ML: “Obviously, it’s an exciting week for us, in preparation for the Chargers. They’re led by an outstanding quarterback in Philip Rivers. Since we played them last, they’ve won their last four football games. They’ve improved in every category -- offensively, defensively -- and it’s led to the success they’ve had coming into the playoffs. They’ve earned their right and done a nice job. Philip Rivers is as good a quarterback as there is in the league and has had an outstanding season, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. Ryan Matthews has really had a great year for them. Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen have really come on, so they’ve got a well put together offensive group—with Woodhead and the other tight end and Vincent Brown—who make a lot of plays for them. There’s guys on the offensive line—it’s a well put together offensive line right now. Defensively, they’re big and strong up front. They’ve really solidified things, so this is going to be an important football game for us to play very, very well. We have to take care of the football. We have to do a great job at the line of scrimmage and third down.”
They’re near the top of the league in several defensive categories. Is that a big matchup right there?
ML: “Key matchup, you know – our ability to get this group off the field as much as we can. We have to do a great job on every down, obviously, and make the third downs manageable for us.”
Are you going to essentially try to play defense by controlling the ball on offense?
ML: “A good way to answer that question is to limit the exposure defensively, to do a great job on offense, do a great job converting third down, do a great job on early downs on offense so that conversely, the third downs are manageable for our offense.”
San Diego has improved on defense and may have a bone to pick because of how the previous meeting this year went, and the running game has improved:
ML: “I think they’re going to come here ready to play. We know that. But we’ll be ready to play also. That’s the key of it. It’s the point of the year where we are now: You play teams a lot of the time that you’ve already played when you’re in the playoffs. That happens year in and year out. We’ve got to understand that and that what we did last year doesn’t count, what we did here in Paul Brown Stadium doesn’t count for anything. We’ve got to go, we’ve got to earn everything every step of the way.”
Is it more Rivers or the offensive skill players’ ability that makes them so good on offense?
ML: “I think it’s a combination of both – his ability to key and read the defense and get the ball to what they perceive as the weakness of the defense, and let those guys’ athleticism and football ability take over.”
They’ve won four games in a row. Is it a matter of execution, personnel changes?
ML: “No, they’re just doing a good job. They’ve done a great job. The coaching staff has done a tremendous job. They were doing it and then they lost three games before we played them, I think it was, and then the one they lost to us and now they’ve gotten it – important games they’ve won (recently) in order to get here.”
Do you think things will be different given that the Chargers have a couple of defensive players, including linebacker Melvin Ingram, coming back from injury?
ML: “They’ve traded two guys out – I don’t think Jarret Johnson played against us out there, they’ve changed the nose tackle, so there will be three guys that are in there that will be different at times. Obviously, Jarret’s a very physical player, Ingram’s a very physical player. So, those two guys there on the edge didn’t play against us last time.”
The offensive line seems to be a mix and match bunch where guys get shuffled to different spots all the time with everyone having the ability to move around and play a bunch of positions. Is that something you look for when you’re drafting guys and bringing in free agents?
ML: “It depends on when you’re drafting the guy, obviously, but versatility is part of playing in the NFL. You can’t play one spot and be a very good football team or player for very long. You’ve got to be able to have some flexibility and the smarter players have some flexibility and that’s what you want. You want to have a smart, physical football team.”
What areas do you feel you’ve grown as a head coach in regards to the postseason?
ML: “Well, we’re going to see (laughs). We’ve got to win – that’s all. I’m not going to get any snaps in on Sunday.”
How does your previous experience shape and influence how you’re preparing going into the playoffs this season as opposed to things you may not have done as well as you hoped the previous years?
ML: “I thought we prepared very well a year ago. I thought we prepared very well the year before that. I’ve thought we’ve had good weeks of preparation and we’ve just got to go put it out there. We’ve just got to go play. We’re not going to get any of you to shut up about it until we win. That’s the way it is and I told them that this morning, flatly, OK? That’s the way it is. That’s the way it is.”
Are you saying it’s win and you won’t hear it anymore?
ML: “That’s right. Win and you won’t have to worry about it.”
Along the way, you had goals of running the table and being undefeated at home and getting a home playoff game and here it is, right?
ML: “Well, winning the division is one of our goals. Winning and being undefeated at home is one of our goals. As I said, those are gone and now this is a whole new deal. We’re starting fresh and we’ve got to play. All the teams coming into the playoffs are hot. That’s the nature of the National Football League. You win in November and December, you do what you must do in September and October, and then you’ve got to get going in November and December. Play your best football and that’s, for the most part throughout the league, (in) the playoffs and that’s the way it ought to be.”
There’s no substitute for experience, both positive and negative. Does it bode well now that you’ve got so many players who have had those experiences in recent years?
ML: “I think it bodes well. It’s a matter of understanding you’ve prepared to do this, you’ve been put into position to do this, you have the confidence to do this – let’s go do it. You pull the iron out the bag, go 168 yards and it will rest right there by the flag and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Is that what was supposed to happen with the punt into the stands last week?
ML: “That was a shank (laughs). That was a bad eight iron.”
You’ve got a punter now in
ML: “Well, he’s got experience and the biggest reason was we felt good about his abilities. That’s why you do it. I think with Zoltan, the game is not going to be too big for him and that’s a good thing. We went a different direction. We had to make a change in mid-stream and make sure we felt good about it and we do.”
When you look at
ML: “Well, it goes back to literally our first meetings. I obviously felt there was something different than what people told me and I can remember meeting with him out in Tempe and sitting at P.F. Chang’s and how impressed I was with him that day. He’s done it. I’m proud for him for what he’s done. I don’t take any credit away from what he has done. He has done the things I have asked him from the very first time and that’s important, other than run the 40 again. It’s the only thing he’s not done that I asked him to do (laughs). For that, you’ve got to take your hat off and I’m glad he’s done what he’s done. He came in here as a young player and he knew he had the charisma of a leader. He knew he had the charisma of a leader and he waited his turn. He’s evolved into this and he didn’t step on anybody’s toes doing it. He just evolved into it with his own natural abilities and what he is as a person and a player, so you feel good about those things.”
At this level, you’re still trying to make young men better both as people and players, but you take no personal satisfaction that he has bought in?
ML: “I think he was that guy already. I don’t think we changed him. We’ve just put him in the direction of what it means to be a pro and the responsibilities of being a pro -- responsibilities for your team, your teammates and so forth. And I think he understood those things and he did it. Vontaze was a good player coming out of high school. He played in that all star game with all the best school players, that Army game or whatever, so he had special ability already. And he has the intellect and so forth that it takes and obviously he’s tough as they come, so he’s very natural in that. Literally, the very first practice that we had in rookie camp, I told Mike Brown, ‘He’s special and I don’t mean to overstate this, but he’s special. He reminds me of another guy that I’ve coached and he’s done everything he can do.’”
How similar were the first meetings you had with Vontaze Burfict and Ray Lewis? Were there any parallels?
ML: “Ray came different. I will say that Ray never feared leading. That’s the biggest attribute that Ray Lewis had. As a young player, he never feared being a leader. He accepted responsibility of being the leader when he was 20 years old, or whatever he was when we drafted him. He never feared being the leader and that’s what he did. Vontaze didn’t have that. He waited his turn. He came different. Ray came as a first-round pick.”
The first impression of Vontaze Burfict was that he was special. He was not impressed with himself. Can you relate to that?
ML: “That’s a little bit of it. They don’t fool themselves. It’s all about ‘How do I get better? How do I help the team win?’ That’s the common thread both players have. Even though Ray was getting voted to the Pro Bowl and that sort of thing, I said, ‘Don’t go to the Pro Bowl and act like you’re hot stuff. Go to the Pro Bowl and learn. Suck the knowledge out of the guys on the other team. You come back and you’ll help our guys get better.’ And he did that. Obviously, the rest is history. It’s good that way. You feel good for Vontaze for that, but we’re not done. His mark will be left by winning championships. That’s what Ray has done.”
Did you talk to Burfict at the NFL Combine? Did he change between the Combine and when you visited him in Tempe?
ML: “Yes. I don’t think so. I obviously wasn’t put off by him at the Combine or I wouldn’t have seen him again.”
How tired are you of hearing about not having won an NFL playoff game as a head coach?
ML: “Well, it comes with the territory. Just like having a team that hadn’t been in the playoffs, hadn’t won the division, or hadn’t won in three times now. It comes with the territory.”
Does it bother you?
ML: “It can’t bother me. It’s my goal. Not to win one (playoff game), but to win four.”
You’ve been a good sport about not having won a playoff game, but do you feel this is the last major hurdle for you?
ML: “It’s a hurdle for this building. It’s a hurdle for our city. It’s a hurdle for everything. It gives legitimacy when you win the ultimate.”
Is it a hurdle for you?
ML: “It’s a hurdle for me, until we cross it. No doubt.”
Is it more of an albatross than a hurdle?
ML: “I’m an Idaho State man. You’re really taxing me (laughing). It’s like anything else. You can sit and look at numbers on paper. You can derive anything you want from them. Until you dismiss them, that’s what they are. It’s like going to the West Coast and playing. There’s no difference. The grass is better. It’s good that way. You have to go win. Until you win, it gives people something to talk about and write about. That’s all. I just told our guys, ‘Don’t worry about that.’ Some of them have been here one year, two years, three years, maybe. I said, ‘Don’t worry about that. You’ve got to play. What we did in San Diego doesn’t matter now. What we did out here doesn’t matter now. We’re starting from scratch. We’ve got to be the best team for the next five weeks and we’ll be fine.’ ”
After the 2011 season ended, could you have seen all that you have accomplished over the past three seasons?
ML: “I told you we were starting from scratch.”
We didn’t know what starting from scratch back then meant. Can you explain it?
ML: “I had an idea, but I knew that. That was what took us some time to get everything together. Obviously neither of us (Marvin Lewis or Mike Brown) were completely comfortable with it yet. You know what I mean? Because it was going to be a lot of change. That’s hard. It’s obviously been great. That part of it, you can’t take away. We knew it was going to take a lot of change on everybody’s part. That I was going to have a chance, not a lot of people – Coach Belichick was in Cleveland – they went to the playoffs while he was in Cleveland, but things went downhill. He started over again in New England and the rest is history. I got a chance to start over again here, as a new coach; it didn’t seem like it, but it was for me. That’s what I told our coaches, and everybody had to realize that. That I could take the experiences from the first whatever (eight) years it was and now turn those the right way. And all of the things that I thought were so then, are so. We don’t have to go back on those things anymore. I’m going to keep fighting for what I believe in. We’re not going to relent on those things. That’s where we are. Now, the next hurdle is winning this game on Sunday. That pushes to another hurdle. And the next hurdle. And so forth. All we need to focus on is this one coming up on Sunday.”
Do you feel a sense of accomplishment that you got it done in such a timely fashion?
ML: “Unfortunately, people think there are places that are jinxed and so are the people who are there. As I have said many times, Mike Brown is not playing those snaps. This is my job. It’s my fault if we don’t win. Take your hat off to them (Bengals ownership) for when we sat here with 21 or 22 free agents last year and signing our guys back that we said, ‘Let’s get these guys back.’ We signed every player that we wanted back. To that, you have to take your hat off to them. That speaks volumes for what we’ve done. While we’re sitting here with guys who are not playing, who are good players, who are on IR, who haven’t played. That’s why we signed those guys. That’s why we had those guys back. To go get
So, that perception is changing?
ML: “It ought to have changed. You know what I mean. Every time somebody walks in here, they ought to know that.”
Is experience what you get when you don’t get the ultimate goal that you want?
ML: “Yes. You learn and you go back the next time. You gain something.”
Does experience makes you hungry?
ML: “It does. Every time you don’t get what you want, it makes you come back hungrier. There’s no doubt about it. You come earlier. You come harder. That’s the only way I know how to do it. We’re going to work harder.”
When the Bengals signed everybody back, was the perception that they were putting everything in to this year?
ML: “Not in to this year. You know Mike. He’s not putting everything in. You’ve got to have an eye to the future. We have some future guys to get done as we keep going. That’s part of it. We added guys who function the right way. They learn. They work extremely hard. They come in here early in the morning. They carry themselves as pros. That’s a good thing.”
From a personal note, is it discouraging that there are still 9,000 seats available for a playoff game that is four days away?
ML: “I can’t say what I really think, so I’ll just move on (smiles).”
AD: “They’ve got some guys back—guys that were hurt when we played them the first time—so they’ve got some of their starters back in there. From a scheme standpoint, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot different that they’re doing. They’ve just got some guys that are playing well. We’ve got to be prepared for all the different things that they’re going to throw at us.”
The first time you played them, did they remind you of any defense that you had played in the past on a more regular basis?
AD: “It’s hard to say they’re exactly like this team or they’re like another team. Everybody’s got their own little things that they do. It’s not like it’s the same as something we’ve faced before.”
Is there any advantage to playing a team that you’ve already played, or is that nullified by them having already played you?
AD: “You know some of the looks you’re going to get. There’s some carryover on different things we were able to do. You understand the team a little bit better just because you’ve already faced them once.”
You beat them two years in a row out there as a quarterback. Does that give you a sense of confidence to know you won on the road and took care of business, and now you’ve got them here?
AD: “This is a confident group, not only me, but this team, this offense and everything that we’re doing. Any time you beat a team, you have confidence. What we’ve been able to do the last several weeks has really brought on a lot of confidence for us.”
Since you ran the ball so well out there at the end of the game and put up big rushing numbers, do you notice teams playing the run differently since then? They seem to be taking that away:
AD: “There are different looks that we get, where teams are taking away the run. That’s why there’s a lot of stuff that’s gone on in the passing game that’s really worked. That’s the give-and-take with getting looks to stop the run. You get one-on-ones on the outside and different things, so we’ve been able to hit some big plays because of it.”
How does this playoff Wednesday, if at all, feel different from the previous two?
AD: “We’re really confident in everything we’ve been able to do. We understand what we’ve done the last couple of years. There’s a different mindset now. Guys are ready to take that next step, to get a big playoff win and that’s something that this team needs. It’s going to be great to have a home game. I think that’s going to be to our advantage, get the crowd involved, and to not have to deal with the crowd noise and the different things that go with playing on the road. Having a home game is going to be big for us.”
You’ve had to hear for years about what’s lacking in your game is winning a game in the playoffs, playing well in the playoffs. How much do you need this win and how much are you looking forward to this week?
AD: “When you talk to Marvin, you talk to some of the coaches, that’s something that we haven’t done – we haven’t won a playoff game. People can keep saying whatever they want because we haven’t won a playoff game. You’ve got to win. That’s what it comes down to. And for us to get where we want to go, we need to win. That’s the way it works. For me, we need to get a win in this one. There’s always going to be something that’s going to be wrong, but to get a win would be big.”
That would be one of the bigger things off your plate?
AD: “Yeah, it would be, so you don’t have to hear, ‘Oh, you haven’t won a playoff game, or you haven’t done this, you haven’t done that.’ ”
They’re running out of things aren’t they?
AD: “I hope so. Hopefully, we keep winning and they’ll run out of stuff. This is a big week for us.”
It seems like a lot of guys almost immediately after the game in Houston last year realized that they didn’t take full advantage of an opportunity, and it seemed like there was a resolve right there to do something about it and get back to get another shot at it. The fact that you guys ran the table at home and got homefield advantage in the playoffs, it sets up exactly what you were thinking when that game was over down in Houston, I guess:
AD: “We’ve put ourselves in a good position. The mindset and the goals that we had going into this year, we’ve been able to accomplish some of them so far, and we still have some that we want to achieve. I think it helps having a lot of the same guys back from the teams the last couple of years, guys that understand that we’ve had an opportunity that we haven’t taken advantage of. I think all that is going to help us going in this year. The staff, the players being the same, we have that extra year of experience, knowing what to expect going in, and it’s going to help us out.”
When you look back to your first playoff game two years ago, what struck you about how different playing in the playoffs and that atmosphere was? Was there anything that stuck out?
AD: “Every little thing matters. That’s something you can see the last couple of years – when you have chances and you have opportunities to hit plays and to score points, you’ve got to hit them because every little thing counts. You never know what’s going to be the play that defines the game. That’s something we didn’t do the last couple of years. We didn’t take advantage of some of those opportunities. Guys realize that, and you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
When people talk about playoff intensity, is that a real, tangible thing that you guys very much recognize – the difference between regular season and playoffs?
AD: “There’s just more importance going into the game. There’s a lot more riding on the game, but you can’t put any extra pressure on yourself. You have to go just play like we have the last however long. It’s a great opportunity for us to show what we can do, what this team is made of.”
The defining moment of that game (last year) in Houston was probably that ball that you and A.J. didn’t connect on. It seems like now everybody is on a better page on that kind of ball. Would you agree with that?
AD: “That’s a great example of us not hitting the play that could have won the game for us – a defining moment. We’re in a lot better position this year than we were last year. We’re ready to go.”
Do you sense a more determined group, based on the past couple of years?
AD: “I think so. Guys know what it was like in the locker room after game. Guys know it’s not a feeling that you want. You weren’t able to accomplish something that you wanted to. There’s a lot going into this. There are a lot of guys that have played in these playoff games and for us here, we haven’t been able to win one yet, so we’ve got to go out and win one.”
Quarterbacks are always under the microscope. Do you feel it even more so in the playoffs?
AD: “Everybody looks at the quarterbacks if you’re winning games. If you’re winning games in the playoffs, you’re doing some good things. They might pick apart more stuff, but I’m not worried about that. My goal is to win the game and to do whatever it takes to win.”
Is there more pressure on this game because of the past two playoff games and the way the offense has performed?
AD: “There’s not any more pressure. We expect to play well. We expect to play to our potential. We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now, so we have to just keep playing like we have been.”
What has been the biggest key in the red zone compared to maybe the past couple of years? I think you guys were on a run of 14 straight red-zone possessions where you scored touchdowns instead of field goals:
AD: “When you’re down there, you’ve got to do the little things to keep getting yards, try to get first downs and get in manageable situations where you can convert and score points. Guys have made big plays when we were down there. We’ve done a good job once we got down there. I think it’s just kind of a mindset thing.”
When you go in as a quarterback into the playoffs, are you more cognizant of not making mistakes/turnovers, or are you thinking, as the quarterback, I’ve got to make some more plays?
AD: “It comes to knowing when to try to make some plays and when to not force things. I think that’s something that comes down to usually if you win the turnover battle, you’ve got a better chance of winning the game, so it’s even more important once you get to the playoffs.”
Was that reinforced by the four picks last Sunday after you had such a great run?
AD: “I understand what’s at stake here and what we’re trying to accomplish. I’m going to do my part to put my team in a good position.”
Going back and looking at the interceptions, is there anything that struck you about them?
AD: “I tried to get too much, when I probably could have checked it down. I watched the tape and will learn from it.”
Less than 10,000 tickets available for this game is what we’re hearing. Relate to the fans what they can expect and what you need from them to show up this coming Sunday:
AD: “To play at home and to have the crowd noise, to have all the fans get involved, is big. We need to sell out this game. We need to make sure everybody’s here, everybody’s excited. There’s a lot of good stuff going on here. We need all the fans involved.”
If this game doesn’t sell out and it’s blacked out, what kind of message does that send to the players in the locker room?
AD: “The game should be sold out. We’ve been able to do a lot of really good things here. To have that extra advantage and to have the city behind us is big. I expect it to be sold out.”
Is there anything you can carry over from the meeting in San Diego into Sunday’s titanic struggle?
AG: “I feel like our running game took off that game. We have got to do the same – be physical. The weather is probably going to be a little rough. This time of year you have to be able to run the ball.”
Do you feel like you blocked well in the game at San Diego?
AG: “Yes. I think I did OK. That was a physical game. Our mindset was to play physical. That’s what we did.”
What’s different about this year’s team going in to the playoffs than your previous two seasons?
AG: “We are a year older. We’re more confident. We’ve been here before.”
Have both of your previous games against San Diego been pretty physical?
AG: “Yes. That’s our mindset. We have to be able to run the ball. No turnovers – don’t kill ourselves – and we’ll be fine.”
How important is it that Sunday’s game sells out?
AG: “I don’t worry about that stuff. Our fans have been great all year. Why not now? We’re undefeated at home. We play great at home. Why not come see a great show like that? They’re a part it. With how loud they have been the last few games, (a sellout) would be great. All we can worry about is go out, play, and see what happens.”
Is Eric Weddle a physical safety?
AG: “I don’t think he’s physical, but crafty. He’s a smart guy, but he will hit you as well. He’s really smart back there. He’s the leader of the defense.”
How hard is it to get a handle on joining a team in the midst of the playoffs?
ZM: “I’ve been staying prepared and ready for any call. I’m appreciative for any opportunity. I’m going to do my best and prepare the best that I can.”
How did you and the Bengals get together?
ZM: “There was a phone call made. My people talked to their people. That’s the way it went.”
Were you at the tryout a couple of weeks ago that came following
ZM: “No. I was not a part of that.”
Were you surprised that the Bengals called?
ZM: “I don’t know. I just stayed ready. I try to control what I can control.”
Were you working out locally?
ZM: “I was working out in New Jersey.”
What is the biggest thing that you do when you show up in middle of the season?
ZM: “I would say that a lot of things carry over from team to team. You try to be the best professional player that you can be. A lot of things carry over. Being a specialist is sort of being a part of a fraternity. You understand what other guys need. Basically, you go from there.”
Shawn Powell was only here a couple of weeks. Is it a do-it or get-out job?
ZM: “I realized that a long time ago, especially in the middle of the season.”
Does the mindset change for the players in the playoffs?
VR: “Yes. We understand the stakes are higher. We don’t feel any pressure with that. We just have to rise to the occasion and compete every snap. We’re excited to do it.”
What are the Chargers doing differently, if anything, from the last meeting in San Diego?
VR: “They’re a good team. From what I have seen personally, they’re a powerful offense, very good on special teams. They’ve won every game since we’ve played them. We know we have our work cut out for us, but we’re excited to be playing here at home.”
The Chargers are hot, having won four straight games to make the playoffs. Is that a dangerous formula?
VR: “In the playoffs, we’ve seen in the past, teams get hot and continue to win. Those are the teams that usually end up winning it (the Super Bowl). That’s what they did. All we have to do is come out and win the game. At this point, we think it’s about us going out there defensively and special teams. Going out there and doing our job as hard and as fast as we can.”
Does anything that happened in the game five weeks ago matter heading in to the playoff game?
VR: “It matters, in terms of understanding how they play and what they do, but when it comes down to it, it’s about what happens on game day on Sunday at 1 (p.m.). Who’s going to win the individual battle? Who’s going to be tough enough to do their job every single play.”
Overall, how much fun is this?
VR: “It’s a lot of fun. There are 12 (teams) left. After this week, there are going to be less of us left. We’re happy for this occasion. Really excited.”
As a linebacker, is Antonio Gates a tough player?
VR: “He’s a tough player. He’s been making plays all season – for years now. But for me, for guys on this defense – Vontaze (Burfict), Rey (Maualuga) – we’re excited to play against him. We’re excited to go up against that whole offense. We always have a chip on our shoulder and want to prove something.”
Mentally, how do you prepare yourself for the playoffs?
WG: “The mistakes are on a larger scale. There’s no getting it right next week. There is no next week. That’s the mindset. You have to take care of today, which means practicing hard and getting in a good day of work. You have to go out and take care of business. If we do that, there will be a next week.”
What’s it like getting to face Philip Rivers again?
WG: “It’s going to be interesting. He’s another Alabama guy. He’s a smart, savvy kind of guy. He knows how to get elusive in the pocket. That’s an advantage for him. We have guys who can rush the passer. We have guys who can get after their offensive line. It’s definitely going to be a good challenge on both sides of the ball.”
What do you remember about the game earlier this season in San Diego?
WG: “The weather was nice. That’s going to be a big changeup for them. They have to come here to The Jungle (Paul Brown Stadium) and deal with our weather and our fans. We’ll see if we get the best out of them.”
Is the weather that big of a deal?
WG: “Oh yes. It’s a big difference. Cold weather teams play well in cold weather. You get a team like Miami or San Diego—from a place where the weather’s always nice—in this 20-degree weather, it’s a big difference on your body.”
Is the weather a factor because you are practicing in it all week?
WG: “Oh yes. We’re used to it. There is no (indoor practice facility). When it rains, sleets or snows, we’re working. We love it, because come game day, it’s normal to us. It’s not like we have to prepare for it. It’s normal.”
How does last Sunday’s performance boost your confidence?
DK: “It loosened me on the field. The communication was great with the guys on the field. It just motivates me even more to keep working and try to do it again next week.”
You are playing a position that is isolated and focused on you. How much do you need a game like that to forget the other stuff?
DK: “It was a big game. I really needed it. I haven’t made plays like that in so long. It was a burden off my back. Now, I can move on, go to next week and try to do the same thing.”
Can the game you played five weeks ago mean anything to your preparation now for the playoffs?
DK: “It doesn’t. You have to make adjustments, because they are going to make adjustments. You have to stay poised and do what your coach wants you to do.”
They have won four straight since you beat them. Do you feel they are a hot team?
DK: “We feel we are pretty hot, too. We’ve had two pretty big games here at home. We haven’t lost a game at home. We have the 12th man on our back this week. They’re going to be ready. We’re going to be ready. I feel like it’s going to be a really good game.”
On what challenges the Bengals face heading into their playoff game against the Chargers:
VB: “They understand what we’re trying to do and we understand what they’re trying to do. I think it’s going to be a nail-biter. I’m pretty sure they watched the last game and saw how we attacked them, so for us we just have to switch it up a little bit and understand what they’re going to try to do to us.”
How hard is it to get from Wednesday to Sunday because you have to be excited already for this game?
VB: “Yeah, super excited. I’m just anticipating it and trying to get better each day.”
When you played the Chargers in the regular season, Marvin Lewis said you possessed special powers the way you were able to come back from injury and play that week. What are those special powers?
VB: “I don’t know. I don’t know what he was talking about. I’m just out there playing for him and my teammates. I just want to get a win; that’s about it.”
I know you had a lot of friends and family at the previous Chargers game. Is that an important aspect for you in regards to this game as well?
VB: “Not at all. I’m just worried about winning. I just want to get the first playoff win for me and some of my teammates on this team. I think we’ll have our heads on straight and be ready to go.”
How do you feel about the Bengals coming into the playoffs, given the wins you’ve had in the last couple of weeks?
VB: “Yeah, we’re good. I feel a lot of guys are anxious to get this game underway, especially on defense. We all kind of have a little chip on our shoulder today, especially for walk-throughs. I think more people are focused this week and just want to get a win and get that chip off our shoulder.”
You are facing the Chargers for the second time this season. You have already faced the AFC North teams twice. Are you expecting the same changes this week?
AW: “I think because there has been a little time between them, it wouldn’t be a whole lot of difference from a division-type game. Both teams are going to have new things at this time that they have been working on, so there won’t be a whole lot of similarity from the first game to the second.”
After so many years of not having won a playoff game, is there a lot of anticipation heading in to Sunday’s game?
AW: “Yes. This team expected to get in to the playoffs. Nothing short of that would have made us feel like we had done anything. We still feel like the season is not good enough if we do not win a playoff game and put ourselves in position for the Super Bowl.”
Do you feel like this is your best position to advance in the playoffs?
AW: “This one or ’09 are probably the best two positions we were in. We have a home game. Our team is playing well. The difference in ’09 is that we finished really bad for the regular season. We didn’t play that well. Right now, we’ve had some really good games to end the regular season. This would be a really good opportunity for us to do what we want. Every team’s goal at the start of the season is to win the Super Bowl. We are one of the few left who have the opportunity.”
The Chargers have won four straight games. Are they the same opponent you faced on Dec. 1?
AW: “There’s no question. I don’t think anybody in here thinks of them as the team we beat. We think of them as a team that is hot right now. No different than Baltimore, Indianapolis or any of the teams we played down toward the end of the season. We know this is a team that is very good, that has had hot streaks throughout the year. That’s the crazy thing about the playoffs. As much as people want to make about records and seedings and all of that, the truth is that some teams end up with easier schedules than others. You really don’t know. Records don’t tell you a whole lot. Any team that gets in to the playoffs at this level is obviously a good football team.”
What do you recall about the Chargers front seven from the previous meeting in San Diego?
AW: “I think their group had come off some really good games rushing the passer when we played them. Now, they have (LB Melvin) Ingram back, and (Jarret) Johnson wasn’t able to play against us. He’s a phenomenal player for them. I think they are definitely a much better team than we played. As good as they were, we had to go down to the wire with a four-minute drive at the end of the game to win the game. It was a close football game. Now they have even more people back on defense.”
Do you see yourself as a target of the Chargers’ venom after your play in San Diego?
AW: “It was a good game. We won it and were able to physically take control at the end. I’m sure we’re going to be playing a much better team. What I’ve seen on film, they’ve really been good. What they did to Denver and some other teams is special.”
Does that change your approach at all?
AW: “No. I am who I am. I’m not going to change for anybody. I’ll be excited for the opportunity to play against these guys as much as they’ll be excited to play against me.”
Is there any carryover from being able to run the ball so well in the game in San Diego?
AW: “I wouldn’t think much. To be honest if anything, it could be against us. The way we did it, they're going to make sure they come in and stop that. And also you see the last couple games they played after that game, they did really well against the run. If anything, you could tell it put something on them to where they made it an emphasis and also have gotten two really good players back in Ingram and Johnson. So they're going to be a tough matchup for us and we're going to have to play great.
Is this one of the more versatile offensive lines that you’ve been on, especially considering all of the injuries over recent weeks?
AW: “More probably doesn't even cover it. I think hands-down the most versatile. Anytime you can have guys rotating in and out and playing different spots the way we've been able to, not just a different guy playing a position but a guy playing a whole other position. We have multiple guys that have done that. Anytime you do that and have success with that, and really not miss a beat with it, it's a testament to what a group you have. I've said it before: I’m really proud of those guys. But we need to go and win a game this week, and then I'll be more proud.”
What does it take for an offensive line to be that versatile?
AW: “I think from Coach Alexander and the job he’s done, and from the leadership and making it a priority to where every guy in that room knows that they have to prepare the way the starters prepare. And the way the guys that are leaders and have been here forever prepare -- and that is watching film and studying their guys and their opponents, and knowing everything they need to know so when they’re in there, they’re prepared. And that's the truth. Some teams, you don't get that. And this team, we’ve been able to do it and guys have stepped in and done it well.”
Talk about how tackle
AW: “I think Anthony’s played a lot over the years and he’s a very good player. As I’ve always said, unfortunately for him, he’s somewhere where he had two really good tackles in front of him. Any other team in the NFL, he’s a starting offensive lineman. There’s just no question about that.”
Coaches get fired frequently in the NFL, Marvin Lewis has been here more than a decade. How much of that contributes to the stability and what’s going on here?
AW: “To me, it’s probably the most disheartening, saddest part about this level of football. Too many CEOs and owners just toss coaches around like hotcakes and don’t realize that the reason college football is what it is, is that systems determine success and longevity. There’s no coach on the face of this earth that can have a system in one year or two years. It takes years. And sometimes it takes resetting a system over a couple of years. We’ve done that here, and kind of cleaning house and saying alright, we had a couple guys here that we think we need to get rid of and let those (other) guys kind of become the leadership of this team. To me, probably the most frustrating part of the game is how many of -– from CEOs and owners that run it like it’s Best Buy, and you can just change the prices and you're going to be good. That’s not what it is. It’s NFL football. It takes grown men all playing together in one accord, arm in arm, to be successful, and that takes time.”
Does Paul Alexander look for versatile guys when in the NFL Draft?
AW: “I think definitely, if you’re going to get guys that are going to be in backup roles or development roles, you really want a guy that’s very versatile and can kind of play different spots. Sometimes you’re right on those and sometimes you’re not. We’ve been able to hit it right, I think, as an organization on some of the guys that are able to handle a lot of stuff.”
Your overall knowledge was one of the things they mentioned when they picked you. Do you think that’s an important piece that you bring?
AW: “Yeah. The interview process and my understanding of football, they were very impressed by. To me, that’s the biggest thing I can give to this group. I can’t help them physically, but in a room in a meeting, you can say hey, you see how this guy plays. Let me explain why that’s successful against these guys and this is how you can do it differently and you can stop this. That’s what I’ve always loved to do, dissect what guys are good and why they’re different. And a lot of times it’s not necessarily that some guy’s just this unbelievable talent or so different, he just does something so different than what you’re used to facing, so you need a different technique to play against it. That kind of stuff to me is the most fun part of football on offensive line play.”
Talk about the strategy in offensive line play, and being able to move from tackle to guard which are such different positions, and the preparation involved:
AW: “Oh, there’s a ton, if you want to play it well. There’s a lot of different physical abilities that you have to have at guard and tackle, and also techniques that you may use at tackle all the time that work really well would not be very good playing inside because the game’s just totally different in there and the way you’re getting rushed. Over time, it's still a growing process for me a little bit, playing inside now. Kind of feeling out things I can get away with doing, and things I can’t, because it'’s just different than playing tackle. There’s a different timing, there’s a different pocket presence where you are in the pocket. All those things are different.
Talk about the new nose tackle for San Diego:
AW: “A new nose, a guy we played last year in Dallas. He played this year when we played up there; he didn’t play nose, but he played in the game a lot. Also they’ve got Ingram and Johnson back. So they’re going to be a really good group. They really kind of regrouped after that game and played really well against Denver and a couple other teams. It’s going to be a challenge for us. They’re kind of in the ‘Hey, let’s get back what we felt like we allowed them to do the last game, take it away, and kind of prove a point' situation.”
Can you run the football against the Chargers, again?
AW: “We’ll find out Sunday. But like I said, guys are going to have to be prepared to play their best because they're going to bring everything they’ve got.”