OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR BYRON LEFTWICH
(On what has been the difference in the offense's success in recent weeks)
"I just think we're just executing. I think there were moments in the year where we were executing just like this. There's been a lot of quarters, a lot of halves [and] a lot of games, really, where we've executed at this level. There have been some where we haven't, and that's what really got talked about more than when we do execute on this level. I don't see it as [anything] different than what we've done all year. I just think we've done a better job of focusing in [and] locking in, especially [with] what was on the line [and] understanding the position we were in and what we needed to do. I think that locked us in and made us be able to execute at a higher level. We want to try to continue doing that the rest of the year."
(On what allowed TE Rob Gronkowski to have success this season)
"[It's] him and everybody else. We figured that hopefully we could be playing our best football in December, really. Especially with the type of year that we had, we knew early on that there may be some things where we just have to win football games. We need to do what we have to do to win football games until we can clean everything up because with having the summer that we had, you didn't really get real reps to learn from until you got in ballgames. That always made it tough [and] that always made it difficult. At the same time, everyone was learning each other – it wasn't just Tom [Brady] learning the guys, it was the guys learning where Tom is going to put the ball [and] how he's going to see a certain play. All that just took a little time for us to get to this level of where we think we're at. We still have a long way to go – there's things that we can correct – but we're just going to keep working on it [and] keep making these guys aware of what we need to do to play our best football."
(On what he would like to see the offense improve on since playing Atlanta in Week 15)
"Just want to play more consistent football. Looking at the last game we played [against] these guys, I don't think we played too well there in the first half. I don't think we played bad, either. Like I tell you guys, it's just going to be converting third downs. When you don't convert third downs – especially early – you're punting the ball [and] you're giving guys opportunities to make plays against your team. We just have to do a better job of executing in the first half like we did in the second half – that's really what we want to do. We just want to execute at a high level regardless of how many plays, whether it's 65, 71, 62 – whatever amount of plays we [have], we really just want to execute at a high level from here on out."
(On if he felt a different energy in practice last week and what he attributes that to)
"I attribute it to guys having awareness of the importance of the ballgame. We've got a lot of guys that have been around here that [have not] come close to the playoffs [and have not] smelled it or had the opportunity to play meaningful football in December. It was great to see these guys take the lead [and] have awareness of the situation that we're in because a lot of these guys that are in the locker room, that's all they've asked for is this opportunity to be in this position and to go out and win a football game that gets you in the playoffs. We had that opportunity last week [and] I think you saw it in our preparation. I think these guys prepare hard every week, so I don't think they did [anything] more, but it was a lot more energy in practice [and] a lot more awareness of the situation. I think it showcased itself on Saturday."
(On the level QB Tom Brady has performed at this season considering his age)
"It's a special thing. That's what makes him a special guy. He's a very unique guy – not a lot of guys are built like him [and] not a lot of guys are even capable of doing the things that he can do right now. Shoot, I can't do them right now and I'm a couple of years younger than him. I still can't do some of the things that he's able to still do. I think he's been taking care of his body [and] he's really been preparing for this moment for so long. It's no shock to him, to be honest with you. He's been preparing to play this long – just talking to him – for a while now. He's done everything that he can possibly do to give him that opportunity to play like this at the age he's at. It's something that we don't really talk about [and it's] something that we're not really surprised at because of the effort he puts in week in and week out to take care of his body and also to put us in position to win football games."
(On the type of person WR Antonio Brown has been since joining the Buccaneers)
"To me, he's an energy guy. He's the same guy that I practiced with when we played together in Pittsburgh. I know him well enough. What he came in and did [after] being out of football as long as he's been out [and] came in – the effort that he put in [on] every play is amazing. The effort, the way he goes about his business about the game of football – it's another unique thing and it's something that I saw when he first game into this league and it's something that you see now. He warms up a little bit more [now]. I told him back in the day he never would warm up, he would just get in the huddle and go – now he warms up. It's great to see him grow, really. To see him grow [and] to see where his game is at, especially being a guy that saw him in his first practice ever. It's just good to have him out there, especially to have his energy with Mike [Evans], Chris [Godwin], Scotty [Miller and] Gronk (Rob Gronkowski). To have him in the huddle and the energy that they bring and give to each other – it's a beautiful thing to watch on a daily basis in practice. The way these guys work in practice – they really work their tails off in practice to get better. As a coach, that's really all you can ask for."
(On if Brown has a humble demeanor now)
"It's the same to me. That would mean that he wasn't humble back then. I just think he's always been a good kid. I think he's always been a good guy [who] always had a good energy about this game of football. [He] really loves this game and the work that he puts in for this game is an amazing thing for him. I'm just happy to see him doing well."
(On the importance of helping WR Mike Evans become the first wide receiver in NFL history to record 1,000-yard seasons in each of their first seven seasons)
"I think it's important for him and us. I think it's important, really, for this organization to have that. That's a unique thing. Any time that you can be one of one [in] anything – [with] all the special players, all the great players that have came through this league that have done the things [and] played that position. He has the opportunity to be one of one – that's a unique thing and that just shows how good of a football player he is. That's special to be one of one of something like that. That's unique, so obviously you want him to be able to get it. We're not going to try to force it, but we're just going to have him play, let Mike be Mike and we'll see."
QUARTERBACK TOM BRADY
(On having TE Rob Gronkowski with him this season and how Gronkowski has performed in Tampa Bay)
"It's been amazing. I've known him since he came in the league. He has an incredible work ethic, [he's] tough, [a] very unselfish player, [a] great teammate and does whatever you ask him to do. I think not only just his skillset as a player – because [he is] one of the few tight ends who can be a dominant blocker in the run game and in the pass protection game, but then also run routes and be a dominant pass catcher, which is very rare for any real tight end – I love playing with the guy. He knows how I feel about him. I've got a lot of trust and confidence in the biggest moments with him. Sometimes I think about players where if it was the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, who do I want in the game with me? He definitely fits that. That just means in the biggest moments, who do you want out there? When he can deliver like he always has, it's a great compliment to him and the way that not only I feel about him, but how all his teammates feel about him. Just an incredible player, teammate and everything. I love playing with the guy."
(On if the build up to the playoffs with the Buccaneers feels familiar to teams he played on earlier in his career)
"I think it's been a new year for all of us. I think for me especially, just getting used to a lot of things that are different. Anytime you transition to a new place, there's going to be a lot of things that are different. You get so used to one way of driving to work every day, one routine, one offseason and one place to go to dinner with your family. Then all of a sudden, everything changes. I'm very happy. We're preparing to improve this week so we can improve as we move forward. I think the goal is always to try to find a way to make it to the playoffs – we did that. But, at the same time, I think there's a really important game for us on Sunday. We're playing against a really good football team that challenged us the last time we played them, which was 11 [or] 12 days from now. They're explosive [and] they're in our division. It's hard to beat the same team in your division twice. They're going to put up a fight. They barely gave up any points to Kansas City last week and we're preparing for a tough game. Hopefully we can go out there and play tough, play hard-nosed [and] establish the type of game that we want early, which is very unlike the last time we played these guys. We can't give anyone a 17-point deficit. We did that against them the last time and we'll see if we can go out there, start fast, play from ahead, play on our terms and finish the season strong."
(On a favorite story he has with TE Rob Gronkowski)
"I've got a lot of great stories with him. There was one time he was getting ready for a GQ photo shoot and he didn't think he was in good shape. He called me up and it was a Wednesday. He's like, 'Hey, can we workout together? Can we throw a little bit?' We went out on this baseball field, it was raining, it was April [and] it was nasty weather. We hadn't thrown a pass since the end of the season. We threw probably 60 passes and we didn't drop a ball – the ball never hit the ground. He was like, 'Dude, that was great. That was perfect. That was just what I needed. I feel ripped now.' He was ready for his photoshoot because of one day of the two of us working out together. It was good execution, but I think for him it was more important that he felt like he was shredded now that he could get ready for his GQ photo shoot. That's one of the great stories – just him being Rob. That's why everyone loves him."
(On what he remembers from his first appearance in the postseason that he has shared with his teammates who have not played in the postseason yet)
"I think I'm focused on this game – I'm not focused on the playoff run. I'm focused on getting ready to beat Atlanta. The best thing we can do is beat Atlanta and play well. It's going to be a tough task as is and we'll let [the playoffs] take care of itself when that comes. I'm ready to go out there and try to play a lot better for 60 minutes. I only played 30 minutes last week [and] we only played 30 really good minutes against Atlanta. I'd like to let us see if we can put together 60 great minutes against Atlanta because it's going to be a tough challenge."
TIGHT END ROB GRONKOWSKI
(On his experience with Tampa Bay this season)
"The experience has been great. It's been a fun season. At times, it takes its toll and feels like it's been going on for a while. Then there's times where it's Week 17, you look back and you're like, 'Man, time flew. It's already Week 17. We're about to play our last game of the season and head to the playoffs next week.' Overall, it's been a successful journey so far. It's been a successful time coming out of retirement and playing this year. It's definitely been an enjoyable ride this whole year."
(On what has enabled him to make big plays late in the season)
"Like I said at the beginning, I just wanted to be a consistent player throughout the whole year – every week just try and stay steady [and] and stay up there making plays. If I wasn't really making plays one week, [I wanted to] figure out why I wasn't, figure out what I did wrong and correct it at practice. Go out there and try to get better week in and week out. I feel like that's what I've just been trying to do every single week, week in and week out. If things don't go right, if I mess up a play or don't get a block, we'll see what I did wrong, get coached on it and go out that week and try to get better at it. I feel like it's going well and I feel like it has shown too throughout the whole year also – just staying consistent and making plays whenever the ball is thrown to me."
(On how QB Tom Brady has changed as a player and a person over the years that he has known him)
"As a player, he really hasn't changed. From the second I first I met him, he's been all in – all in with practices, all in at meetings [and] all in trying to get better every single day. It has just totally continued throughout his whole career all the way up to this point. I wouldn't say, 'Oh, he's staying after practice this much longer to get better.' No, he's been always staying after practice. He's been always trying to work with players every practice, or whenever it is, to get better. I would just say that he's just been so consistent at such a high rate throughout the time I've [known] him."
GUARD ALI MARPET
(On the feeling of clinching a playoff berth for the first time in his career)
"It feels very good. I will say most seasons, I've kind of known that right after the season [ends] – next Tuesday, this is what I'll be doing, this is where I'll be going, and this is how I'll be recovering. It's really cool that [this year] I don't have a plan, and I love that. I'm kind of just excited – excited that we finally made the playoffs and excited for the opportunity that we're going to have. I guess excited is the only way to describe it."
(On the performance of rookie T Tristan Wirfs and how impressive he has been this season, allowing just one sack through 15 games)
"It's very impressive. I think I have said this before, and I think anyone would acknowledge it, but for a rookie offensive lineman [with] no OTAs [and] no real preseason games, the fact that he has played as well as he has is just [remarkable]. He's exceeded expectations and I hope he only continues to get better, and I think that he will."
(On the team's ability to establish the running game this season)
"I think that any offensive line prides themselves on running the ball. That's a measuring stick for us, so obviously, that's something that we'd like to do. I think it feels good that we've had some success, but I think that this group is never really satisfied when it comes to our own expectations – both for pass [protection] and running the ball – so I think for us, it's always, 'How can we do better?' I know that week in and week out we're going to try and figure out ways we can do it better than we did the week before."