TIGHT END ROB GRONKOWSKI
Q: What's the intensity like around here as you guys prepare for this playoff game?
RG: The intensity is high. It's like any other week though. You've got to prepare the same. It's not like your changing up the schedule just because it's the playoffs. You're not really doing anything different. You've just got to come in, prepare hard, keep the level up. The intensity has been high every single week all year long. You've just got to keep on continuing that, keep on preparing how we have been and get ready for the big game.
Q: Does all the negative attention around the team bring the team closer together?
RG: Like I said, the feeling around here, the intensity is high, the preparation is high just like any other time. It's just like any other week. I feel like if anything it's just going to bring us closer and it's going to bond us together. The feel is no different than any other week going on right now. It's good. We just had a good practice week. Everything's feeling good and just excited for the big game, but first off we've got a big week ahead of us to prepare.
Q: Does it ever surprise you how much people under-appreciate that quality of the team to respond positively when facing adversity?
RG: I mean, throughout my years here I've seen a lot of negative, a lot of positive. The reputation that Coach [Bill Belichick] tries to get us to have is just ignore the noise. Ignore the noise from the outside and I feel like that's what myself, a lot of other players have been doing. You've just got to keep ignoring the noise and just keep our focus on what we've bene doing all year and that's preparing hard, studying our opponent, getting ready mentally and physically for the big game. No mater what's going on on the outside, as a team, as an organization we've just got to keep grinding, and keep going and keep doing our job.
Q: Do you see Tom Brady with an extra level of intensity or focus this week?
RG: I've gotten that question many times throughout my career. I've said this many times; it's hard to see him go to another level of intensity because he's always intense. He's always preparing hard. He's always studying as hard as he can every week, so just seeing him do the same old that he does every week - prepare hard, practice hard and get ready for the game.
Q: The majority of your catches this season have resulted in first downs and touchdowns. Can you talk about the pride you take in moving the chains and reaching the end zone?
RG: I mean, I didn't even really know that much, but I mean, that's always good. You always want to be moving the chains. You always want to be scoring. Just when the ball gets in your hand you want to do the best you can to help out the team. You want to make plays. You want to make people miss. You want to break some tackles and I would say that's how everyone goes into a game as a receiver, or a tight end or running back, whatever it is. You've just got to keep doing your job, keep on playing hard.
Q: How big of an honor was it to be named AP First Team All-Pro this year at tight end?
RG: It's definitely an honor, for sure. I mean, a lot of hard work, dedication, patience, the whole process of coming back. Definitely, I would say, patience is the virtue there. You just can't come back right away and think you're going to be out full speed, so just a lot of hard work, dedication. It's definitely an honor, humbly an honor, but it means nothing now to tell you the truth. It's the playoffs now. It's one and done if you lose, so just got to keep on preparing and looking forward, forward now and not look in the past.
Q: How long did it take you to get comfortable after the injury last year to feel that you back to full strength this season?
RG: I mean, I never came off of a surgery and said, ‘Oh, wow. I feel comfortable.' I mean, I can't really give you the timeline like, ‘Oh, this many weeks,' or whatever, but throughout them all I would say that you just can't go full speed, even though your mindset is you want to be 100-percent ready to roll. But, just got to keep on sticking to the process, keep on sticking to the rehab, keep on going hard and everything will kick in.
Q: How excited are you for this postseason considering how healthy you are and what a contributor you can be?
RG: I'm excited, definitely. I wasn't part of it last year, but not looking in the back, just looking forward to this game, man. I'm super excited to be back out there with the team. Just super excited today out there on the field with the boys again. We had a couple of days off. It's my first playoff game in a while, so I'm excited, man. I've just got to take it one day at a time right now.
Q: How much have you thought about having to watch the playoffs from the sideline last year knowing that you're now able to get back out there this year?
RG: I'm just excited to be back right now. Just excited to be back on the field with the teammates and just appreciating that.
Q: You've been to the Divisional Playoff every year of your career now. Do you ever take this run of success for granted when you talk to some buddies around the league?
RG: I don't think I would say we take it for granted at all. We put the hard work, we put the dedication in and we know what it takes to get to that level. Now that we're there you can't take your foot off the gas pedal. I've seen it happen before. It's happened while I'm on the team here before and you've just got to keep working hard. You can't think, ‘Oh, we're here. We made it. We're in the playoffs. Everything is going to be easy.' No, it gets harder, it gets tougher, it gets more physical, mentally and physically. You've just got to prepare and keep on working hard and keep on grinding.
Q: How dangerous is a team like Tennessee with the resiliency they've shown over the past two weeks to get here to this round of the playoffs?
RG: It just shows that how tough of a team they are under the pressure. They've basically won two playoff games - one to get into the playoffs and a playoff game last week. It just shows how tough they are, how fundamental they are and that they're ready to bring it in the clutch times.
Q: How difficult was it for you last year to sit out the playoffs and watch the team make its run to another Super Bowl title?
RG: I haven't thought about that. I've probably addressed that before, but as of right now I'm just super excited to be back in the playoffs, back to practice this week and super excited for the game Saturday but we've got to take it one day at a time right now.
DEFENSIVE BACK DEVIN MCCOURTY
Q: Have you noticed the level of intensity rise over this last week as the team prepares for the playoffs?
DM: Yeah, always. I mean, just practice today is a heightened energy, especially I think for us, you know you get some days off, so you're kind of feeling free. Especially, I think, the older guys, you enjoy those couple days of kind of just rest and get the body feeling a little bit better, and then I just think it's the reality of the playoffs is every day could be your last practice. So, I think we kind of stress that here of that understanding of knowing every day you go out there, you're trying to earn a right to play again and practice next week. So, I think that just gets everybody going. You know, usually, you're out there every day, it's like, ‘Alright, we'll be back out here Thursday, we'll be back out here next Wednesday.' But when you get in the playoffs, that's not there. You know, you've got to go earn that. I think guys have the right mentality of knowing that and coming out here and trying to compete in practice first to try to make sure we play well Saturday night.
Q: Does negative publicity do anything to pull the team together or serve as an incentive to win and prove others wrong?
DM: Honestly, I don't think so. I mean, I don't care about it and I think a lot of guys don't really care about what goes on outside and who writes what and if we suck, if we're great - it doesn't matter. So, I just think guys are motivated by playing for each other, their families more than an ESPN article. I think it's a great thing for our fans and people outside. I think they enjoy all of that, but I think for us, it's just going out there and playing for each other. An ESPN article doesn't help us when we go out there and it's negative 9 degrees. Like you're not going to be motivated to prove an article wrong. You're just having fun playing with the guys.
Q: In your eight years with the team, you have advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs and earned a bye week every year. How incredible of an accomplishment is that, and how does it help you advance further in the playoffs?
DM: Yeah, I mean, it's just a blessing and a great opportunity to be in the playoffs. I think for us to go out there and earn a first round bye since I've been here has been great. I think we've learned how to work and play well off of it, but I think we've always learned that it doesn't mean automatically that we're going to win. You know, my rookie year we came out and lost in the divisional, first playoff game. So, I think it's using the time wisely and then always understanding that home field and bye week, none of that stuff guarantees you a win coming out. You've still got to go out there and earn it. So, I think the experience of being in that position has helped us to know what we need to do and trying to use that experience to the best of our ability, and I think that helps and hopefully it pays off Saturday.
Q: Have you talked to other guys about how bad it felt to lose that divisional game to make sure they don't leave anything out there?
DM: Yeah, I think it's come up in conversations with different guys. I think Matty P. [Patricia] might have said it a time or two. Obviously, he's experienced more in the playoffs and different things. But, I think guys know it just from how guys are acting and body language and the urgency and the extra meetings, the extra film - like guys know, and I think even the young guys can sense how important this is. I think for us, obviously it's different. Tennessee's going to come in here already winning a playoff game and really winning one before that when they had to play to get in. And us, we're going to come off a week where we kind of went over a bunch of things that we needed to know going into the playoffs. So, it will be a little different, but I think it's the same type of mentality of realizing there's no tomorrow in the playoffs.
Q: Have you faced an offense with a quarterback-running back duo that can be as punishing on the defense as Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry? LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor can move swiftly, but these guys run after you more, right?
DM: Yeah, it's a little different - same type of attack where you've got to be able to defend Mariota when he drops back. Henry you've got to be able to defend everywhere. You know, he's not just a guy because he's big that he's going to put his head down and just run straight. If everybody crashes inside, he'll bounce. He has the speed to get around the edge. But, I think his numbers are obvious - wherever he is at rushing overall, but you see the stat where he's second in the league in fourth-quarter rushing. I think that speaks volumes with him just wearing teams down. Then you put that together with last week's game of seeing Mariota be able to break the pocket, break a tackle against Jacksonville the week before, being able to be stopped short but break off a tackle to get a first down and kind of end that game, so you can really see where those guys aren't just elusive breaking tackles, but they'll run through you and break tackles. We've got to all be ready to tackle and we've got to try to get 11 guys to the ball each time because it's no guarantee that one guy gets to them is going to bring them down. We've got to be able to support each other that way.
Q: Will it be strange seeing Logan Ryan in an opposing uniform?
DM: Yeah, it will be fun, though. The guy, he's a brother to a lot of us in there, a real good friend of mine, but there's nothing I want more than to see him lose Saturday night. So, as close as we are, that's not going to change, and he's going to compete and be the same way. It will be fun to talk a little trash to each other.
Q: Has there been any talk amongst you guys that this might be the last playoff run that you have with Matt Patricia and your desire to send him out the right way?
DM: No, because I don't know that. No one's discussed that. It's been all about Tennessee. I think that's how it will be throughout the whole playoffs.
Q: What have you seen from Rob Gronkowski the last year as he's worked to come back from injury and compete at a high level?
DM: I think the greatest thing is, for us as players, you don't even realize he - you know, I forgot all about being hurt last year or going through surgery because he just works his butt off. Every year, he puts in so much work. So, when he's on the field, there's no better tight end in the NFL, and I think everyone knows that. And for me, coming in with him, just seeing him be healthy throughout the year and produce at such a high level is great. It helps our team, but to just see him out there and his growth as a player and as a leader. You know, being a captain now the last two years, I think he takes a lot of pride in that - obviously, playing well but also being a leader and trying to do the right things all the time. You know, it's tough, so seeing him do that is great and very deserving of first-team All Pro.
Q: What have you seen from Kyle Van Noy this year as he has filled a different role following the injury to Dont'a Hightower?
DM: The thing about KV is he's very versatile, so we've used him a bunch of different ways, even last year. And then this year, he's been in there a lot when he's been out there on the field and he's been able to play end type of position, outside linebacker, inside linebacker. So, it's great. You know, it helps our defense out a lot, and he's one of a lot of guys on our defense that have been able to play different positions that allow us to do different things defensively. So, having him back out there has been great, obviously from his versatility, but from a communication standpoint because he's a guy that's been in there. He's been a leader, he's run the huddle kind of since he's been in there, obviously with him and High and E-Rob [Elandon Roberts], so having him in there has been great. He's been a big asset to our team.
Q: Mike Mularkey said he interrogated Logan Ryan about his knowledge of the Patriots. Do you plan to do the same with your brother?
DM: No, I mean, it might help, but these coaches watch a lot of film, and Logan probably can't help them much. I know that much. But, no, I want to pull out my J-Mac [Jason McCourty] jersey or something and wear it this weekend - show J-Mac some Tennessee love. He should be out there playing on that team.
Q: When Bill Belichick broke out the film from Tennessee's game this weekend, did he start with the second half or the first half?
DM: Oh, we watch it all. It doesn't matter what order, we watch it all. But, he always talks about that, playing 60 minutes, especially this time of year. You've got every team fighting to play for the next week. Nobody's going to go out there, and I don't care if you're down, if you're up, like no one is going to quit. So, that's something I think we always talk about, and obviously you could see it in that game against Kansas City. Tennessee just kept fighting, just kept fighting, just kept trying to do the things the right way. And you make a couple plays, the whole game kind of turns around. So, we're obviously fully aware of that. We've been in games like that, so we've talked all week about playing 60 minutes. Tennessee's played in a lot of close games, and they've won a lot of close games. So, we're getting to that point, we've got to be on point, we've got to do our job and there won't be much room for error.
Q: Because of Mariota's mobility, do you want to try to force him to make plays from the pocket?
DM: Yeah, I mean, it's not like if he stays in the pocket he can't make throws, but when he escapes outside the pocket and he has the ability to run and throw, you honestly really don't have a shot to stop him, I think. So, we've played quarterbacks like this where we do want to try to keep him in the pocket, but I think that's just the beginning part of it. We also, when we're man coverage or zone coverage, we've got to be able to play our zones or our man tight and not allow windows or not allow a great pocket for him to sit back there and throw because he's a good enough passer that he'll make all the throws on the football field. You know, we saw one against Indy where he kind of hit Delanie Walker between four people on the sideline. That was a tough throw, and that was in the pocket. But, I think we'll have a better chance that way than him being able to escape, throw it deep or run for 30 or 40 yards. So, it's going to be all 11 guys kind of playing their job with trying to contain him.