Q: How as the team’s preparation been this week?
Wes Welker: It’s been a good week of practice and preparation. We’re getting ready and understanding that we’re playing a very good football team this week. We’ve got a few walkthroughs and meetings to make sure we’re polished up and ready to go.
Q: What is it like playing against an experienced Baltimore defense?
WW: You have to do the little things right, taking care of the football. No mental errors or bad mistakes like that. We have to make sure we’re on top of everything – knowing our job, knowing our assignments and taking care of business. I think games like this against teams like this, the little things are always huge.”
Q: Can you talk about being the favorite going into the game this week?
WW: I don’t think it really matters. We’ve been favored at home before in the playoffs the last two years and I don’t think it’s that big of a deal at all. We understand that no matter what, we have to play well and that’s what it comes down to.
Q: How do tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez create opportunities for you?
WW: Hopefully it creates a lot of them. Any time you have great players on the field, it helps everybody out. We’re all in this together. When they get open like they do, it’s going to free-up other guys when they want to try and cover them. I just have to do the best job I can to get open whenever I get an opportunity.
Q: Can you talk about the physicality of the games against the Ravens?
WW: They’re very physical. They are a physical football team and you have to understand that they are going to come out hitting and you have to come back and hit just as much. You have to understand that it’s going to be a physical football game and it always is with this team. You have to make sure you’re not backing down from any of that.
Q: What pressure does the New England no-huddle offense create for other defenses?
WW: I think it’s hard for them to get lined up and it’s hard for them to get their calls. [It’s hard] for them to make substitutions from first and 10 to second and two and different things like that. It makes it tough on a defense and the faster we can go, the harder we make it on them. It’s been successful for us and hopefully we can use it or not use it; whatever our plan is to try and attack them.
Q: Do you sense confusion from opposing defenses when New England uses the no-huddle offense?
WW: Sometimes. Whenever we’re moving the ball. If we’re not and we go three-and-out, it makes it tough. We have to make sure that we’re making first downs, moving the ball and doing whatever we have to do to score touchdowns.
Q: What is Tom Brady’s mentality is this week?
WW: He’s always got a great mentality. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around. I can’t think of too many quarterbacks that don’t have a low completion percentage against the Ravens. I think that pretty much goes across the board in the NFL. I wouldn’t say he was the first or would be the last either. He’s obviously Tom. He’s going to fight and keep coming at them. We’re going to be right there with him.”
Q: Did you change your training routine when you joined the Patriots?
WW: I wouldn’t say it changed. When you catch over 100 balls in this league, you’re going to take your fair share of hits and different things like that. Each year, you have to train harder, faster and longer and do the things necessary to keep your body right. You make sure you come out the next year as dominant as you were the year before. It takes a lot of time and effort and it’s the only way to do it. It’s the only way I know how and it seems like every year I pick up new things for myself to try and be better. That’s what you have to do especially as you get older.
Q: Are you interested in the science of your training routine?
WW: I definitely do. I try to understand why I need to do this or need to do that. Activating muscles and how to do it; different things like that to make sure I’m ready to play the game and do those different things. The more knowledge you have about it, the more you can almost do it yourself when someone is not there to guide you or teach you.
Q: Can you talk about eating gluten free food?
WW: I’ve been trying it. I feel better when I do eat gluten free for the most part. I would say I’m 100 percent on that. It’s probably one of the hardest things ever to do that. I’d rather go out and work it off if I need to splurge a little bit. I do [still enjoy a piece of pizza]. There is going to be gluten-free pizza these days. I still get to enjoy that.”
Q: How is the team’s confidence?
WW: I think we have a lot of confidence. We’re a confident-type team. We have a lot of good players and we feed off each other knowing that somebody is going to make a play. We all have to step up to that challenge to make a play. When you’re in it together like that, it makes it tough on defenses. We have players that want to go out there and make that play for us. It’s great to see.”
Q: Do you relish the opportunity to play against the Ravens?
WW: I relish any opportunity to play in the playoffs no matter whom it is or when it is. I relish any opportunity to be in the position we’re in and trying to take care of business.
Q: What is it like going into a game with one of the best head coach and quarterback combinations ever?
WW: I don’t really think about it all that much. You hear it all on a day-to-day basis with the guys talking and doing all of these things. You don’t really think about that stuff. I’m sure down the road we can reflect back on all of that. Right now, I’m focused on my job and what we have to do to win.
Q: What are your thoughts on New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan predicting the Patriots will lose?
WW: Yeah. That’s Rex for you. Hopefully we can prove him wrong.
Q: How was the crowd last week and what are your expectations this week?
WW: There was definitely a lot of energy this past time around. I think playoffs definitely get people excited and we’re going to need them excited for this game. This is to go to the Super Bowl. It’s a big deal. It’s the AFC Championship Game and we’re going to need them all. Hopefully they’re all wearing mustaches when they do it.
PATRIOTS WR DEION BRANCH
January 20, 2012
Q: Can you talk about Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed’s leadership?
DB: I’ve been seeing it throughout my entire career. We came in together. This guy is a playmaker and he’s all over the football field. He takes chances and comes through for his team. He’s doing everything at will. He said the other day that he was banged up, but this guy is giving it his all each and every play.
Q: Can you talk about the leadership of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis?
DB: Ray is everything. This guy has 16 years; that’s a blessing. From the looks of it on the film, he hasn’t lost a step, he’s the same way. They surround themselves around Ray and they push themselves. He pushes his guys and gets them going. He does a great job of doing it, they follow his lead and he’s a great leader.
Q: Is there any one player specifically on the Patriots who’s a great leader?
DB: Tom [Brady] is one of the guys who is a leader. Everything starts with him. It starts and ends with Tom. All of the guys gel around him and we follow his lead.
Q: How is the focus and determination from Tom Brady heading into a game of this magnitude?
DB: It’s the same every week. Game plans and stuff change. The biggest goal is getting a victory regardless of how you get it. You’re not going to speak about last year. We went out, things weren’t perfect, but we executed plays when we had to. He made the plays when he had to make them and we came out with the victory. Our biggest thing this week is that we’ll have to play a lot better than that to get the victory. Whatever happens on the football field Sunday, if we execute our plays, we should be okay.
Q: How has this team created an identity after dealing with comparisons from past teams and players?
DB: We don’t focus on things that happen in the past. Every year is different and this is a totally different team from the ones we’ve had in the past. Some of the guys are still here from last year, but as far as the game this week, it’s totally different from last year. It’s a totally different game, the personnel is different, and the game plan is different. Our biggest thing is to worry about what’s on task and what’s going on Sunday instead of last year.
Q: How has this team created a new identity?
DB: That’s the biggest thing each and every year. The 2011 Patriots is this year. Next year’s team is going to be totally different from this year’s. I think the biggest thing is for guys to not dwell on things that happen in the past. That’s something we’re not going to do.
Q: Can you talk about the Patriots being the favorite entering Sunday’s game?
DB: We’ve been the underdog all year. If we let it stay that way, we’ll be cool. We aren’t even supposed to be here according to the media. The only focus we have [are] the guys in the locker room. We worry about our game plan and execution. We don’t worry about the rest of the stuff. That’s my first time hearing about [being the underdog]. I promise you. My TV hasn’t been on ESPN for two months. Any sports channel, not just to single out ESPN, but any sports channel. I think the guys in the locker room are focused on one task and that’s taking care of our business.
Q: Can you talk about the success of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez this year?
DB: I think it’s great. I get the opportunity to see that every day in practice. I think you all get the joy of seeing him on Sunday. I get to see him four and five days before it actually happens. The things they are doing on the football field aren’t a shocker to me or the guys on the football field. They know what they can do. The coaches do a great job of coaching those guys up and getting them prepared to play a game. They do a good job of going out there and executing plays, doing what Tom [Brady] needs them to do and being where he wants them to be. We’re thankful to have those two guys with us and they are going to get better and better. Everybody can improve across the board and they have a lot of improving to do as well. That’s a good thing.
Q: How have Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez helped you as a receiver?
DB: We all complement each other in some kind of way according to our offense. Everybody has a job and a role. The most important thing is that guys are very unselfish. We’re not going into the game asking for the ball. You’ll never hear that. As competitors, everyone wants the ball, but the biggest thing is operating and running our offense. However we do that, that’s Coach [Bill] O’Brien’s job to figure out how to get all the guys the football, which he’s been doing a great job of doing.
Q: Have you played on a previous team that had this much versatility?
DB: It’s happened in the past. Those are things we do when we have the opportunity to do them. I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’re going to run this all year long. It’s all about game planning and if we have the opportunity to run certain plays, we’ll do that. Guys are versatile, especially with this offense. It’s fun for you all to see it. It’s fun for us to do it as well especially when the guys get the opportunity to get in the backfield and play quarterback, which hasn’t happened yet. I’m still trying to get myself a pass in at some point.
Q: What drives this team?
DB: This is what it’s all about. Getting to this point and taking advantage of this opportunity. Playing for what all 32 teams set to be playing in and to cap this entire season off. This is what it’s about right here. Now, it’s all about seizing the moment. Trust me, the day Coach [Belichick] called and told me they were thinking about bringing me back, that was the first thing that was on my mind. Having an opportunity to get back and play with the organization where I started, which is a blessing, and to also be in this position.
Q: What are you expecting from the home crowd this week?
DB: It’s going to be a lot better than last week. It was great last week, but this may be the highest. We have the best fans in the world and I promise they’ll be there full, loud, and ready to go and backing the team.
Q: Does it help when the home crowd is quiet when the offense is on the field?
DB: That was the time that we were telling them to calm down. They get so rowdy when we start moving the ball. There were a couple times when we were in the huddle telling the crowd to calm down a little bit because it’s pretty loud. We were trying to make all kinds of checks and you’re supposed to do that when the team is on defense. But we truly appreciate it.
Q: Do you have any idea why the Ravens defense plays better at home as opposed to the road?
DB: Let’s just hope that pattern keeps going. I’m not on the defensive side of the ball, but let’s just hope it stays that way.
Q: Can you talk about past occasions where the Patriots were not as respected as they should be and how they feel they are respected now?
DB: There were times where you could say that and even now to this day it floats around. We hear rumblings and stuff, but do we pay attention to it? No. We just go out and play football and let our play do the talking.
Q: How do you feel Coach Bill O’Brien will do as the head coach at Penn State?
DB: I think he’ll do a great job. I think right now, he needs to do a tremendous job for us on Sunday. He’s a great coach and a passionate coach. He truly loves his players. I truly enjoyed my two years with him. He’ll be a great coach though.
Q: Has this team been playing for Mr. Kraft after the death of his wife, Myra?
DB: The things that have happened here lately we don’t need to talk about. It’s very evident, starting with Mrs. Myra [Kraft]. Nobody could stand in Mr. Kraft’s shoes right now because it’s hard to tell how he’s feeling. I’ve never been in that position. He knows that we truly love him and that we’re here for him. We’re going to try and do our job, execute and do what he wants his team to do. We all know what we’re playing for. It’s a bigger picture than just playing football. That’s what we’re here for and we’re very thankful he gave us the opportunity.
PATRIOTS DB DEVIN MCCOURTY
January 20, 2012
Q: How’s the team’s preparation been this week?
DM: We came out and worked hard. That’s the goal, to come out and work hard all week at practice and give yourself a chance to play well on Sunday. We feel like we came out here and worked hard and now it’s time to execute on Sunday.
Q: What’s the confidence level of the defense heading into Sunday’s game?
DM: It’s a different week, but we feel confident going into the game. We feel like we practiced hard and got some things done. We’ll go in there with confidence on Sunday and now we have to execute.
Q: How have the Patriots tight ends helped in practice preparation this week?
DM: The two guys have helped all throughout the year. From the beginning of training camp all the way to whatever week this is, counting preseason. Going against those guys everyday helps us, not only to cover other good tight ends, but going against [Aaron] Hernandez helps cover big, physical receivers in this league. So, those guys are a big help to us each week in practice.
Q: Can you talk about the crowd last week and your expectations for the crowd this week?
DM: It was a good showing and it was fun being out there last week. Hopefully they’ll come out and support the same way. We have to give them something to cheer for. We have to play hard and as long as we’re playing hard, our fans will be there for us.
Q: Why has the Ravens defense played better at home than they do on the road?
DM: I’m sure with this game they’ll come in focused and trying to play well. It’s tough. Sometimes those stats really don’t mean anything. You really have to look at the game. But, I’m sure they’ll come in here ready to play.
Q: Can you talk about the advantage of playing in Gillette Stadium?
DM: Our crowd. We love having our fans here to support us, yelling and screaming. You have the momentum and the crowd noise helps out a lot.
Q: Can you talk about the Patriots playing in London next year?
DM: No. I’m focused about Sunday. London will be here sometime next year. Right now the goal is to play well on Sunday.
Q: Can you talk about Ray Rice and why he’s as good as he is?
DM: We got to watch him on defense in college make play after play. I think it’s his versatility. He plays hard, his vision is good and he has good balance. The same things I see watching film on him now I used to see up close in practice. I always knew he was going to be a great player and it’s fun to watch him.
Q: Can you talk about going one-on-one against Ray Rice on previous occasions?
DM: A couple of times we went against each other. I’m going to say I won them all.
Q: Is the feeling that the defense has turned a corner and is playing their best football now?
DM: We feel like we played better last week. We feel like we improved. We came in this week and worked hard, tried to improve on some things and now we have to show it. Just doing it in practice and playing well in practice is not enough. We have to execute on Sunday.
Q: How has it been switching to a new position and how difficult that can be?
DM: It was just about playing football. I went head first at it just trying to make plays and using whatever skill I had just as a football player, playing defensive back. I think my attitude, just like a lot of other guys was, any way we can help the team win; we’re ready to do it. Hopefully we can play well with whatever position they put us in.
Q: Can you talk about the process of switching to a new position?
DM: At this time of year for everyone I think it’s been added film work. Trying to learn and know as much as you can going into these last games with no tomorrow if you lose. I think everyone has put in that extra work to make sure we go out there and play well. That’s probably the biggest thing, the extra film work.
Q: Can you talk about the versatility of the guys on the team?
DM: We don’t even think about it. Guys just go out there and play football. At the end of the day, we try to get wins. We just go out there and play. Having those guys out there making plays, we’re all having fun with each other.
Q: Is there more confidence on the defense with the injured players back?
DM: It helps a lot. Those guys have game experience and they make plays on the field. Having them out helps because of their emotion and the passion they bring to the defense as well as their playmaking abilities. They give us confidence and now it’s just going out and doing it.”
Q: What’s your scouting report on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco?
DM: He makes all of the throws on the field. When you watch him throwing the ball down the field, he can definitely get it deep. The biggest thing people don’t give him credit for is his ability to run if he has to. Certain games you see him taking off down field and if you don’t account for him, he gets a lot of yards. We have to be ready to stop him at different times. He gets the ball to the right guys. As a defense, we’ll have our hands full on Sunday.
Q: How special is it to get this deep in the playoffs?
DM: I think getting here and we’re talking about taking advantage of the opportunity. [That means] going home at night and studying more film. Studying the game plan and doing everything you can. You don’t get these opportunities every year. Just going out there and making sure we do everything we can.
Q: Is Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker difficult to practice against?
DM: From the standpoint of running around, yes. The real reason is because of how good he is. Covering him is not easy. He’s very quick. Us as defensive backs, even though he’s running around full speed, it’s hard to cover him. That’s the biggest challenge. But, Wes helps us get better each day. Going against him on one-on-ones is very tough, but we feel like we get better going against him.
Q: Can you talk about Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith being a big-play receiver and the difficulty covering him?
DM: He’s fast. He flies down the field and runs by guys. The biggest reason why [Joe] Flacco has confidence in him is because he comes down with the catch. We really have to be ready to cover him. He makes plays down the field, but he also makes other plays where he catches the ball and is able to run. We just have to be prepared. When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s dangerous and trying to cover the deep ball.
PATRIOTS WR MATTHEW SLATER
January 20, 2012
Q: Has your father, Jackie, given you any advice about playing in a game of this magnitude?
MS: Yeah, he has actually. I got almost an email every day from him this week, just telling me to really not take this opportunity for granted. He played 20 years and he only played in one Super Bowl. You realize that this is why we all play the game. Everybody has been brought here for games like this, to win games like this. He just keeps telling me, ‘You can’t let anything come between you and what you have to do on the field on Sunday. You have to be extremely focused.’ Obviously that message has been echoed around here all week. He knows what’s at stake, I know what’s at stake, we all do.
Q: Mr. Kraft said that he could sense the chemistry in this locker room change midseason. What is it about being in this particular locker room?
MS: I think during the middle of the season we really went through some adversity. Adversity can do one of two things – it can either tear a team apart or really bring a team together. I think looking back on it now and when we lost those two games back-to-back and everyone was counting us out, we really rallied together and showed some resiliency. I think in hindsight that might have been a good thing for our team. It’s never a good thing to lose football games, but we really responded and we really showed some mental toughness down the stretch being able to string together wins. You don’t find that often, that takes something special and this team has it. We realized that as we went along in the season that you know, we have something here, we think we have a chance to do something special. The guys on this team really get along so well. We all just have that same singular focus and we all just want to win. Any of us are willing to do what it takes for the man next to us so we can go out there and achieve our ultimate goal.
Q: What was the biggest thing that had to change? Everybody talks about the secondary and the yards given up.
MS: I think our mindset definitely. We had to start believing that this team is a good football team, meaning us, and we can do something here, we have something here but we had to believe it. Physically everybody has talented players, but I think it’s the chemistry and the mindset that puts you over the top. Once you started believing and buying in and kind of ignoring what was going on outside our team and just focusing on the guys in that locker room and the coaches, then I think we started to see things turn around and it’s brought us all the way to this point.
Q: How much does it help to have veterans around who have been through this before to make sure that mindset stays?
MS: I think that’s huge. There’s no replacement for experience. You can’t coach it, you can’t buy it; you either have experience or you don’t. We have guys here that have experience, that have been on championship teams and have been on losing teams, so they know what it takes. That message was sent from the top down, starting with our leader Tom [Brady] and Vince [Wilfork] and Jerod [Mayo] and those guys, Brian Waters, Logan Mankins, those guys kind of set that mentality and started it and that message has been well received by everybody on this team.
Q: Have you guys focused on special teams more after seeing an opposing team struggle with holding onto the football during the year?
MS: We try to get the ball out every time if we could. Those guys have had their problems but they’re still a very tough unit. We know we have our work cut out for us, especially Coach Harbaugh with his background in special teams. They’ll be ready and I’m sure they’ll be holding onto the ball and they’re going to make it tough on us. We know they have great players, [Brandon] Ayanbadejo, three-time Pro Bowler, who has made a career out of being a demon out there. It’s going to be a challenge for us this week.
PATRIOTS LOCKER ROOM QUOTES
January 20, 2012
PATRIOTS DE SHAUN ELLIS
(On the Baltimore Ravens)
“Overall, they are a great team and have an excellent defense. They have a great running game. They are well-rounded. For us, we just have to go out and just handle our assignments and play tough-nosed football. They are a very physical team and they like to play that style. We just have to come out ready to play.”
(On the challenges of facing Ray Rice)
“He is a great back and definitely one of the best backs in the league. He’s a hard-nosed guy that runs real hard. For us, we just have to get as many guys around him as possible.”
(On how important the start of the game is for momentum)
“Any time you take the field, you want to play for 60 minutes. It’s definitely important to get off to a fast start.”
(On playing in big games and the difference to getting a victory)
“To just go out and execute and just try not to worry about winning and losing and just try to wait, just go out and play the game. Don’t get too ahead of yourself and thinking outside the box. Just stay inside the box and play the game.”
(On the week of preparation)
“It has been great man. It’s been a steady week. You know how we always go about our business and I’m just ready to play.”
(On the potential of family members looking ahead to the Super Bowl)
“I just try to block all of that out because it’s the first thing they bring up is the Super Bowl. They don’t think about the game you have to play before you get there.”
(On playing in big games and whether he gets nervous)
“Each has its own set of feelings. This is definitely a tough task for us and we just have to go out and play and let our play speak for itself.”
PATRIOTS TE ROB GRONKOWSKI
(On his feelings heading into the game)
“I’m definitely excited, the biggest game of my career, the AFC Championship Game, can’t be a bigger stage this far into the season. I’m really excited and I can’t wait until Sunday.”
(On the week of preparation)
“It is going good. It is the same as always and just working hard studying up the defenses and coming together as a team and everything. We are just executing all practice long and practicing hard.”
(On the CBS Scene promotion for the best Gronkowski spike and whether he has any advice)
“I heard about that. That is pretty funny. Just spike it as hard as you can I guess.”
(On what has led to the success of himself and Aaron Hernandez)
“It is just overall the whole team execution – everyone going out, everyone doing their job. The O-linemen are playing great, pass-protecting and giving Tom [Brady] time so he can hit the open guy and sit back, see what the coverage is and fire it in to whoever is open. So everyone is executing well, getting each other open, so that is how it goes.”
(On if there is still work to do after the final practice)
“Preparation goes all the way up to game time. Just because the physical part is basically all done with until the game doesn’t mean the mental part is all ready. You are just focusing all the way until Sunday, getting your mind right and getting mentally prepared, so when it comes to Sunday you are physically and mentally prepared.”
(On facing a tough Ravens defense)
“It is a big challenge. The best team we are playing so far all year. They have a big front and they’re all physical and we can’t go out there and be soft. You have to be physical and be able to play up with them.”
(On if he gets nervous before games like this)
“I get nervous before every game. That is a part of the game, going out there before so many fans, it’s always nerve-wrecking. We will just see how big it is on Sunday.”
(On keeping calm and composed leading up to the game)
“You want to stay calm and you want to stay cool until game time so you are ready and everything, especially against these guys. Their energy they bring with their defense and everything they are always going full speed and 100 percent. You have to save up all of your energy so when it comes to the game you can match them and be out there with them.”
PATRIOTS S JAMES IHEDIGBO
(On wanting to forge a new Patriots Championship identity)
“This year is different than any other year. It’s our own identity, it’s our own team. What was done in the past is in the past and all those guys that played before us we definitely pay homage and give our respects to them and everything that they’ve done but you know it’s our time to do it and the opportunity is in front of us. It’s all about seizing the opportunity. Playing in the AFC Championship doesn’t come often. I’m lucky to have even played in it a couple times now, but it doesn’t come often and you have to understand that and it’s about seizing the opportunity ahead and executing and playing great team football.”
(On if friends and family keep reminding him of how close the team is to the Super Bowl)
“Off course family, friends, [and] fans, everyone’s excited about it, but right now we just have tunnel vision. Our number one goal is beat the Baltimore Ravens and that’s where our focus is and everything else after that will come after we do our job. We’re focused solely on playing our best game and executing and winning this football game.”
(On thoughts that New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan predicted the Ravens to win)
(On what advice he can offer the younger players)
“I just tell them to enjoy it and just really enjoy it – lean on each other, focus and play the way you’re capable of. It’s nothing that you can just sit down and say, ‘I’m going to do something extraordinary.’ [If] a play comes your way, you make it otherwise you just do your job and play as a team and that’s what we’re going to do and play our best football.”
(On why New England is a special place to play)
“We prepare and prepare harder than any place that I’ve played and it definitely gets you focused in on your opponent and knowing them and understanding their strengths and how they want to attack you so that’s what we’re keyed in on this week and really execution is everything. The team that executes the best will win on Sunday.”
(On if the team is feeling confident like they did going into the game against Denver)
“We’re confident in each other and knowing that and intrusting in each other to get the job done. That’s where our confidence stems from. Just understanding the importance of this game and the level of play you have to bring to this game and just playing and leaning on each other. That’s really going to carry us through. It’s going to be a physical battle and we’re mentally getting ready for it.”
(On what his feelings are like right before kickoff)
“A lot of emotion. It’s going to be electrifying in this place come Sunday. [There will] definitely be a lot of emotion and excitement to play in – itching for kickoff.”
(On if he’s superstitious on game days)
“The only one ritual that I have every year and I’ve done it every year since I was in college is that I’ll call my mom up and we’ll have a little prayer on the phone before the game. That’s just something that I’ve done with my family but besides that it’s just go time come game time.”