Q:Can you still play?
TB: Can I still play? I have about five good plays in me, offensively. I could probably give you ten on the defensive side of the ball.
Q:Given how complicated this offense is, how impressed were you that Aaron Hernandez was able to fill so many different roles on Saturday?
TB: I'll tell you what, I've been really impressed with a lot of players on this football team, on the offensive side in particular. And watching a player like him play the game the way he does and be able to do so many things, I'll tell you what, he is a tremendous talent to be able to do so many things. Really, the mental capacity of it is pretty astounding too, because there is so much you have to put on your plate, going from tight end, playing slot receiver. In this offense, you have to know all the positions, 'X', 'Y','Z', 'F' and 'H' - all five eligible positions you have to know. He seems to be taking it on pretty easily. A couple of times in this past game, I saw him as the third down back, protecting Tom [Brady] too against some of the blitzes. Pretty impressive performance that he's putting on this year.
Q:When you get to the within game of the Super Bowl, is it really tangible that you're one game away from the Super Bowl?
TB: For me, now being a retired player, I can speak about that. Before, I would have given you an answer like, 'We have to play this game first.' No, I think it is. Just watching, looking at the competition and watching this team play last week and watching how much energy they had in that game, it really is possible that we could be traveling to Indianapolis next week and you and I could be working together. It really is. It's an exciting time around here. This team hadn't won a playoff game since 2007 so everybody is excited again. Last week was a pressure-packed game for this football team for the simple fact that they hadn't won a game. The Boston media and the people here, it was a tough time and they went out and proved that they were still a pretty good football team because they beat Denver the way they should have beat them.
Q:When you were playing, obviously you were a very versatile player, do you see how the versatility has helped the team this year? Has that been a major factor?
TB: Well it is, especially when you've had as many injuries as the Patriots have had this year on the defensive side of the ball and on the offensive line - so many different guys stepping in and filling shoes. Having [Nate] Solder as a young player having to come in and step in for [Sebastian] Vollmer who has had the back problems all year. You lose Matt Light for a couple of games here and you get Marcus Cannon who is a tremendous story aside from football, surviving cancer and playing this year, which I don't think gets enough press. Guys like that coming back in and filling in for injured guys. Putting [Matthew] Slater at safety and it's not because it's a novelty-type thing to do but it's because it's a need and your team needs you to step up and perform. It's always good to have the kind of guys on your football team that can do so many different things, that can plug in for other guys.
Q: Is there anything that stands out to you about the Tuck Rule game?
TB: So many different things in that game that happened, from the tuck itself and Lonie Paxton making snow angels in the end zone. There are so many things that happened between that and before that that it's kind of hard to pull out one particular thing that stands out the most. I had two fumbles in that game, they were recovered by Larry Izzo so he saved my behind, that's for sure. Tom [Brady] running the sneak in the end zone for the touchdown there and getting up and spiking the ball and falling on his face. So many great things, it's just - Adam Vinatieri making two tough kicks into the wind to win the game for us. It's hard to believe it's been ten years, that's for sure.
Q:Is it hard as a former player when it gets to this week and you wish you could play?
TB: I was talking to Deion Branch just now, just talking about the way players should feel this time of year. I was explaining to him that I didn't get that feeling from this team a couple years ago, that they didn't really push that button to go to the next level. They should all be feeling different right now; there should be a sense of urgency and a different type of feeling they should have in the locker room right now. I told him I still get those feelings today. When the playoffs start, for whatever reason I feel different. I feel like I've pushed a button myself and you do. This is the time of year where I feel like, if I had one more game, this is the time of year I want to play it.
Q:Some guys it seems like they're natural Patriots when they come to the team. Other guys feel like they've been imported, signed as free agents or trades.
TB: That could have been it. This year, I do, I really think they're different this year. I've got that feel that some guys like [Jerod] Mayo, guys that have been around three or four years, I think they've matured some. They understand that you can't play in the shadow of those guys anymore but learn from what they did and the way they carried themselves. I don't think in the past they were pushing that button and going to the next level. This is a whole other season - the excitement of the game, the tempo of the game. There's three parts to a football season: there's preseason tempo, regular season tempo and then there's postseason tempo. Then you have Super Bowl tempo too. It's all different levels and everybody can't hit that switch. They all have to be on the same page when they do that too. You have to bring that level of intensity too.
Q:When people talk about this generation of Patriots, a lot of it starts with the 2001 season. Since they're commemorating the 1996 season, what does season mean to you go back to 1996?
TB: I think Bill [Belichick] has shown them enough film of all the old guys because I've heard enough stories about that in the past; him talking about some of his past players and showing them how the game is supposed to be played. To me, I mean really getting to come back and representing the '96 team this time around, first of all it's a great gesture from Robert Kraft and the New England Patriots to have us come back and do that. It will be fun for me to get out there and do the coin toss with them again. Hopefully we'll lose it too, like they've been doing all year. It's a special time. It's hard for me to believe so many years have passed by so fast. Reflecting back on '96, you think about all the failures you've had and all the great times you've had and all the other wins and stuff but just taking me back. I think about all the guys that I went to war with out in all those games and sweated with out there. It will be a special time for us and it will be great to see some of the guys come back too and enjoy this game this weekend.
Q:How would you answer if a fan came up to you and asked you what you were doing?
TB: Doing a lot of the things that you were doing. Never thought I'd be doing all this stuff, but I'm doing media stuff, doing TV, doing radio. I had no idea that I would be doing this for a living these days. I'm really enjoying it. For me, since you can't play anymore, you might as well talk about it and keep myself around the game that way. I'm doing some local stuff here and investing some money with Narragansett Beer and I'm trying to get that thing to take off and be successful at that too. I'm a competitor and I want to see everything I do and touch be great.
Q:You split your time between New England and West Virginia?
TB: I split my time between New England and West Virginia. I go back and forth. Obviously football season I spend a little more time here than I would back in West Virginia. It's going good. I have a hard time sitting still anyway so it keeps me on the move.
Q:Now that you've seen what we do from this side of it, what are your impressions of it?
TB: It's a different world over here. The guys kind of look at you funny every once in a while. I still have a bunch of guys in the locker room that I played with. They respect me and I respect them. A lot of things that we talk about privately, it remains private. I just talk about what I think about the game and what's going to happen - that type of stuff. It's a different world, you guys are a little bit different, a little bit strange. I do appreciate what you do for a living. When I played, I always respected your questions. I might not have answered them the way you wanted me to but I respected that and I respected your job. That's what I kind of relate to some of the players now too, is that you have to respect their job. Just because they ask you a question you don't like or you might hear somebody in the media not talking good about you or criticizing your play, if you're a true competitor, yeah, you should get pissed off by it. But respect it and maybe it's a little bit of truth to what they're saying and go check into it and look at it and make yourself better as a player.
Q:Do you find it hard to criticize players?
TB: I really did the first year out of it because I knew so many guys. I really felt bad about talking about them. I started thinking about it, I'm like, well, if Deion Branch came to me when I was playing with him and he asked me, 'Well how'd I do on that route?' I wouldn't be doing him justice or myself or my team by telling him, 'Don't worry about it, that was a great route.' No, I have to tell him, 'Deion, that sucked.' So when big Vince [Wilfork] sees me and he sees me on television saying something about his play, he got pancaked or something, he needs to respect that and take something from it. I don't have a problem saying when a player should have done better or he needs to catch the ball or whatever. I don't have a problem doing that now because really I'm telling them the truth and doing them a favor. As long as I'm not sitting up here calling them idiots and buffoons and all kind of stuff like that then they shouldn't have a problem with that and they do understand it.
Q:Bill Belichick was talking about how you and Tom Brady had an unspoken communication. When you watch Tom now, do you still sense where he's going with the ball?
TB: He's got so many weapons now, who knows where he's going with ball? There are certain situations when he hits [Deion] Branch with a certain pass or he hits [Wes] Welker or he hits [Rob] Gronkowski, you can see that type of relationship still there with a lot of these players. A lot of it is just body position with Tom and he kind of gets that read from your body language that this guy is going to break inside on this and it comes from coverage too. He's always on top of everything about every single receiver that he plays with and really particular about it. He studies all that stuff. You do it over a course of time. Thousands and thousands of reps that you've had together over the years - he gets to know you pretty well.
Q:Do you understand where he's going with the ball before anybody else does?
TB: On certain plays. It depends on the camera angle. If I can see how the defense is set up, I can kind of figure out who is getting the ball against certain things and certain coverages.
Q:Kevin Faulk is almost certainly going to retire at the end of this year. What are your memories of him?
TB: Maybe I should save that for when he does retire for real. Kevin's been great. He's one of my good friends and one of the guys I respected playing with in my career. Really learned a lot from and I know he'll tell you that he learned a lot from me. But I did, I enjoyed the way he played the game and is still playing the game. Just a tremendous ball player, he's a guy that I can't really call a running back or a third-down back. The guys that I really do respect, I just call them good football players.
Q:What has Kevin Faulk meant as a mentor to young guys?
TB: Kevin has helped everybody, especially his group of guys from J.R. Redmond to Corey Dillon when he was here. Guys like that helped Corey blend in with the rest of the guys here. He may have had problems elsewhere but you have guys like Kevin Faulk on your team that can help bring Corey into this thing gently and make him feel comfortable. That's just the kind of guy Kevin's been and always will be. I consider him to be a dear friend to me. He's definitely been a blessing for this organization, that's for sure. I can't even begin to count the number of big plays he's made for this organization over the years.
Q:When you first got to New England, the organization was making a transition from a tough spot. Did you ever envision something like this taking place? What went into transforming it from where it was to where it is now?
TB: When I first got here, this team was under different ownership. They were in transition to [Bill] Parcells who was more of a discipline-type coach. The team was kind of in bad shape. He came in here, he cleaned house, he fired a bunch of people, cut a bunch of players and everything was transitioning over to the 'Parcells Way'. What I do think was the biggest turn in the organization was when Mr. Kraft bought this team in 1994. You could see him, I just finished talking to him a couple minutes ago and he was talking about getting the right people in here and challenging people. That's what he did. He's gotten the right people in. It took him a couple times, a couple tries to get it right but he got it right and from then on, the hiring of Bill Belichick and his staff. The way they go about doing things and the players they were able to bring in here and the players they were able to get a lot of miles out of and a lot of good football out of I think really transformed this team into where it is now. Expectations are really high and they keep them high and they won't accept anything less than what they think you can do. I think that's the key. It's just having people and keeping people and expecting a lot out of them.
Q:What is Tom Brady like at this time of year? How does his game get raised at playoff time?
TB: I think he feels the need to raise the level of play and intensity during this time of year. He's one of those guys - he has to keep himself pretty even keeled because he is the quarterback. You can't get too amped up and too out of control because you start to make a few mental errors here and there. Tom is really that guy that is really mental and keeps everything even keeled for everybody throughout the course of this playoff run. That's really what he has to do as the head man out there on the football field.
Q:How much pressure do you think they were under to do well after the recent playoffs losses?
TB: I wouldn't say it comes from within but I know these guys have a lot of pressure on themselves to always play well and not make mistakes, not have certain things beat you in games, not beating yourself - things like turnovers and blown plays and mental errors. There's always that pressure. When I played it was the same way, I didn't want to be the person to go out there and make a mistake or miss an assignment to cause somebody to get hit or blown up or throw an interception. There's that pressure you put on yourself to be perfect all the time. Really, I don't think they feel too much pressure from the outside because you know how it is, everything is locked down here. They're all in here together. Really in the games, you have your 46 guys on the field and that's it, that's what you roll with.