TB: Coach tries to always get us acclimated to the conditions. We’ve practiced in the stadium every Friday so it was good to be out there and try to simulate what it will be like on Sunday. It was cold today though.
Q: Can you give us a glimpse of where you are in your preparation on a weekly basis when you reach a Friday?
TB: You use all the time you’ve got, so it goes right up to game time. I don’t think you ever really let down or stop thinking about the game. Certainly I don’t. So the preparation started as soon as our game ended last week and you just try and put as much as you can into it and hopefully it is enough.
Q: Can you talk about the element of success this team has had with plugging in role players?
TB: Coach talks about doing your job and whatever your role may be, that is what you have to be able to do to perform your role. If it’s to be a third receiver, it’s to be a third running back, and you do your job as best you can. You know that whenever your number is called you have to go out there and perform, because everyone on our team is counting on you. Starting quarterback or the left guard or the nickel defensive back, every job is important and when you are called upon to do that, the expectations are to go out there and play at a championship level. This is a championship game and there is nothing more important this weekend. I think everybody who is active for this game understands the importance of their role and what they have to go out and do to be able to try to help us win.
Q: Can you talk about the heath of this team with everybody back at practice today and how important that is?
TB: The more healthy guys you have, the better it is for your team. We’ve been fighting injuries all year; every team has. It is usually a battle of attrition. We lost Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] last week, but we played games without him before, so the guys that step in to fill that void need to do a great job and it’s just the way it has gone all year.
Q: How was practice this week?
TB: It was perfect. There was not one bad play. No, there are always mistakes made and you correct them and you try to learn from whatever mistakes you make. I wish they were perfect, but not often.
Q: How do you know you’ve had a good week of practice?
TB: That is a good question, probably for coach Belichick; he is the one that always analyzes our practices. We try and go out and be consistent and go out and execute the plays that are called. A lot of times, you put in your first and second down plays, your third down plays, your red area plays. It’s your first look at them on Wednesday. Like today we put in the red area; it’s your first look at the red area plays. You go out and you see how you practice them. You see how they look. If they don’t look good, you make changes and make adjustments. If they look good, maybe you build on them. Maybe you don’t do anything with them. You put plays in, you throw plays out. That is the whole preparation leading up to the game, trying to understand the game plan, add a few things, take a few things out so what you are calling is the best stuff and the stuff that you have the most confidence in.
Q: What kind of role can an emotional story line play once the game begins?
TB: Well, it’s an emotional game and you have highs and lows of the games. I think what we try and focus on is our execution and stringing together play after play after play which allows you to score points or keep them from scoring points. Yes, emotion is very important. Hopefully you can use it to your advantage.
Q: Is there something that you learned in your life that makes you want to use every minute in your life to prepare to be the best you can be?
TB: I think it is just the competitiveness of what we do. I don’t think you really want to waste any time over the course of the week because when the game ends, the clock is ticking on the next week. I guess there is a competitiveness in the preparation against the other team and are we more prepared at the end of Wednesday than they are? Are we more prepared at the end of Thursday than they are? Are we more prepared at the end of Friday than they are?
Q: Is that the game or is that you? It seems like you have a little bit more of it. Do you think if you weren’t in football you wouldn’t have this competitiveness? I don’t think that is true.
TB: I don’t know. I am in football, so I try and use that competitiveness.
Q: Is it the person you are?
TB: It all comes back to the team. Hopefully there is nothing that I can do by myself on this team; I rely on everybody. I think it is the measure of our collective competitiveness to see how it plays out over the course of the week and the more competitive we are as a team. And certainly as a veteran player, you try to lead by example. You go out there and you lead by what you do in your preparation and your attitude, by your enthusiasm, by your attention to detail, by your awareness on the field, by the way you practice, by the way you are in meetings and at walkthroughs. As a team, the more guys you have doing those things that are positively influencing what we may feel may help the outcome of the game, the better we are going to be. I think that is the competitiveness that we try and put into every week. And you push your teammates and they push you. Hopefully by the end of the year you reach a pretty high level.
Q: What did you learn about your group of your tight ends during the first time Rob Gronkowski was out?
TB: There is always a level of comfort that you continue to get toward, toward the end of the season. Early in the year there are only so many practices that we’ve had, but at this point we’ve had over 100 practices so there is quite a bit of throwing that I’ve done to those guys in game competition where the awareness is at its highest and the execution needs to be at its best. Meetings, walkthroughs, whatever it may be, you develop trust that the guys that you play with are doing things the right way. I think Hooman [Michael Hoomanawanui] and Daniel [Fells] and Aaron [Hernandez] have really made that a strength. The depth of our team at that position is really a strength as opposed to last year where we had two guys on the roster. Now there were four and four that really helped us win a lot of games. It all comes down to this week. There is nothing that has happened in the past that is going to influence this week, so we need to be at our best this week.
Q: What is it like looking back on your journey from college to now?
TB: I think this week I am just trying to focus on Baltimore. I don’t want to get too much into the past. My team owes my attention to be focused to the task at hand and that’s playing a great Baltimore team. Maybe in three weeks I will answer that.
Q: How much more preparation do you put in between the last practice on Friday and game time?
TB: Every minute. I think every minute. You just keep pushing through. You finish practice today and you go in and watch film on practice and see what we have to do better and that goes right through the night. Tomorrow morning we have meetings and that goes right through the afternoon and tomorrow night we have meetings and then Sunday mornings we have meetings. It goes right up until game time. It just doesn’t stop. You really can’t turn it off at this point.
Q: Of the four quarterbacks left in the playoffs, you are the only one that has won a Super Bowl. What do you think of that?
TB: I like to be playing this time of year. There is nothing more exciting than this. I certainly have had experience in these types of games, but it only really matters if you go out and play well. There was a time where I was inexperienced and we did pretty well. I think it is more of a matter of our execution and how we play opposed to anything that has been accomplished in the past. To me, at this point, with four teams left, we have to have a pretty good football team in all three phases. Certainly I feel like we have one of those teams. We played the 49ers [and] we’ve played the Ravens. They certainly have those teams. We haven’t played Atlanta, but I know they are one of those teams because I’ve seen them play on TV a bunch of times. We need to have a really strong team in all phases and all four teams that are playing now are all qualified.
Q: You had success winning Super Bowls early in your career. You’ve recently been to Super Bowls, but haven’t won. Does that show you how tough this league is and what are your thoughts on that?
TB: Believe me, I have thought about that a lot myself. It is hard to win the Super Bowl, no question. We have made it there, since I’ve been here, five times. It is hard to get to this point; it is hard to get to the AFC Championship game. You need a lot of things to go your way over the course of the year. I think we are fortunate to be in this game and have this opportunity. There are a lot of things that need to happen positively over the course of a long season to have this chance and I am glad we have it.
Q: How is Bill Belichick around this time when it comes to preparation? Is he the same or does he step it up a bit?
TB: He is very consistent. I think there is one thing you can always expect about coach Belichick: he is going to give you everything he’s got. Whether it’s this week, or you come to our passing camp in May, he coaches just as hard. And I think that is why we have been able to make improvements over the course of the year. Because it is not like, ‘Ok guys, this week is not that important.’ It is always like, ‘Look, this week is important because it is only going to build on next week.’ Hopefully we climb that mountain over the course of the long season and you get to a point at the end where you are performing as well as you have ever performed over the course of the season. Every team starts at the same place, so you don’t want to waste those days in May, because what helps in May gets you prepared for training camp. What you do in training camp gets you prepared for early in the season, early in the season can only put you in a good position when Thanksgiving rolls around. That is when you have a chance to make something of your season.
Q: Can you talk about the characteristics that define this rivalry?
TB: I think Baltimore has a great football team. They have had a great team for a long time. They are very good on defense, they are very good on offense, and they have always had good special teams. Their coach was a special teams coach, so the emphasis on those special teams units is always very high for them. We’ve just had a lot of great games against them and I think this one will be another great game.
Q: How important is your flexibility and patience against this defense?
TB: I think you always have to try and find ways to get the best play called out there on the field. You never want to snap the ball into what you feel may be a bad play. I think over the years I’ve gained flexibility with what my coaches allow me to do. I see certain looks and I know to get to a particular play that may be better. Sometimes it doesn’t always turn out that way, but those are the ones you go to the sideline and coach yells at you for changing the play. But when everything goes right, I think it is real positive for our team. That is part of the experienced part that really pays off; you’ve been in enough situations to understand what may work and what may not work