Rob Gronkowski: 'It's going to be rocking come Sunday'
PATRIOTS CENTER DAVID ANDREWS
Q: How challenging is this Chargers defensive front?
DA: Yeah, they’re very good. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us. Obviously, they’ve got two really good edge guys in [Joey] Bosa and [Melvin] Ingram and they do a lot with them. They don’t just play one position. So, it’s going to be a big challenge. We can’t play the game from third-and-long, can’t play the game from behind the sticks. We did that a lot last year, and it’s not a very favorable way to play these guys.
Q: When you’re out at practice and it’s snowing and windy, how much of that is a reminder to you guys that this is playoff weather and playoff football?
DA: Yeah, you know, I grew up in the South, and when I think of NFL playoff football, that’s kind of the picture you think of – the snow, the cold. So, it’s always fun to get out there in that.
Q: How much confidence is there in the run game right now, especially coming off of the performances against the Bills and the Jets?
DA: We put a lot of emphasis in our run game and put a lot of time, hours into it. I think that’s something we always want to be confident in. We’re going to have to do a good job. They did things last year that gave us trouble, playing a lot of substituted defenses and you kind of have DBs playing linebackers, and we were a little discombobulated up front last year with that. So, we have to do a great job of everyone being on the same page, blocking the spots and not getting flustered or if there’s a DB playing a linebacker.
Q: How much does playoff experience help players versus somebody who has never been there before?
DA: Not at all. Not at all. What really matters is execution. You can have guys who’ve played 100 playoff games, and if they don’t show up on a Sunday or Saturday, then it really doesn’t matter. So, at the end of the day, it’s just a football game. It’s going to come down to who executes the best, who prepared the most that week, and that’s really what matters, not what you did in the past.
Q: Do you notice anything different in Tom Brady when it comes to the playoffs? Does he step it up or change at all?
DA: I think everyone does. Tom’s obviously a great leader and kind of sets the tone with a lot of things. But, you just feel that sense of urgency when you walk in the building from everyone, and it’s not just one person that provides that. It’s just, like I said, that sense of urgency. Everything’s heightened that much more. There’s nothing promised after this, so we have a one-game season right now.
Q: What does Rob Gronkowski mean to your offense in terms of his leadership qualities and what you expect from him going into a game like this?
DA: Yeah, he’s a great player. He does a lot for us. He’s been doing it for a long time, too, and love having him out there. Anytime he’s out there, he can do so much for us. He’s a great player.
Q: You were talking about the substitution defenses from the last time you played the Chargers. From the offensive line’s standpoint, what’s the key to combatting that? Is it knowing what’s out there when you break the huddle?
DA: Yeah, you know, we’re going to set our ‘mike’ point, and then really from there it’s blocking spots. So, the person next to the ‘mike’ is the ‘sam,’ the person to the left is the ‘will’ – not getting really flustered with numbers necessarily and really just blocking the spots and going off your ‘mike’ point, like I said. The next guy to the right’s the ‘sam,’ next guy to the left’s the ‘will.’
Q: How does their defensive line, especially with Brandon Mebane coming back and their edge rushers, allow them to go light on the back end of the defense?
DA: You know, that’s definitely a strength because they can be so disruptive up front that they’re able to throw in some substituted defenses, like maybe against a two-tight end group. So, when you’ve got guys that can be that disruptive up front – and t’s not just two guys, like you said. You’ve got Mebane, you’ve got [Darius] Philon, you’ve got [Damion] Square, [Isaac] Rochell – I mean, there’s just so many of them. So, whenever you’ve got these guys that can be that disruptive, that really helps out your defense.
PATRIOTS TIGHT END ROB GRONKOWSKI
Q: Can you talk about your level of excitement for the playoffs?
RG: I mean, the playoffs are a whole new season. It’s a fresh start. The excitement level from the fans to the players always jumps up another notch, if not a few notches. It’s going to be good, it’s going to be rocking come Sunday at 1 o’clock and the excitement level from the players to the fans is always up.
Q: How about you this year? Any reason you’d be more anxious or ready to go for the playoffs?
RG: The playoffs are always a different feeling no matter what, every single time we make it. Just the excitement level definitely turns up another notch, but you’ve got to stay in control. It’s definitely another football game. You’ve got to go out there, you’ve got to play. You can’t be too emotional, too unemotional, whatever. It’s another game, for sure. You’ve got to keep preparing how you’ve got to prepare. It’s a new season so it’s going to be exciting for sure.
Q: What was practice like outside today with the snow and cold? Did it feel like playoff football?
RG: It kind of did. It was cool at first with that snow coming down. You know it’s that time of the year in New England when you see snow. We really haven’t seen any. It’s time to play some football. We’ve practiced in it many, many times before, so it was really nothing new. We’ve seen it many times before – it’s always cold out here in December, January. So, you’ve got to practice in whatever it is.
Q: Why do some guys perform differently in the playoffs than they do in the regular season? They raise their level in the playoffs.
RG: It’s a one-game season. You’ve got to put it all on the line no matter what, no matter what you’ve got, whatever you’re dealing with. You’ve got to just put it all on the line. You know if you lose that game, you’re going home. I would just say everyone’s just leaving it all out there.
Q: What did the bye week do for you physically and mentally?
RG: The bye week was nice just to relax, watch some football, study up, get some time away, get refreshed. Once we got back here starting Wednesday, it’s just straight full-go again. So, it’s good to get away for just a few days, freshen up, and then when you get back, it’s just like any other week. We’re full go, we’re full throttle and we’re practicing hard and preparing hard.
Q: Do you catch yourself sometimes calling the Chargers the San Diego Chargers?
RG: I mean, I would say, who doesn’t? Half of my friends who have talked to me have said, ‘Yo, you’re playing San Diego,’ and I’m just like, ‘It’s L.A.’ But I said it a few times too. It’s the Chargers.
Q: Have you seen a change in Tom Brady when the playoffs start? Some guys said he gets a laser focus.
RG: He’s always laser-focused. But I mean, he knows – he’s been around for so long, same with many other guys on the team – that if you lose, you’re out. We’ve had that feeling before of losing and being out of it early and you just know that feeling. So that laser focus is huge. He’s always laser-focused, but definitely in the playoffs, you’ll never catch a time when he’s not.
Q: Numbers say Derwin James covers tight ends perhaps the best in the league. Is that the way you see it?
RG: Yeah, he’s a great player. He’s a real good player and got to be ready for him, physically and mentally. He brings it, he covers well and you’ve got to be prepared.
Q: Based on some of the discussion this year at the point you’re at in your career, what’s your mindset with this game and where you go from here after that?
RG: My mindset is just all focused on the Chargers. It’s the biggest game of the year, Sunday at 1 o’clock. Just the last few days putting the preparation in, all focus on the Chargers, all focus on whatever I can do to help out the team. Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I’m trying to do it to the best of my ability during practice and then bringing it out to the game on Sunday.
Q: Is Antonio Gates a guy that you’ve studied at any point in your career?
RG: Oh, yeah. I love Antonio Gates. He’s been playing since I’ve been in high school and I’ve just always watched him, love his game and it’s just unbelievable how he’s still going.
Q: How is he still going? How does he do it?
RG: I’m not sure. I’ve never talked to him personally or anything like that. I don’t know his routine or anything. It’s just surreal how he’s still going at the age he is and the way he’s still playing.
Q: Do you remember your first playoff game here in 2010?
Q: What do you remember about that game? The atmosphere, your feeling, the emotion?
RG: It’s always another game. Definitely, you’ve got to prepare like you always prepare. It’s another football game. You can’t lose vision. That was my rookie year, being around all the veteran guys, hearing from them. You just want to stay level-headed going through the game. You want to make sure you’re prepared mentally and physically and you just want to make sure you’re playing your best football. That’s what it is – it’s another football game. You can hype it up a lot, you can say it’s just whatever of a game, but it’s a football game, another football game. We play 20 of them this year including the preseason, so we’ve got to go out there, prepare mentally and physically and be ready. Just from that game, like I said, I remember the feelings of losing and all that, so you’ve just got to go all out. That’s all. Every play – it’s a one-and-done season.
Q: What do you think of the Chargers’ pass rush? Especially Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
RG: They’ve got a great pass rush on both sides of the ball and we’ve got to be able to contain them. If you just let them free, get to the quarterback, it’s going to be a long day, no doubt about that. So, you’ve got to contain them, got to block them, pass game, run game, they’re really, really shifty. They’re fast, they can get off the ball and you’ve got to be prepared for them. They can just ruin a drive just like that. They can make a move, get to the quarterback, lose 10 yards and boom, there goes the drive. So, you’ve got to be aware for them, big time.
Q: How do you feel you’ve dealt with your limitations from the injuries you’ve had this year?
RG: It’s a new season right now, the playoffs. So, whatever I’ve got going forward is what I’m going to give, for sure.
Q: Is it tough, though, to walk back to the huddle thinking you could have caught a pass if it wasn’t for your ankle?
RG: I’ve been in situations like that before, no doubt – practice, games. You’ve dealt with things like that before and had felt like that before like, ‘Dang.’ But it’s the game of football. There’s no room for excuses, everyone’s dealing with something and you’ve just got to keep on moving forward and you’ve got to find a way. It’s what makes this game great. You’ve got to be mentally and physically prepared at all times to keep on going.
Q: Do you feel pretty healthy at this point in time?
RG: Yeah, we’re going into the playoffs. We just had a bye week. Practice is going well, doing what the coaches ask me to do, so just getting ready for the game Sunday.
PATRIOTS DEFENSIVE BACK DEVIN McCOURTY
Q: What was it like out there practicing in the snow? Does it feel like playoff football?
DM: Yeah, it feels like it’s January. Bill [Belichick] is always famous for that. Whatever it is, it is. Get your [stuff] on and get out there. It’s kind of the first one that we’ve had that was starting with snow. The snow kind of dwindled away, cold, but that’s what it is this time of year. As much as that sucks playing in it, it’s a joy to know that you’re still playing.
Q: How many times have you accidentally said San Diego Chargers this week instead of Los Angeles?
DM: I’ve been pretty good, man. I just go with Chargers.
Q: Do your friends and others still accidentally say San Diego instead of L.A.?
DM: Yeah. I mean, you get so used to it. It happens but I just stick to Chargers and make it easy.
Q: How do you feel physically now?
DM: I’ve been good. Anytime you get injured you’re just working and trying to get back out there so it felt good to be back out there this week with the guys practicing and getting ready to go play in a playoff game.
Q: Can you talk about Rob Gronkowski and his leadership skills at this time of year?
DM: Oh, it’s great. I think obviously we have a ton of guys that have playoff experience and all of that. But I think you see it from every guy – Gronk [Rob Gronkowski], Tom [Brady], Jules [Julian Edelman], myself, Du [Duron Harmon, Pat [Chung]. It’s guys saying we’ve just got to go play our best football. Nothing else really matters. Our record, our rankings and stats and all that – all of that’s out of the window. If we don’t play our best football on Sunday, that’s the end of our season. I think we all realize that, so I think from top to bottom guys are seeing that. You kind of realize each day could be your last day in here. Guys are practicing hard trying to do as much as we can to be ready to go Sunday.
Q: What makes Rob Gronkowski unique or different?
DM: He’s really good. Yeah, he’s really good. To me, it’s how he practices, how he goes about everything. He works his butt off. We all battle in practice. You guys ask us all the time how is it going against a guy like that to prepare and it’s great because we’re all trying to make each other better. We’ve practiced against each other now for nine years. We’re used to covering each other or me covering him. I think just that every day going after each other, trying to make each other better has helped all of us out.
Q: Given the height of their receivers, do you have to do anything differently this week to prepare?
DM: No, you’ve just got to compete. You talk about how Gronk’s another guy like that – the same thing. You can’t make up for what you don’t have in size and all. You just compete. Try to get a hand on the ball, pull an arm, doing whatever you can to wrestle balls out. I think we have a lot of guys in our secondary that do that whether it’s Steph [Gilmore], J [Jason McCourty], J.C. [Jackson], J. [Jonathan] Jones, Pat. Everybody out there is covering guys usually bigger than them. It comes down to just competing and having a will to try not to give up a catch.
Q: Do you expect to play Sunday?
DM: We’ll see. We’ll see. I hope so.
Q: Where do you draw the line between trying to tackle a guy but also trying to go for a strip?
DM: When in doubt, you make the tackle. I think that’s been the fundamental since I’ve been here. We’ve got to tackle the guy with the ball. Second guy in, you usually go for the strip and things like that. First and foremost, we’ve got to make the tackle especially against these guys. Where [Melvin] Gordon and [Austin] Ekeler both are one and two in the league for yards-after-catch. We’re not talking about on their team; like, in the whole league from the running back position. Across the board – Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams are bigger guys, like you said, that can run. Keenan Allen is obviously an incredible talent out there so we’ve got to do a good job of tackling them because even when we’re in good shape and they catch the ball in front of us, the hardest thing is tackling them. That’s one thing we’ve talked about a lot this week of trying to make sure for one, we get everybody to the ball and gang tackle as much as possible and try to make one-on-one tackles.
Q: How big of a challenge is Desmond King in the return game?
DM: You’ve got to get all 11 guys around him. He does a great job I think of finding holes and then breaking and running through arm tackles. You see it each week, even if they have a guy or two that kind of has what we call half a body free to try to make a tackle, he usually runs through that. He makes game-changing plays. I think for us, from a coverage unit, that’s something you don’t really want to give up especially this time of year. It takes everybody. One guy is not going to get down there and make the play each time. It’s going to take all 11 guys kind of in their lanes and covering their appropriate style in what we talk about all week.
Q: What are your thoughts on Philip Rivers and the problems he poses?
DM: I’m a big fan of Philip Rivers. I think he does a great job. You watch the games, you see him. He’s yelling and screaming on the line of scrimmage. You can tell he watches a ton of film. He’s trying to get them in the best play for whatever defense we’re in, so obviously it’s physical talents and what he can do. Very accurate throwing the deep ball. It’s also a huge mental game of trying to not give him everything because he’s too good of a quarterback if we just line up. He’ll kind of tear us apart. It’s just like in practice if we give Tom everything that we’re doing. He’s a very competitive guy and I think it lets us know. We’ve played against him before. It’s going to go all the way down to the wire. They came here last year. I think ended up being down eight points and J. Jones makes an interception on the one or 2-yard line to end the game. It’s going to be that type of game.
Q: Is your mother the most excited person right now to see both you and your brother both play together in the playoffs?
DM: Yeah, I mean, you talk about like I’ve won Super Bowls and all of that – I think the thing she’s most wanted in our NFL careers is Jason to play in the playoffs. I’m sure she’ll be fired up to see him play in his first playoff game. She said that over and over. She just wanted him to get some type of success that I’ve had as far as playoffs and postseason and all of that and the atmosphere. The McCourty gang will be pretty fired up Sunday.
Q: Could he be the favorite twin this weekend?
DM: I don’t think he’ll jump that high. It’ll be good for the family.
Q: Did you give him any advice about playing in the playoffs?
DM: No, not really. Like I said earlier, it comes down to playing your best football. You don’t want to sit after practice and run 20 extra wind sprints because it’s the playoffs. You just keep doing what you’ve been doing, but it gets to that time of the year where there’s no more "my bads" or "I’ll get that next time." There is no next time. Ten years in the NFL, not tasting the playoffs, I think he realizes that probably more than any of us because in 10 years this will be his first one. He knows it’s not guaranteed. It doesn’t happen all the time. I think his sense of urgency has been something that we’ve all watched and kind of took from.
Q: What do you remember from your first playoff game back in 2010?
DM: Intense. It’s just the intensity of each play. Each play can change the game. Every guy knows there’s no tomorrow and you can just feel that. You feel the energy. Guys are really locked in, ready to go because nothing else matters. Like, our family’s at home sacrificing now time wise to let us come home, watch as much film as needed, do whatever because you’ve got a couple weeks or you’ve got one week. That’s just how it is.
Q: Do you appreciate these moments more now that you’re in your ninth season?
DM: Yeah, I think when you first get in the league, especially for me here, you come in as a rookie. You go 14-2 and you lose in the Division game, you’re like, "Man, I’ve got to make sure every time we get in the playoffs we win." It’s like skipping past even the regular season like, it’s a lot to get into the playoffs and I think when you get older you kind of realize football as a whole isn’t guaranteed. So each time to finish a regular season is important. That, to me, is huge when I can play in all 16 games. That’s a huge accomplishment in Year Nine. Now you’re talking about playing in the postseason. That’s another huge accomplishment that I want to take full advantage of and go out there and play my best for the team. You kind of realize all these guys in the locker room – I didn’t probably realize that until my third year of how fast – you get one year and then the locker room, usually guys are leaving. Guys are retiring, released, traded, sign in free agency. So you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity that you have with a team especially when you feel that it’s a special teams.
Q: What makes this Chargers team so physically and mentally tough?
DM: I think they’re just a really good football team. Obviously, you can tell the mental toughness to go into Baltimore, playing on the road, 1:00 p.m. game and they come out and they start fast. Defensively, offensively, moving the ball down the field. You can see they’re not really worried about who they’re playing, where they’re playing at. I think everyone is always into like home and away and home-field. You can see that doesn’t matter. Three out of the four teams in the first round of the playoffs were road teams to win. I think that’s what we realize the most from that. This team is going to try and come here and they’re going to try and punch us in the mouth from the beginning and we’ve got to be ready to go.