Steohen Gostkowski’s 24-yard field goal late in the third quarter was his 33rd of the season, setting a Patriots’ franchise record.
The Patriots have just announced that Richard Seymour has a back injury, and his return is questionable.
- Hey, might as well post some first half analysis now that the game is out of reach, right?
- We’re early in the second quarter, and the Patriots have dominated in every facet of the game—offensively, they’ve moved the ball without a problem, scoring on three of their first four possessions. Defensively, the Cardinals have yet to pick up a first down. (Check that–as I’m writing this, they got their first with just over 11 minutes left in the first half.) And on special teams, there have been some bone-rattling tackles on Arizona kick returns by Matthew Slater and Ray Ventrone. If things continue at their current pace, we might see Kevin O’Connell for a few snaps this afternoon.
- The New England defensive backs haven’t really been tested by the Arizona offense because, for the most part, the Cardinals have kept the ball on the ground. We’re scratching our heads over that one—you haven’t been able to run the ball all season, and NOW you try and grind out some yardage on the ground. Odd, to say the least.
…ready to blog our way through this afternoon’s Patriots-Cardinals game. It is a crazy scene here at Gillette: one of the best weather games we’ve seen here in quite some time. The snow and wind will change today’s game. We’ll be here through the afternoon. Our plan is to bring you news and notes as they happen, as well as some analysis and postgame quotes. Keep checking back for updates throughout the day.
Here’s the transcript of Matt Cassel’s weekly Q&A with reporters today at Gillette Stadium:
MC: I’m just going to start by saying, as it relates to the last week, when it comes to my personal life and everything I’d rather answer questions about football today. If we could stick to football questions, I’d appreciate it and thank you very much for being so respectful over the last week or so. With that being said, shoot away.
Q: This might be sort of borderline so why don’t you lead the way on this. Football wise did you ever think about not playing in the game?
MC: No, I always felt like I was going to play. I took some time away last week and then came back and was able to get enough preparation in to go out there and play. I think that’s what my father would have wanted.
Q: Did it help you being around your teammates, being in your job?
MC: It was a good distraction last week, there’s no doubt. Being around my teammates and having this secondary support factor with a family away from home definitely helped.
Q: Where does that win rate on the satisfaction scale?
MC: It was a big win. It was a big win for the team. It was a big win for me, personally, and it’s always good to go out there and win each and every week.
Q: Can you talk about Arizona? Obviously, you hear about their offense, but can you talk a little bit about their defense?
MC: They’re a very good defense. They’ve got a lot of speed out there. They try to confuse you a little bit. They’ll give you multiple fronts, multiple looks. They’ll bring different blitzes from, like I said, multiple looks. They’re going to be a challenge for us and we’ve got to be able to manage their blitz zones and get the ball downfield on them.
Q: Did you target [Nnamdi] Asomugha? Usually, teams have stayed away from him, but you seemed to go at him right way and get some defensive holding calls and Randy [Moss] caught some passes against him.
MC: It was just kind of coverage based. We thought that Randy against anybody is a good matchup and Asomugha is a great player — I hope I pronounced his name right. I don’t want to disrespect him at all. Randy is a great player and anytime Randy is in one-on-one [coverage] it gives us an opportunity to get him the ball. We feel like Randy will be able to make a play.
Q: What was your reaction to Wes Welker being named to the Pro Bowl?
MC: I’m excited for him. He is well deserving and he’s a guy that, as I’ve said time and time again, gives 110 percent. He’s a guy that you root for each and every week because he’s such a great team player. For him to get honored in that way, myself, as well as our team couldn’t be happier for him.
Q: Have you thrown a lot of passes in the snow?
MC: I did in practice. Not many going forward in a game so we’ll see how it goes. I don’t know what the weather is going to be Sunday, but in New England it could change in a heartbeat.
Q: How productive was that practice yesterday? It was a little unusual because a lot of times with the elements you guys will go up to the [Dana Farber Field House] but you were outside.
MC: It was good. The last few weeks we’ve really stayed outside, tried to get used to the cold weather and the environment. We’ve got to prepare for that going on the next few weeks and, hopefully, moving on after that. It’s always good to get out there and get to practice in those types of elements.
Q: Do you feel any pressure to put points on the board especially early in the game knowing Arizona’s firepower?
MC: We’re just going to go out and do what we do. We’re going to run our offense and whatever the coaches see fit in how we’re going to move forward and try to attack this team. That’s what we’re going to do.
Q: What part of the offense do you feel has come a long way and do you feel most comfortable with now?
MC: I think we continue to progress each and every week. We’ve definitely made a lot of strides from the beginning of the season and where we are now. Hopefully, we’ll continue to do that.
Q: I know you guys are always focused on yourselves, but you don’t live in a vacuum. How aware are you of scenarios in terms of playoffs? For instance, this Saturday night if Baltimore loses you guys control your own destiny.
MC: I’m not too aware of everything going on because I know the only thing that we can control is if we win. If we don’t win, then all the other scenarios don’t matter. We’ve got to take care of business on our end and then if things fall into place then they do.
Q: In Oakland, it looked like you left the game with the game ball. I was just wondering if you kept that for yourself or if you passed it on to anybody?
MC: I did keep it for myself and for my family.
Q: It’s been a while since you’ve been a starter in 14 straight games. How are you doing physically, emotionally with the wear of the season?
MC: You just move along and from one week to the next. You try to take care of your body. I think you get stronger mentally because you’ve been doing it for awhile. Whereas, in the beginning when you first become a starter, it’s pretty stressful, especially in the situation that I came in under. Then, as we move forward, you start to get a little bit more control. You start to get comfortable in your position and you start to enjoy the game again and have fun playing it. Whereas, in the beginning, you feel like you have to achieve more than just going out and playing.
Q: What are your impressions of Kurt Warner?
MC: I think he’s a great quarterback and he’s shown that year in and year out. He’s obviously had a tremendous amount of success in the league. [He is] a guy that I look up to, a guy that had to fight through some of his own adversities to get to where he is. He’s a great human being as well so I’ve got nothing but respect for Kurt Warner.
Q: How difficult do you think it’s been for Matt [Leinart] to handle that situation knowing that he was the quarterback there and then Kurt came in and won that job?
MC: I think, as a backup quarterback, as a competitor, anytime, you want to be out there. You want to be playing so that part’s very difficult. But when you’re able to step back and learn from a guy like Kurt, because he’s so good and because he’s so established you can learn a lot of things. Then, when Matt is ready to go and he steps in to take over that team, he’ll be ready and probably more prepared than what he was.
Q: Do you talk to him much?
MC: I do. We’ve text messaged back and forth throughout the season. We’ve talked back and forth throughout the season. He’s one of my friends and, obviously, a guy that I went to school with so we keep in touch.
Q: After an emotional week, how did that win in Oakland help get those emotions out on the football field? How did that win help you mentally?
MC: I think it helped the team and for me. I was just going to go out there and play my best. That’s all I was going to do. It wasn’t for me as much as it was for the team and everybody else. I knew that’s what my father would have wanted — for me to go out and play. It was great to get a victory. And if we didn’t get a victory, I still was out there giving 110 percent and that’s all I can do.
Q: Wes is pretty remarkable when it comes to yards after the catch. Anquan Boldin is pretty good too on the other side. As a quarterback, obviously, it helps you, but could you elaborate what it means sometimes when you just throw a quick pass and then see a guy run with it?
MC: That’s what we talk about all the time is getting the ball to the playmakers. Guys like Wes Welker and Anquan Boldin and those guys who are able to get the ball in their hands and then do something with it. When they do get the ball in their hands, they are special. As much as you can as a quarterback, you like to get the ball to those guys and let them work.
Q: How would you asses Mark LeVoir’s performance filling in for Matt Light?
MC: It’s always tough when you lose a guy like Matt, who is a leader on this team and who is obviously a great left tackle. But I thought Mark LeVoir came in and did a great job. He was steady. He knew the offense and executed for the most part.
Q: Through the different challenges you’ve faced this year, whether they were professional or personal, what have you learned about yourself?
MC: I’ve overcome a lot of adversity and I think it’s [taught me] to keep pushing forward, and keep moving on, and don’t listen to people who are negative and work against you. Just continue to surround yourself with people that are positive and can help you and things will turn around for you.
Here’s the latest:
Did Not Practice
LB Tedy Bruschi (knee)
T Matt Light (shoulder)
S James Sanders (abdomen)
LB Gary Guyton (ankle)
CB Ellis Hobbs (shoulder)
T Mark LeVoir (ankle)
LB Vince Redd (ankle)
DB Lewis Sanders (shoulder)
DT Ty Warren (groin)
WR Kelley Washington (thigh)
NT Vince Wilfork (shoulder)
RB Kevin Faulk and WR Randy Moss removed from the list
Here’s the Q&A from Bill Belichick today at Gillette Stadium:
BB: First of all, on the Pro Bowl selections, I have congratulated Stephen [Gostkowski] and Wes [Welker] on their selections for the game. Both guys had great years and I think we have a number of other players that were worthy of that recognition as well, but didn’t receive it. That is usually the way it goes every year. With that being said, we’ll turn that page and look toward Arizona. This is a team, if you didn’t have to play them, is exciting to watch. They’ve scored six touchdowns not on offense. We know what kind of firepower they have on offense with the receiving corps, quarterback and running backs. They can score from anyplace on the field. They have a great group of skill players, but they have also scored on defense with a couple interceptions, fumble returns and in the kicking game with a blocked field goal, blocked punt and kickoff return. So they turn the ball over a lot. I think they lead the league in fumbles recovered and probably fumbles caused. They are a hustle and aggressive defense. They have real good team speed and make a lot of plays in the kicking game. They make a lot of plays on defense. You really have to take care of the ball and, offensively, they can move it as well as anybody. I think their offensive line is a good group. They are well coached and Ken [Whisenhunt] has done a good job with that team. There are a lot of people down there that I am familiar with, guys that we worked with at the Jets, like Todd Haley, Maurice [Carthon], Jeff Rutledge back to the Giants days. Kevin Spencer was with me at Cleveland. There are a lot of guys on that staff that I am familiar with. It worked out OK for everybody I think and they have certainly done a good job in getting that team… being in the playoffs, being the division champion, and clinching as early as they did this year. We have a lot to get ready for with a team that we don’t know very well. We haven’t played them in a few years. I think only about 20 or 25 percent of their roster is what it was the last time we played them. So there has been a lot of turnover with the coaching staff, as well as the players. We have a lot of work to do this week. That’s what’s in front of us.
Q: They have had a lot of long pass plays this year. Is that by design or by defensive mistakes that other teams have made?
BB: A combination of both. For example, last week against Minnesota they hit [Jerheme] Urban on a three-yard pass. It was a sight adjustment and the Vikings blitzed. He caught it, broke a couple of tackles and goes 55 [yards] for a touchdown. I am sure that play wasn’t designed to go 55 yards, but it turned out that way. Same thing with some of [Anquan] Boldin’s plays. I would say [Steve] Breaston is more of a vertical receiver. They give the ball to him on a lot of go, post and flag routes. [Larry] Fitzgerald, like the long play he had against Miami, it was a 20-yard play. He went up, took the ball away from Will Allen, came down, spun off a couple of tackles and went 75 yards. There are some of those plays. There are some plays where they hit Boldin, Breaston and Fitzgerald down the middle or on double moves. They do it all. They have catch-and-run plays. Boldin, I don’t think we play against anybody that is any better with the ball in his hands than he is. He breaks a lot of tackles. He’s a very good run after the catch player, but so are the other guys. They have four real good receivers.
Q: Can you talk about Jerod Mayo and the contribution he has made to your team this year?
BB: Jerod has done a lot for us. We have asked a lot of him. From day one he has been a well-prepared, very mature player who can do a lot of things: play in the running game, play in the passing game, blitz, helps us in the kicking game. He’s a good football player that has good versatility. He’s smart, makes a lot of defensive adjustments and calls for us. He runs well. He is tough. He is a good all around football player. He is very mature. He is very professional. For a rookie, he is probably as professional as anybody I’ve coached.
Q: When Mike Vrabel went out briefly in the last game, was Jerod Mayo leading the defensive huddle in the last series?
BB: Yeah. It went good. We actually worked on that last week in California when Tedy [Bruschi] wasn’t practicing. When Mike was out, Jerod took over the signal calling. He did a little bit of that early in the year when Mike missed the first couple of weeks of training camp. Jerod was part of that with Tedy and some of the other guys we had in there. He did more of that last week and ended up doing some in the game.
Q: Was there some reluctance to give that to a rookie?
BB: No, not at all. Again, Jerod did it in training camp and it was fine. He had a lot of playing time in preseason and did it in some of the preseason games. We just felt that Tedy and Mike had a little bit more experience in our system and with our opponents. At this point, Jerod isn’t really a rookie anymore. He has played 18 games counting preseason, so he’s had a lot of snaps. We feel real comfortable with him there. He did a good job.
Q: Ty Warren indicated last week that because of his injury his effectiveness would be limited to obvious running downs. How has that, if at all, affecting your rotation?
BB: I don’t really think it affects it. With all due respect to Ty, when you play football you play whatever they run. They are calling the plays not us. If he is in there, if it is a run, a pass, a screen, a draw, then that is what we have to play. With Arizona, they run some no-huddle. They mix it up. They get in the shotgun on first down. They will run on third down. You don’t really know what it’s going to be. So if you are in there you play what they run.
Q: When you look at Fitzgerald’s size and his athleticism, do you see similarities between him and Randy Moss or the young Randy?
BB: They are both real good players. I think their styles are different though. No, I don’t think you would defend them the same way. They are both good players. I just think they have different skill sets and they run different types of routes. They are good receivers; they just have different strengths. I think they both have real good hands.
Q: What has allowed Wes Welker to develop into a Pro Bowl player?
BB: Wes is a hard working guy. He’s very conscientious and diligent. I think he is very professional and puts a lot into his job. He is here early, stays late. For his size, amount of catches and hits he has taken, he has been very durable. He’s out there both on the practice field and in the games just about all the time. If anything, we have to slow him down a little bit, ask him to back off or pull him out to try to help that durability and help him last a little bit longer. He works hard at it. He has all the skills that we saw he had when he was down in Miami. We couldn’t cover him when we played against him down there and he is still hard to cover. We have a hard time with him in practice and it looks like teams have a hard time with him in the games.
Q: How do you feel Jonathan Wilhite has responded the last couple of weeks to more playing time?
BB: Good. I thought Jonathan has done a good job the last few weeks. Earlier in the season, he had been working mainly in the slot. A couple of times, we were trying to work him in or he was working toward more playing time, but some circumstances set that back. One time he got sick and another time he had a family thing. Recently, he’s had that opportunity and he’s been able to capitalize on it. He’s played well. He had a big turnover last week and I think he’s played very competitively at both outside and in the slot. It’s been good. The challenge for him is now that teams have seen more of his play they might start attacking him. Sometimes when you are a young corner, you don’t get too much of that until they get enough of you on film when they can figure out what they want to do. He’s worked hard at it. He’s improved all year. He was a very good player coming out of college. Will [Muschamp] coached him at Auburn so he had very good coaching. On a collegiate level, fundamentally, he was probably ahead of most players that I’ve coached coming out of college. He had a great college coaching background so technique wise he was pretty refined in relative terms.
Q: Do you notice him with more confidence on the field from early November?
BB: Sure, really all year. I think he has improved steadily through the course of the season. In some of his opportunities to play and having some success, no question that helps a corner’s confidence to go out there and do it on the field and in game situations. It’s good to do it in practice. That helps. But when you are doing it in games, that’s really good for your confidence.
Q: It’s a different system between the Cardinals and the 1999-2001 St. Louis Rams, but what is it about [Kurt] Warner? Can you make comparisons between those teams and the skill position players?
BB: Both real good, real good skill position players. St. Louis had as good as skilled position players as I’ve seen. That team didn’t use their tight ends as much in the passing game as they did their backs and receivers. I would say that is true of the Cardinals offense; that they use their backs and receivers more than they use their tight ends in the passing game, but they are all very good. All of the skill players were good for St. Louis. They are good for Arizona. Warner does a good job of reading defenses. He knows where to go with the ball. He knows blitzes. He does a decent amount of audibling on the line of scrimmage when he sees weaknesses in the defense. He can get to those plays. He has that kind of flexibility in his offensive system. He is not wrong too often. He gets rid of the ball quick as long as he can see it coming. Every once and a while he gets hit from the blind side like all quarterbacks do and there is not too much they can do about that. But, if he can see it coming, then he usually finds someone to get it to. Last week against Minnesota was a good example on the blitz where he hit Urban. He threw it hot to him, Urban broke a tackle, 55-yard touchdown. Those are the kind of plays if a quarterback doesn’t make a good decision and doesn’t see it then it’s not a good play. If he does see it and the receiver breaks a tackle it’s a long touchdown. It is a little thing but it makes a big difference.
Q: Is his accuracy still the No. 1 attribute he has?
BB: I would say, like usual, accuracy and decision-making. That accounts for a lot of his production and obviously intelligence in terms of anticipating things. He is not going to make a lot of plays with his feet and scrambling for first downs and all of that. That’s not really his thing. I am not saying he couldn’t pick one up from time to time, but that is not really his deal. His deal is to see it, make a quick decision and get the ball out there and put it on the money, and he does that very well.
Q: Your teams have typically been strong in November and December. When that does happen for a team is it traceable back to training camp and the daily grind that begins at that point?
BB: I don’t know. I am not sure. I think what you try to do as a team is you try to improve all year. In September, October and November and you are still trying to improve and get better. The things you are doing well, you try to maintain those. The things that you are not doing well, you try to keep working on those, whether it is an individual thing with a player or a group thing with the offensive line, skill position players, front seven, or if it’s a team thing. Team situations, team adjustments – you just keep working on those throughout the course of the year. You try to keep improving week to week. At the end of the year, you should be better than you were at the beginning, at least from a standpoint of the number of reps and execution of those things in those situations. That’s what we try to get to.
Q: How much more challenging is that in a year where you have had such a series of big injuries to critical players?
BB: It’s what it is every week. Every week, we still have the same adjustments, the same situations to cover. We have to deal with blitz pickup. We have to deal with one back formations, empty formations, motion, all the situations in the kicking game and all of that. We deal with that every week. If we have to make an adjustment, or change in personnel, then we make it and do it. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t.
Q: Has this been a more challenging season?
BB: I can’t rank one week against another. It depends on who you are playing and what they do, too. Some weeks, I don’t care if you have 40 20-year veterans. There are some teams that what they do is hard. The degree of difficulty is harder. You have to work at it, communicate a lot of things and recognize it. Other weeks, it’s not as hard. I just think it is a week to week type of thing. That’s the way I look at it.
Q: In terms of health and production, do you feel like the ground game is peaking at the right time?
BB: I don’t know about that. I think we’ll evaluate that at the end of the year. Arizona is a tough team to run against. They have a very active front. Their linebackers, including [Adrian] Wilson, who fits into the front a lot, or [Aaron] Francisco if he is in there, which they have used both of those guys some. In the run support, those guys are hard to block. [Karlos] Dansby, [Gerald] Hayes and their active front, they are tough to block. They get downhill and they cause a lot of negative runs. They knock the ball out and cause a bunch of fumbles, too. From the backside, they pursue hard. I don’t know how the running game is going to be this week. I hope we can be competitive. It will be a challenge for us. These guys are fast and they fill quick. We are going to have to get on them.
Q: Is [Dominique] Rodgers-Cromartie similar to Antonio Cromartie?
BB: Same last name. Both play right corner. Both are fast with pretty good hands. Both are tall. There are some similarities.
Q: Good blood line?
BB: Yeah, he has made some big plays for them. That was really a great play he made last week against Minnesota, the blocked field goal. He showed great burst and timing coming off the edge. The long interception return against St. Louis – he’s had a couple of them. He has real good hands and plays the ball well. He’s fast when he gets it. He’s a tough guy to throw over. He is a big guy, long arms, runs well and has good ball skills.
Q: Do they keep their corners on one side or flip them?
BB: They have had a couple different combinations in there with [Roderick] Hood, [Ralph] Brown and Cromartie. I am not sure what all the decision-making was with that. They have been moved around a little bit, but it’s been a combination of a couple different guys. I wouldn’t say they look like a big matchup team.
Here’s the latest:
Did Not Participate
LB Tedy Bruschi (knee)
T Matt Light (shoulder)
S James Sanders (abdomen)
RB Kevin Faulk (not injut related)
LB Gary Guyton (ankle)
CB Ellis Hobbs (shoulder)
T Mark LeVoir (ankle)
WR Randy Moss (not injury related)
LB Vince Redd (ankle)
DB Lewis Sanders (shoulder)
DT Ty Warren (groin)
WR Kelley Washington (thigh)
NT Vince Wilfork (shoulder)
LB Clark Haggans (foot)
Did Not Participate
WR Anquan Boldin (shoulder)
RB JJ Arrington (knee)
WR Early Doucet (hamstring)
DE Travis LaBoy (ankle)
LB Pago Togafu (knee)
WR Sean Morey (shoulder)
SS Adrian Wilson (toe)
Here’s the release from the Patriots, issued moments ago:
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Wide receiver Wes Welker and kicker Stephen Gostkowski have been selected to represent the New England Patriots and the AFC at the 2009 Pro Bowl in Honolulu on Feb. 8. Both players have earned their first career Pro Bowl selection.
Welker is the fifth Patriots wide receiver to earn Pro Bowl honors since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, joining Randy Moss (2007), Troy Brown (2001), Terry Glenn (1999) and Stanley Morgan (1979-80 and 1986-87). Welker ranks second in the NFL with 102 receptions so far this season – the second highest single-season total in team history behind his franchise-record 112 receptions last year. Welker is the eighth player in NFL history to record back-to-back 100-catch seasons and is the first player to achieve the feat with the Patriots. He is on pace for 117 receptions this season, a total that would set a new single-season franchise mark. Welker has totaled a team-high 1,071 receiving yards this season, becoming the first player in team history to have back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons (1,175 yards in 2007). He caught at least six passes in each of the first 11 games of the 2008 season, becoming the first player in NFL history to begin a season with that many consecutive games of six or more receptions. Welker was acquired by the Patriots from the Miami Dolphins on March 5, 2007, in exchange for second- and seventh-round selections in the 2007 NFL Draft. Last season, his 112 receptions set an NFL record for the most receptions by a player in his first season with a team. Since joining the Patriots he has caught 214 passes – more than any other player in the NFL over that span (2007-present).
Gostkowski is the fourth Patriots kicker to be named to the Pro Bowl since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, joining Adam Vinatieri (2002, 2004), Tony Franklin (1986) and John Smith (1980). Gostkowski has been successful on 30-of-33 field goals (90.9 percent) this season, and has hit all 34 of his extra point tries for a total of 124 points. His 30 successful field goals are tied for the most in the NFL and stand two shy of the Patriots’ single-season record of 32 (Tony Franklin, 1986) with two games to play. Gostkowski’s 90.9 percent accuracy rate leads the AFC and stands as the second highest in franchise history behind Adam Vinatieri’s record of 94.9 percent in 2004 (31-for-33). His 124 points lead the AFC and rank second in the NFL, while his 16 touchbacks are a career-high and rank fourth in the AFC. Gostkowski is on pace for 142 points this season – a total that would set a post-merger Patriots record. He is the Patriots’ all-time leader in field goal percentage, having connected on 85.5 percent of his kicks (71-for-83) since being selected in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Gostkowski was named the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Month for October 2008.
Here’s the transcript of the conference calls with Sammy Morris and Brandon Meriweather from earlier this afternoon:
Q: How rewarding is this season for you, what you’re doing right now after what you went through last year after getting on a role then having that freak injury? How rewarding is what you’ve been able to do the last few weeks?
SM: I think it’s always tough going into football, obviously knowing injuries are part of the game, but it always is rewarding when all the work that you put in the offseason, during the season, in practice and going through all the different things – it really is rewarding to see some production out of all the effort you put in.
Q: Most of your 100-yard rushing efforts have come the last couple of seasons here in New England. Is there anything specific that you can pinpoint for that or is it just a matter of getting the opportunities to carry the ball?
SM: I think it’s a lot of factors. Getting a chance to carry the ball more and obviously you factor in the offensive schemes. Then you have to factor in the passing threats we have with Randy [Moss], Wes [Welker] and Jabar [Gaffney]. It’s really a collection of things and basically I’m just happy to be here.
Q: Do you see you, LaMont [Jordan] and Kevin [Faulk] as a three-headed monster to opposing defenses right now?
SM: From my standpoint I see that there are a lot of different things that we can do from a running back standpoint and I think all the things we bring to the table help our offense out. In the grand scheme of things I think it helps our defense and special teams out.
Q: You guys are averaging 4.5 yards per rush as a team, there have been a lot of different backs that have had success in there, what does that say about the offensive line and the job that they’ve done blocking for you guys?
SM: I’m always quick to give the offensive line credit. Those guys, they’re big guys and they’re pretty agile. They’re able to get on their blocks and sustain them and it gets us into that second level of defenders. Once we get there I’ve always said the onus in on the backs after that.
Q: Where you guys doing any scoreboard watching yesterday did you know that both the Jets and Dolphins had won before you took the field?
SM: No, I didn’t per se. I didn’t see anything and I didn’t see any updates during the game. Me personally, I didn’t.
Q: Your club lost a very difficult overtime game against the Jets after the Jets won the coin toss to start the overtime. Do you have a problem with that rule or do you think it’s fair? It seems like you battled awfully hard to lose in a hurry?
SM: I don’t think I have a problem with the rule. It is what it is and from my standpoint we shouldn’t have got behind that far and had to go to overtime. I think the rule – it is what it is and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
Q: Do you think it might be more fair to give each team at least one possession?
SM: I think it may be easy, in theory, to say that but if both teams score then what do you do? I think there’s a host of different ways that it could be approached after that.
Q: Do you think the idea of one back and one 1,000 yard rusher is in some ways overrated? You guys are going to top 2,000 yards and you probably won’t have anybody who comes within 200 yards of 1,000 yards.
SM: Personally speaking I’m really focused on winning and so however that plays out is most important to me. I’d much rather have 600 yards rushing, 700 yards rushing in a season and win then me have 1,500 [yards] and be 4-12.
Q: Can you describe how Ellis Hobbs’ 95-yard kickoff return unfolded from your vantage point on the kick return team?
SM: The first thing that I noticed, being the off returner, I saw Heath Evans. I forget who the player was but he came back and knocked somebody off their feet and that put me up on the safety and I was able to shield him from coming inside of me. Then Ellis ran right behind me, right off my block and again it’s kind of like [being] a running back, the onus is on him.
Q: How exhilarating a feeling is that for you as a blocker in that situation, knowing that you helped spring the guy and you’re watching him race down the field?
SM: It’s a great feeling. I was actually talking to Dave Thomas about it after the game because it’s good when you can see the play unfolding. You’ve got your block and you don’t know where the returner is but you can just hear the crowd and by the sound the crowd was making you know that a big play was coming. It’s a great feeling, especially at that point in the game where they were making moves to kind of gain the advantage and we were able to take that right back.
Q: Is that play a bigger thrill than rushing for 100 yards in a game?
SM: I don’t know. I think they obviously all feel good. Winning is the biggest factor. I think the win is a better feeling than the 100 yards or the kickoff return.
Q: Do you guys ever feel bad for the amount of punishment that Ellis has taken on returns this year?
SM: Yeah, I mean he understand that it’s the NFL and – especially on the kickoff return where you’ve got guys running at you full speed and you’re running at other guys full speed. There are a lot of big collisions on the kickoff and kickoff return team. This was actually my first time being back out there as an off returner. I try to approach each return and try not to let my guy make the tackle.
Q: When you look back at what you guys did yesterday as the running attack, the 277 yards, it seems like a lot of times after games you say ‘oh we watched the film and there are things we could have done better.’ Is there anything you could have done better yesterday?
SM: I’m sure there is. I haven’t seen the film.
Q: I don’t believe you.
SM: I will have at least two other things that we could have done better on Wednesday.
Q: You guys sent three offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl last year and part of that was obviously team recognition for the record. Do you think those guys might be having a better year than they did last year, at least from a run blocking standpoint?
SM: I don’t know. I guess they could be. Now being out for a lot of the season last year, not getting a chance to see the film… I broke down but I know those guys are playing well right now and we’re going to continue to ride their success to help us as a team.
Q: When you’re away from your family for a good stretch, 10 days or so and you get back early in the morning what’s today like for you, what’s tomorrow like, what will you do and how important is it for you to just recover from being away?
SM: It’s pretty tough. A lot of the guys were joking with me because I had this bag of kids stuff that I bought while I was in California and some stuff for my wife but it’s all in good fun. It’s tough to be away that long. Today I’m pretty much – as you can tell from my voice I’m still a wreck. My throats killing me, my body hurts but again it’s part of the game. I’m kind of lounging around the house right now and I’m getting ready to go pick up my kids in a second.
Q: Do you take tomorrow off? I know Tuesday is a day off but how do you get yourself recovered so when you get back in there on Wednesday you’re ready to go?
SM: I’ll lift weights tomorrow. I usually do it on Mondays but when you get in at four o’clock I just don’t have the energy for that today. I’ll lift tomorrow and then I’ll get in the cold tub, the steam room and try to revive my body as much as I can.
Q: When you look at the next few weeks and talk about December football it seems to come down to the running game quite a bit. How well positioned do you feel like you guys are, in that respect, to control the clock and do what you can to get this team into the playoffs?
SM: Honestly, as a team I think we feel most confident in that we’ve been able to run the ball effectively as well as thrown it. I think that kind of sets up a potent attack as an offense and obviously it helps out our whole team.
Q: How much does a weeklong trip like that take out of you? Not just coming back late Sunday night, but being on the West Coast all week?
BM: I actually think it kept a lot more in us since we didn’t make the flight back and forth [after the first game]. I kind of think that we as a team understood that back and forth, back and forth, probably would have taken more out of us. Me personally, I don’t think that it took that much [out of us].
Q: What’s your level of excitement, being in the thick of the playoff race where anything can happen?
BM: I’m very excited. I love the challenge. I love everything about the football game. As for me, I’m more excited than anything just to see how it’s all going to play out and see how well the team is going to play in the last couple games.
Q: How much are you scoreboard watching and watching other games?
BM: I’m not. I’m not. That’s something I would never do. I hate depending on other people to know if I’m going to make it to the playoffs or not. I’d rather take care of my own business and perform and make it on my own, so I’m really not concerning myself with other people just because that will stress you out and I’m trying not to be stressed at all.
Q: I know it’s early in the week, but what do you know about the Cardinals passing attack?
BM: They’re good. I think they’re probably one of the best teams that we’re going to play, as far as throwing the ball around. They’ve got Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart who they put at the helm. They’ve got great receivers and they’ve also got a good running game that compliments them well. As for everything else, that’s pretty much self-explanatory. We’ve got to come to play.
Q: What’s your comfort level at this point in the season compared to last year, your rookie year?
BM: My comfort level is pretty high right now. I’m having fun playing the game. Not just because I’m playing now—a lot more than I did last year—but I’m just enjoying being around my teammates and enjoying just having fun with them. Everything else is a bonus.
Q: Have your two West Coast road trips been bonding experiences?
BM: Yes and no. I kind of think our team was already tight. Like I said, we were already tight, so therefore all the other things that came with it, like I said, were just a bonus. We consider ourselves a tight-knit group; as for us getting any closer, I don’t think that’s possible.
Q: Is there a specific aspect of your game you can point to that you’ve improved in from last year?
BM: Yeah, catching the ball. I dropped what, 6 or 7 last year? I worked very hard on concentrating and looking the ball all the way in and trying to stay away from looking away too fast. That’s one part of my game that I think improved a lot.
Q: Is that something you were able to pinpoint in the offseason?
BM: Yes. Yes that is. That’s something I definitely, definitely focus and concentrate on. I’m happy I got a chance to help my team out with some takeaways.
Q: Can you talk a little about Ellis Hobbs’ kickoff return and how it kept the momentum on your side?
BM: Actually, I was on the sidelines sitting down, listening to my coaches make adjustments, so I really didn’t get to see it as I wanted to. But of course it was a big play. Any time you can answer a score with a score it takes a lot out of people.
Q: Have you done anything differently to condition yourself since Rodney Harrison’s injury? Obviously, you’re playing more since Rodney left and I’m curious if that has affected you at all physically.
BM: No, I haven’t. I’ve always tried to be one of the best conditioned guys on the team, so even when I wasn’t playing as much, I still liked to be one of the best conditioned guys on the team because you never know what’s going to happened. When something like Hot Rod’s [Rodney Harrison] injury happened, you never know when it’s going to happen, so I always tried to continue to practice and focus and do everything as if I was a starter and I was going to play the whole game.
Q: How would you describe how things went with Lewis Sanders in at safety?
BM: Lewis is a very athletic person. We already knew that he could play the position and we thought he was going to do well at it, so everything else that he was going to need help with, I took it upon myself to help him.
Q: Did you guys have any communication issues?
BM: No, no, no. Like I said, our team is a very tight-knit group. All of our communication issues we have we solve during the week.
Q: As far as communication and making the calls in the secondary, is that something you could have done last year or did you need to mature as a player a little?
BM: I think that’s something I needed to mature on. I could have done it last year but not to the extent that I am now.
Q: What’s changed?
BM: Just another year in the program, another year at making the calls. Anything you do for a year, you should do better the next year. I’m a year older and a year wiser.
Q: Is part of the closeness of the team a result of all the injuries you’ve had to overcome this year?
BM: Yes, that’s part of it. Everybody has to lean on each other because we knew once Tom [Brady], Hot Rod’s [Rodney Harrison] and all the other injuries happened, that everybody else was going to be against us and we had to pull together and carry each other.
Q: Have you given any thought to what might happen—even if you win out, you might not make the playoffs?
BM: No, I really haven’t even thought about it. I’m still focusing on wining one game at a time. Whatever happens after that just happens.
Q: I’ve never heard anyone else call Rodney Harrison “Hot Rod”. Is that your nickname for him?
BM: No, a lot of guys call him Hot Rod. I think I just kind of slipped and forgot I was talking to the media.
Q: With the Miami connection, do you keep in touch with Edgerrin James at all, even though you didn’t overlap with him?
BM: Yes, I do. I keep in touch with everybody from The U [University of Miami] that still plays, so yeah, I do.
Q: Do you feel for him at all since he’s had somewhat of a tough year? Have you talked to him about that at all?
BM: No, when I talk to Edgerrin it’s about family and friends; it’s trying to keep our job out of it. Whatever he’s willing to tell me, I’m willing to listen because he’s been in the league for a while. He’s a veteran and I’m still a young guy in the league, so whenever I can lean on somebody with a lot more experience than me, I do.