Q: We saw some postseason games this weekend turn on key special team sequences. With that in mind, how do you feel about your special teams group heading into this weekend’s game?
MS: Same way I have all season – a lot of confidence, lot of belief in the men that are going to be taking that field together. We’ve put in a lot of work to get to this point. Every team that’s playing now should have a lot of confidence in who they are and what they do, and we’re no different. Thankful for the opportunity that we have. We know that each and every play that we have in the kicking game is going to be huge for us, each and every play has the potential to be a game-changing play, and we’re going to be looking to make those plays.
Q: Special teams factored in when you played the Chargers last year. Have they made any significant changes since the last time you saw them?
MS: Yeah, it’s not the same team that we saw. There are a number of differences. I think personnel-wise, there’s some differences, the guys that they did have there are playing at a much higher level I’d say. They’re playing with a lot of confidence, they’re playing very aggressive, so I think this is a totally different group. I don’t think last year’s game or what happened and how that game unfolded will obviously have any bearing on what happens this Sunday, but this is much better group that we’ll see this weekend.
Q: What strikes you about Desmond King?
MS: Man, he’s just a football player. You put him in wherever and he’s going to play it and he’s going to play it well. He’s played in numerous roles in the kicking game this year. Obviously, we know his role on defense and now we’re seeing what he can do as a return man. To me, I think he’s just a hard guy to tackle. He runs hard, he’s playing with a lot of confidence, those guys are blocking really well for him. He’s got tremendous balance, he’s got good quickness, he’s aggressive to field the ball. I think he poses a lot of problems for you, but not only in the kicking game. He’s a football player, which is no surprise for an Iowa guy – those guys are usually football players.
Q: What strikes you about the Chargers as a whole and the fact that they have won every game they’ve played outside of Los Angeles? They’ve won in London, in the Eastern Time Zone, down double figures at Pittsburgh.
MS: Well I think that tells you a couple things about them. I think the first thing being that they have great leadership over there, and all the things that I’ve heard about Coach [Anthony] Lynn are nothing but positive things about the type of leader that he is and obviously they have a lot of belief in what they’re doing. I think it says a lot about the mental toughness of their football team, to be able to go on the road, hostile environments, essentially playing a game at 10 a.m. West Coast time this past weekend and being ready to go. They’ve been a great road team all year long, as you said, so I think that requires a great deal of mental toughness. They’ve got the formula – they run the ball, they cover kicks, they stop the run, so they’ve got physical toughness, as well. You really got to tip your hat to those guys.
Q: You’ve played in a lot of playoff games but some of your teammates haven’t. Do you talk to them at all or do you sort of leave that up to the coaching staff?
MS: I think you pick and choose when to have conversations with certain guys and what is said in those conversations. I think you pick and choose. As Coach [Bill] Belichick has always stressed to our football team in the time that I’ve been here, it’s not only about experience this time of year, it’s about who plays well. I think we saw that show up this weekend. There were inexperienced guys that stepped up and made plays and were ready to go and there were experienced guys that didn’t step up and make plays. So, it’s really about playing well and executing come Sunday no matter who you are, how long you’ve been doing it.
Q: How much can you draw back from past experience with playoff games or does each season take on its own identity once you reach the playoffs?
MS: Well, certainly, every year’s different, every team’s different, the identity of every football team’s different, the makeup of every team’s different. I think as an individual, you can perhaps draw back on some of your experiences that you’ve had over the course of your career but knowing that what manifests itself out there on Sunday is going to be totally different than anything we’ve seen in the past.
Q: There’s a chance of cold weather here on Sunday. Do you ever notice the weather here making a difference in a playoff game?
MS: This time of year, with teams of this caliber, they’re going to be ready to go. Whether it’s rain, sleet, snow, sunny, they’ll be ready to go.
Q: Do you remember your first play in a playoff game and how did that feel?
MS: It was a great feeling to be able to feel like you’re contributing to your team when it matters the most. Unfortunately, my first playoff game we didn’t win, so not a lot of fun memories from that day. I remember the course of that game, the way things unfolded. It’s a great feeling to be out there contributing. Hopefully it’s to a winning effort. That’s why we play this game, that’s why we train year-round, that’s why we play through injuries, is so that we can play in these games. It means everything.
Q: Do you remember what the play was?
MS: I may or may not remember it. But like I said, it doesn’t matter, we didn’t win the game. So no need to relive that.
Q: Playoffs are said to be played at a different speed. Do you find that to be true?
MS: Absolutely. The urgency is very, very, very high. Everyone understands that there’s no tomorrow for the team that doesn’t come out victorious. So, everybody’s going to be giving you everything they’ve got, every single snap as they should. As I said, this means a lot to so many guys for different reasons, and to have this opportunity is truly a blessing. It’s something that you should never take for granted, and I think that shows up in the speed of play, as you said. Guys are leaving it all out there, so it’ll be a little bit different speed, especially for those young guys. You try to tell them, ‘Hey, expect it to be a certain way,’ but until you get out there and experience it, there’s no really way to understand it.
Q: It’s not overly often you get a playoff matchup between two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. What’s your level of respect for both these guys and what they’ve accomplished over their careers?
MS: Anyone who’s covered me over the course of my career knows how I feel about Tom [Brady]. I think it goes without saying, I’m absolutely biased when I speak about him, but I’ve seen what he’s been able to do, his work ethic and what he’s given to this game. It’s been amazing. As far as Philip [Rivers], I was a Southern California kid, grew up – once the Rams left when I was a kid, the only other team in Southern California were the Chargers, so I watched a lot of his football and he’s given a lot of great moments to their fan base. He’s given a lot of great moments to this league. I think he conducts himself and carries himself in a way that’s really first-class all the way. He represents his organization, his family and this game about as well as anyone we have and he’s played at a high level for a long time. So, it’s really an exciting time to have two great players, two of the best players of their era, be able to square off in a game like this. So, should be fun for football fans.
Q: You talked about your respect for the Chargers winning eight games on the road. You guys have done that before, too. What is it that separates teams in being able to excel in that aspect?
MS: Well, as I hit on earlier, I think mental toughness is a big part of that. I think having great leadership within your organization is going to be a big part of that, and then, you know, just coming together as brothers. I think that they feel something special and they do. The belief that you have to have in one another to go on the road and win is really necessary – it’s really necessary and I think they have that belief. They’ve proved it week-in and week-out. No matter the situation, no matter the game, circumstances, they’ve won those games, so it says a lot about who they are.