DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR TODD BOWLES
(On what the defense needs to get back to doing to play as well as it did early in the season)
"Get back to fundamentals and communicate better. I think our communication was lacking on a couple plays and we busted some coverages here and there. We have to get back to fundamentals and basics."
(On the challenges in facing Vikings WR Adam Thielen and WR Justin Jefferson)
"They've got great receivers, obviously. Between the two of them they make big plays every week. Going into our game, I'm sure they're feeling pretty good because of the plays we gave up [against Kansas City]. Along with the running game, they tie those two things in very well and they make you play honest football."
(On the importance of the outside linebackers playing disciplined and preventing Vikings QB Kirk Cousins from getting out of the pocket)
"I think it's important for everybody. They have more than the play-action and the [bootleg] stuff – they have a very good empty game and drop-back game as well. They make you play honest football and read your keys. Everybody has to be fundamentally sound."
(On what type of fundamentals the defense needs to get back to)
"It's all the above. As you go through the season and you get to the middle of the season, you have that lull where you kind of get away from fundamentals a little bit and you just start working on the gameplan. We have to get back to what we've been doing best and what we know how to do, and that's the basic fundamentals of football. Whether it's eye discipline, backpedaling, gap recognition and technique, hat and hands – just old school football and playing the way we know how to play."
(On if the defense used the Bye Week to self-scout and what he discovered from that)
"We do it every week and we understand why we do it. Some things we do on purpose and some things we look at – more or less – to see what we're getting out of a lot of things that we call from the other teams and the same plays that show up over and over on us again that we can practice, get better at or tweak some things defensively."
(On if defenses need to find a different gear and if he taps into a different gear at this point in the season)
"I feel like that every week, so the last four weeks isn't going to change anything I have to do. We don't have to tap into an extra gear – we just have to play the way we know how to play and play our brand of football. At this point of the year, everyone's seen you [and] you've seen everybody, so you have to do what's best for your team. We have to get back to what we do best and not worry so much about the opponent."
(On if there are special plays that come out this late in the season)
"That's probably a postseason question, but you always have plays that you bring out every game. It's just a matter of if you get to use them. But, there's nothing to get out for the last four games of the season to say, 'OK, this is this and this is that.' We just have to play and not beat ourselves."
(On CB Sean Murphy-Bunting's play this season)
"Like I said, he started off the season well. He had a little [too] much on his plate and he's been battling injuries going back. The last couple weeks, we thought he's been doing a good job and playing better every week. He's a young guy – he just has to stay with it. We believe in him [and] he believes in himself, so I think he'll come around fine and play well."
(On Vikings WR Justin Jefferson's performance this season)
"Very talented [and a] big-time playmaker. I'm sure he's learned a lot from [Adam] Thielen. [He's an] excellent route runner, great off the ball [and] great at the point of attack down the field whether he's jumping over you or just running by you. It's going to be a full-time job for the secondary."
(On what has caused tackling issues in recent weeks)
"It goes to fundamentals. Tackling is not a mental thing – it's just a matter of wrapping up and getting the guy down. It's a lot of 'want to' and we definitely want to. But, we've missed quite a few of them the last couple of weeks and we have to get back to getting guys on the ground."
(On if his name circulating as a head coaching candidate for next season serves as a distraction)
"No. It's news to me – I don't read much. I'm trying to get into the playoffs."
(On how the defense prepares for stopping Minnesota's rushing attack)
"You prepare for it, but at the same time, they have a great passing game. They mix it up very well and you don't get the runs when you think you're going to get them. We've got to be ready at all times for both and we're preparing to get ourselves better and clean up our mistakes. Then we'll worry about the Vikings on Sunday. I think when we just come out and play our game, do the things we're supposed to do and not beat ourselves, we're fine. It's a big game for us [and] it's a big game for them, so it's exciting [and] we're looking forward to it."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR BYRON LEFTWICH
(On how QB Tom Brady being hit frequently has impacted the offense's flow)
"I don't know, really. I don't know if it has or hasn't. If you look at every quarterback in this league, I think the guys that have their hands in the ground [on defense] are really good. Week in and week out, you try to prevent sacks, and sometimes in that process he's able to get the ball off and get hit in that process. It's just really what you're up against week in and week out. Sometimes you're up against really good defensive lines where there's no pocket that's holding up for a long time, so you try to get the ball out of your hand [and] get completions. You try to prevent those because eventually those things will add up for any quarterback. But, you try to prevent them as much as possible with the understanding that we are playing football and sometimes that happens."
(On if he has noticed teams attempting to hit Brady early in games to disrupt him)
"I think they're trying to hit every quarterback – I don't think they're picking out [anybody] specifically. I think as a defensive line [and] as a defense, you're trying to do what you can to get to the quarterback. We're going to try our best to keep him as clean as possible week in and week out."
(On Minnesota's defense having success in high-leverage situations)
"I think they're well-coached. I think Coach [Mike Zimmer] does a great job of putting these guys in position [and] I think they have a great system. [I] have played against these guys before – they do a lot of good things [and] a lot of different things. Being in the division with Zimmer when he was in Cincinnati [and] I was in Pittsburgh, it's very similar. Knowing him, knowing that they're well-coached [and] knowing that he's probably harping on third down and red zones, because those are things where you can win or lose football games – those two situational plays. I break it down to those guys being well coached [and] those guys having an understanding of what they're trying to do on third down and in the red zone. We have to be prepared and ready to roll."
(On the importance of the offense finding its identity in the final month of the regular season)
"I think we understand that. In this building, I think we understand what we are [and] who we are. What we're trying to do is win football games, really. We've got to do what we've got to do to win football games. Whatever that entails [and] whatever we feel as though is best for us to win football games and do that, we'll try to do. We understand that it's December – you always want to be playing good football – in all phases, really – in December [and] getting ready if you have an opportunity to get to the [playoffs]. That's our mindset, really. Just doing the things we think we need to do best to help us win football games."
(On if he agrees the offense's identity is the ability to be multiple)
"I've been saying that all year. I don't think you can win games consistently [by playing] one way in this league. I believe the more multiple you can be and have different ways of winning football games or different ways of playing football – especially from the offensive side – it always helps you. The opponent is different week in and week out [and] it's just different week in and week out, so you want to have the ability [to be multiple]. Sometimes with the players that we have, it allows us to do different things that some teams can't do."
(On if there is a risk of players not being consistent in certain areas due to the offense being multiple)
"Yes, but we are. You can be multiple and not do different stuff week in and week out."
(On why the offense has not utilized play-action frequently)
"I don't know, to be honest with you. Like I tell you, we do what we feel as though we need to do to win the football game. We're not trying to do what everybody else [does] or what some other teams do best. We're trying to do what's best for our players. We understand how good we are at play-action, but it all comes down to being able to run the ball consistently, week in and week out. If you can do that week in and week out, obviously that always helps your play-action game. Obviously, we can be better at getting more attempts up, but it all starts with the run game. We have to do a better job of running the ball consistently so we can consistently call play-actions. That's really what it is [and the] thing we worked on while we had this time off. We'll see. We'll try to play our best football this month and see where it gets us."
(On what QB Tom Brady does to perform well at this point in the season throughout his career and how that helps his inexperienced teammates)
"Well, you always get everybody's best in December. No matter what their record is, you always get everybody's best because teams are either getting ready for the [playoffs, or] they're trying to get into the [playoffs]. So, you're going to get everybody's best week in and week out, and he understands that. We've got to do a good job of clearing all the outside noise in December. When December comes here, it's locked in, focus, us doing what we need to do to win football games [and] us doing what we need to do to execute play in and play out. He's been the best at it and that helps. That helps, especially with so many guys not having an opportunity to play in the playoffs yet. I think the experience he brings to our team helps us because it gives us a sense of comfort. We've got a guy that has been there [and] done that in these type of situations. He can help the guys that haven't been there [and] done that move along in this process."
(On if Vikings S Harrison Smith is the focal point for Minnesota)
"Just playing against these guys, he's a focal point every time you play these guys. He's a guy that will move around a lot, he'll be in a lot of different positions [and] you can tell the coaches trust in him with the range that they give him [and] the things they ask him to do week in and week out. He's a really good football player that we have to be ready for [and] a guy that you have to know where he's at on the field at all times."
(On if playing in a warmer climate this December will benefit QB Tom Brady)
"Oh yes. You can't beat this weather. It's been cold the past few days, but it got a little hot out there today. He talks about that every day – it's something that he talks about every day. He talks about how good he feels and that's just natural. Just being down here – the other day it got down to 50 [degrees] and I was freezing. I didn't feel as good as I normally would feel. It's something that Tom talks about all the time – he just enjoys this weather. Every day he can't believe that it's like this down here – especially coming from up north."
(On what the offense needs to do better on first and second down)
"First, it's just making guys aware, because we were really good at it the first half of the season. I think we probably were one of the best teams in the league, and it's amazing how if you don't stay on things, things can change quickly. That's the game of football, right? It gave us the opportunity to look at the beginning of the year [and] look at why we're not doing as well early in ballgames and give us an opportunity to see what it was, to self-scout and try to correct it. It really comes down to just converting third downs early. You've got to be able to convert third downs early, and if you don't, you're going to get to slow starts. It's all about third-down conversions – situational football, really. It's really a situational football thing that I believe we need to get better at."
(On how ball control and keeping opposing offenses off the field factors into his gameplan)
"All the time, really. It's not that you're trying to keep the other team's offense off the field – you're trying to do what's best for the teams to win football games. Sometimes it's going to be running the football on first downs heavily. Sometimes it's not going to be that. Sometimes it's going to be throwing it on first down. I've got to make sure to finish this season out that I do a better job of putting us in positions to really just play the way we need to play to win football games. Control the ball, play well and be good in situational football. In order to control the ball, you have to play well in situational football – third downs, red zones, not have negative plays. As long as we continue to do that, I feel fine about where we'll be at in our execution. We just have to go out and get it done."
(On if he believes the offensive line is better in pass protection than run blocking)
"I wouldn't say that. I just think we've got a good offensive line up front. I wouldn't say that we do one more than the other. I think we've thrown it more than we've run it, so we've had more opportunities in the pass block. I wouldn't say that. I think we've got five guys in front that are playing their tails off. Whatever we ask them to do, they'll find a way to get the job done. I've just got to do a better job of putting these guys in position to get the job done."
QUARTERBACK TOM BRADY
(On the Florida weather in December)
"Yeah, the last couple days have felt like early October mornings where I've been in the northeast for a long time. I've been loving wearing a hoodie for a couple days. It's amazing just to be at this point in the season and to still be outside practicing today. It turned into a beautiful day and I know we have a warm one coming up on Sunday. I always came down to Florida late in the year – we always played the Dolphins [because] they were in our [division]. It was pretty tough to adjust to. Just being in it really prepares you for the heat because it definitely takes a toll if you're not used to it. But I've loved just being outside every day. I was a native Californian for a long time in my life and I went away from it for about 25 years. You won't catch me dead living in the northeast anymore. I'm loving the warm weather and it's been a great feeling."
(On changing plays at the line of scrimmage)
"I think it's just getting a feel for our offense and then getting a feel for how to change a route concept, a protection or a play – pass to run or run to pass – if you're getting a particular look. It's really impossible for a coordinator to call a play with 30 seconds [left on the play clock] and think it's a perfect play versus everything that the defense can do too. The defense has a lot of variety of calls on any given play and there's no perfect play for every defense. Part of the quarterback's responsibility is making sure we're snapping the ball into a play that has a high degree of success. If it doesn't then you've got to be able to do something to put the team in a position so it's not a wasted play or a non-productive play. If you do that too many times [or] you do it on first down and you don't gain yards, then you've got two downs to get 10 yards, which is a lot tougher to do than having three downs to get it. I think from a quarterback standpoint, you always want to put your team in the best position because you're the one who has the final say out there in terms of what play it is and how to be productive within the scheme of the play. That comes with a lot of communication and that comes with a lot of time doing it in practice. It's just something we're continuing to get used to and I'm getting more comfortable and confident as the season is going. It's just we're going to have to keep building on it."
(On the motivation it brings knowing how important these December games are)
"I think the reality is you're battling to improve every week. Let's say you have a great record to this point – it's not a big deal. I've been on a lot of teams where we were 10-0 and we finished 12-4. You lose four of your last six and don't play well going into the playoffs – you finished 12-4, which is pretty good, but at the end of the day you're not playing very well going into an important time because you didn't improve or maybe you lost ground from where you were earlier in the year. I've been 5-5. The first time I was on a championship team we were 5-5 through 10 games and then played really well down the stretch. What you've got to do is you've got to have competitive stamina. You've got to have the ability to compete every day through whatever the situation might be. No one feels good about losing football games. That's not why we're here – we're here to win games. But you've got to learn from the losses so that you can put yourself in a better position as you move forward. We've had a lot of learning that has gone on this year. I know we all wish we were 12-0 at this point, [but] it's not the reality. We haven't deserved it. We haven't played to that level. But what we have had is an opportunity to learn about each other, what things we're productive at [and] what we haven't been productive at. Hopefully now, having a week off and understanding how we need to approach these things going forward it, we can really play our best football. That's what December is all about so we can continue to improve. Wherever that takes us, it takes us. It will be up to us to earn it. No one is going to give you anything in the NFL – it's too competitive, it's too tough. Every week is a challenge. Every week presents different challenges for you as a team, whether it's on offense, defense, special teams [or] all of it combined. The better teams you play, the less margin of error you have. We're still working to improve as I would say most teams are. If any team thinks they've got it figured out, then we'll see where they are at the end. At the end of the year, there is only going to be one team that's happy with the way the season ends. There is a lot of time between now and that time of the year and I think for us, it's just focusing on having a good day of practice and putting ourselves in a good position to be able to compete this particular week."
(On Vikings QB Kirk Cousins being in seventh grade when Brady won his first Super Bowl and if those type of stories still surprise him)
"I get that a lot. I think it's pretty cool, actually. I'm out there today practicing [and I'm] thinking, 'How cool is it that I'm still doing something that I love to do?' I know that the day I'm not doing it, I'm going to miss going out there and throwing the football with the greatest athletes in the world out on a beautiful, groomed practice field in a beautiful environment. Playing football has been an amazing part of my life and the relationships I've had with my teammates and the coaches I've had – I think the memories you create are really something unique and special. I think when that day ends, it'll be very difficult for me – I know that. I try not to take it for granted and I try to go out there and do the best I can do every day. I love practicing, I love playing, I love throwing the football [and] I love trying to improve at the game. I love trying to improve in different ways. Sometimes, learning different things from different people and learning different ways to do things. I've had a lot of teammates I've played with over the years. I've had a different set of coaches to learn from in this past season, which has been really enjoyable for me. Hopefully I have a lot of football left to play."
(On his relationship with the Navy Seal Foundation and its logo being included as part of his design for the My Cause My Cleats initiative)
"They're one of the four foundations I put on my cleats for the My Cause My Cleats initiative. I've had a lot of interaction with a lot of different guys over the years and [I] just appreciate everything they do for us and our country. I've tried to support them in different ways and have had a few unique experiences with those guys where I've learned a lot from them. I've been a part of a few of their training missions and so forth, so just seeing the discipline and the determination they have I think is very inspiring for me. I'm always looking for ways to look at myself and see how I can improve myself [and] how I can improve my attitude. Those guys have some of the greatest [and] strongest attitudes that you can have, and that's through a lot of training through a lot of discipline. They pay the ultimate price when it doesn't go well for them. You look at us as football players – when it doesn't go well for us, we get a chance to go out the next week and play another game. When it doesn't go well for them in their job, it's a very sad day. There's a different level of discipline and concentration for them and the stakes are a lot higher. I think I always want to show them the support that they deserve because they're doing a lot of things that they love to do, and they're prepared and disciplined to do. I think for us as athletes [it's important] to go out there and represent them in a way that gives them some enjoyment, some entertainment and gives them something to root for. I want them to know how much we appreciate what they do and how much we want to support what they're doing as well."
WIDE RECEIVER MIKE EVANS
(On what it means to be nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award)
"It's the utmost honor to be recognized for this prestigious award. I never would've thought that I would be a candidate or a nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year, but it's definitely a blessing. That's how I view my life – I've been very blessed and highly favored. I just feel like it's my job to help when I can. When I was a kid, I'd always tell myself [that] if I ever grew up to have money, I'd help even more people than I did when I didn't have any money. God blessed me with this opportunity and I'm just trying to pay it forward while I can."
(On the opportunity to earn a spot in the NFL Playoffs)
"We're very happy that we control our own destiny. That's what we want – that's all we could ask for. We've got to go out and do it. We have the roster. We've just got to fine tune some things and get hot at the right time, and I feel like we will."
(On the reason he chooses to do so many different things in the community)
"Well, a lot of the people that I help – we are all human beings, first and foremost. I know I'm a professional athlete, I'm a role model and things like that, but I'm a human being first. I've always been this way, just my bank account has changed. So, I'm obviously more fortunate to help people out. I'm somebody that people look up to, so when I do things it gets seen now, but I've always done this. I've struggled in my past. I've struggled [and] my family has struggled through domestic violence, tragedy, my father passing at an early age. Just with the things I've been through, I can kind of relate a little bit to what people are going through and I just want to help any way that I can – whether that be time commitment, financially – any way I can help, I try to do that when I can."
(On the toughness of WR Chris Godwin)
"The ultimate warrior. One of the toughest guys I've ever played with – probably the toughest. I don't know how he plays through some of the injuries he plays with. Even some of the stuff that hasn't been documented from earlier in his career when he was playing special teams and blocking and doing all of that. He's an unbelievable player [who is] as tough as they come. I love playing with him."