Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale
Martindale: I was really pleased with the effort of the guys that played against Philly, that was a lot of fun to watch. Some guys that haven't had a lot of opportunities that took advantage of (them) when they were out there. Just seeing the overall excitement in the locker room after the game with everybody because they know the challenges that we have starting in the playoffs. I think it's awesome for this organization and the fans, the great fans of the Giants, and it's a lot of fun. You get a different sense of energy in the building and yourself professionally when you're getting ready for these playoff games. It's going to be a great challenge.
Q: How do you balance being aggressive and smart at the same time against a team that's so explosive?
A: Balance aggressive and smart? So if you're aggressive, you're not smart? (Laughs) No, I'm with you. I just think that our personality as a defense is to attack. I said it before, if you've got a NY on your helmet or the old school Giants on your helmet, you're going to attack. Now, there's different ways to attack or to be smart. One of the reasons why we pressure like we do is because we know they're going to hit. It's one of those situations where that was a topic of discussion of could you have done this? Could you have done that? Could you have done this? I just look at it as for myself personally when I'm calling the game, is it time for us to win it? Which at the time we were trying to win it defensively in where we were at in that situation. Now, you're saying well you're pressuring, and you got (wide receiver Justin Jefferson) 18 out there. We have 18 with a safety over the top of him. Just like Buffalo when they rush four on fourth-and-18. Great players make great plays and 18 made a great play, he made two of them. (Quarterback Kirk) Cousins was throwing off his back foot, all credit to them. You guys know how I feel about (head coach) Kevin (O'Connell), I think he's done a great job with this offense, he's come from the (head coach Sean) McVay tree, and you can tell he just wasn't sitting there doing nothing. He was working at that system and it's cool to watch because everybody studies Sean's offense, it's cool to watch his little areas that he's branched off in off of that offense, but it's still in that same family. Let's make no mistake about it, you can't take away 18. You try to limit him, but you can't take away from him. I think I said it the last time, he's one of the top two receivers and he's not number two in this league. It's going to be a great challenge.
Q: There have been a few times this year where teams have limited him. Do you see any commonalities in scheme or just approach of how teams have been able to do that?
A: Yeah, and there's other factors that go into it. Score of the game, you can do some different things. You get a two-score lead, you can do some different things. It's going to be one of those things that you have to keep the ball moving on him, which I thought we did a nice job of the last time we played them. Once again, I've got the utmost respect for Kevin and the job they've done because I know we're up there in the top three as far as one score games, I think they're number one in winning one score games and that's what good teams do.
Q: You said last week that you felt like the defense is on an upswing.
A: Still feel that way.
Q: What is the biggest difference of this defense now maybe than Week 5? Why do you feel like this defense is on the upswing?
A: First of all, it's the brotherhood of the guys in that room and how they care. They're selfless in how they care for each other and they're just as happy to see someone else be successful than themselves. When you get things going that way, that's a lot of fun. Another thing is we're getting healthy. So, guys are excited about that. I just think we're in the playoffs, we've built a playoff defense and it's different ways to do it. We went obviously a different route this year than what I'm used to in the past, but it's been a lot of fun and I'm excited. Like I said, I'm fired up for the fans, I'm fired up for the players because they've worked their tails off since they've been here. It's fun to see those guys have the success that they're having and they're truly excited about representing this organization and taking on Minnesota. So, it's going to be fun.
Q: What makes them a playoff defense?
A: We're in the playoffs, that's number one. I just think that with my experience, I can see it building. I said something to them during a loss that we're building a playoff defense here guys, make no mistake about it, and I feel that way. That's guys that can just play it one play at a time and they don't flinch, they're never flinching. If there's a mistake, we correct it. If there's a play, we celebrate it, and then we get ready to go play the next play. They've just been so professional in studying their opponent, studying the gameplan, and that's the thing that's exciting to me about it is they've been rewarded for it. You know, sometimes in life, you don't get rewarded for that. I'm happy for the guys that have been here for a while and they haven't been in the playoffs yet, too, and it's sort of fun to sit back and watch how they react, too. Defensively, I'm really happy where we're at and excited to see where we're going to go.
Q: Because of how you've built this and, on a week-to-week thing of flipping your gameplan every week to attack your opponent, kind of like what you do. Have you put yourself in a position now where you're going into the playoffs and all the guys embrace maybe something different?
A: I believe so because everything is punch and counter punch. Just like we did when we played Washington, from the first time into the second time. Same thing we did with Philly and looking back on it, I think we did the same thing in Dallas. We had a lot of injuries in that game, but we still held them lower than what they were averaging scoring, I know that. Every time I saw it, I felt shitty walking out of there but then after I saw some of these scores, "hey, I don't feel that bad". I think that's the way professional football is and that's the way being a coordinator is. You've got to have counter punches to everything you do.
Q: You mentioned the old school Giants. When this franchise won Super Bowls, it's been a large part because the defenses hit the quarterback. How much are you sort of inspired by that tradition?
A: Definitely inspired. We know where the standard is, and we want to keep raising the bar. That's why I keep referring to the fans, I think they like seeing it. They like seeing an attacking style defense and ones that can hit the quarterback, We've had 19 different guys this year on the roster that's got a sack. That's crazy. It's also once again a credit to the players and their coaches.
Q: What did you learn from that first matchup with Minnesota?
A: They're really good.
Q: In what ways?
A: I think that's a great question. Talent is obvious, right?
Q: You knew that beforehand?
A: Yeah, but I mean it's legit when you see 18 out there running down the field. I think that was the beginning of, I told the coaches and I told (defensive lineman Dexter Dex (Lawrence), you can ask Dex and (defensive lineman Leonard) Leo (Williams), I said we've got a playoff defense here, guys. Just keep playing it one play at a time and that's when it was 24-(16). That's when we were down, that's before the offense scored. Then I went on the back of the plane, and I told them, I said, "we've got a playoff defense, guys. We got beat by a buzzer beater at half-court". That's what it was. The biggest thing in this league is you never let one game beat you twice. So, you stay consistent. That's the way (head coach Brian) Dabs (Daboll) has been since day one, that's why I love working with him. He's been consistent since day one and there's no riding the roller coasters. It's an emotional game, that's hard to do and keep coming back in on Monday and staying steady with it. I think that's what the players appreciate the most, and I think that's what the coaches appreciate the most.
Q: How much does it help to have (safety Xavier) McKinney back and potentially (cornerback) Adoree' (Jackson) back for the matchups we've mostly been asking you about in particular?
A: It really helps and that's why they were starters at the beginning of the season. So, I keep going back to the players, just seeing Adoree' out there smiling and we don't know for sure if he can go, I think that it's still up in the air and Dabs will handle all that. It's fun just seeing him smile again because he was down after he got hurt.
Q: With McKinney he calls himself a playmaker, I think rightly so.
Q: The idea he'll play Sunday, does that change the way you can call plays?
A: Sure, it does.
Q: How so?
A: I'll tell you after the game after Kevin sees it first, but it definitely will change the way you can call some plays.
Q: As somebody who's been doing this for a long and has tasted the playoff stuff, Leo has been doing this for a while, this is his first go round. What is your appreciation for his hunger to keep at this and how much do you feel for (him), he's not the only guy but he's been here for a long time.
A: That's part of the excitement for the playoffs itself, to see those guys that haven't done it. Just like I told the defense, when we were getting ready to play the Super Bowl and (linebacker) Ray Lewis was talking to the team, he said, "look, we don't have to win the Super Bowl, we just have to beat the team we're playing". We don't have to win the playoffs, we just have to beat Minnesota, so just keep the main thing the main thing. Seeing those guys and it's their first time in it, it's like seeing a kid on Christmas morning.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka
Kafka: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm sure a few of you have questions about some of the head coaching interview stuff. It's an honor and a privilege to be a part of those conversations and be a part of that process but really that's all I have to add on it. My focus today and this week is really on getting our guys ready for Minnesota and the week ahead and today's practice. That's really all I'll have on it. I really appreciate you guys respecting that part of it.
Q: Do you intend to do those eventually? Potentially next week?
A: I really have nothing else to add on it – the head coaching side of it.
Q: It's easy to look at the last game and the Vikings in particular and say don't let (Vikings cornerback) Patrick Peterson beat you. He did on that one route in particular down the stretch. How do you do your best to not let an All-Pro like that impact the game?
A: He's a talented player, probably going to be a Hall of Famer and All-Pro, perennial All-Pro, all over the field. He makes plays. He's a smart, instinctive player so we have to be smart with what we do and make sure our guys are detailed with what things we want to present that defense.
Q: Would it help the second time around to see him and them so closely?
A: Sure. It's a couple things. We've done it a couple times this year already, with quick turnarounds. It's one of those things where you evaluate it and make sure you have some complementary stuff and maybe some stuff they haven't seen.
Q: You threw it 40 times the first time you played the Vikings. Does that necessarily mean the game plan is predicated on what you did the first time?
A: Not necessarily. Every week is a little bit different. We got to make that we go through our process on evaluating what our guys do best, go through our game plan and make sure we have enough stuff for our guys to attack them, whether it's inside, outside, down the field, short, intermediate. You've just got to cover your bases and make sure you have complimentary stuff from stuff that you've done and stuff that you're good at.
Q: Your receiving corps has been maligned nationally. Not a story around here as much but just because of the moving parts and injury situation. Can you speak to the job that those guys have done and if there's a chip on their shoulder in that room a little bit?
A: First off, those guys – they put a lot of time in studying and prepping themselves, getting on the same page with the quarterback room. I think (wide receivers) coach (Mike) Groh has done a great job of getting those guys together as well, coaching the fundamentals and the techniques that we stress.
Q: Do you feel like there's any, obviously this question is for those guys, there is a little bit of a "show people what we can do" kind of thing? How difficult has it been for you bringing these guys back and forth?
A: When you're playing football, you want to play with emotion, and you want to play with a certain attitude. I think those guys bring it, they bring it to practice every day and they've been bringing it all season long.
Q: From an offensive coordinator's perspective, what makes (defensive coordinator) Wink (Martindale) very good at what he does?
A: He mixes a lot of, not only just pressures but putting his personnel in different spots. He does as nice job mixing and matching those types of groups in different pressure packages that make it difficult and then tying in the back-end part of it, the coverage, the fronts. That's what ends up making it really difficult is they're so multiple.
Q: You've seen Minnesota have a rematch against their divisional opponents. Has their defense changed a lot in the second game or are they a team that kind of does what they do?
A: I think there's times when they do a little bit of both. I wouldn't say one way or the other. I think (Minnesota defensive coordinator) coach (Ed) Donatell is a talented coach. I had to play against him in the division when I was in Kansas City and so I know that those guys are well coached, they have good scheme, they do a nice job on defense and creating turnovers and they got us a couple of times. We'll be working to fix those things and making sure our guys are in the right spot.
Q: What is the key when you face a guy like (Minnesota outside linebacker) Za'Darius Smith who they move around so much? What is the key to the offensive side when you have a guy like that?
A: You got to know where he's at every single play. Between him and (Minnesota outside linebacker) Danielle Hunter. Those guys are talented edge rushers production-wise. They do a good job in the run game as well. You got to know where those guys are at on every single snap.
Q: Last week you talked about the idea of when you guys set out to build this offense it was a lot of plays and options off of the specific plays that you've run. When you go into a rematch so to speak against a team you've seen, does that create an advantage for you guys or at least give you more flexibility to know that what you did the first time, you can still run that but you have things that come off that they may not be anticipating?
A: It certainty gives you more flexibility because you've seen looks, you've seen how they may have defended a certain thing. You want to maybe use those techniques, use some of the leverages you've had to your advantage, whether in the run game, pass game, run action, RPOs. There's a few different schemes you can use to try and tie in, whether it's run game, drop-back game that end up maybe benefiting you down the road.
Q: Do you feel like you had a very good game plan? You had a season-high in yards in that game and you left some points on the board. Did you feel like that was one of your best offensive games of the year if you take away the turnovers?
A: That's a good one. I think the end result wasn't really what we wanted, so I think we've got to find ways to clean up some of the stuff that probably didn't go as well. When you look at when we're executing, that's great – that's our expectation. We're really focusing on how we can get better at those little things that maybe didn't go as well during that game.
Q: Does that go beyond the two turnovers? Were there more things beyond those turnovers?
A: There's always something you can work on. We look at it, we're really critical of that with every game, really. Speaking on that game specifically – go back to the fundamentals, your techniques, how we were running the ball, how were we throwing the ball, how can we build off those things. Do we have the right guys in the right spots? We go through that process so much that – that's what's what really, for us, that's what we look at so much. We detail that up and make sure that we feel good about it going into the game.
Q: When you look back at that matchup between (tackle) Evan (Neal) and (Minnesota outside linebacker Danielle) Hunter, how much of a focus is that going to be this time around? Whether it's giving him help or things he needs to do differently? It seemed like that was a challenge for him.
A: Every week, you got to go in with a plan. Evan's no different. He goes in, he comes to work every single day working on his fundamentals and techniques and he's going to work on those things that he saw on the tape. He's going to work to fix it and that's what he's doing. I'm happy with where he's been from yesterday and today.
Q: You aren't the only team that's left points off the board against them. Are they particularly a good red zone team? That seems to be the theme there. The Jets were there, down there a bunch of times and couldn't get it in.
A: Yeah, that's a point of emphasis today. That's what we're working on today with our game plan, to make sure that we can go down there and execute.
Q: What makes them good in the red zone?
A: They have good players and they have a good scheme. They're pretty sound at what they do, so the execution level has to go up an extra notch to be able to convert in those situations.
Q: (Wide receiver Isaiah) Hodgins had one of his best games of the season against Minnesota. What allowed him to be so successful that week and has he continued to progress?
A: Isaiah is one of those guys that really is very dependable. He's a tough kid. He can play multiple spots – inside and outside, so he has some flexibility within the offense. I think he's just like a lot of those guys in that room, he's gained the trust of (quarterback) Daniel (Jones) and they have a really good thing going right now. We'll keep continuing to build that.
Q: Most of us didn't really pay much attention to last week because it didn't have a lot of meaning. When a guy like (tight end Lawrence) Cager has a big game, does he become more of an option?
A: Every week, we'll look at the personnel groupings and see if we can find an edge for us. Cager's done that in the past, he had a nice one last week. That's on a week-to-week basis where we're at with that personnel grouping.
Q: You were talking about (Minnesota cornerback Patrick) Peterson, obviously, the way that he was challenging. Isaiah really didn't back down from that and it seemed like that kind of opened up some eyes to Isaiah's game. Did you guys know going in that he was going to attack the way he did against a guy like Peterson? I would imagine some of the younger guys might back off a little bit and be a little wary of a guy like that.
A: I think Isaiah, he's a competitive football player. I don't think it was necessarily for that game specially. You see it on tape, he competes versus all corners and linebackers and safeties, in the run game. He's just a competitive player.
Q: With the coaching interviews – do you not spend a minute preparing for those until next week or do you juggle it? Do you do an hour at night or something like that?
A: I understand that. I just have nothing else to add from what I said earlier today.
Q: Obviously you have a career, but how valuable would a consideration of maintaining continuity for Daniel (Jones) and for an offense for you to stay or leave?
A: Again, that kind of falls under the head coaching part of it. I really have nothing else to add from earlier today.
Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey
McGaughey: Good afternoon. Before we started, I just want to send a shout out to my pops, Thomas McGaughey, Sr. He turned 70 years old yesterday. I just wanted to say hello, dad.
Q: You look a lot like him. I saw the pictures.
A: It's kind of scary (Laughs).
Q: I thought it was you for a second. You're a younger version of him.
A: The older I get, the more I look like him. Scary.
Q: It's probably safe to say like how much time you spent on that blocked punt and just the preparation to face them again.
A: We work punt at least two, three times a week. So, we're not doing anything different – just being more detailed in what we're doing as far as alignments and all of that stuff. So, it's preparation as normal. We're going through our normal process of being physical and making sure we're doing the little things the right way all the time. So, that's been the process the whole year. And we just got to lean on our fundamentals and our techniques and go play.
Q: (Defensive coordinator) Wink (Martindale) just said the idea of when you play a team twice so close together, it has to be about the counterpunch. In that scenario with the block, do you almost have to anticipate now what they may try to do off of that, expecting you to fix what you guys got wrong the last time?
A: It's blood in the water. That's anytime you have a blocked kick in this league. When you put blood in the water, and that's what they do anyway. They've rushed 46 times this year. That's more than anybody else in the league. And obviously, percentage-wise, they block more punts. They do a good job – (Vikings special teams coordinator) Matt Daniels and his group – do a good job. Those guys play extremely hard, and it's going to be a challenge for us. Again, that's playoff football. That's life in the NFL. It's punch, counterpunch.
Q: On that one play, and I guess we're dwelling on that, I do apologize for it, but was that a scheme situation? Or was that just a guy or two not making a play?
A: The play is what it is. It was just a simple alignment thing. Feet got caught up. It wasn't anything special that they did. They've run the same rush probably 15 times the whole year. It was more of what we did than what they did. Again, we cleaned that up. So, we just got to, again, go out and play.
Q: You obviously had a line for their kicker (Greg Joseph), and it's kind of obvious you back that up now. Does he show you something there that changes sort of?
A: That was a career-long for him. And he stepped up to the challenge. He made a big kick. So, he's made some 60-yard kicks before. But that was his longest one.
Q: What's (kicker) Graham's (Gano) line indoors?
A: It just depends on the day, how he's feeling. Graham's not 25 (years old) anymore, so it just depends on how he's feeling. But he's right at that line. In a 'got-to-have-it' situation, (he's) probably right at it.
Q: You had a chance at 60 (yards), I guess, maybe in the first half of that game.
A: Yeah, it's situational. Like what's the flow of the game? What do we need? What don't we need? Are they going to put a returner back there? It's a whole bunch of things that go into that – making that decision. So, I think we made a good decision.
Q: Obviously, it's a dome. But is that considered a good place to kick, distance-wise? What's Graham's approach to being there, obviously, now that you've already been there this year?
A: Obviously, you look at the environment. All domes aren't the same. You don't have to deal with the elements, but all domes aren't the same. It depends on the turf. Like last time we played them, they painted it all white. So, it was hard to stick your foot in the ground in certain parts of it. All that makes a big difference in striking the ball and contacting the ball. If you can't get your foot all the way in the ground and it's kind of just sliding over the top of the grass, it makes it a little bit different.
Q: Do you know if they're going to do that again? Do you know those things?
A: No clue.
Q: Now that you mention it, they're probably going to do it. (Laughs)
A: But that's any stadium. That's any stadium, and it's always some small little nuance that you might have to deal with. So, it is what it is. If we get a chance to go out there and make a kick, we'll make a kick. Graham's done it a lot this year.
Q: Any benefit to having that fake field goal on tape – give them something to think about?
A: Maybe. (Laughs)
Q: It was a little weird that you kind of did do those trick plays in that game, which didn't have any playoff implications. What's your thought process kind of behind that?
A: We're just playing football, trying to win the game. You know how it is. Whenever we line up and we strap it up, we're not going out there just to lay down. We're trying to win. Regardless of who's on the field, we're trying to win the game. And we want to be aggressive.
Q: On special teams, do more starters play special teams now that you're in this time of year?
A: Not necessarily. I think more than anything, and we talked about this early in the year, you want to have continuity. You want to be able to create that continuity so guys learn how to play with each other, having that synergistic effect and being able to gel as a group and as a unit. And you don't want to get to the most important time of the year, and you change up everything that you've done. That's what we're not going to do. We're going to go out there with the guys that we've had that've been playing for us, and they're starting to play better. And they're starting to get better as a unit.
Q: Having heard the noise that might be louder this time around, can that help your unit in particular this time?
A: The noise is the noise. It is what it is. The situation is what it is. Playing in Seattle, playing in some of these other places that we've been where it's been loud, that's playoff football in the National Football League. You go on the road. You play in a hostile environment. And the noise is the noise. So, we just deal with it. And it is what it is. So, our guys are – they're ready for it.
Q: I think you were asked this last week, the idea that for you, seeing this team back in the playoffs, you've been here through the tough times. You've also been here when you guys have been on top of the world. What are your emotions going into this weekend? Is it just another game, or do you kind of take a step back and appreciate what it's like to get back here?
A: You appreciate it, definitely. When you've had such a drought that we've had around here, you definitely appreciate it. But it's just 'win one game.' My primary focus is on Matt Daniels and his group and just winning one game. That's all we're focused on right now. And it's nice to see all the stuff around it, but our primary focus is just trying to go, as a unit, go win one game. Make a positive-impact play in the kicking game that can help us win one game.
Q: What is your feel and appreciation for the players that haven't tasted a playoff game before and are having a chance to do this for the first time?
A: I'm happy for them because not every player in this league gets a chance to experience playoff football. There's a lot of guys that will play 10, 15 years and never go to the playoffs. So, some of these young guys, their first year in the league, they're going into a playoff situation. It's cool for them because they get a chance to experience it. It's, again, setting them up moving forward, giving them something to go after moving forward – a goal to go after just to know what the feeling is to play in a playoff game and play meaningful football in January.
Q: Can you talk about how (wide receiver) Richie's (James) sort of navigated this season? Obviously, he had the Seattle game. You kind of take him off that role (of punt returner), and then he goes back again to it. How does he handle it – like where your trust is with him and how that's kind of played out?
A: Richie's, like we talked about before, he's done a great job as far as bouncing back from a negative play. And that's football. That's this league. If you're going to stick around and you're going to have a career, it isn't about all the great plays. It's about the bad ones and how you react to the bad ones. And if you're able to react in a positive way, and you can take those negative situations in your career and in your football life and turn them into a positive and then be able to respond in a positive way, then you show that mental toughness. And you'll be able to stick around this league for a while because it isn't easy in this league. Everybody's going to go through tough situations that they've got to bounce back from.
Running Back Saquon Barkley
Q: I know you've seen it all basically on a football field but first playoff game – will you be nervous?
A: Nope. I'm excited. Obviously, I know it's a playoff game. More attention, more eyes, but to me, I won't be nervous. Will I be hype? Yeah, I get hyped for every single game. Nerves, I wouldn't say that. For me, it's just another football game. I talked to (Michael) Strahan when he was here not too long ago and I asked him, 'What's really the difference between playoff football?" He said obviously the intensity rises and all that, but the best advice he gave me was don't make the game bigger than it needs to be. I'm keeping that advice and sticking with that advice.
Q: Is this a confirmation of what this team has accomplished in terms of hard work and is it a way of saying, hey we got to where we wanted to go?
A: That's a good question. I guess I could say yes and no. The reason why yes is because that's your goal – you want to make it to the playoff. The only way you do that is through having the right mindset, hard work and win enough games to get there. The goal is not just to make it to the playoffs. You want to give yourself the opportunity to compete for the whole thing. We gave ourselves that chance. Now, we got to take it game by game. We got a big one, the biggest one because it's the next game on our schedule, and if you don't take care of this; that's the playoffs.
Q: Would you at least say this is validation that you guys have quieted the noise? I remember you starting off the season saying you wanted to go out to kill and there was a lot of doubters. Do you think regardless of what happens Sunday, the fact that you guys are in the playoffs proved a ton of people wrong?
A: Yeah, to be honest we really can't control what anybody else says or think. The only thing we can control is how we go out there, how we perform, and the only thing we need to focus on is the men and women in that building no matter what happens throughout this playoff. That's the beauty, that's the world we live in. You guys can say what you want to say but we can't take it to heart. We just got to focus on us, and I think we've been doing that throughout the whole season and that's why we're in the position we are in.
Q: Outside of (Michael) Strahan, are there any other former Giants that you have spoken to with playoff experience? Specifically, maybe running backs?
A: (Adrian Peterson) AP. I know he's not a Giant, AP texted me. That's someone who, when I was going through my knee process, that I reached out to. He had great advice and someone I can lean on. It's pretty cool when you look at your phone and there's a text from AP saying, "Congrats and happy for you and go kill it in the playoffs."
Q: Very timely considering the opponent, as well for AP.
A: I didn't even think that, now that's lit. When I literally said that – as I was saying that – I was literally like, the timing of it is funny. I'm a big fan of the game and a fan of AP. To get a text like that from one of the greats, it means a lot.
Q: You carried the ball 14 times in that first game against the Vikings, you also caught two passes. Do you want the ball 20 times, 25 times, 30 times?
A: I want the ball as many times as needed to win this game. Whatever I got to do. That's been my motto throughout the entire season and I'm sticking with it. Obviously, I carried the ball a little bit more in earlier in the year, second half of the season not so much, but the job was to get into the playoffs, and we found a way to do that. Whatever we got to do to get the win, I'm willing to do for my team. If it's 40, 50 then it's 40, 50. If it's zero, five then it's zero, five.
Q: They drafted you really for these moments and No. 2 overall. Do you feel the weight of that responsibility as you enter your first playoff game? Is that something you feel?
A: No. I don't feel that at all. As a player, as a competitor you want these moments – this is the stuff you dream about as a kid. Playing in the playoffs. Going to a hostile environment; it's loud, making big plays and silencing the crowd. That's stuff that you think about as a kid. Now, that opportunity is here. Whether I was drafted No. 2 or whether I was not drafted at all – the type of person I am, I want to go out there and make plays for my team and help them win the football game in whatever way that it's possible whether that's with the ball in my hand or without the ball in my hand. I'm going to try to do that.
Q: Did you enjoy the rest last weekend, and could it be beneficial this week?
A: Yeah, I guess. I wouldn't say I enjoyed it. You want to be out there and compete and play, especially against Philly. Obviously, I know the reason why we did it. I understand the reason why we did it and for me that whole week was treat the week like I was playing and knowing that we are in the playoffs, come in with the same mindset, come in early, get my body worked on, prepare myself for this game. I took a day off, I guess you could say, not playing in the game but still kept the same mindset and the work ethic to get ready for this game.
Q: One of your biggest games was off the bye week, you guys came back and played Houston. Did you notice that was a benefit at the time and can you apply that here?
A: I would say when you get that week off, you're fresh in the beginning – the first day you come out in practice. You're like oh man, you can tell you've been off for a week. Once you practice, especially the way I try to practice, putting myself in condition and get myself ready for a game – at the same time, Sunday is Sunday whether you have a week off or not.
Q: How's your body been feeling?
A: I feel good. I haven't played a full season in a long time. I played a full season and got some extra games left. I'm excited.
Q: What do you make of the receiver core that weren't household names, obviously, coming into the season but they've clearly done enough for you guys to be in the post season?
A: Hat's off to them. They come in every single day with the right mindset and the right work ethic and made play after play this year. Whether it's (wide receiver) Isaiah (Hodgins), whether it's (wide receiver Darius) Slayton, whether it's (wide receiver) Richie (James), (tight end Daniel) Bellinger – all those guys. They come in every single day with the right mindset and made plays. That's what you need from the guys, and they will continue to do that throughout the playoffs and especially the next game.
Q: What does it mean being able to play in the postseason? What does that mean to you?
A: It feels good. I guess I kind of luck on my side this season, to be honest. All the rest of the injuries I had in years prior is stuff that I couldn't control. I stepped on someone's foot. Making a routine play, I tore my knee. That's when I kind of came to the realization after those two years is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how much time you put into your body, there's just some things you can't control. Thank the man upstairs for keeping me healthy and just ready for the next game.
Q: How much did it come at the right time for you?
A: Yeah, I guess. His timing is always perfect. You can't knock that; you can't go against that. I'm a big believer in that.
Q: Even as a fan of the game, is there a playoff memory that you remember that stood out to you from a running back or just someone growing up and now you're getting the opportunity to actually play in the playoffs?
A: I was a Jets fan growing up. The biggest ones for me were the two AFC Championships back-to-back. What (quarterback) Mark Sanchez did as a rookie and then came back. I was looking up, I'm big into numbers and the history of the game, so I went back and looked up the most rushing yards in a playoff game, career rushing yards in a playoff game. (Running back) Emmitt Smith has like 1,500 (1,586) yards and 19 touchdowns, which is insane. I guess they've been to the playoffs a lot but still, that number is insane. (Running back) Eric Dickerson, I think it was against Dallas, put up like 240, 230 (248) in a single game. (Miami running back) Raheem Mostert, not too long ago for San Francisco (2019 NFC Championship game vs. Green Bay), put up like 200 yards (220). I like to back and look at all the stuff.
Q: What was the purpose of that? Just fuel to the fire? That you would want to be on the list?
A: yeah, I guess you could say. I would love that. Really would love that.
Q: Is there one game in there that surprised you?
A: (Running back) Franco Harris. Not saying surprised me but he's No. 2 career (1,556). He's just behind Emmitt. They did a football life on Franco, and I didn't realize how many championships he's had, how many games he played in. (Fullback) John Riggins had the most in a playoff run, he had like 610 (625 yards from scrimmage) on 130-something carries (136) and a TD (Terrell Davis) in Denver. Went to the Super Bowl in back-to-back years or something like that. He had two runs that are pretty good. I wouldn't say he surprised me but Franco because Franco is way before my time. I wasn't expecting him to be No. 2. I don't know who really, I was expecting to be No. 2, I wasn't expecting Emmitt to be like 1,500. I was expecting him to be like 900, 1,000. But 1,500 yards rushing on the ground and 19 touchdowns is insane. That's like, if you do that in the regular season – that's one of the best seasons or definitely an all-pro season depending on when you did it and the time you did it. My fault, I'm just rambling right now.
Q: I guess (running back Eric) Dickerson's single game high, what was that?
A: That's crazy too. It's good. I'm a big believer in setting goals and not saying, "I'm going to go out here and rush for this number of yards in Minnesota." They say, 'Study the greats and become great.' I forgot who said that I think it was Michael Jackson. Just went back to the past and tried to look up, try to give me some extra motivation to do some stuff.
Q: Would you like a kid someday to be standing where you are talking about you in a playoff game?
A: That would be really cool. That would be really cool. That's why you do it. You want to create a legacy; you want to have an impact. I'm sitting here just reading off names, going back and I'm about – like a kid at a candy store, "Oh my god. Dang, you see this? I didn't even know that 1,500 yards." Hopefully one day I can do that. The way you do that is by focusing on the task at hand.
Q: Didn't you do that even in high school? You asked questions about who the great Pennsylvania high school football players were. Did you carry that through most of your football life where you wanted to know what the benchmarks were historically, and you wanted to try to match that?
A: Yeah. High school knew all the people who had stats at my high school. When I went to Penn State, I kind of said something very arrogant to the running backs but I knew who all the records were at Penn State. I know pretty much all the records here. Those are the things – that's why you do it. I was watching something on Kobe the other night. He was saying, "The goal is to be the best." That's my goal. I've said that multiple times. I've been vocal about that multiple times. That's something that I want to accomplish. That's how I'm going to live my life and that's how I'm going to work every single day. Try and get to the top of that mountain and if I don't reach the top of the mountain, however far I get, at least I know I had the right mindset and I put the right work in that when it's all said and done, it's wrapped up there will be a smile on my face.
Defensive Lineman Dexter Lawrence
Q: Can you imagine going eight (seasons) without the playoffs?
A: No, I can't. (Laughs)
Q: How about some of the younger guys? Like (outside linebacker) Kayvon (Thibodeaux) comes in, not to say he's taking it for granted. But you always hear stories that some of the young guys come in and make the playoffs right away, and they think it's the norm.
A: I think he kind of felt what we felt. This is my fourth year, first playoff. And he looks up to guys like me and Leo (defensive lineman Leonard Williams). So, he kind of felt like, 'Oh, damn. It's been this long.' And he's kind of seen it's not easy to win. He's kind of embracing that and accepting that. I think he's been more locked in this week knowing the ultimate goal.
Q: He seems like a guy, just to stay on KT for a second, he seems like a guy who is very aware of the stage he's on and thrives on that.
A: That's kind of what I was saying, he's embracing this moment. He understands this doesn't happen all the time. It's not a consistent thing that happens. So, he's kind of understanding, he's taking our role in this and our part in this and understanding that this is for all of the marbles, and each week it's limited. We've got to go take advantage of it.
Q: With X (safety Xavier McKinney) and maybe (cornerback) Adoree' (Jackson) back this week, are you guys getting excited about what you can do on defense?
A: Yeah, just to have leaders on defense back, starters, it builds more confidence for everybody around. To have those guys back, they make some big plays for us. It's huge.
Q: (Defensive coordinator) Wink (Martindale) was saying he thinks the defense is getting into playoff form or is just about in playoff form.
A: Yeah, guys are getting healthy. I think this might be the first game of the season we've got all (our) starters playing at once. So, that's big. I think we're excited for that.
Q: What have you appreciated the most about Wink? How has he gotten the best out of you guys?
A: I think his leadership. He comes in and continues to remind us that this is our defense. He just calls the plays and helps us learn how to embrace moments with each other, because everything's going to be different next year. Don't wait until next year. Dominate this year.
Q: From the outside, it seems like it would be a lot of fun to play an attacking style of defense. Is it, and why is that?
A: It is fun because it's not just one person making plays. It's the whole defense making plays and guys you love to play with making plays. It's good to see the different excitement levels and different celebrations. It's fun. Those things kind of build along that attacking-style defense.
Defensive Lineman Leonard Williams
Q: How do you think you'll approach it (Sunday's game) emotionally? Do you have to kind of take the emotions down a little bit? How does that work for you, you try not to get too jacked up?
A: I don't think so. I think I'm naturally not getting too jacked up. (Head) Coach (Brian) Dabs (Daboll) has been doing a good job of letting guys know that whatever has got you to this point, keep doing that. This isn't the time to try new things and get too emotional, get too high, or get too low. I think this is a time to sacrifice a little bit more, meaning like spend maybe an hour more on film when get home than you usually do, get to work earlier, stay here a little bit longer. Do whatever it takes in that way, but I don't think you should be getting too high or low right now.
Q: How are you feeling physically?
A: I didn't play last week, so my body got to rest a little bit. Overall, this season, I'm excited that we're in the playoffs, and I'm super ecstatic to be here. That's been like the light through the season for me because individually, I had an elbow injury in camp and had to miss all of preseason and then I had a knee injury and had to miss three or four games early in the season. Now, I've been having this neck injury that I've been dealing with for the rest of the season now. For me individually, I've been having to go through a lot of ups and downs and adversity. Going to the playoffs is all worth it for me. I would do it all over again if I had to.
Q: Is that like you know Sunday it's going to act up again? Like it's not going to get better, it's inevitable? You're going to feel it and have to play through it?
A: Yeah, for sure. It's something that's been inevitable for the last few games that I've played in. I'm trying to get a neck brace or a neck collar. I don't know what it's called. I tried one out a few weeks ago and when I get in my stance, I just didn't really have much vision because it's hard to lift my neck up, but I think at this point I need something. Maybe something small even because when I'm getting single blocks or I'm just pass rushing it's not really happening because I can just get hands on a guy, but when I'm getting a hard double team or I'm shedding off a block to make a tackle that's when I'm really getting that jerk in my neck and it kind of just happens. It's been happening every game; I've been dealing with it and trying to fight through it.
Q: Are they working on something for you on the equipment side? Are they trying to get something smaller for you?
A: Yeah, we ordered a few different sized collars this week, so I came in Monday, Tuesday on are off days to test them out. I got in my stance, and I saw how the vision was for it. They shaved one of them down for me because I liked how it felt but it was still just a little bit too high, so I'm going to go try it out after this. I feel like I have to find something because it's been happening a lot.
Q: You'll wear it to practice tomorrow to get a feel? Or do you just do it in the training room?
A: Yeah, just in the training room because if I go out on the field with the pads and they start stretching then it's going to count as a full padded practice or something like that. I have to find like my own time to do it.
Q: Do you think at all Sunday that you might have (inaudible)
A: Yeah, I was joking with (assistant defensive line coach Bryan Cox) B Cox and I told them that after I tried on the neck the collar, I looked up a bunch of highlights on him because he had this huge iPad looking thing behind his head. I wouldn't be able to use something like that because maybe he was off the ball and standing up, so it made sense because he still had the vision but, in my stance, I try to lift my head and I can't see what's in front of me. Me personally, I would rather have my vision and know that's going to happen in a game then to not be able to see what I'm doing.
Q: Do you think you'll need surgery for that in the off-season?
A: I don't think I'll need surgery, but it's definitely something that's not going to go away until I get rest. As long as I keep playing football on it right now it's just not going to go away. It probably will be something that sticks with me for a while to be honest. B Cox told me that once he started getting them in his career, it kind of just stuck with him.
Q: What would it take to get you out of not playing this week?
A: I don't know, no leg. I'm definitely going to play with this.
Q: So, it's a stinger, is that accurate?
A: It's like a stinger, but it's like some nerve stuff. The stinger happens in the game, but it's like because it was like some nerve stuff going on.
Q: Do you think they'll be a moment at all on Sunday when everything happens before the game, you'll look around and have a just know that you're in that first playoff game? I don't know if you do that kind of thing at all.
A: There probably will be, yeah. That's what I've been saying even about being in this building every day, I've been feeling that way. I've been embracing work even on a different level than I normally do. Like coming in on a Wednesday, Thursday, during this week when everyone else is going home already feels special to me. So, I know going out there on gameday, knowing that I'm playing and there's so many other teams that are at home, it's going to feel special to me. I'm going to embrace it while it's there, while I'm having that feeling, but after the National Anthem, I'm going to treat it like another game.
Q: (Defensive coordinator) Wink (Martindale) was telling us a little earlier today, I believe it was after the first Minnesota game that he talked to you and (defensive lineman) Dexter (Lawrence) and some of the guys and said we're building a playoff defense here. Do you remember that moment and what did you take out of it?
A: I do remember that moment.
Q: It was on the plane I think he said.
A: He's been saying it quite a few times the last few games and what I take from it is that he has a lot of confidence and belief in our defense and he's reminding us because we should too. He always talks about how this is a great group and one of his best groups that he's coached. I agree, this is one of the best groups I've played with. This is a selfless group. There's a lot of times in certain packages or pressures where you just know the play is not designed for you, but at the same time you know that you have to do your job for it to work for someone else. Everyone is willing to do that job to make the defense work, and I think that's what makes it so fun playing with these guys.
Outside Linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux
Q: From Week 8, like halfway through the season. What do you think this defense has improved most at?
A: Minimizing mistakes. I feel like we've had our fair share of mistakes throughout the season, throughout the game. We've figured out how to minimize them and make plays.
Q: Is that part of becoming more familiar with what he (defensive coordinator Wink Martindale) wants to do? It's his first season, too.
A: Yeah, and guys just getting comfortable in their positions.
Q: What's it like playing a team a second time in three to four weeks?
A: I think that's one of the good things about the NFL, just being able to play guys multiple times.
Q: What are you expecting from your first playoff game? What do you expect from the atmosphere, the environment?
A: I think it'll be fun. It'll be a big game. There will probably be a lot of fans. I think it'll be exciting.
Q: Do you think it'll be any different from any of the games you've played so far?
Q: You said primetime games love you. What's the relationship with playoff games?
A: No clue, especially in the NFL. So, we'll see how it goes.
Q: The first game, if there was something you can have from the first game. You always hear players say, 'I'd like to have this play back or that play back.' What would you want back from that first game?
A: I think I'm satisfied with how it ended. Obviously, we wanted to win. But we're in this position now because of the trials we went through. Just being here now and knowing what we've got to do, we're in a good spot.
Q: I know you're not one-on-one against (Vikings wide receiver Justin) Jefferson, but what can you do to help slow him down?
A: Affect the quarterback. That's what us as edge rushers are brought here to do, and that's what we're going to continue to try to do.
Q: When you're playing a quarterback like (Vikings) Kirk (Cousins), who is a little bit more of a stationary, pocket passer, as a pass rusher, is that one where you're licking your chops at all going into it thinking like, 'We might have the opportunity to get home here,'?
A: It definitely is a different situation than playing a mobile quarterback, but you never want to take anything for granted.
Q: What are the specific things that Wink has done to get the best out of you and the entire defensive group?
A: Wink doesn't really have to do much. I think it's really on the players. This will forever be a player's sport and a player's game. So, we've just got to continue to build the camaraderie and continue to keep our focus on the next game.
Q: I'm sure you would be happy to play whoever because you're in the playoffs, but is it extra energy to get another shot at them because of that ending?
A: I think it's always a good feeling when you can play a team again. Going back out there, a lot of guys got a chip on their shoulder. So, being able to play with a little fire and a little passion.
Q: Is there a balance that you guys have to walk knowing that what happened in the past, on Christmas Eve, has no effect on this game.
A: Yeah, nothing (in the) past, yesterday or last week, has anything to do with the rest of the season. So, just got to have that 1-0 mentality and keep chipping away.
Q: The vast number of rookies, toward the tail end of their first season, they usually tend to hit a wall. With you, though, it seems like you've been playing your best ball of the season the last couple of weeks. Why have you been able to get through that without ever really having any hiccups towards the end here?
A: Just being consistent. It's different when you've got a team depending on you and you're depending on the team. Just being able to be in these good positions and really battling at the end of the season has really given me that extra notch to keep going and continuing that consistency.
Q: How much studying has there been on this offensive line? It's a little different offensive line than the first time you played them because they've been banged up. I think Wink used the term before the Colts game, 'blood in the water.' Is there blood in the water for this because they are so banged up?
A: I would definitely say you never want to take a team for granted, but we are definitely looking to watch the offensive line and see what we can kind of take away and what I can use to my advantage.
Q: You guys have grinded all year to have this extra opportunity for another game. How meaningful is that?
A: When you talk about it, I think there are only six games going on this weekend. It's an opportunity that a lot of people, even myself included, have never been in. Just to be here now, you've got to be grateful for it.
Q: Have you taken the chance to kind of sit back and breathe, because I imagine you had pre-draft process, draft process, then you're going into rookie mini camp and all that, now all the way through to now you're in the playoffs.
A: No, I definitely haven't. I think I won't take any rest until it's over. We're just going to keep going and keep trying to stack them.
Q: If your next-door neighbor (outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari) comes back, will that help this team?
A: When you're at full health, we're a great team. I'm excited to see everybody back. I'm excited to see guys go out there and play.
Q: It's one thing just to get here. But the opportunity to keep this going and to have unfinished business, do you feel that way?
A: I think that's the greatest part about the sport that we play because once you conquer that adversity, you're just blessed with another opportunity and more adversity. Just leading up to this point, being able to get here, has been a blessing. Now just (inaudible).
Q: Wink uses the term a lot, 'position-less defense.' I've asked several different guys this, what does that mean to you?
A: There's a statistic out – I think like 19 different guys (have) sacks. I think that attributes to the work that everybody puts in and understanding that I'm not always going to be the premier guy to make plays, but I might be setting up somebody else. You've got to have that selfless mentality to make it actually work.
Q: You said you relish the big moment. What goes through your mind and your body during those moments? You're gearing up for a snap that you know is going to decide the game. What are you doing? What are you thinking?
A: You've got to dig deep. I think that's something where you really tap into a different level of dog you got. You try to call upon it. Just having that relentless, just knowing that no matter how tired you are, it's only one or two more plays that you've got to dominate.
Q: For a playoff game, do you say to yourself every play is that?
A: Exactly. I think that's that next step. That's what makes it different.