Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale
Martindale: Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas. Big game this past week. It just makes this next one even bigger. With that, I'll open it up to questions.
Q: You've been pretty consistent with us from day one talking about (outside linebacker) Kayvon (Thibodeaux), saying 'It's not just about sacks. It's about everything.' When he had a game like he had last week, was that for you kind of a 'I told you guys. I told everybody this is what it's about,'?
A: Okay (Laughs). It was fun to watch. I keep telling you all this: He's working on the little things. He's getting better every week. I think that was an accumulation of all the work that he's done. Like I said, it was a lot of fun to watch.
Q: He got, obviously, the big splash plays. But it seemed like that whole defensive front, everybody was making plays.
A: They were. They did a nice job of rushing the quarterback, especially when we needed it and not just Kayvon, but (outside linebacker) Azeez (Ojulari). Getting back to Kayvon, obviously the sack, strip, fumble for a touchdown, was a huge play for us. But an even bigger play, I thought, was when he was in coverage and came out of his coverage when the quarterback started scrambling. He tackled him on the one-yard line down there. That was a huge play for us. We always talk about (how) there's going to be big plays in this game. Both sides of the football get paid. Just get him down to give us a chance to stand. There is no play more evident than that one that he gave us a place to stand, and we were able to come up with the stop.
Q: Do you have a comp(arison) for (Minnesota Vikings wide receiver) Justin Jefferson? You like giving a little historical context.
A: I told the defense. I said that he's one of the top two receivers in this league, and he's not number two. He's had a phenomenal year – their whole offense has. It's one of those things that they throw the ball, and he could be in double or triple coverage, and he still catches it. I know it's fun for the fan to watch. It's not very fun for defensive coordinators.
Q: Is trying to stop him one-on-one with one guy, is that just something that you can't do in this game?
A: I don't want to say you can't do it. Like I said, you can double or triple team him, and he still catches the ball. If you are going to any type of one-on-one situation, you better pick the right spot to do it. So, I think that you got to keep things spinning for (Minnesota Vikings quarterback) Kirk (Cousins) back there because if you just sit in one simple front and coverage, he'll tear you apart.
Q: Philosophically, when you use your dime packages when you have guys like (safeties) Tony (Jefferson) and Landon (Collins) in the box, you always want to dictate to the offense about what they're going to do. But are you almost curious to see how an offense is going to try to come after you?
A: I think it's that way with any package you have every Sunday. And every Sunday's different. So, you just put the best matchups out there that you think you have and see how you can attack the offense. So, you're curious to see – especially with the way we attack protections – of what they're going to try to do to limit our success of hitting the quarterback. So, it's one of those things that each package we throw out there initially, that's our first thought: See how they react to it.
Q: Because traditionally, the idea is that if you put smaller players in the box, a team is going to look to overload and try to show that you can't stop the run. That give and take is chances you have to take, right?
Q: Landon played some snaps, though, just at inside linebacker in the base and the nickel. How did he hold up? Can he hold up more than he did?
A: Oh, yeah. I think so. I think he had one misread out there, which is kind of expected a little bit because it's been so long since he's played. But I thought he did a nice job, and excited to see where he goes moving forward.
Q: How comfortable are you giving him a substantial role on defense?
A: Very comfortable.
A: Yeah, very comfortable.
Q: At that linebacker spot?
A: Very comfortable.
Q: You mentioned the front, obviously. Getting (defensive lineman) Leo(nard Williams) back, what did you see this past week that was different with the growth of Kayvon and (defensive lineman) Dex(ter Lawrence) and getting Azeez in there, too.
A: I think the players like Leo and the rest that you mentioned is a problem when they're all out there because you can't just – if Leo's not out there, there's four hands going on Dex all the time. Now, they got to deal with Leo on the other side being a single block guy. I think that creates issues plus with what you said with the guys on the edges. The thing that's beautiful about the guys on the edges is the relationship they have with (outside linebackers coach) Drew (Wilkins). And it's like they have a mindset that they're always trying to improve. That's exciting when you have two guys that are 22-years-old on the edge, and they're looking to get better every day. They have that growth mindset, if you will, those outside backers. And then the inside guys, they're having a lot of fun. When Dex and Leo are playing together, you can see they have fun playing together. And it's fun to watch.
Q: That's kind of how you drew it up in the offseason and the preseason: You had those four guys. You had to wait three and a half months for it to click. Was that hard?
A: Thanks for bringing it up (Laughs). No, it's not hard. I mean, it was hard not having them in there. But having them all in there, it's fun.
Q: What kind of message did the comeback the Vikings made last week allow you to give to your team?
A: I mean, everybody sees it. It was the first in NFL history, right? That just tells you how explosive their offense is. It's going to be a great challenge.
Q: (A previous question) mentioned getting your four guys up front back. How much do you allow yourself to think about, 'Okay, now if we could get the guys on the backend back,' what this defense would look like if you had (cornerback) Adoree' (Jackson) and X (safety Xavier McKinney) back there with those guys now?
A: You don't have enough time to think about it right now because you're planning for the next game. But it would be nice to have them all out there.
Q: Would you agree with this – that you run a defense with a lot of different personnel? If you know, 'this is my number one cornerback, and he's really good', so, if you have a guy like (Justin) Jefferson, 'I can kind of put him there and maybe give him some help.' But you don't really have that right now. Would you agree with that, so it makes it more of a 'gang mentality' sort of thing?
A: Yeah, I think that's a fair assessment to it. Even you could go this way with it, too. You could put your second-best corner on him, and always have a safety over the top, which a lot of people do. And then single up the other guy. So, like I said, you got to keep the gumball spinning. (Minnesota Vikings head coach) Kevin (O'Connell) does a great job calling the offense. I said it's unfair: I'm the blue-collar guy going against Harry Styles (Laughs). He's a good-looking young guy, but I really like Kevin. I think he's done a great job with not only calling the offense but the entire team.
Q: You spoke pretty highly of (inside linebacker) Tae (Crowder) early in the season, and how did it go south so fast? He went from playing every snap to no longer on the team.
A: I think that it was one of those things where it just didn't work out with the expectation of execution and things just kept building up and building up. And you want to give a guy time to correct it, and we just didn't have the time for him to correct it.
Q: Where is the ceiling for Kayvon?
A: I have no idea; I don't want to put a ceiling on him. I don't because that's how special I think he is – he and Azeez both.
Q: When you have a number of explosive receivers on the other side and you have a veteran quarterback who doesn't move as well as he used to, is it more important to get pressure?
A: I think that you got to have the right time to hit the pressure, and you got to keep them guessing. Like I said, if we just let him sit back there and they block up our front four, we'll be in for a long day because you can only cover them for so long – especially 18 (Justin Jefferson). Let's not forget about (Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam) Thielen, either. They got three receivers (including wide receiver K.J. Osborn) playing at a very high level.
Q: How difficult are those plays that Kayvon makes where he's chasing guys downfield like 20 yards? I mean, he made about three tackles that way.
A: I think difficult, or is it your standard of how you run to the football? And he can run, so it really sticks out. I think since day one, we've talked about getting to the football and running to the football and practicing hard. And it becomes a habit. And then when you have a player that doesn't, he stands out like a sore thumb – that doesn't run to the football. And especially this time of year. Like I said, just give us a place to stand. That third guy that's there, that's busting his tail to get there, can recover a fumble that gets knocked out – like Leo did down there in the red zone in Washington.
Q: Do you show the team those plays when they happen?
A: Oh, yeah. Sure, we do.
Q: Did you think of growing your hair long when you guys were struggling a bit?
A: No. No, I didn't. Obviously, I'm no male model.
Q: What do you think of Dabs' (head coach Brian Daboll) new look?
A: It's different (Laughs). He looks faster.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka
Q: What did you see from (quarterback) Daniel Jones on that 18-play drive?
A: Daniel did a nice job on that drive. There were some really big conversions, but I think overall the offense just executed really well. We had to overcome a couple of second and longs, a couple of third and longs, and those guys hung in there and executed when we needed them to.
Q: Something (head coach Brian) Daboll has said a lot about him and you probably have as well, is that he's doing what we ask him to do. What does that mean? What are you asking him to do?
A: Execute his job to the best of his ability. Execute the offense, manage what we ask him to do in the run game, in the pass game, protections, all the things cerebrally that we ask him to do; then go and being tough.
Q: You're not asking him to throw for 400 yards, it feels like you're asking him not to turn the ball over. Is that challenging as a quarterback to play on that line where it seems like any mistake can really derail you guys?
A: Every game is different. Every game's different and some games we may ask him to do that and some games we might not at all. It's just how the nature of the game goes and where we're at in the game. I've been around teams that have done that, who've had to do that. Daniel's doing a great job of managing the offense, executing and then leading our guys down to score.
Q: You obviously have a lot of plays to choose from. I'd imagine the list gets a little narrower when it's 4*th* and 9. It's a situation you don't want to be in. How do you kind of come up with that and where was that on your list?
A: Yeah, so we watch it as a staff together and go through those plays, go through the thoughts on how we want to attack them on really all those fourth downs, those critical 'got to have it' plays. So, we have our thoughts, we have our lists early in the week and then as we get closer to the game, obviously we're talking with the quarterbacks about what they like in those situations as well. It's a collaborative effort and talk about when we get to those situations, what's our go to. So that's what we did.
Q: So that was number one on the list and that was the first opportunity to call it?
A: That was the first opportunity to call it there, yeah, absolutely.
Q: Going back to Daniel for one second, when you he's doing what you're asking him to do, you have the fewest 20+ yard passing plays in the league. Is that because in your mind you're not really asking him to do that? Based on situation, personnel, etcetera.
A: I'd say just every game's just different as far as how you want to attack a defense. Some games you want to do that, some games you want to do something else. So, I think when you're evaluating the defensive structure and how they do things, you've got to ask yourself, 'alright, where are our shots at? Where are our plays that we can get chunks? Completion plays? What are the kind of runs we like?' All those things we talk about and evaluate and based on how the game goes, that's what we choose to call.
Q: Washington's interior defensive line wrecked the first game for a lot of the game. Did playing them that game help you guys in this game? Just to know what you could do, what you couldn't do against them? Was that kind of what we saw in the second half where your guys upfront really prevented them from doing any of what they did?
A: Our guys up front did a really nice job all game. I think they played within themselves, they executed, they were fundamentally sound for the most part and I felt really good about how they just attacked the week of practice, the week of prep. As far as those guys in Washington, they're a really talented front. We see talented fronts every week. So, it's one of those things where this week's no different. It's a great challenge, so we've got to continue to have a good week of work.
Q: When you put something into a game plan that you know is going to work, like for example, late in the game against Washington you have those duo blocking schemes on that drive where (running back) Saquon's (Barkley) running up the middle. Is it tempting as a play caller not to use it early? It seems like you guys save those plays sometimes for key moments.
A: I don't know if I would say that we save them for those moments, but those are plays that we like throughout the game and maybe we get to them earlier. I think sometimes you just find a groove as an offense and you get a play that guys are feeling it at that point; whether it's players, running game. We get the corrections, maybe they had an adjustment in game early on that we made an adjustment on, on the sideline, so now we want to go back to something. It could be any scheme really. I think our guys have done a great job of adjusting. They did a great job of going down there and executing when we needed to. Those were big plays for us.
Q: You potentially have time with Daniel down the road, do you think there are steps he can take to become even better? In a second year hypothetically, you can explore more than maybe you are this year?
A: Everyday, Daniel, he comes to work. Whether it's in the classroom, he just sat in there with the install, asking questions, and then on the field he's working his butt off, too. It's great for him, he's always looking for ways to improve, no matter what day it is. Whether it's future, past, whatever, he's always looking for ways to improve his game. Asking on how certain people did certain ways and bouncing ideas off of Dabs, (quarterbacks coach) Shea (Tierney), myself, and the other quarterbacks. So, he's always looking for ways to learn and grow. That's one of the things I love about him.
Q: How much did you see Saquon sort of having a little extra juice in that game? It seemed like he was a significantly different runner than the week before.
A: Yeah, Saquon, he played hard. He did a nice job and I think those are all things we can learn from and grow from. I hate living in the past on that type of stuff, but he did a really nice job and gave us an opportunity to win the game. We've got to find a way to get back to that again this week and have another good week of practice.
Q: Is it too simple to trace (guard Ben) Bredeson coming back in the lineup and the run game kind of getting back on track?
A: Yeah, I've said this numerous times, I think the o-line, they've done a great job of just next man up. Whether it's Bredeson getting back in and playing well, (center Nick) Gates has done a nice job. All those guys have done a great job. They're battling and that's what I love about that group. They stick together, they communicate, and they battle. No matter if it's good or bad, they're kind of the same. When you look at it, that's one thing you can rely on, you can lean on those guys a little bit from the front.
Q: Does Daniel ever ask about (Chiefs quarterback Patrick) Mahomes and (Bills quarterback Josh) Allen given obvious ties here now? I'm not suggesting that would be a bad thing if he did, just curiosity.
A: Absolutely, I ask the same thing with Daniel. We talk about offenses and how you may have run it and I talk about the same thing with our staff, whether you've been in Baltimore, Houston, or Indianapolis. All those teams have something they can bring. So, I'm always looking to learn and grow and Daniel's the same way. He's asking questions about how we did things in other places I've been and how Dabs has done things in other ways. I think that's good, that's the cool part about this profession is you get a lot of guys who are from a bunch of different spots, you bring them together, you get the ideas down and you can grow an offense and kind of develop it.
Q: Daniel seems to have a natural humility about him.
A: Absolutely, yes.
Q: The play call on Saquon's touchdown run, how often did you guys practice that and what was the genesis of that play call? Where did you get it from?
A: We've had it up for several weeks in several different situations. It was an opportunity right there to call it, give him an opportunity on the perimeter, but yeah, we practice it every week.
Q: When you look at an opposing defense, what's the first thing you look at? Is it they have 40 sacks; they're going to bring pressure? How do you go into a gameplan?
A: Sure, just like anything, I think it starts up front. You evaluate their front, that typically tells the story of the defense and Minnesota has a really talented front. You look at the second level, you look at the third level; you start at the front, then you work your way back and kind of figure out what kind of defensive structure they're going to be. What kind of front structure they want to be, and how those things tie together. That's really kind of my process, start at the front, second level, deal with the pressures and how they cover there, and then third level, what kind of coverages they show, what kind of structures they show and if there's any indicators, we can build off of that.
Q: I know Dabs always says coaches have been everywhere so you all have former places, but you take any time to pick (defensive line coach) Andre Patterson's brain about what you may see in Minnesota this weekend?
A: Yeah, any opportunity. We've had some carry over on some of the teams with our coaching staff, so it's been good. Dre, he's helpful in areas that he can, and we've picked the brains of all our coaches.
Q: Does the potential of playing this team in the playoffs impact how you call this game at all?
A: No. We're not looking at that. We're focused on this week and trying to put the best gameplan together that we can.
Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey
Q: (Head Coach Brian Daboll) Dabs was talking about how he talks during the week about fourth down situations and when to go for it, when to kick. How much on gameday does (kicker) Graham's (Gano) range make you reconsider some of those discussions?
A: Definitely. Because it's cold and the wind and sometimes you guys don't really notice it but in certain directions, the wind is really a factor. When you watch pregame warms ups, and you're always making adjustments based upon how the wind might be particularly gusting as the game moves on – either it might die down or it might pick up. It's getting colder, the ball is not going to fly as far. All those things have to be accounted for.
Q: (Graham) said after the game that in warmups he wouldn't have been able to hit that second 50-yarder. In the game, you guys adjusted because you realized the wind went down. How much is that trust in a veteran, knowing how you guys have worked together and knowing it's not just, I can do it, I can do it and then you have to see?
A: That's the hardest thing because the kicker is going to always tell you I can make it. You have to be realistic in the moment and you got to be smart. Look at the situation. Where are we in the game? What's the score? Knowing that, okay if I miss this kick – the field position. You got to be smart in how you do it and we trust Graham. Graham knows. He knows his range and he knows the situations as they come up.
Q: How does the indoor facility change your life and the three guys' lives?
A: Indoor, outdoor – it really doesn't matter to us. We just show up and work. Obviously, when you're playing inside – you get an opportunity to come inside and get some work. That's really, really good for those guys because they enjoy it – obviously being able to strike the ball clean and not have to worry about the conditions and all that stuff. Obviously, that's a specialist's dream to kick indoors. It does help. Obviously, that place is different. The Meadowlands is different. Practice fields are different. The winds come in all different directions depending on what field you're on. It's just different. It's good for us because we get a chance to work in different environments but being inside helps.
Q: How much does it matter to that field goal unit team – I talked to a couple of them yesterday, they almost finish each other's sentences in a way. Watching a game, I don't think of that but obviously you guys have to.
A: The synergy part of it is huge. When you talk about the battery in those three guys, in particular. Like you said, they finish each other sentences and they work so much together and they're around each other so much. From the time they walk in the building to the time that they leave, they are always around each other. The chemistry part of it is huge. Like right now, we just got out of a meeting and we sat in there for 25, 30 minutes just talking. Talking about how we are going to approach things, what our plan is for today and how we're going to work. Okay, we're going to work before practice, we're going to work after practice. All of those things go into account and those guys' chemistry is just really, really good.
Q: We've asked the players a lot about how you might get in. As a coach, when you see the playoffs right there does it get your juices flowing?
A: It's the day-to-day process. You can't really focus on what's down the road, you got to focus on the now because if you take care of the now, everything else will take care of itself. Today, our primary focus is just to go out and try and have the best practice we can have for today. That's how you have to approach it because if you get too far ahead of yourself and you start thinking about – it's crazy. We just try to stick to the process and just take it day by day.
Q: You've been down the stretch of seasons, all different seasons, a lot of them around here that there was obviously no playoffs. You can concentrate on all the day to day stuff you want but you know when the season's ending and everyone is going to go home. Do you find the vibe with your guys and even larger vibes, I know you kind of look at everything, that it's easier to keep these guys mentally in tune, focused things because they know there might be something else out there?
A: That's human nature when you know you're fighting, playing for something. You're just going to go out every single day and do the best you can possibly do. I think our group has done a good job of that, guys have stuck to the process and that's what we're focused on – just trying to make sure every single day we're trying to find a way to get better.
Q: How did (safety) Landon (Collins) play on special teams? He's a guy who obviously was a big time player and now at this stage of his career to have to play special teams.
A: He's getting his feet wet, you know what I mean? He probably hasn't played on special teams since he was at Alabama. He played a little bit as a rookie. He's just getting used to doing it and he's a good athlete. Landon is a big, strong man that can run, very instinctive. Really, really good in space. He's done a good job.
Q: You've been around this league and you've seen how things have changed. Even now with the practice squad being expanded and having veterans who are around on the practice squad and they're in your room. Is that unique also? To have a veteran like that at this stage in his career and do you sense a different buy-in from some of those guys? You have a couple on this team.
A: Yeah. It's always good to have experience. Especially guys that have been here in this building and that have had success in the league and they're just good people. Guys that are pros, they come in and work every day and they're just trying to get better. For us, having guys that are veteran guys like (safety) Tony Jefferson, like Landon – those guys are just tremendous people and they come in and work their tails off and they help the young guys which is really, really big for the maturation process of our team.
Q: We've talked about it – I feel like we've had the same conversation for several years but how much does Graham in your mind deserve to make the Pro Bowl? That's something that gets announced tonight.
A: You know, I mean, his numbers speak for themselves, I think. He's been to the Pro Bowl before. If you look at him, he's 7-8 from 50 yards and that's hard to do kicking in the northeast. It's one thing to do it in a dome or in the south where it's 75-80 degrees or you got a controlled environment like a dome. It's a whole other thing to do it here in the northeast. It just takes a different animal. Graham is a hell of a player, he's a great pro, and if he doesn't make the Pro Bowl, he's not going to cry – he'll be alright. Obviously, you want your guys to do well, but if it doesn't happen, it is what it is but he'll continue to keep being great.
Q: How much can something very, very small with that operation throw it all completely off kilter? Even with veterans in those spots.
A: Don't say that. Don't say that. Don't say that. The smallest things make the biggest difference in our sport, especially with that operation. All the little details of how we operate daily from coming up, getting warmed up, guys getting in the right spots, they're taking the warmup steps. All those things that go into it, the small, mundane things that and stuff that the average person looks at and says, "What is that?" His steps. Being consistent with the steps, what hash you're on. All those different steps. That makes a big difference, and you have to be detailed in what you do. Just being off a little bit can make a big difference.
Q: How about the idea of when you're under cover and when you're in that dome, it should all be perfect, right? No excuses.
A: That's what you want. It should all be perfect. You don't have to deal with the elements. That's the thing in the dome. You don't have to deal with the wind and all that stuff. That makes the operation a little easier.
Outside Linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux
Q: Now that you're not playing in primetime are you just going to take it easy?
A: No, definitely not. I feel like that was a building moment for me and I had a great game, but I feel like it's not real until you do it again. We're getting close to the end of the season, and I've just got to keep stacking them and carry this momentum into the playoffs.
Q: Did you feel as good as you've felt all year? It just seems like you dominated.
A: No, I definitely didn't feel good. I don't think anyone feels good this time of year, but it definitely is that mindset and mental toughness that carried me through that game.
Q: Have you been more tired after a game?
A: Yeah, I think the recovery process has gotten longer. Now you have to hone in. After 17 weeks it's not just like you've emptied the tank and it just refills and your body recovers every game. Now you've got to continue to do those things that are going to keep you healthy and keep you available.
Q: You obviously made a lot of big plays that game but really the whole defensive front, the four of you, each of you made a significant play at one point or another. How important is that to get all of you kind of moving in that same direction?
A: I would say the only reason I was able to have a game like I had is because of the rest of the front. If you noticed, once we all came together and we all start playing great then we started to see that production and we started making plays. I think the credits to all of us and we've just got to continue to stay healthy, continue to get better, and continue to get more cohesive as rushers.
Q: That's obviously a key for every game but this game in particular with their receivers how important is it for the four of you to make sure that (quarterback Kirk) Cousins doesn't have time to hit those guys?
A: They have one of the best wide receivers in the league right now. We've talked about it as a unit – the only way we're going to be able to stop him, not the only way, but one of the ways that we can affect playing against the best wide receiver in the league is affecting the quarterback.
Q: Do you look at a game like that and you say you want to put it past you, as a rookie do you look at that game and say that's there but there's a great challenge next week? You're like on everyone's radar now. Now it's like okay, do it again.
A: It definitely does give me a few stripes. I can look myself in the mirror and know that I came here to play, and I came here for a purpose. Just not trying to let it get too ahead of me, not trying to live in the moment, not trying to get too high on myself but just continue to realize that the steps I took all week, and all year is what got me there. So, I've just got to hone in on that and that's going to keep them coming.
Q: Do you like that award? Do you like that Defensive Player of the Week?
A: You love recognition. When you're doing the dirty work and you're working hard, you sacrifice your body to glorify your soul. It definitely does feel good.
Q: Do you expect more chipping now that you've had a game like this?
A: I wish you didn't even ask me that on camera, because hopefully they keep giving me the one-on-one's, we keep giving these different looks, so it gives me some opportunities to make plays.
Q: Should I also bring up when you bit on the RPO and the quarterback went around you too?
A: Hey, that's football, that's the name of the game. I think it's a quote to the great (former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch) Beast Mode he said, 'I'm a get got, as long as I get mine more than I get got, I'm going to be good.'
Running Back Saquon Barkley
Q: Did you know (Former Steelers Running Back) Franco Harris at all?
A: I got to have some conversations with him at Penn State. Obviously, I saw the news this morning. I just want to pay my respects to his family. Franco was a great guy. The conversations I was able to have with him, him being a legend. Obviously, the amazing play he made for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The stuff that he was able to do at Penn State. It was an honor to meet him. Like I said, sad, sad news and I just want to give my respects to his family.
Q: Can you imagine making that play? He was such an instinct player.
A: Actually in college, I never made that play, but that was kind of the example that our coach, coach (Penn State Running Backs Coach Charles) Huff, would use to get us to chase the ball in practice. Obviously, the thought process behind it, if you chase ball it's extra conditioning and you get yourself in better football shape and ready for the season. When you chase the ball, good things happen. That's kind of with everything, that's kind of the background of where that mentality came from.
Q: Did you feel better last week? The numbers seemingly indicated that.
A: I felt like I felt the week before, outside you know with the neck, and I felt like I felt the week before that. Just was able to get into a grove, was able to get into a rhythm, in a key spot, a critical part of the game. I've just got to find a way to do that earlier in the game for us. The o-line played amazing. The o-line gave me opportunities, especially at the end and we were able to go down. I wish we would have scored and just ended it, but we were able to get three points and leave it up to our defense who's been playing amazing all year and finished the job for us.
Q: How much did you feel that the adrenaline of that last drive really helps take it to another level? You can see it there. It didn't look like, that's not just a normal drive of any normal game. You can tell every run you were really pumped after every single run.
A: Yeah, I guess it's the situation – being aware there definitely does help. A key drive, you want to take your game to another level and was able to do that. Helped us get to position to get three points but being greedy, I guess you could say, I feel like there's still more out there. We've got to end the game with the ball in our hand with a touchdown.
Q: Are you letting yourself feel the emotion of getting a playoff spot?
A: The only way we get that is if we control what we can control, right? That's the focus. Keep the main thing the main thing. We're going against a great team in Minnesota who has a great defense, a very veteran defense. It's going to be a great matchup.
Q: What do you think of the idea that it can happen this week? There are scenarios where you do clinch a playoff berth.
A: Want to update me on the scenarios?
Q: You guys win and then two of those other three teams – Washington, Seattle or Detroit loses.
A: I just learned that today, right now. But like I said, the first thing you said is we win, right? We've got to focus on us. We can't really worry or be concerned with what happens outside of that. We put ourselves to be in position to be in the driver's seat and that's the beauty of it. We've got to capitalize on that.
Q: Have you allowed yourself to think about what that would mean to you to make the playoffs?
A: No, I don't have time for it.
Q: That's a surprising answer. You've waited five years to get to this point.
A: I mean, yeah. One, because I kind of just try to live in the moment and then knowing me, knowing how I think – God willing everything goes right and we do capitalize the playoffs it's just like; the goal is to make it to the playoffs, but it's not like you won the Super Bowl. It just gives you a chance to compete for that. That's how I look at it. That's the goal, you want to accomplish that to give yourself a chance to do that. I'll have fun, be happy with my teammates. Obviously, it's a great accomplishment but it's not the grandaddy of them all…can you say that, or is that the Rose Bowl? (laughs)
A: Yeah, same thing. Same thing.
Q: It would be a great Christmas gift, to make the playoffs?
A: A good Christmas gift would be a win. That's what we're focused on.
Q: Was there a moment this year at all where things maybe felt a little bit different for you guys – that this wasn't going to be like the past years where there were so many struggles and you would have a chance to make the playoffs?
A: Yeah, you don't really come to the season or any part of the week where you're like, 'Oh, we're not good enough,' or, 'Oh, this is not going to happen.' I remember my rookie year, we got eliminated from the playoffs, and we went 5-9. But my thought process was we still had a chance. Until you're out of the playoffs, you still have a chance. Maybe that might be wishful thinking mindset, but that's how I like to view things. It isn't over until the fat lady sings. That's how I go about things. There's never one part of the season where you come in with a negative mindset where like, 'Oh, that's not going to happen.' You envision that, you go to sleep, you think about that. You dream about that. You have positive thoughts. I feel like if you put positive thoughts into the world or give off positive energy, it's going to come back at you.
Q: I'll throw out, unfortunately, a moderately negative thought. Your offense scored 13 points last week. When you think of that – and it's a team game; you won the game. We get that. Moving forward, especially with the Vikings, who scored 39 points after halftime – is there a sense that there's so much more out there that you guys can do on offense?
A: Of course. Of course. There's so much more out there. But at the end of the day, the objective and the goal is to win games. But we want to be dominant. We want to score however many points we can score. The way we do that is just by being your biggest critic. Even after a great win like last week, coming in and watching film on your own, putting it in the past and moving on from it and seeing what we can do to advance from that. Like you said, the Vikings do a great job at putting points on the board. But at the end of the day, we've got to play our style of football. However many points we've got to score to win the game, that's what we've got to try to do.
Q: You've had, obviously, monster runs and monster games here. But the three straights runs that you had down the stretch there, is that even for a running back of your stature – does that kind of get you going? It's not just one. It's one, two, three where you feel like, 'Okay, they can't stop me'?
A: You, as they would say, you get in your bag. That means you get in your zone. You start feeling good. Obviously, ripping off the first one and you get into the second one, third one. For me, I just want to figure out how I can get four, five, six. That's where I've got to get to, especially down the stretch.
Q: Also, maybe early in games too? You've said that for a while how you want to start faster, earlier. Does that go through your head like, 'Okay, I did that in the fourth quarter. Let's see if we can get that in the first quarter?'
A: I know it's there. I know I'm capable of doing it. But at the end of the day, that's the beauty of sports. It's an 11-man game. I've got to just continue to trust the system, continue to trust the offense, which I know the o-line is going to do a great job. When they give me those opportunities, I've got to make them pay for it. Whether that happens in the fourth quarter, it happens in the fourth quarter. If it happens in the first quarter, it happens in the first quarter. Whenever it comes, I've got to be ready for that moment. I've got to continue to look for the moment. I can't reach for it. It happens. Make them pay.
Q: It could happen in all four quarters, too, right?
A: Yeah, it could happen in all four. That would be a beautiful thing.
Q: You've said a lot in the past that this team is going to be turned around. You always said not if, when things turn around. Are we here now?
A: It's the truth. I can't really talk around it to be honest. Yeah, I feel like this is something we can do for a very long time. We have a lot of great talent in this locker room. I think (general manger) Joe (Schoen) and all those guys upstairs, and Dabs (head coach Brian Daboll) have done a tremendous job for us and put us in positions and created a roster that can go out there and win games. I feel like the future is bright, but you can't really get too caught up in the future. You've got to live in the moment. You've got to live in the now. We've got a great opportunity now. We've got to capitalize on that.
Q: We don't know anything officially, but what would making the Pro Bowl mean to you, given how hard you've worked to get back this season? Was that a goal you had for this year?
A: What would it mean making the Pro Bowl? I can't sit here and be like, 'Oh, it wouldn't mean anything,' because that's part of the fans. The fans vote and give you an opportunity to get in there and then also coaches and players vote. It just shows the respect of your peers and the respect of the fans out there. I'll just be more thankful, show more gratitude to those people, because the only way you get in is because of that. Obviously, it's determined with the play that you do on the football field, but I'll just be more thankful and show gratitude to the people that voted me in.