Belichick and, as you mentioned, Tom [Brady] and those guys to be able to build upon that. What we're hoping to achieve here is modeled by those individuals and it helps everyone else kind of buy in and see this is what we're striving for. That consistency has been very important.
Q: You've seen the roster get turned over multiple times, but is it different to think of what it would be like if the coaching staff went through the same turnover?
MS: That's the nature of the business. We try not to think too much about that. That's obviously exciting for them and you wish them nothing but the best, but I think we're all focused on the 2017 season and preparing here, and all of that other stuff is what it is. Whatever happens is going to happen.
Q: You guys haven't had to play an opening round playoff game since 2009. Do you have a routine for how to deal with the bye week by now?
MS: It's tough to really say. Individuals I'm sure have a routine. As a team, every year is different. The members of the team are different. So, I'd say every year has been a little bit different in some way, shape or form, but I know the guys obviously like to take the weekend to rest and spend time with their families. Needless to say, get ahead scouting-wise on potential opponents. We'll be tracking the games this weekend with a close eye. [We're] looking forward to our next opportunity to take the field. We understand whoever our next opponent is is going to be the best team we've played all year.
Q: How important is this week for the team to get some bodies back that have missed time and for guys with bumps and bruises to have a chance to heal?
MS: Well, we're hopeful that we can do that. It's been well-documented. You guys have seen the injury situation that we've had this season has been challenging, but it's the National Football League. A lot of teams have had that. We're fortunate to be in a positon where we have an extra week to, probably, or I should say, hopefully, get some guys back depending on how it goes. We'll be looking forward to those guys hopefully returning that haven't bene out there, and the rest of us in the meantime are just going to continue to work hard and focus on our preparation.
Safety DEVIN MCCOURTY
Q: What's the biggest thing that you guys try to accomplish on this bye week?
DM: I think the fundamentals. Like just even being out there today it kind of had like a training camp feel. Obviously we have 16 games to go over some things that we didn't do well, but still just a chance to go against our offense a little bit and just to be out there just competing. We can't game plan three teams so we can't come out here and say 'this is this team's period.' You just can't do that. So it kind of gives you that true training camp where you're just trying to get better. No matter who you play you need to do that well whether it's leverage in man-to-man coverage, whether it's run technique up front using your hands, whether it's our lanes in coverage on special teams. Just doing those little things that are definitely going to come up sometime in these next games, or game I should say. We don't know when but when it comes up it'll be probably a huge play or huge factor to decide a game. That's why this bye week has always been big for us since I've been here, as long as we kind of use it in the right way.
Q: How does the continuity of this coaching staff contribute to the success of this team, especially as you get to this point in the year?
DM: Karen [Guregian] was asking me that. I think we're just spoiled so we don't even understand how much that helps. Like I've talked to my brother who's had a ton of different defensive coordinators or head coaches and I don't think we fully get that because we have had - obviously I wasn't here when Josh [McDaniels] was first here but being here with Billy O [Bill O'Brien] and then Josh coming back. But I think everyone here in this building puts in a lot of time and effort to put the team first and I think that's where it all kind of starts. It's been great, especially for me to be here with all of these guys that now I know very well. I think it's always great when you come back in April and it's like, 'Alright, how can I get better at little things because I already know the big things? I already know the scheme and all of that.' [We're] very fortunate but the NFL is very fluid transitionally so things are always happening. We'll see, but I think it just puts even more emphasis on how you have to take advantage of each year. We always talk about it's a one year kind of guarantee to be with that team and you want to take full advantage of that.
Q: Can you ever imagine this defense without Matt Patricia or Brian Flores?
DM: I wish I could tell you I even think that far in advance. I'm honestly just trying to prepare for this snow day tomorrow.
Q: How important is it for you to express to other players that Bill Belichick doesn't handle being late despite the snow?
DM: This day in age, the social media world and the different things [we] have, I think everyone has probably seen it. He's mentioned it that he doesn't care. Don't call and say your car got stuck. I think everyone knows there's two hotels up here at Patriot Place so stay there for the night. Find a way. But I tell guys, like wake up earlier, especially if you don't have a garage or something. Wake up. Go clean your car out. I think guys know. We're in the NFL playoffs. I think everyone kind of - if you've been here for a week or two weeks you kind of get that this guy Bill [Belichick] that talks every day in the morning meeting, he doesn't play. So not much needs to be said about being here on time and being ready to work.
Q: I know it was a year before you got here, but -
DM: Like that. Like I saw that on ESPN. I knew not to come late. I found a couple nice places that are about 15 or 20 minutes away my rookie year and I was like 'Nah, I'll do the three minutes away.' I think guys know that. You see it. You see that around the league when you're in college. Your season is usually over by now except for a couple teams so you're following that. Everyone follows the NFL when you play in college so guys know. You know here is the one place where no matter what time of the year it is, if it's not going well you'll get fired. Like I always say, the goal every day is not to get fired. So guys know that.
Q: Aside from potentially getting fired, is it also a matter of being accountable to your teammates?
DM: Definitely. You talk about winning games and being in tough situations and a lot of that comes down to you trusting your teammate that he's going to do what he's supposed to do and that comes from practice repetition, from being with these guys in the locker room. That comes from when it's a hard day for any of us to get here, guys find a way to get here. We've got guys that go through family issues and personal issues and they might have to take a day or two. In a reality they should really be away for a month but because of their love for their teammates and being accountable to the team they come back and they work. I think you've got to think about that stuff when it's a day where you've got to drive - I'm not telling you to drive like crazy and crash to get here, but wake up a little earlier and make it a priority for yourself.
Q: How much of this weekend is about unplugging, getting away and maybe kind of hitting the reset button but you also want to be mindful of not stepping too far away?
DM: Yeah, to me this week is not as much as about unplugging, just because like honestly we've got one more game left. I don't really think you need to unplug to play in one game, you know? You unplug too much and you come back and you're not ready, that's the end of your season. For me it's just having free time, so the cool part of waking up with my daughter and stuff like that. But like usually for the bye week during the season I might watch 20 minutes of football on Sunday. But like this weekend I'll be watching the games and seeing all of that and probably having to do some chores around the house that my wife makes me do. I think for guys it's about having free time and if you need to go see a family member or get home for the weekend, but I don't think it's kind of one of those situations where like earlier in the season we played eight games and a chance to unplug and reset. Right now it's about preparing to play your best football that next game because I guess it's only a couple of us that were still here with the last time we lost in divisional round. Like that's tough. Losing the AFC Championship sucks too but to put in all that work to get a bye week and then you come back and you lose that game, like my rookie year. It's kind of like, well, you just sit there and say I wish I did more that week we were off. You just want to keep preparing to be ready to go.
Q: Will you watch the Wild Card games on TV?
DM: Yeah, I mean, like I don't have nothing else to do, so I'll watch the games. Maybe we'll get together or something with the guys and watch the games.
Q: Is there an example that comes to mind in regards to Matt Patricia's passion and intensity?
DM: There's a lot of examples. They usually have a lot of curse words and yelling at us. But, I just think that the thing to me about Matty P. is his consistency with his energy and passion. Matty P. never really kind of rolls with whatever's going on, whether it's like over the last however many weeks when we've been playing good and all that. Like we can come in from a game and Matty P. comes in there Monday and he's pissed about the Atlanta game when they scored on the two minute drive - I think it was that game - towards the end of the game where, at one point in the game, they scored in two-minute drive. And, like everyone was so happy. We gave up just seven points that game, right? Yeah, and everyone was so happy - 'Yeah, we played Atlanta well and gave up seven points.' And Matty P. was pissed, and that's what we watched the next day. We came in here and we watched that drive on how we didn't have to give up those points. To me, that's him. You're not going to get him to lower his standards. He expects the best out of the first group we put on the field, the last group, in training camp, in the spring. You know, we got cursed out in the spring for giving up touchdowns in seven-on-seven red area where the ball started at the 7-yard line. Matty P. came in there and he ripped us. So, I think, obviously as players, sometimes you get mad at that, but if you're wise enough to realize that that's what helps you become a better individual player and collectively a better defense.
Q: How important is Patrick Chung's role in terms of covering tight ends?
DM: Well, I would say Pat's role just of being able to cover tight ends, slot receivers, running backs has been huge. For the most part of when you play free safety and you're able to cancel out coverage things - like 'Hey, Chung's not going to really need my help' - that frees you up a little bit more. I think it's great for us as a defense. We can sit there and say, 'Hey, Chung's going to cover that guy.' And, you guys know in this league, a lot of weeks you're playing against some really good tight ends. So, his ability to do that all year and multiple different roles has been huge. I think the thing he does well is he's always ready to go, no matter what role that is in that game, and even if it changes halfway through the game or for a series, he's always able to do that at a high level, and that's been huge for us.
Q: You are the only defense in the NFL to hold opponents below 20 points per game in each of the past four seasons. What does that year-over-year consistency mean to you?
DM: Wait, say that? What did we do?
Q: Under 20 points a game for four straight seasons.
DM: You've got to realize, I'm not used to - you know, earlier in the season, you guys would come in here asking me about giving up 35 points a game. So, you hear 20…
Q: You must have done something right.
DM: Yeah, you know, I think the thing is we put a big emphasis on the red area and points. Even Coach [Brendan] Daly said it today. B.D. said, 'I don't care about the stats when we're talking about the running game. It's about execution.' It's about playing with technique - our hands inside - and to us, that is what it's about. He said he played on some teams where he had the best run defense in the NFL. He said, 'We were at home. We didn't even make the playoffs.' So, I think that's something we always talk about. When it comes down to why we play football, we play to win. At the end of the day, when you have more points than the other team, you win. So, defensively, it's all about not giving up touchdowns. It's about trying to keep them off the board. We've seen in games where we haven't kind of played the way we want to play throughout the game, but if we were able to play well in the red area, we kept giving ourselves a chance to win the game. It's funny, I just told Flo [Brian Flores] today that when I talk to media, I quote him as much as possible because he does the red area and he always says every time we get a red area stop, we're closer to winning the game. To me, that's happened over and over this year because a good amount of times this year defensively, we haven't been that good and that showed up. When we needed to play good in the red area and we were able to complement each other, our offense comes in and they have a big drive, and if we give up three, they go get seven, and now the pressure's back on. And then, we get a red area turnover and then we go score. Now we keep them at zero and get seven. That changes the game. So, I will say that's something that we do pride ourselves on - the points per game and trying to keep that as low as possible. So, hopefully we'll continue that throughout the playoffs because we'll definitely need it.