DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR TODD BOWLES
(On his conversation with LB Devin White at halftime against Atlanta telling him to be the emotional leader)
"I don't say that a lot and I know he brings a lot of energy. You could feel it at halftime – he was a little quiet, which is not him. He was playing well, but he was a little quiet. He's the emotional leader [and] he's the guy that carries us and gets us going. For us to come back and play a strong second half, I knew we needed his energy, so I went up to him and we had that discussion."
(On CB Sean Murphy-Bunting's current play compared to the game in Detroit last season)
"He's close. Obviously, he was a lot healthier [last season]. He's nowhere near where he was last year, this year, from that standpoint. But he's doing a lot more for us. For him, it's two or three plays a game. As a corner, if you play great [for] 50 or 60 plays and you have two or three bad plays, you have a bad game. It's just ironing out some technique things in that aspect and he'll be fine."
(On if he is happy with the number of interceptions the defense has forced this season)
"I think we can get a lot more. For me, anything up over 20 is pretty good, so we're a little short there. We've dropped a few, we've knocked some down [and] we've given away some opportunities. We've got two games to go and we're chirping and chiming at it. It'll get better – they come in bunches."
(On why the team has been more successful on the road this season)
"It's good that you can play on the road, but you want to win your home games, too. I don't think it has anything to do with preparation or what the other team is doing. It's just some plays here and there that we didn't make as a team. We have to get better from a home standpoint and a road standpoint. It's good that we can go on the road and play – hopefully we win this game on the road so we can get in the playoffs and go from there."
(On if he thinks ahead about wanting the team to play its best football of the season beyond this Saturday's game)
"You're thinking about every week. You want to get better each game, whether you're going into the playoffs or it's Week 5. You want to get better each game, you want to be sound each game and you want to build momentum toward the next week going. That's what we're trying to do."
(On DL Jeremiah Ledbetter and the rotation on the defensive line)
"He's been practicing well, [so] obviously he deserved a chance to play. He brings some juice on third down for us from an interior standpoint and he's a different type of body for us. I thought he did a good job."
(On what caused some of the big plays the defense allowed early in the game at Atlanta and what it did to correct it)
"The biggest thing in the first half – especially the first drive – is we didn't get off the field on third downs. We missed a couple tackles there and let the flat out of there by getting too nosey going somewhere else. We corrected that at halftime and then we came out with a different mentality."
(On if the defensive adjustments were made on the sideline or at halftime)
"It was both. It was [more] of us keeping our composure, understanding the things we did wrong and bringing out the energy in the second half more than anything else. We switched up a few things here and there, but for the most part it was just us focusing on the mistakes we made in the first half and clamping down on those things. Obviously when you play a division opponent, the records are out the window and it's going to be tough no matter what. We knew that going in, but we cleaned up some things in the second half, so credit to the guys."
(On why LB Devin White was effective as a blitzer in the second half at Atlanta)
"We had some different things called for him to make sure he took advantage of certain situations. Devin is a heck of a blitzer when he does blitz. The call was dialed up, he made the plays and he did a good job."
(On if he was frustrated with only getting one Pro Bowl selection on the defense)
"No frustration here. I'm sure [there was] for the guys, but we're trying to get to a bigger picture from that standpoint. Everybody votes on it – you understand people get in every year. It's tough – there's a lot of talent in this league – so we just have to keep churning. We're trying to get into the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. I think that will soothe off everything else."
(On how dangerous games against opponents with worse records can be)
"Well, if you look at them that way, they're going to be very dangerous. We're not looking past this game at all. Obviously if you saw the Jets [versus] the Rams and the Steelers [versus] the Bengals, you know better. If you don't show up on Sunday, you're going to get your butt kicked regardless of who you're playing in this league. We know they have a lot of talent on that team and we've got to worry about us and take care of us. We're taking that approach this week, we're going to try to shore up and we're going to play a good football game."
(On the rotation being used at defensive back and linebacker in recent weeks)
"It's a long season. Guys get nicked up here and there, so you try to give them a break when you can and bring along the depth as the season goes on. Like I said before, guys get nicked up and guys need a rest here and there if we're on the field for a long time. The other guys have been practicing well, so we try to work them in [and] give them some time. It makes the rotation stronger and makes the bodies fresher in the fourth quarter."
(On OLB Jason Pierre Paul's play that led to his Pro Bowl selection and how he has grown in the second year of this defensive scheme)
"He's been healthy for the whole season – we didn't get him last year until halfway through. Obviously, him dealing with some injuries here and there. Coming into the scheme, understanding it more and understanding what he can do in the scheme has really helped him from that standpoint. I've been really impressed with his pass drops -- obviously he's got two interceptions to go with it – but you want to make sure your rushers rush. They play off each other very well up front – he and Shaq [Barrett] do a good job of feeding off each other – and he brings so much energy with the guys that he makes us a different team."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR BYRON LEFTWICH
(On how the offense makes adjustments at halftime)
"The adjustments were made in the protection. It was just really two [mistakes] – it was something that we didn't execute well. The protection was never really the issue. It was just doing a better job of getting our guys in position to make plays. We felt as though we went into halftime and said, 'We'll score every time we get the ball.' We knew our defense would begin to slow those guys down, so we just came up with the point that we'll score every time we get it and see if it's enough in the last quarter to see if we can find a way to win. That was our mindset all the way through and through. [I] talk about this team's fight and the fight of this team – it's something else [and] it's unique. This team, when its back is against the wall they tend to always find a way to show up and do the things that gives you opportunities to win football games. That's what we had to do – that's the position we were in – and we found a way to pull it out there in the end."
(On if running the ball is the one thing the offense needs to do more effectively)
"Yeah. I think, obviously, you want to run the ball better – more efficient, really. You want to be more efficient. [I'm] not saying that we weren't efficient in the ballgame, but sometimes the way football games go, you don't really have a lot of attempts. Sometimes football games happen in ways where you just don't have enough attempts. We had to do what we had to do to win the game. Our ultimate goal is trying to find a way to do what we can to win the football game. Winning that game, because of the way it went – having 30-40 carries within the game – we had to do what we had to do to find a way to win it. Those guys did a good job stepping up [and] making the plays we needed to do to make it on both sides of the ball."
(On what it is like seeing QB Tom Brady lead comebacks late in games)
"Ultimately, we're always communicating because we kind of have an idea of what teams are going to try to do against us. It was just getting the right stuff called and getting the right players the football. It wasn't just Tom. When you have Mike [Evans], Chris [Godwin], Gronk (Rob Gronkowski), you're able to make plays uniquely. I just think we can do things uniquely that just us and probably a very few [other] teams can do. We have really good football players outside. When they're in position and you give them opportunities, they consistently make plays. It's good to have guys like this. It was really good to see the fight, the focus [and] the determination. Those guys felt like they'll score every time we got the ball, and you saw it in the way they operated. You saw it in the look in their eye [and] you saw it in the way they were communicating to each other. It was a different energy level. We understood what we needed to do, and those guys did a good job of getting the job done."
(On how the offense uses its confidence to execute better in the first half)
"For one, this is a very confident team. These guys stay confident in every situation. The game of football tries to eat at that sometimes, but this is a confident group of guys. It wasn't a confidence thing. It was more a matter of fact, 'Hey man, let's go and get the job done.' This group together has had a few opportunities throughout this year to respond in that way. This wasn't the only game we've been in this position. We're trying to win football games – they understand the game is four quarters. As much as we want to start off fast, that didn't happen again this week, but we did what we had to do to win the football game, which is ultimately the ultimate goal."
(On how he felt the running backs performed in RB Ronald Jones II's absence against Atlanta last week)
"I think our backs did well. I think there's some things we have to correct as a group, but I think they did well. I think just the way the game went, there weren't a lot of opportunities from an attempt standpoint. Every running back needs attempts to get in a groove. Those guys, it's a different position – the more you can give them the ball, the more they make the right cuts, the more they see it better [and] the more they get into the right position. I think it helps the offensive line when you have more attempts. More attempts gives them more opportunities to wear on guys, to take on body blows [and] body shots on an opposing defense. It's just the way that the game went. We didn't have a lot of opportunity for attempts, but I'm OK with how we played from the position. Obviously, when you don't have 'Ro' (Jones II), his capabilities and his abilities, you always would like to have that on the field. But I believe the guys did OK [and] they played well. [There are] things we must get better at – they know that – and we'll keep working on it this week, trying to become a better football team as a whole."
(On how having healthy players at the skill positions helps him as a play-caller)
"It's kind of been like this all year to be honest with you. We're missing a guy here and there, you're missing two guys here – we haven't really had a lot of practice time together, as crazy as that sounds this late in the season. Here we go again – we're down 'Ro' (Ronald Jones II). Good thing is we've got Lenny [Fournette], we've got Shade (LeSean McCoy), we've got Sneak (Ke'Shawn Vaughn) – we've got guys we feel as though filled in for us early in the year at different positions. We feel as though we've got guys at the running back position that we can fill in and play well. From a play-calling standpoint, it's all about who I have available, really. I call plays according to who I have available – put guys in position to make plays according to their skillset. It's not that it's too difficult. Some weeks it was because we're going into Sunday's not having an idea of if we're going to have certain guys or not. We knew last week that 'Ro' was going to be out, so we had a week of opportunity to prepare to get these guys ready to roll."
(On where he has made the biggest strides as a play-caller this season)
"I can't really pinpoint something single-handedly. This is my second year doing it, right? So, the more experience you get in it [and] the more situations you can be in, I feel the better [it is] for any young anything – young player, young coach [or] anybody in that sort of situation. I'll be honest, I feel myself getting better, but I can't pinpoint exactly what it is week in and week out. I'm just trying to get these guys in position to make plays. I don't really see it and think of it that way. I've got good football players around me that I've got to do a good job of getting the ball. That's always my focus. I'm not really focusing on myself. I'm more focusing on the guys we've got on the field [and] making sure I'm constantly putting them in position to make plays and be successful. That's really how I see that – can I consistently put guys in position to make plays to help us win football games?"
(On what it looks like to see QB Tom Brady prepare each week)
"I don't really see him eat. I'm quite sure he's eating healthy. From a football standpoint, he does everything that's required [and] he does everything at a high level. Obviously, that's how you become the player that he's become, right? His focus on the detail [and] the little things get him through. We're always in communication because you're always trying to learn the player as best you can. I'm always trying to ask him why he does this or why he does that. He's preparing himself to be a quarterback in this league and he's been doing it at a high level for a long time. We talk about some things. I don't really watch what he eats and things like that. I don't know how many massages he's getting and all that. But, I kind of worry about the football stuff with the awareness that he will take care of all the other things that he's learned how to do throughout his 20-something years in this league."
(On if the NFL will ever see another player perform at Brady's level at his age again)
"I don't know. I'm just trying to keep him playing at a high level, to be honest with you. We were talking today – I think this is his 300th game played. That's crazy – 300 games – and I don't know if that's playoff games or not. That's an amazing amount of games [and] an amazing amount of repetitions. That's just a unique thing to have that. That blew my mind hearing that today. It's something you never really think about, but for a guy to play 300 games, obviously you've got to be really good at what you're doing, and you've got to be really durable, especially when you're playing the game of football. That's kind of unheard of."
(On needing to perform better early in games against tough competition)
"Oh yeah, it's something that we're talking about all of the time. At the same time, I get it. I get the perspective of everything. I get it, trust me. We're not trying to have slow starts. Trust me, we are doing everything possible not to have slow starts. But we're not going to assume that if we're in the game, we're going to start slow. We're not assuming [that]. We can't tell what's going to happen in the future. All we can do is prepare each day to try to fix that issue. I believe in these guys [and] I believe in the coaching staff that we will get that fixed. When will it happen? Hopefully it happens when we need it to happen. All we can do is work on it and try to continue getting better at it. It's something that you work on, but the ultimate goal is to win the football game. That's how we view it. Obviously, we want to start off as fast as possible, but we want to win the football game. If you start off fast and don't win, I don't think that matters, does it? When you really sit down and think about it as a whole, we're trying to do what we can to win the games."
QUARTERBACK TOM BRADY
(On playing in his 300th career regular season game on Sunday)
"I think it's pretty cool. I don't get caught up too much in statistics and those types of things, but football has just been a very important part of my life for a long time – 30 years. I love the ability to go out there and compete with my teammates [and] compete for our fans. I love the game – I love the nuances of the game, I love the relationships I've built [and] all the memories I've had. I'm very blessed to be 43 years old and still doing it. It's definitely a challenge for me still. There are physical challenges, there are mental challenges, there are emotional challenges. I just love doing it. It's pretty cool that I'm still able to do it and still have a team that's supportive of me being out there. I want to go out there and do the best I can for them."
(On joking around with former NFL Head Coach Tony Dungy on Twitter Tuesday night after Dungy called him the sixth-toughest quarterback he had to prepare for as a coach)
"I was just having fun. I was only referring to him as the Indy head coach, not as the Bucs head coach. It was nothing personal. Coach Dungy knows I love him. I was just giving him a little grief. He gave me a little grief and I gave him a little grief. It was all in good fun."
(On how he feels this season has gone compared to his expectations)
"I think the season will be what we make of it. Our season is not over yet. We've got a lot of football ahead. We've got, obviously, a hugely important game this week and then one more game in the regular season. We're going to have to play our way into the playoffs. It means we've got to win games. This is the one that matters the most because it's the next one. If we [win] it, we do get in, so it's hugely important. Every season presents different challenges. Every season has different things that challenge you in different ways. This one has been a challenge I think for everybody around the world. We're managing with it, we're managing it [and] we're dealing with it as best we can. I think we're trying to make improvements – trying to make them on a daily basis. I'm very excited about this weekend's game and seeing what we do on the day after Christmas."
(On if he feels he was a Pro Bowl snub this season)
"I think there [are] a lot of people who end up being deserving of a really cool accolade like that. I've been very fortunate to be picked a bunch of times, and I think it's really great for other guys to get picked too. It's hard sometimes to pick just a few guys. This year, there [were] a lot of great candidates at a lot of positions and a lot of teammates that I wish they would've made it. You've just got to keep trying to go out there and earn it. I think ultimately, for me, it's about winning games. I think individual accolades have a certain place, [but] the most important thing for me has always been about winning football games. I wish we were 14-0 at this point, [but] we're not – we haven't deserved it. We haven't played to that level yet, but hopefully we can play at a much higher level this Saturday."
(On overcoming slow starts to games this season)
"I think there are always thinks you're working on. Sometimes you're fast starters and slow finishers. Sometimes you're not good at the end of halves [or] slow to start the third quarter. I think we definitely have to be better to start the game. To spot a team 17 points [or] 14 points is not where we want to be. I don't think there is a special play to call. There's nothing guaranteed to get us yards, or first downs or points. It's about us all collectively bringing the right energy, emotion and execution to the early part of the game. That would put us all in a better position to succeed as we move forward in the games. I'd like to see us play with the lead and we're going to have to work hard at that. There [are] no magic plays to those things. It's going to be up to us to just go out there and do it."
(On being around many teammates who will potentially be clinching a spot in the playoffs for the first time in their careers)
"This is why we play – to put your team in a place and give yourself an opportunity to compete for a championship. It takes a lot of work to get to that point. It's very hard to get to that point. The competition is tough. Week in and week out you're playing against great teams [and] great coaches. Every team has strengths and weaknesses and we put ourselves in a position where if we win, we're in the playoffs. That's where we're at. We know what is ahead of us. We've got to go out there and play well. We're playing against a very explosive team that has played very well at different times throughout the season. They've had leads – they haven't held onto all of them, but they play from ahead and they play from behind. They've got a very good quarterback and a great group of skill guys. They have a very tough scheme on defense, so we're going to have to go out there and play our best 60 minutes."
(On the emotional challenges the game of football presents)
"I think there are things that happen on the field and there are things that happen off the field. Emotionally, there are a lot of different emotions that go into playing. Sometimes after you lose you can be very discouraged and lose confidence [or] other players could lose confidence. You could be emotionally drained from winning games. You could deal with off-field issues. I've had teammates that have gone through personal issues that affect them a lot. I've had personal issues that affect me with different things that have happened in my life, with family members and so forth over the last 4-5 months. All of it is about being mentally tough, dealing with whatever you need to deal with in your life as a professional and putting those things in a certain place so you can still go out and try to perform at a high level. There are no two years that are the same. They're all a little bit different."
(On his NFL debut against the Lions in Detroit)
"Yeah, I was active for that game. It was Thanksgiving Day, and we got our butts beat pretty bad by the Lions. I got in at the end of the game [and] I think I threw three passes. It was kind of an insignificant start to the career because I wouldn't say many people were expecting me ever to have the kind of career that I've had. For me, it was great being out on the field and learning. Then I got more opportunities as that season went on in practice and put myself in a position that next offseason to compete for the backup role, which I ended up winning. Then when Drew [Bledsoe] got hurt, I was able to become the starter. I tried to play as well as I could. I treated everything like it was very important. Year round it was very for me important to compete against myself to see how good I could be, and I learned a lot of those lessons at Michigan. Michigan was a great training ground for me because nothing was gifted. I think you had to go out there and earn it. You had to earn the respect of your teammates and your coaches. For me, that's what I had to do in order to play in college. I didn't expect much difference when I went to the pros. Then I got my opportunity and always felt like when I got my opportunity I was never going to look back. I still haven't really looked back that much, even 20-plus years later."
CORNERBACK JAMEL DEAN
(On the defensive secondary battling injuries this season and how that has prevented them from playing their best)
"It's tough, but we still have to just stick to our fundamentals and do whatever you can to get the job done."
(On the defense needing to play well in the second half against Atlanta in order for the offense to have a chance to score enough points for the team to win)
"I just feel like the way we played in the second half, we need to start off the game like that instead of playing catch up."
(On how the younger players in the secondary appreciate how long some of their teammates have waited for an opportunity to play in the postseason)
"It's a great motivation for everybody, because it is some of our first time ever having an opportunity to even make it to the playoffs. For me, it's something that I always wanted to experience so I could know what that feeling is like moving forward."
(On if some of the players in the secondary believe they are more comfortable in man-to-man coverage than zone coverage)
"I'm comfortable in both coverages. It's me just playing corner my whole life. Man is something I always did, so I feel like that's one of my strengths."