Some of your teammates, WR Emmanuel Sanders and CB Richard Sherman, have talked about how loose they feel the locker room is. Is that your take as well and how does that compare to the good Patriots teams that you were on in previous offseasons?
“Definitely, you feel it in there. It’s definitely a loose atmosphere, but that’s kind of how it’s been all year. Guys are loose, but they are locked in at the same time. It’s a unique combination. We have the guys that are able to do it.”
Head coach Kyle Shanahan just said that hopefully everybody understands it’s Wednesday and tomorrow will be Thursday. Is that the feeling that you’re still getting in there?
“Yeah, I think guys are locked into the preparation with the game plan going in today, guys are locked in, they are focused up and we are in a good spot right now.”
Having played a front like you did last week against Minnesota and you know the Packers front, as the quarterback, how good do you feel knowing your protections are all set and knowing that Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is going to dial up a lot of different stuff, personnel packages and things like that, but how good do you feel knowing those guys in front of you can open holes in the run game and protect you and maybe using what they did against Minnesota as a springboard for that?
“Those guys up front, I don’t know if they don’t get enough credit or what it is, but they have been steamrolling people in the run game. The pass game is extremely clean for the most part. It’s those five guys up front and there’s a lot of things that go into it, too, with the skill positions. But those guys up front, they have been battling all year and I really appreciate them for that.”
Speaking of credit, do you care how much credit you get? Because it doesn’t seem like you get a lot from the outside world?
“As long as we win, I’m pretty happy. So as long as we win.”
I realize you’re obviously focused on their defense, but as a fellow quarterback, when you watch Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers play, what makes you go, “Whoa?” What’s impressive to another quarterback about the way he plays?
“There’s a lot. Aaron, just the way he processes information quickly, the way he could scramble and make throws on the run, he really has a little bit of everything. Just watching his film, I love watching it to prepare and also to learn from him and see things that he does. It’s just impressive. He does it at such a high level for such a long time now. You’ve got to tip your hat to him.”
Do you remember the first time you saw him? He had been in the league, what, 14, 15 years, so you were much younger?
“My first live action was when I was with the Patriots and we played him in Green Bay. I remember him and [former Packers WR] Jordy [Nelson], they had a field day and were just teeing off. It was a hell of a game. He’s an awesome guy, great competitor, so it will be a fun atmosphere.”
Coming from a game against a pretty tough linebacker corps against the pass, you had an interception against them and now the Packers have a weakness in this particular spot against the pass. How does it change for FB Kyle Juszczyk, for TE George Kittle, for the upcoming game?
“It kind of depends what packages they are in. They have a ton of different personnel packages, a lot of coverages tied in with that. They do a good job of putting guys in different spots and they keep mixing it up, spin-the-dial type of mentality. It’s just when we get our opportunities, when guys get their numbers called, they have to take advantage of it and I thought we did that the last time we played them. It’ll be a different game this time, but we have to do the same.”
At what point when you guys brought in DL Nick Bosa and DL Dee Ford, did you as the guy on the other side realize that group could be special?
“Man, it didn’t take long. Maybe a couple days into training camp, maybe. OTAs, you can’t really get a true feel for it without the pads, but once we got the pads on in training camp, it was very eye-opening. They made it difficult on us in training camp and it transferred over to the season thankfully.”
Do you ever have moments that you’re watching film of the other defense, but do you ever take time to watch your defensive line?
“Oh yeah. Yeah, I try to. Probably started about halfway through the year I started doing it. It’s that complementary football I’ve always talked about in here, but when those guys are dominating how they are, it affects how we play on offense, and when we can run the ball and do that on defense, it makes it tough to beat us.”
You had an unfortunate injury last year and now a year later the team is on the brink of a Super Bowl. Do you think that it was a springboard to have you miss a year of experience, a year of reps and Nick Bosa suddenly pop up on the screen?
“Things have a way of working out. I always told myself it was a blessing in disguise, the ACL and everything and yeah we got Bosa out of it. That’s a pretty good trade-off I guess. Things have a way of working out I guess. This ride is crazy. You’ve just got to roll with the punches.”
When you were in New England, even though you weren’t playing, what are the kinds of things that helped you to what you’re doing now? Obviously, your starting record is what it is, very successful and what are the things even though you weren’t playing that manifested itself?
“I just tried to see things from afar. Obviously not being on the field, it’s a little different, but just the preparation that goes into it, the atmosphere in the locker room, the atmosphere in the whole building, really. I felt it very similar to there, I feel it here, and it’s just, not trying to compare the two teams, but it’s just when you get into that playoff atmosphere and it’s a NFC Championship Game, things get amped up and you have to do the same.”
Kyle was just talking about how George will go up to him and request guys to go up against in the run game. How much does that aggression and his enthusiasm filter through the offense?
“It’s so unique, for a guy of his caliber in the pass game and all the amazing things that he does, that he loves the run game just as much. The O-Line feeds off that, the running backs, everybody. It’s contagious. It’s fun to be around that.”
In your years playing behind New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, what are some of the takeaways that you can get to prepare for this and have you talked to him about this game and maybe Super Bowl coming up and the preparation?
“I haven’t personally talked to him, but just, you know, things that I took away from watching him go through it and everything, just the consistency that he had throughout the entire run, whatever it was, the first playoff game, the Super Bowl, he was very consistent between all of it and I think that just goes into your preparation throughout the week. If you are prepared going into the game then you’re going to play like that.”
In the offseason, you did some workouts to improve your mechanics, your footwork. The process has improved in some aspect because sometimes some issues due to footwork, how is that for you right now during the end of the season?
“How is my footwork? I’m pretty happy with where it’s at. With this offense, a lot of things are tied into the timing of the quarterback and receiver, and I think I like the progression that I’m going in. I think there’s still obviously room for improvement, but I think whenever you can trend in the right direction, that’s what you want to do.”
When you got nicked on that second series, were you concerned about the knee or ankle and how long did that pain take to wear off?
“It was a little bit of both. I didn’t really know what it was because I didn’t see the guy, was throwing it and felt it all in my left leg. It annoyed me for a little bit, but it didn’t take long to go away.”
Did you fear that it was the knee again?
“Thankfully I’ve got the brace on. DonJoy protecting me.”
The way you guys dominated them last time, how do you guard against being overconfident coming into this game?
“I think the coaches do a great job of that. They put things into perspective for us and let us see the game from a different angle when we are watching the film. It’s no different than any other week. We’re coming out here Wednesday, ready to roll and preparing our ass off.”
Are there any differences that you saw from the Week 12 matchup with them compared to now, and do you have to also adjust, like have it in the back of your head that you saw them the first time and there’s going to be a lot of differences from what we’ve seen on tape just so they can throw us off?
“Yeah, you always take that into consideration and you don’t want to overthink that stuff too much. Whenever we hit explosives on them and things like that, you always have to be aware of either in the game or at the beginning of the game if they are going to change their scheme, those are the in-game adjustments that I think Kyle and the whole coaching staff do great at.”
What do you think of their pass rushers?
“They are long, explosive off the ball. They have some awkward movements to them I guess, but they make it work, and so the two of them together, it’s a hell of a tandem.”
The “It Feels Great, Baby” tee shirt is selling like hot cakes at the store. How do you feel about that whole thing?
“Feel great about it (Laughter). It’s blowing up pretty quickly. So, I’m pretty happy about that.”