BALTIMORE RAVENS Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement:"Thanks for coming. Good to see such a big crowd. What've you got?"
On if the enormity of being in the third round of the playoffs hits him:"Not really. It's exciting for our guys. It's a big football game. But we've got work to do today, and that's what we're trying to focus."
On if it will be a group effort or just one person who will replace LB Terrell Suggs if he is unable to play:"Our defense is a group effort anyway, as you know. If anybody can't go on our defense, it will be packages designed by Rex [Ryan] and put guys in spots to do what they do well."
On how TE/LB Edgar Jones has done when he's had to step in and play:"Edgar has played when he's had to step in. He's done a nice job. He's been physical. He's a two-way-go player for us where he practices on both sides. And he's done very well."
On if he plans to go easier in practice or will he follow a standard practice routine:"We've kind of changed it every week, so we just have gauged it based on what we think from one week to the next. We've got a plan for this week, and we'll just carry it out based on what's best for our guys getting ready this week. I don't know that there is a standard at this time of the season. So, that's how we'll approach it."
On what ways he has seen QB Joe Flacco develop as a leader at the NFL level:"Joe just is himself. That's how he leads. He's very good at what he does. When you're a quarterback, you've got the ball in your hands and it probably makes you a natural leader. He doesn't try to be anything he's not. That's probably where it starts. He's genuine."
On if Flacco is the same as he was when he arrived in Baltimore or has he progressed:"He's probably the beneficiary of experience. Plus, he's had success and the guys believe in him a little bit more. He's grown into the role in that sense because he's done well. Beyond that, he's still the same guy."
On contrasting Flacco as the team's offensive leader and LB Ray Lewis as the defensive leader:"We don't say we have a leader on offense or defense. We haven't designated that. We've got a lot of leaders. We have 53 leaders in their own right. Obviously, Ray Lewis is a great leader in his way – just a shining star of a leader, and our guys respond to him. Joe is a different type of leader. You can go through our roster, Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, all the way through; we've got 53 leaders on our team."
On how Suggs feels today and if he is better than when he was first injured:"You can ask him. He's going to be right in the locker room. Ask him how he feels."
On the matchup of the top two defenses in the NFL and what he feels makes the Ravens' defense special:"It starts with the mindset in the room. Our defense probably starts with what any great defense starts with – really great players. We've got great players who love to play, they love to study, and they play hard on Sunday. They are very well coached. They're disciplined, and they play hard."
On if the Ravens saw similar qualities in Flacco and Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger when they were considering him in the draft:"We hate to compare guys to other guys. We just think Joe's ability stands on its own. He's Joe Flacco, and that's going to be the comparison maybe down the road for every quarterback. But, everybody has their unique talents and abilities, and his are what they are – and still developing."
On how the offensive line, in particularly T Jared Gaither, has contributed to Flacco's development:"Well, you can't play quarterback without an offensive line, and you can't run the ball without an offensive line. You hear those guys say it all the time. Those guys have got a little chemistry about them. Joe has done a nice job, and they've done a nice job of spending some time together, even off the field. So, that's been a big part of what they've done together."
On how his experience of playing in big games with the Eagles has helped him to prepare for this playoff run:"Experience helps in any situation. A lot of guys have been in playoff situations before, a few guys have been in championship games, [and they] understand that it is not anything other than a football game. It's going to be played on a 100-yard field and it's going to be a certain amount of plays, and whoever plays better is going to be the team that wins the game."
On Roethlisberger's stats being down this season:"I can't say that I've studied him in previous years to that extent – being in another division and not seeing them too often. We look at them for what they are right now. Making a comparison to past years wouldn't really benefit us anyway. So, we're studying them for what they are right now. We think they are very good. They're running the ball real well right now. They've got a great quarterback, dangerous receiving corps. [They are] just a very talented group and a very effective group."
On Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin:"I've known Mike for a long time as a coach and all of us on our staff, most of us, have known Mike for a long time. He's done a great job in the last two years. Nobody is surprised by that. Everybody saw way back when at a young age he was going to be this kind of a coach. So, he hasn't disappointed anybody."
On Roethlisberger:"He's different than a lot of quarterbacks because he's big and strong, and he's fearless. And he can throw the ball on time. He can hold the ball. He can scramble and make plays on the run. He's probably the most accurate quarterback on the run in the league right now. There are just a lot of things to defend with Ben. He's smart. As we've said before, he went to a great university [Miami-Ohio, like Harbaugh did]. That's no surprise."
On how critical it has been to win the turnover battle in the playoffs and how much that has contributed to the Ravens success:"The turnover battle is big. We've said it before: It's not just in the playoffs. That's been probably the catalyst for us in the first two games. Whether that's going to be able to be the catalyst for us in this game, we don't know. Maybe it will be something different. But, that's been a big part of it."
On if the team has practice drills that work specifically on take-aways for the defense and protecting the ball on the offensive side:"We have a lot of drills. All of those drills are training camp drills. Some of them carry over through the season. Take-aways and give-aways are an emphasis in every practice. Our guys know how important it is."
On whether Flacco's leadership style reminds him of anyone in particular:"I think everybody's [style] is unique. Maybe at some point in time we'll get a chance to sit down and compare Joe to somebody else – or any of our players to somebody else's style. We just haven't had time to think about that stuff. It's not really too relevant to what we're trying to get done right now. I'd like to have a better answer for you, but I just don't have it."
On if he plans to practice outdoors all week to prepare for the cold weather that is expected in Pittsburgh:"We'll probably play it by ear as we go. We're going to be outside today. It's a beautiful day out there right now. Our field is in great shape. Our grounds crew guys have done a great job with our fields all year. So, we're looking forward to getting out there and run around a little bit."
On if he is applying any of his experience from his time with Philadelphia directly to his playoff experiences here:"Certainly. Throughout your whole career – as a player, coach, whatever – you take all those things and you apply them, and you just have a sense for what you want to do. Having been in four championship games, that's a plus. We've been through it, we've seen how we've practiced, what it takes to win, what costs you games. Maybe that's something that you apply. It's not direct application, because everything is different, every year is different, every group of guys is different. But, you take what you've learned and you try to apply it the best you can to the situation that presents."
On if it seems appropriate that in order to get to the Super Bowl the Ravens need to go through Pittsburgh:"Yeah, I guess so. We wouldn't really want it any other way. This will be a lot of fun to go up there and play them for the third time this season. The first two games have been battles, and we're ready to go up there and try to get a win in the most of them."
On how loose the team is and the fact that they can joke around, like WR Derrick Mason introducing his fellow players at the podium:"It's funny. He's up here doing this every week. When he first started doing it, it was kind of like, 'What is he doing?' I'm still thinking the same thing. He pulled off a little inside joke there that I can't share with you guys. But, it's been a lot of fun."
On if protecting the football is something he's worked hard at and something that he's proud of:"It's an important part of our game. It's always an important part of offensive football – keeping the ball and giving yourself as much opportunity as possible. If you're not converting, if you're not scoring touchdowns, at least you're looking for the next down, punting the ball away and letting your other side of the ball take care of it. We've done that pretty well in the first couple of games. We understand we're going to have to take care of the ball in this game, but we also understand we're going to have to put some points on the board. It's the AFC Championship game, and we want to come in and show what our offense is all about."
On what offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said in his meeting with him after the Indianapolis game:"I think for the most part he just wanted to let me know that even though I'm a rookie and a young guy that I need to be a leader of the team and just put myself in the position and go there and carry myself like I am. I think that I've always taken the approach to do that, and I think the guys have really responded well to it. These guys are a bunch of great guys that we have in the locker room, and we have fun with each other. That's what makes it the easiest. It's not hard to get along with them as long as you're yourself."
On if he really feels it will be fun to face the Steelers for the third time this season:"How much more fun does it get? You're in the AFC Championship game. Yeah, they're a good defense, but we've faced a lot of good defenses all year, and it's just another challenge for us. We've come up empty twice against them now, and we're ready to go get them again. And it should be a lot of fun."
On how the cold weather forecast will affect his preparation for the game:"I don't know. I never really let it affect me before. I've never played in weather that cold, but I'm not really planning on it being too much of a factor. You get out there, you get warmed up and once you get into the flow of the game it's not really that big of a deal."
On if he's ever thought to himself that being in the playoffs is a little bit different than a regular season game:"It's obviously a little bit different. I know that it's different, but you can't let yourself think that. You can't go out there on the field and say, 'Wow, what am I doing out here?' You've got to act like you're supposed to be here, and that's part of what being a quarterback is. You go out there and you act like you're supposed to be here. You act like you're going to get the job done and you know that you're going to get the job done. And as long as you think that way, then you give yourself the best shot at getting the job done. The bottom line is if you don't get it done, then you don't. And I can deal with that. It's going to happen eventually, at some point. I'm not afraid to fail, and that's what lets you go out there and play so loose. I'm going to go out there and we're going to do our best to come through. That's what we expect to do and we're going to do. But, you can't be afraid to fail."
On if it bothers him not to have stats like 300-yard games and if he sees his role in this offense differently than big-stat quarterbacks, such as Dan Marino:"I don't care at all. We have 13 wins now, and we're trying to get two more. As long as we have two more wins, I couldn't care less what my stats are."
On if he feels any differently playing for the AFC title than he did last year in the I-AA college championship:"I guess it's a little bit different in the amount of people that are going to be seeing the game. But for you as a player, last year at this time, there were pretty big stakes when I was playing the semi-finals and when I played in the finals of the I-AA playoff last year. At that time there were pretty big stakes because we wanted to win the I-AA National Championship. That was the biggest game that any of us had played in to that point. And now I'm getting ready to play in my biggest game that I've played at this point. [It is] a year and a month later, but it's [a championship game]. That game was important. This year, it's this game. I'm not going to approach it any differently. I understand the scale is a little bit bigger, but it's still a football game. We're going against the Pittsburgh Steelers, yes. I'm just going to look at my teammates and we'll all have confidence in each other, and that's why we know we can go out there and play well."
On whether the great play of the Ravens' defense motivates the offensive side of the team:"When the defense does some of the things they do, it definitely gets your whole team [motivated]. It gets you momentum. It gives you a sense of urgency, it excites everybody, and it gets them ready to go. There's a bunch of things that can happen, a touchdown pass, a big hit, an interception – there's a lot of things that can get a team going in a football game. And I think we do a good job of doing that on both sides of the ball."
On people calling him a team manager rather than a playmaker:"I'm going out there and I don't care what anybody says. I'm going to go out there and I'm going to try to make as [many] plays as I can. If it's not there, I'm not going to be dumb enough to try to take the play anyway. I'm going to do what I can to make sure it's a safe play. But believe me, I'm not going to go out there and not try to make a play. I'm going out there and I'm going to try to execute the play to the best of my ability. Believe me, I'm looking to hit the play over the top, and if it's not there, I'm going to shut it down."
On how bad his back injury has been and how he has fought through it:"Really it's just been the last few weeks. Relatively, this season I've been pretty healthy compared to last year. But the last few weeks I've played through quite a bit of pain and it's all been worth it to get to this point though. It's been progressively getting better, which is good, and I'll be ready to go again this week."
On the toll that playing 19 straight weeks has taken on all the players' physical health:"That's the thing. At this time of the year, everybody is playing through something. There's not a player on the field that doesn't have some knick, bump, bruise. So you can't really let those things bother you. You can't really worry about what you're going through. They guy next to you is going through something, the guy across from you is going through something. It really just matters how you perform on game day."
On if the mentality of playing through physical difficulties comes from the top down this season:"We forgot about the bye a long time ago. Like we said, we had our bye day this week. Having the game on Saturday, we had a bye day. I think guys gladly play through the pain at this time of year. It's a struggle to get on the field sometimes. You do everything you can during the week to make sure you're out there performing at the best of your ability when the opportunity arises."
On his impression of the Steelers defense:"They're pretty dang good. You look at them across the board… Harrison definitely deserved awards this year. He's one of the toughest guys to go against on the defensive line as a linebacker/defensive end. He's making plays all over the field. You've got the two inside guys – [Larry] Foote and [James] Farrior – that also make a lot of plays as well. And, [Lamar] Woodley, for a young guy, he's a handful. So, all their guys make plays. Look at the last few games we played them, and they're a tough group to go against. We'll have our hands full this week."
On if the Steelers' defense is the best he's ever seen:"That's going back a long way. I don't know if I can say that. But the way they've played this year, and their stats speak for themselves."
On how tough it is to shake off two close losses as the team gets ready to play the Steelers for a third time:"We're not even thinking about the last two times. You can go back and look at [film] and you can learn stuff from them, but it's a different game. It's a different time of the season, and you can't worry about that. You can't worry about what happened last time we played them. You've got to worry about the next play. And that's what we're all focused on."
On the progression of QB Joe Flacco this season:"As far as Joe is concerned, the things that he's been able to do this year and the things that he's been able to handle, it's pretty incredible. [As] a young guy coming in, first year, making the plays that he's made, handling the huddle the way he does [is incredible]. He comes in and he's always got that calm demeanor about himself. He's never rattled. He's always got that look on his face like [he's calm]. He's got that confidence about him. It's just fun to be a part of a huddle where everybody is on the same page. Everybody has confidence that we're going to make the play work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. But when it comes down to it when you need a play to be made, we have confidence in him."
On the trust the offensive line has developed in their quarterback:"I think that's the biggest thing is that we're continually improving. We're continually improving as far as the quarterback to the tight end, quarterback to receivers, quarterback to running back. All those throws – they're not always run exactly as they're drawn up on paper. That's the biggest thing. You make so many adjustments during the game, and that's the thing that's improving a lot with Joe, with all the receivers, is making those adjustments on the field."
On the warrior's mentality they have played with not having a bye and battling injuries:"You just kind of go. Once that bye week got taken from us, we knew it was for the long haul. We had to take care of ourselves and do whatever we could during the week to get healthy and then try to stay healthy on Sunday. It's tough, but you just have to take that mindset every week."
On what they can take out of the two losses to Pittsburgh that can help them this time around:"I think we take out the fact that if we make plays in the fourth quarter, we can win this game. That's what Pittsburgh was able to do those first two games, and that's why they got the two wins."
On the importance of having good chemistry on the field:"It definitely helps when guys understand each other and know each other a little more and know where they're coming from. I don't think you necessarily need it to be successful, but I think it is a huge factor in being successful on certain teams."
On whether it has sunk in that they are about to play in the AFC Championship Game:"Yes and no. It is kind of crazy just thinking [about] the path that this team has taken throughout this season. To be one win away from the Super Bowl is amazing. Hopefully, it won't sink in until after the game."
On the path he has taken coming in to a new team and starting and contributing big plays:"Just enjoying it. I love being on this team and love playing with these guys. I'm just enjoying every second of this run. It's my first time in the playoffs, so I'm just having fun and trying not to blow it up any bigger than it really is."
On the difference between watching the Ravens-Steelers rivalry and playing in it:"You feel a lot worse on Monday after the game being a part of it. It's a physical game. It's everything you'd think it would be as you're watching it. It's a lot of fun to play in those types of games. Those are the types of games that you enjoy playing football for. No one's really trying to trick anyone. They're coming straight at you, and the better team and the better man is going to win."
On if he notices a higher level of intensity in a Ravens-Steelers game:"There is. I think you can tell it from the atmosphere. The fans really get into it, and that really helps the players get into it, as well. Anytime you're as familiar with a team as you are with a division team and a big rival, it creates that atmosphere that you love to play in."
On what goes through his mind having to play Pittsburgh again:"It's a very familiar opponent. I've been playing these guys for years now. There's no secret to the game. The game is going to come down to like all of the games came down to, to the wire. We know each other very well on both sides of the ball. Those guys are extremely disciplined in the things they do. We are kind of similar but different at the same time, so there's no trick to it. It's just line up and play."
On if the Ravens wanted a chance to play the Steelers one more time:"Honestly, it doesn't matter who we play. The bottom line is just punch our ticket and make sure we get in."
On the rivalry with the Steelers:"I just think a lot of it comes from… Of course we have the No. 1 and No. 2 defense in the business, and that comes along with a certain mentality by itself. The rivalry kind of heats up from there. From there, we just find each other very similar. We are very similar teams. They have a lot of the same type of personalities we have, and things like that. That's kind of where the rivalry is created. You have ultimate competitors on both sides of the football on both teams. I think that's where it kind of stirs up."
On if he takes it personal with the way the Steelers' receivers block:"Take it personal? No. You have to take it personal if you don't buckle up your chinstraps. You can't take anything personal. The game of football is playing between the whistles. You play the game the way the game is supposed to play."
On the aggressive mindset of the Ravens' defense:"It's just something we take pride in. We take pride in [the fact that] we'll give you a little bit, but we're not going to give you everything you are looking for. And most of the times when we do give up [a play], one thing we take pride in is just getting the hit after the ball is thrown. We take a lot of pride in each other, the accountability of 11 men to the football. When the ball is thrown or the ball is handed off, everybody finds the football. That's where I believe a lot of turnovers are coming from. Everybody is always around the ball, everybody is always going for it, stripping for it. That's something that we really focus on a lot with ourselves. We have fun [drills], things like that."
On the defense talking about having the mentality of an offense when looking to score:"It's kind of how you played in childhood football. If you took the ball away, go score. Do anything you can do to score. When you have the type of guys we have, definitely with Ed Reed back there... But it's not just him. Fabian [Washington], Jim Leonhard, all those guys back there. There are just so many people. We really work on that. We work on that during practice. We work on pitching the ball, we work on setting the wall for each other and things like that. We don't take that lightly. We like getting into the end zone. That's a huge advantage for us and also for our team when we can make a big play like that."
On the chemistry of the team and how it has helped the Ravens this year:"I think that's what our whole season has been about. Our whole season has been about just chemistry. A lot of people don't know that really when you look at our ball club and the way we practice and look at the things that we do, we prepare a certain way with each other. Coaches give us the game plan and give us their part of it, but our part is being accountable to each other. We have more guys over at each other's houses the other night than anything. There's nothing that we couldn't go through during the course of the season, whether it was not having a bye week, this and that, this person is hurt, that person is hurt… But the togetherness and the brotherhood we have is kind of more overwhelming than anything."
On defending Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger:"He's the ultimate competitor. He plays football the way old-school people play football – just make a play. It doesn't have to be pretty, it doesn't have to be drawn up, sit in the pocket and pass the ball like the conventional quarterback. He's a football player. He's going to go out and do anything to keep his team motivated and keep the chains moving, things like that, and that's probably one of the greatest assets he has, is really keeping the play going."
On similarities between Ravens QB Joe Flacco and Roethlisberger:"Absolutely. Joe is Joe. I think they are similar in a couple of ways. But Ben has more of a knack for it, just not per se, looking downfield – more looking to break the pocket than look downfield. That's something he does very well and has great success at."
On if it took a lot to get over the Ravens' most recent loss to the Steelers:"Not at all. As soon as the game was over, you are over it. You don't dwell on it too much in this business. You take your good with your bad, and you move on. You grab your corrections, and after you grab your corrections, you make sure it doesn't happen again. There are just a couple of things… Even on that drive [against Pittsburgh], there's something we don't do, and that's just let people run free. And in that drive, that's something that happened like three times."
On how to describe Ravens head coach John Harbaugh:"I think he's the ultimate players' coach. John is one of us. During the week, on game day, all of that, he relates to his players very well. Everything that we do as an organization and as a team, it's just not done through the coaches. It's done through a lot of conversation with the players and really trying to figure each other out. Now, the process is that we trust each other so much that let's just deal with the way it is. John is a great, great, great guy."
On if the Ravens and Steelers have the two best sets of linebackers in the NFL:"I guess you can make that argument considering the way these defenses have been playing. For a good little while, both teams played very, very aggressive defense. They have great linebackers, so I can see people making that argument."
On how good the Ravens' group of linebackers is:"This group is one of the special ones. I guess that's why you see the things that are happening with the defense. You don't have too many times you can have that many linebackers with the type of ability that we have on one side of the ball, being able to do so many interchangeable things that we do. I don't know where you rate them. I don't know where we rate ourselves right now, but we're OK. We're pretty good."
On the spark Steelers RB Willie Parker provides when he is healthy:"When he's not healthy, you can tell that he's not running as fast or running as hard. You saw in that San Diego game, he hit that corner and got around it. That's what we have to do – we have to set our edges and make sure that we can keep him in and box him in. When he's healthy, he does a great job making it to the corner and running down the sideline."
On how effective the Ravens' pass rush needs to be against the Steelers to stop QB Ben Roethlisberger:"Real effective, because with Ben, that's how he makes his plays, making D-lineman miss and getting receivers open and throwing to the open man. We have to make sure that we take him down when we get a hold of him."
On if Roethlisberger is the most elusive quarterback the Ravens have faced this year:"Definitely. It's just kind of deceiving because he looks big and slow and doesn't look like he can move around. He bends in weird ways and gets out of things. It's pretty crazy how he does it, and we just have to make sure we get him down when we get a hold of him."
On what the term 'Organized Chaos' worn on his t-shirt means to him regarding the defense:"That you can see us come from anywhere. No matter what you see… It may look like we're coming from one way, and we're coming from another place. Our defense is fun and loose like that, and hopefully we can just get more chaotic this weekend."
On what LB Ray Lewis means to the defense:"Huge. He definitely brings our defense up, and we always react off of him and his intensity and his leadership. That's why this defense is the way it is, is because of Ray. It starts with him."
On if he feels like if you stop the run you can force the Steelers to make mistakes:"That's what we always look for, stopping that run first. Once we stop it, it makes them a one-dimension team…. [We'll] try to get to Ben [Roethlisberger], and hopefully we can do that. That's what we always start with is stopping the run."
On how special it is to be playing for a chance at the Super Bowl:"You can tell that it's a special feeling around here. The veterans that have been in the Super Bowl – Trevor Pryce, Ray [Lewis] and all those guys that have been there – they kind of tell us what it's like and that there's no other feeling of winning a Super Bowl and how great it is. It's just something that we're all, us younger guys that have never been there, we're just trying to look up to and hope we can do it."
On how his new offseason training program helped preserve his body for late in the season:"It has. I was talking to my trainer yesterday about it, and he's like, 'How are you playing?' I said, 'I'm hanging on by a very thin rope, my friend.' I think we all are. Eighteen straight games, and we're relatively healthy. We're all a little tired and what not. Everybody is tired this time of year, but you find a way to… What 'Harbs' [head coach John Harbaugh] has done is that he's found a way to preserve us during the weeks so come Sunday, whatever little we had Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, we can put it on the line on Sunday."
On if he appreciates this playoff run more because of what he has been through as a veteran:"Yeah, but you appreciate all of them. You appreciate every season for different reasons and what not, but I do. The funny thing is, out of the four AFC Championships that I have played in, three of them are against Pittsburgh. That's really bizarre to me. I guess I'm always looking at them every time I see the schedule, and I'm like, 'Here we go again.'"
On if it's fitting for Baltimore to play Pittsburgh again:"It is fitting for me personally – another AFC Championship, another game against Pittsburgh. I enjoy it. They're a good football team, and we're a good football team. We'll see what happens on Sunday."
On what you tell the Ravens' younger players about how special these opportunities are:"The big thing is playing in the Super Bowl is unlike playing in any other football game. But what you have to do, especially the more you [advance] in the playoffs, you don't change anything. You don't want to get extra hyper or do anything different that got you here. Because when you start doing too much – because the stage is bigger – there are only two football games on Sunday, and we are playing in one of them. The stage is bigger, so I think naturally you have a tendency to broaden yourself a little more. That's the one thing I think you can't do. What got you here is what got you here, so keep with it."
On what his defense does that makes it so good at forcing takeaways:"They hit and they run real fast. That's the big thing. Our guys that do all the covering, they cover a lot of ground. Ed [Reed] covers a lot of ground, Ray [Lewis] covers a lot of ground, our corners cover a lot of ground. The thing we try to do up front is try to force a quarterback into a mistake. It's not so much you get a lot of sacks, because a good quarterback will take a sack. A bad quarterback will throw the ball even though you're chasing him down. I think that's one of the reasons we've had success intercepting the ball."
On what you have to do to beat the Steelers on the road:"Play fundamental football. Again, don't get caught up in all the stuff around it. It is a football game, and all of us have been playing football all of our lives. So, you don't want to try to put it on yourself or broaden yourself too much, because that white light gets hot if you are out there by yourself. You play football the way you always have been. You forgot about that last play, and you think about the play you are on and don't worry about the next one. If you're fundamental, you'll be fine. When the time runs out, hopefully you are ahead."
On how coach Harbaugh has reminded the team to not change too much this week:"He doesn't have to say it because that's not what he is. We're going to do what we did. There isn't going to be any change planned. He's the same, and that's the one thing you appreciate about him – he's always the same."
On what is so special about this Ravens team:"I think one of the things I've noticed is that as a group of guys, as a group of players and as a group of men, you really honestly do like each other. Especially in our defensive room, what Rex [Ryan] has done, and I compliment him on this all the time, is he has kept it likable. It's easy to police yourself when you're given that leeway. It's one thing if you have a coach or the Gestapo or something like that and he's always like, 'You stink. You did this, you did that.' [Ryan] doesn't have to do that because we do it ourselves, and that's what makes it likeable. That's what makes it one of those things where you say, 'I don't want to let down my teammates, but I don't want to let my coaches, either, because we are all the same.' That's one thing I felt when I first came here. It was never us versus the coaches the way it is some other places. It's always the Ravens versus whoever, and that's the biggest compliment I can give him."
On if there was a point this year where he looked around and said, 'This is one of those years.':"Yeah, about five minutes ago."
On what the defense has to do to contain Steelers RB Willie Parker:"I think a lot of it has to do with our offense. If our offense puts up points, they have to start throwing the ball. That's kind of the way to stop him – you don't let them put the ball in his hands."
On how he'd describe head coach John Harbaugh's coaching style:"Unflinching. Again, he's the same. He's very confident, and that's a good thing. That's the one thing you want in a coach. Sometimes, coaches give you lip service. But when he talks, you believe that he believes what he's saying. It's like, 'Oh, we are going to do that. We are going to play in the AFC Championship Game.'"
On how a defense can give its players so much freedom to do things on their own (blitzes, etc.):"You have to have players that can be responsible for that. Ray [Lewis] is responsible for that, for the most part. It's give and take, and it's a great dynamic. And again, you don't feel like you are being driven into the ground with football things and what not. It's, 'What do you guys think?' We're all 30 years old, all of us are. The Pittsburgh defense is the same thing. That's the reason why you can put that responsibility on them [them players]."
On how ready Rex Ryan is to become a head coach:"There is no question about it. I'd like to sit up here and say something different so he stays, but I can't do that to him. He's going to be a fantastic head coach."
On if S Jim Leonhard has been one of the bright spots on defense:"He's been one of the biggest. You like players like that because they don't get a lot of publicity, but those are always the best ones. Jimmy is a damn good football player. People are just starting to notice now, but we knew that a long time ago. Jimmy is a man now. Smallest guy on the team, I think, but he is all heart and muscle. He'll thump you."
On what he's seen of the Steelers' protection and run-blocking that may or may not be better this meeting:"Things really haven't changed on either side, as far as what we do, as far as what they do. I think that it's going to be another tough game on both sides, and hopefully, we come out a winner."
On how much of the game is a point of pride from a defensive standpoint:"There's really not too much pride talk, none of that stuff around here. We want to go out and have a great game. It's different circumstances right now versus the first two [games]. Of course, we would have liked to win those. But like I said, it's different circumstances right now. It's postseason; we're trying to get somewhere, and they're the guys that we've got to play."
On if assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Rex Ryan would make a good head coach:"After the season is done, we'll see that. I think Coach is a hell of a coach, what he brings to the table. He's definitely tradition-oriented and can step in anywhere right now and lead a franchise. But that's not on me. That's up to GMs to make that decision. But as a defensive coordinator, we already know what Rex Ryan brings to the table."
On why Steelers RB Willie Parker does not typically have good games against the Ravens:"The front seven. The front seven are doing a great job. It's not just with Willie Parker, it's just with running backs in general. They take pride in stopping the run. We take pride in stopping the run, but it's a totally different game now. Willie Parker is looking a lot healthier. He's running the ball a lot tougher, a lot harder. So, we've definitely got to step our game up."
On how the Ravens rebounded from the game against the Giants (on 11/16) when New York ran so well:"The way you've seen us rebound to get to this point."
On if it's hard for other teams to get a read on the Ravens' defense:"It [isn't] hard to get a beat on what we do. We try to execute and put guys in position to where they can make plays. If you study the tape you will see it. You have different guys doing things, but it [isn't] too hard to get a beat. That could be coming from my perspective, too, which it is."
On what makes the rivalry between the Ravens and Steelers different from other NFL rivalries:"I don't think these two teams really like each other, but I think it's just the love for the game that both of us have. I think Pittsburgh has an awesome tradition around there, obviously, with the Steel Curtain and everything going back to those days. And we have a tradition around here that began before I got here. I think it's just two teams that really enjoy playing football, that really like getting after it."
On if he's worried guys are too physically beat up from the Titans game to play well this weekend:"This team has been down since training camp. We've been having guys hurt since training camp. We've been going through a lot as a team since training camp and throughout this whole season. Guys getting banged up last week against Tennessee is nothing new to us. Playing hurt is nothing new to us, and playing through things – just persevering through life itself – is something that we've really joined into this year because of something we're going through in-house. [Reed is referring to Ravens director of player development O.J. Brigance battling A.L.S., aka 'Lou Gehrig's Disease.'] Just fighting alone is something that is instilled in all of us."
On when he saw Ravens QB Joe Flacco turn into the quarterback that the public sees now:"Just when I first saw Joe Flacco in mini-camps, when I saw him throw the ball, knowing that Joe can throw. He can throw the ball. When I first saw him in training camp, man, he threw his first ball, I already knew what we had in him. And it was just a matter of time, like I always said, just a matter of time of him developing into the guy he wanted to develop into. And, he still has a long way to go."
On how Ravens head coach John Harbaugh convinced the team he was the right man to lead:"I don't think it was so much his convincing. Coach has a job to do; we have a job to do. This is a corporate business. You have to learn to work together. When Coach came into training camp he explained that. We understood that as men. We have a bunch of veterans on this team that understand that, to get that to the young guys. So, it was a push-pull thing in the beginning to understand what Coach wanted, him understanding what we do, and going from there."
On if there was skepticism because Harbaugh had never been a coordinator:"No, not really. Like I said, there's a reason why [owner] Steve [Bisciotti] chose Coach Harbaugh to get this job. I mean, he's been in coaching for 20-something years. There's a reason why he was a candidate."
On what one distinct difference in this year's defense compared to past years' would be:"Nothing has changed with this defense. If you go back and look at the past couple of years, nothing really has changed. Guys go down, guys are in, guys step up. It's the same mold. Nothing has changed with this defense."
On how impressed he's been with his performance over the last month:"It's been OK. It's still going. We're trying to keep it going. In a couple of weeks, you ask me that same question, I might have a different answer."
On how confident he is in his ability to return interceptions:"I guess it's just a little offensive mentality that's in me. It's something we practice, and of course, blocking. Guys throwing a couple of key blocks for me is thrown into the picture of that. You get a couple of key blocks, the confidence is definitely there to score with it, and we're definitely trying to score with it."
On an offensive player for the Ravens that impressed him:"Shoot man, Le'Ron McClain. You already know about that guy. My sideline, [G Marshal] Yanda, who got hurt. And I mean, we've got some young receivers who haven't been playing either, who are on practice squad. If they continue to grow, they definitely could be some show-stoppers."
On his take on FB Le'Ron McClain:"It's just a tribute to the team, how guys step in and step up when their number is called."
On how RB Willis McGahee has also done well this year:"Of course, man. That just goes to show his heart, full of team chemistry. He's going to do whatever it takes. It's no different than Edgerrin James down in Arizona. Willis took advantage of the time he had off because he was hurt. He was playing with a lot of injuries early on in the season, and that was being pointed out in a negative way, but he took advantage of that, and now he's doing the things that he needed to do on the field."
On if the Ravens have to remind themselves to not let Steelers WR Hines Ward get under their skin:"We just play football. Play football within the whistle and everything else will take care of itself. We can't get caught up in that part of the game. We know it's there, and we'll handle it as men as the game goes."
On if it is more fun to go into Pittsburgh as the bad guys rather than host the game as the good guys:"Man, I think we're bad guys regardless. But it doesn't matter. We've been at this point for a long time now. We've been saying it doesn't matter who we play or where we play them. At this point, it really doesn't matter where we're playing at. Good guy, bad guy, they call it what it is, but at the end of the day they will see."
On how big of a factor momentum is:"Momentum is always huge. Momentum is always huge. That's why you play the game accordingly, and hopefully it stays on our side."
On if there is a player on the Steelers' defense he enjoys playing against:"As a fan, I love watching good football. I can't get away from watching good football regardless of what team it is. There's no particular player on defense that I particularly watch. If there was one guy, it'd probably be Troy [Polamalu] because we play the same position. It's just natural to watch your position. Those guys over there, I know a couple of them personally, and I know those guys play a hell of a football [game]. So, as a fan, you sit back and watch. And when you're on the sideline, yeah you sit back and watch because when you're not going over checks, you want to know what's going on with your offense. But you also see what they're doing on defense."
On a player he enjoys playing against on the Steelers' offense:"I love playing against [those] guys as a whole because they're competitors."
On what his favorite return for a touchdown is:"My favorite one was against the Jets that got called back. They called a clipping, a holding. They called a holding, which was not a holding, so… That was the one."
On if he remembers all his returns for touchdowns:"Not really. [I remember] a couple of them, a couple punt blocks, a couple of returns. I remember a couple of them."
PITTSBURGH STEELERS CONFERENCE CALL
Head Coach Mike Tomlin
On whether the two teams' linebackers are similar to each other:"In terms of their production and the way they play the game, absolutely. They're a group that takes a great deal of pride in how they play the game. They play it with great energy, emotion and enthusiasm. In those ways, I think they're very similar."
On if they are the best two groups of linebackers in football:"Well, I'm not ready to get into that argument. I think there are a lot of people that have got arguments for groups. No doubt, they're in the argument because we're still playing. But that's a legitimate group they've got up there in New England with [Jerod] Mayo, [Tedy] Bruschi, [Mike] Vrabel and [Adalius] Thomas."
On whether there is a level of concern trying to beat the Ravens for the third time in a year:"I don't know. I really don't. Not that it's not a daunting task playing this team, but I've always been one to take the approach that each individual performance stands on its own. Whether or not we win this game will be based on how we prepare and how we play this game and not really what's happened in the past."
On if there is anything he has seen that Baltimore does to help create a good turnover margin:"It's not that they do things that are drastically different that other people. They're just more successful at it. I think that everybody that's playing here in the playoffs recognizes that ball security is a big part of staying alive. They've found a way to maintain possession of the ball, and, probably more importantly, they've taken the ball away from people who generally don't turn it over. I think that that's been as impressive as anything."
On whether he has more confidence in the offense since they are coming off a great performance last Sunday:"No. No. Last week's performance is last week's performance. It'd make that previous statement I made untrue. We're just preparing for this one. We had success last week. It was a good performance, but it has no bearing on how we're going to play or prepare this week. We've got to respect that element of it as we prepare."
On if the offense played as well last week as it has all season:"No, I thought we played great in the opener at Houston. I thought that was a spectacular performance."
On what happened after that, if it was injuries or inconsistency:"No, we don't make excuses. The injuries are part of the game. We were able to step into the stadium and execute a plan. The plan put the guys in position to perform, and they delivered."
On how S Troy Polamalu is coming along and if he will be a game-time decision:"No, I don't think it's going to come down to that. He's going to play in the football game. We're just going to monitor him here, particularly here early in the week, to make sure we put him in the best position we can in terms of being at his best on Sunday."
On what makes his defense unique or special compared to other defenses:"I'd probably say the level of consistency. It's not necessarily your ceiling that defines you as a player, as a unit, as a football team. It's your floor. What I mean by that is we're very consistent week in and week out with how we play, very little ups and downs in terms of that. We've had a few great games, but for the most part, we're solid every week. To me, that's as important as what you're capable of being."
On how he tempers the players' enthusiasm throughout the week given that they have an entire week to prepare:"The week is what it is. To temper the enthusiasm is to go against human nature, you know. We acknowledge that that is part of it. It can't consume us as we prepare. Really, we're just going about what we normally do with the understanding that the stakes are high."
On how the offensive line has done this year:"They've been a work in progress. They've, of course, come under some fire, but that comes with this profession. I like the way they work on a daily basis. They don't listen to the elevator music. They believe in one another. They've just continued to grow, and this will be a big game for them here this week."
On what makes Ravens QB Joe Flacco efficient at not turning the ball over and if he has something special planned for Flacco:"You know, I don't know what necessarily makes him special at doing that. That's just who he is. I hear what they say about him and that he has a calm demeanor. I think that works to his favor. But I knew that this guy was going to be a guy… When we played these guys the first time this year, we were up on them, and he took them down the field and sent that game into overtime. I think at that point I realized that we were going to have to deal with this guy for a long time."
On how it will impact the Ravens' defense if they play without CB Samari Rolle and LB Terrell Suggs:"Based on what they've done this far, I would say it's not going to impact them that much at all. I mean that sincerely. They've played without Kelly Gregg. They've played without Chris McAlister, [Dawan] Landry. They just keep rolling guys out, and guys keep playing at a high level."
On whether he looks at this as though it was meant to be for these two teams to be fighting it out for the AFC title:"I don't necessarily get into, 'It was meant to be this way.' I appreciate it. I like the matchup. I like the way these teams play. If you appreciate football, you like that element of it. But it's not destiny or anything of that nature."
On how much he, as someone who has always worked with defense, appreciates what it means to be a Steelers linebacker: "I'm not one."
On the tradition of success at the position that the Steelers linebackers have to uphold:"That'd be true. But I think anytime you have an organization that has the kind of tradition that this organization has, you could say it about a lot of positions – wide receiver, Lynn Swann, [John] Stallworth, Louis Lipps, Hines Ward. I think that's the awesome thing about being in an organization that's had success spanning a lot of years. There have been special players, and there are people that you can compare yourself to and standards that you can hold yourself to that are pretty lofty. I know that our team embraces that."