HEAD COACH BRUCE ARIANS
(On how RB Ronald Jones II and CB Carlton Davis III looked in Wednesday's practice)
"I thought 'Ro' (Jones II) looked good learning how to handle that hand. [He] caught the ball OK. Carlton got better and better. We'll take it slow – day-to-day. He got limited participation, but he looked OK."
(On TE Rob Gronkowski's production throughout the year after taking a season off)
"He's exceeded my expectations, to tell you the truth. I think he's gotten better and better. He's really hitting his stride. Tom [Brady] and I were actually talking about it at practice today – he ran an over route and [Tom] was like, 'Man, that looks like six [or] seven years ago.' He really has taken great care of himself and really exceeded my expectations. [He] looks like he's just starting, going into the playoffs."
(On what has allowed the offense to commit fewer turnovers in recent weeks and how important that has been to the team's success)
"It's extremely important. Every week we have to win the turnover battle – that's for sure. That's the first thing we always talk about – protecting the football and protecting the quarterback, then taking it away. I think everybody knowing each other a little more and more each week [has helped]. There's not a lot of new things, dressing things up [and] making them look different – everybody's kind of on the same page now, so there's no miscommunication at all. 'I thought he was going deep, no I'm breaking in on this coverage.' I think everybody's on the same page and it's really showing."
(On if the offense's decrease in turnovers compared to last season has been better than he expected)
"No, I was hoping for less than that. I think we emphasize ball security with our receivers and our backs. We've had a couple tough ones where we're catching the ball [and] getting hit off a knee. I'd like to get rid of some of those. The interceptions, I think we're in good shape. I knew we were going to run them down a bunch and we had to, to go to the playoffs."
(On what he would like the defense to correct from its first meeting against Atlanta)
"We'll try to control Calvin Ridley a whole lot better than we did in that game and a whole lot better than Kansas City tried to this past week because he's on fire right now. If we don't get to Matt Ryan, they're going to find [Ridley] because he's playing at a really, really high level. We've got to get to Matt Ryan better than we did in the first half last game."
(On what makes Falcons WR Calvin Ridley a challenge to cover)
"He's a [first-round] pick for a reason. He did all that stuff in college and he's learning from one of the best in Julio Jones. I think the sky's the limit for him – he just keeps getting better and better. He looks like a pure number one guy right now."
(On what has clicked for Tampa Bay down the stretch)
"I think the big thing is protecting the football and taking it away. We're winning the turnover battle, we've eliminated a bunch of penalties and just playing good, disciplined ball. I think coming back against Minnesota gave us a bunch of confidence, and then obviously that second half in Atlanta when we got things clicking boiled over to Detroit. We're feeling pretty good. We know the challenge ahead of us in Atlanta right now, because these guys are playing really, really well."
(On his head coaching career beginning later in his coaching career)
"I never thought it was going to happen. It took Chuck [Pagano] to get sick in Indianapolis for me to even get a head coaching job. After I retired, Saturday's locker room and the looks on guys' faces is really why I came back. You miss that. Dick LeBeau told me a long time ago – we were getting ready for a championship game and he said, 'Man, don't ever get out because you don't ever get days like this on the golf course.' He was exactly right."
(On if he thinks opponents will stop leaving running backs in to protect the quarterback in order to discourage LB Devin White from blitzing)
"They might want to assign somebody else. I think the big thing is when that guy chips JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) or Shaq [Barrett], it turns him loose. When you're bringing those guys, the back's got to block somebody, so I don't think they want him on anybody but Devin. They don't want him on JPP or Shaq – that's for sure. It's a good problem to have."
(On the significance of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles creating a top-10 defense this season)
"He's done a fantastic job. I don't know if there's a guy who adjusts at halftime better than Todd – even during the game. He knows the defense inside out, he knows what hurts what and how to fix it. [He's] just done a tremendous job with our guys, giving them confidence that they play with."
(On if he believes there is another quarterback who could produce at age 43 like QB Tom Brady)
"No, I really can't. It's amazing because when you're out there watching him in practice, you're like, 'This guy looks like he's 30, maybe 33 at most.' It's just amazing watching him practice and the way he works so hard at taking care of himself. That's not easy at 43, taking a few shots – hopefully not too many – and moving on. It's really amazing to me. He really is a freak of nature in that regard."
(On similarities he sees between Brady and Peyton Manning, having coached both)
"I used to call Peyton a piranha, because you just couldn't give him enough information. He had notebook after notebook. Tom, he's the same way. He wants scouting reports on corners, linebackers from our pro scouts and every bit of information he can go into a ballgame with for his preparation. They both love taking guys aside. 'Hey, let's work on this route. This might be a little bit new – we might run it from a different formation. Let's go practice it when the defense is practicing.' They're always moving [and] they're always getting something done. They both have the ability to will themselves on their teammates and make them win. That's a very, very rare thing."
(On if the team is currently in the middle of the season in terms of the amount of reps it has gotten due to the missed time in the offseason)
"Yeah, probably. It's probably around midseason – maybe [Week] 8 or 9. We've got the things now where we don't have to answer those questions, 'Is it Tom's offense or is it my offense?' It's the Bucs' offense and it's pretty good."
(On if QB Tom Brady has been able to get extra reps with receivers as the temperature has cooled down later in the season)
"There's no doubt. We have a walkthrough blitz period going on non-stop when the defense is going, and it's just coaches walking through all the exotic blitzes. [Tom] is grabbing a guy – a running back – and go throw. 'Hey 'Ro' (Ronald Jones II), let me throw you this ball. I want to get a feel for you on this route.' It's been going on for at least six weeks now and it's really shown up."
RUNNING BACK LEONARD FOURNETTE
(On stepping into a bigger role with RB Ronald Jones on the Reserve/COVID-19 list)
"I handled it like I was supposed to – like a pro. Despite whatever occurs on our team, we have four or five running backs that can always fulfill that job and do what we have to do. I had an opportunity to help the team out and that's what I did."
(On where the offense has most improved over the course of the season)
"I think our mentality as a whole. It shows the mental toughness we have, especially coming back in the Atlanta game. We kind of put everything on the line, put the pieces together and we just fought our way back."
(On getting back to the playoffs and how the 2020 Buccaneers compare to the AFC Championship team he was on in Jacksonville)
"Similar. The talent [aspect] is off the charts. This time around I'm not going against Tom Brady – he's on my team – so that's a good thing. Second of all, I just think a lot of guys on our team have been to the playoffs and we know what it takes. You have to lock in. Not saying it's not possible, but you have to be perfect in practices now. The little things usually you get by with during the season, you can't really do that. You have to run your routes at depth [and] block your guys. Everything is on the line. It's just doing everything right and helping out my guys in my room and also other players on the team just to get better as a whole. I know we're going to need everyone – all hands in – to go to the Super Bowl."
RUNNING BACK KE'SHAWN VAUGHN
(On when he began feeling comfortable in the NFL and within the Tampa Bay offense)
"I'd say that I'm still kind of getting comfortable in this offense – even playing on this level. Last week being the first time I was really able to get my feet wet running the ball [and] just being in there longer than I had been all season. Just staying ready at all times mentally has been one of my biggest things. Even getting drafted to this team, I knew there were high expectations being that Tom Brady had [come here]. My role was going to be even more challenging with the expectations coming in. Like I said, just mentally staying ready at all times."
(On learning from the veteran running backs and the competition between them)
"I'm just sitting back watching them, taking everything they're putting out on the field and taking how they dissect the game and putting it into my world. Even if it's just knowing the whole formation and knowing everybody else's jobs – including yours – to make it easier. Then, just staying ready. The room by itself holds a lot of weight, so being able to fill in when it's my turn – that's the biggest thing."
(On where he has improved the most throughout his rookie season)
"It's the mental part. I'd say when I first got out here during camp, I was kind of moving slow [and] trying to get a feel for everything – the tempo, the speed [and] how to practice like a pro. Now, we're in Week 17 [and] everything is slowing down for me. I'm understanding the playbook more, understanding the defenses and what I need to do."
SAFETY JORDAN WHITEHEAD
(On the importance of building positive momentum leading into the postseason)
"Definitely. B.A. (Bruce Arians) was saying, 'We're playing this game to win.' Just as players going into the playoffs, you want to keep that momentum going. We're on a streak like you said, so we're going to go into this game [and] play hard. Nobody wants to lose, so that's the goal – just to win."
(On what has been the biggest difference in improving the team's turnover ratio this season)
"I think in practice you have to make more of an emphasis to get those turnovers while we're practicing. It starts with practice and I think [we are] really seeing that carry over into the game. We pride ourselves on that. On the offensive side of the ball – just from watching – they're making their plays at practice [and] taking care of the ball. I think that definitely goes a long way for them, too. Just have to keep those things up even more this week."
(On if he sees an increased focus and sense of urgency in practice in recent weeks)
"I definitely do. I think coming off the Bye Week, I started feeling it then. That's when I knew the guys' bodies would be rested and [we would be] eager to get back out there. It's showing when we're playing [and] it shows in practice [with] the enthusiasm we have out there [and] the communication. Everybody's just picking up their game and it's carrying over into games. We've got to keep that up going into the playoffs. This is a big week for us, too. We're focused on the Falcons and we've really got to tune into what we do because we played them a couple weeks ago. It's a lot of stuff we have seen, [but] different gameplans from them. They're going to come back and attack us differently, obviously. It's a game – we have to get ready for it."