Opening statement: "Thanks for being here. Appreciate seeing everybody, especially appreciate seeing the guys who are here every week. Thanks. Obviously, [it was] a very exciting, epic football game on Saturday afternoon, and I'm proud of our guys and proud of our team. But now, the focus moves ahead to the next challenge – which is a heck of a challenge in Foxborough – and that's where all of our attention is at this point."
You had said at the end of last year that it would take a lot just to get back to this point, let alone with the game. You're back to this point. How much did it take? (Joe Platania)"It took a lot. I was right. It was a great prediction. It was spot on." (laughter)
But, as far as the ups and downs, the injuries, all that stuff? (Joe Platania)"All that stuff … I don't have a list in front of me of all the things that we have been through. A lot of teams go through a lot of things. There are challenges that get you to the point that you are at as a football team and make you who you are – even as a person. And, our guys have handled all those things extremely well. Individually, a lot of our guys – and collectively – have come out of it stronger and better men, and we're a stronger and better team."
This is seven of these conference championship games for you as a coach in 15 years. That's pretty good company (Drew Forrester)"You're keeping count. That's good. (Forrester: "Do you remember the first one?") Sure. Who was it against? *(laughter) *They are great experiences. We've been blessed enough and fortunate enough to be in a lot of playoff games over the years. We have a lot of guys on our team and a lot of guys on our staff that have been through a lot of these as well. It is a great thing. There's nothing like the playoffs in the National Football League. I've never been in any other sport, so it's hard to compare it to a seven-game series or something like that. But, it would be hard to imagine, for me, a more exciting thing than being in the NFL playoffs and getting to championship games and ultimately the Super Bowl. That's what it's all about. To me, it's the pinnacle of sport."
You didn't use the word "divine intervention," but talked about extra forces being involved. Getting a chance to go back to New England and erase what happened last year, does that mean something to this team? (Jerry Coleman)"Everything means something. It means different things to different guys. We've got a number of guys that weren't there last year; we've got a number of guys that were there last year. We've been there a number of times. It's definitely grown into quite a rivalry, we would like to say. I don't know how they feel about that. We have tremendous respect for the New England Patriots [and] their coaches – starting with their head coach, coach [Bill] Belichick, their quarterback, Tom Brady, their special teams coach, Scott O'Brien. They just have a tremendous staff, tremendous players, tremendous tradition, and it's always a huge challenge for us. But, it is one that we are excited about and that we look forward to. It's something we are looking forward to."
Brendon [Ayanbadejo] has apologized for his Twitter remarks. Did you guys have a talk with him? (Aaron Wilson)"That's all stuff that just really isn't relevant. That's all stuff that's not, I don't think, worthy of the conversation right now, at this time."
*Do you think your players get anything tangible out of knowing that this is Ray Lewis' last ride? (Aditi Kinkhabwala) *"Probably, sure, it's a big deal. All of our players have something on the line. It's always an ending. There is always something around the horizon for every one of us. It's not going to be like it was last year or last week. And, for Ray, it's the most evident part of it. It's right out there in front for everybody to see. Ray has been the franchise since '96. He's been the one stable element that has been here from the beginning. So, it's pretty evident and pretty obvious, and we are all real proud of that, and we're all excited to be a part of that."
**Is there anything to having a coach on your staff who has worked as closely with Bill Belichick as Dean Pees did, having him in your think tank? *(Stan Charles) *"That can be a two-way street. We talked about that a couple of weeks ago with [Colts head] coach [Chuck] Pagano. Nowadays in the National Football League, you play each other so many times, we know each other so well, there are so many relationships [that] it becomes pretty intertwined. It's a pretty tight fraternity. To me, that's part of it in every single game you play."
The last two years, you have brought in third receivers such as T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Lee Evans to come in and be that extra punch in the postseason and make that big catch. Unfortunately, that didn't work out, but Jacoby Jones did make that big catch in the postseason. How much of an impact has he made this season, and was this something you were hoping he would provide during this postseason run? (Barry Barnes)"You are always hoping for great things when you bring players in. Jacoby is a guy that we had high hopes for. Corey Graham is another guy, obviously, you can mention on the defensive side. A lot of people labeled them as strictly special teams players. They've made great contributions on special teams as well, but they've been more than that, too, offensively and defensively. I'm just so happy to have those guys on the team. I love those guys. They are our kind of guys; they're special people. They love being here, and it's great to see them do well."
**This will be the fifth time the Ravens have played New England since that playoff game in January 2010. Does the preparation for it feel like an inter-division game? *(Brett Hollander) *"Probably. There's a lot of familiarity there. It's something that we will go back [and look at]. We've got a lot of tape of us playing each other. I'm sure those will be integral study games for both teams. But, teams evolve, teams change, and you've got to take that into account as well."
How is Bernard Pierce doing? Is he feeling better?* (Aaron Wilson)"He seems like he is feeling good. He was in good spirits. He had a big smile on his face. He had a nice big lunch today. He seemed like he was happy. His son is doing well. His son slept well last night. I think his son slept through the whole night last night, so he was happy." *(laughter)
Dennis Pitta said that you told the players to get off your feet and do as much relaxing and get some rest. How much do you want them to manage the restoration of their bodies over the next couple of days? (Sal Paolantonio)"Yes, that's important. We've played a lot of games; we've played a lot of plays. But to that point, something that I knew was there is our level of conditioning as a football team. We've played a six-day turnaround, we went to the altitude, we made a cross-country trip, we did it on a short week, we played a bunch of plays in two weeks, and our guys were getting stronger into the fifth quarter it looked like to me. That's a testament to the work ethic of our team. Our guys train. They train from the beginning of the offseason program right until the last day that they're here. They're in the weight room; they condition extra. [Strength and conditioning coach] Bob Rogucki and his staff and [head certified athletic trainer] Mark Smith and his staff have done just a tremendous job of training our guys. To me, for it to show up in January in these kinds of games, really is what it's all about."
Ray Lewis said that Joe Flacco "grew up" on Saturday night. How much do you agree with that? (Sal Paolantonio)"Joe [Flacco] has been growing. Joe has been growing like all of our guys. But, it's definitely under a microscope at quarterback, right? It's definitely what everybody looks at and watches. To see Joe have that kind of a game in that kind of an environment is something all of us who are in Joe's corner knew was there. It's been the last two weeks, [but] it's really been throughout the season we've seen the growth."
After the game, the CBS broadcast showed you reading a text from owner Steve Bisciotti to the team. What did that text mean to you, and why did you want to share it with the guys? (Garrett Downing)"First of all, Steve [Bisciotti], I'm not going to say on his deathbed, but he was sick. He was really sick. He couldn't get up and move around at all. Whatever it is that's going around, he had it, because he wanted to be in Denver desperately. They just couldn't get him there. But, he was watching, obviously, throughout the game, and I get back into the locker room and Darren Sanders, our director of security, hands me the phone. [Sanders] says, 'You have to go to your phone. I want you to read this text. Not to the team,' he said. 'I just want you to see it.' The message was basically, when we were down by seven, how proud [Bisciotti] was of this football team – you guys heard what was said in the text – and that he was proud of the players, and he was proud of us as coaches. It was just something I thought the team needed to here, coming from him. He is a great leader. Our players love him. They love when he is around. He is an inspiration to all of our guys. To me, this organization, he sets the tone here. It's a great organization because of his vision. The guys needed to hear that in that moment. I'll tell you, I think they appreciated hearing it."
Speaking of health, what precautions do you have guys take to try to avoid the flu and things like that to try to not have that happen? Dennis Pitta said you guys had flu shots a few months back. (Aaron Wilson)"We had flu shots. We wash our hands as much as possible. We try not to cough on each other whenever possible. (laughter) When somebody starts coughing, we immediately eject them from the meeting room. What else can we do?" (laughter)
Going back to Joe [Flacco], now that you've had a year, how has the relationship between him and Jim Caldwell grown? And do you see any differences in Joe since he has become the offensive coordinator? (Aditi Kinkhabwala)"That's probably a good question for Joe [Flacco] and [offensive coordinator] Jim [Caldwell]. What I see is I see two guys who really work well together. They've got temperaments that are very similar. Jim is a great football coach. He is a no-nonsense coach. He gets right to it. Joe appreciates that. Joe is kind of thinker, 'Tell it to me straight, and let's move.' Those guys both think alike, so I think that works well."
You come from a special teams background, and I know you think differently than we as fans and media do, but as that game unfolded with the two special teams touchdowns that were given up, and while you're watching the game-winning field goal at the end of the game, was there any way you weren't thinking, "Oh, my God. I am here again a year later." (Mark Zinno)"I don't know. I didn't think about that. That really was not what went through my mind. I didn't think about that comparison. I thought about the field and whether [Justin Tucker] was going to have his footing. I thought about trying to get the ball to the field if we could, trying to get a few more yards, get a little bit closer. I don't think there has been a field goal that long in the postseason that has been a game-winner. I think I saw that somewhere. I didn't know that. But, we had a lot of confidence in 'Tuck' [Tucker] and really the whole operation. We'd had some issues in protection. They slipped through there a couple of times and got some hands in front of some balls, so we were concerned about that. I just wanted to get close to Ray Rice, because he is a good luck charm. That was the key."
Does the high scoring in the postseason surprise you, how high it has been around the league? (Drew Forrester)"I don't know. It's been high, but when you get to this level, there are so many playmakers in this league … You have to make plays in the playoffs. I am really proud of our guys making plays – our quarterback, our defensive players, wide receivers. We've made some really great catches. Our offensive line to protect the way they did, that was pretty impressive. So, [that's about] guys making plays."
Two years in a row, you and your brother are both in the Championship game. What does it say about your family's coaching DNA to get back-to-back Championship games between you and Jim [Harbaugh]?* (Sal Paolantonio)*"I haven't taken a DNA sample lately, but it's a pretty cool thing. *(laughter) *[I'm] very proud of Jim [Harbaugh]. We've had a couple of conversations since. It's probably been more football than that. It will be a pretty cool day."
*Have you guys talked about the 49ers-Patriots game when they went up there and beat them? *(Sal Paolantonio) *"We have a little bit. We probably will some more. *(Reporter: "What did he say?") *I can't tell you. He has so much respect for them. In all honestly, what is there to say? There's nothing really that they have that we don't have. We end up talking and we know, we say the same things to each other. There aren't any revelations there. [It is a] tough place to play – great, great team. You get a lead, it's going to be tough to hold onto it. I think we may have mentioned that once or twice. (laughing)* We hope we can get a lead."
Your team has been overlooked quite a bit. Going into Foxborough this week, [the Patriots] are 9.5 point favorites. Do you feel a little bit of disrespect towards your team? (Kris Jones) "I don't care. It's not important. It really isn't. That stuff's not important to us. We don't have to place any bets, so it really doesn't matter."
How much do you feel like the game, a lot of it will be decided in the trenches? There are two excellent lines from both teams. (Aaron Wilson) "Pretty much every game is decided in the trenches and then by guys making plays – those two things. Whoever wins the trenches has a great chance to win the game."
**You said earlier that a lot has changed with both of these teams since Week 3. What has changed about the Patriots that you have seen so far? *(J. Michael) *"Everybody evolves and grows as a team. Players are hurt; players are back. Schemes change. This is a team that changes a lot. They are like a chameleon; you never really know schematically what they are going to come out and do. That's been a trademark of coach Belichick's [teams] for as long as he's been coaching. He does a great job of that, because he schemes the next game. That's something that lends to their success."
Has it surprised you that someone like Justin Tucker, an undrafted rookie, has come in with as much confidence as he has? (Robert Klemko) "I'm just glad he has. He's a confident guy, and he has good reason to be confident. He works really hard at what he does, and he has a lot of talent. He's always a guy that is looking for the next challenge."
I know you talked about the conditioning of your players, but the defense has been on the field for about 90 snaps each of the past games. Given how much the Patriots like to attack, do you think they are going to try to take advantage with their up-tempo [offense] and really run your guys ragged? (Matt Vensel)"It's been good practice for us, hasn't it? We are prepared."
Terrell Suggs had two sacks yesterday. What have you seen from his game, and do you see him getting stronger as the playoffs continue? (Ryan Mink) "I'm a big Terrell Suggs fan. I really am. I'm an admirer of his, in all honesty. He's a great leader. He's a great player. He's playing through something that most guys wouldn't play through. And, yes, he is getting better. You are exactly right. He is improving every single week. We hope that continues."
What did you see from Terrell [Suggs] on Saturday? Haloti [Ngata] said earlier in the day that he just thought that was one of Terrell's top performances. What did you see from him? (Matt Zenitz) "[I saw the] same thing that you guys saw. He was physical with the run. He really pressed the pocket off the edge, squeezed the pocket. I thought all of our guys did a good job of constricting the pocket, and that's something you have to do. We are going to have to do that this week. With Tom Brady, you can't give him a lot of throwing range. That's going to important."
I noticed the last couple of weeks in the secondary being flagged for unnecessary roughness and helmet-to-helmet contact. Will your team going into Foxborough … Will they still have that physical intensity and not worry about the flags, or will they have that in the back of their minds? (Barry Barnes) "We better have it in our minds. It's important to do things within the rules. No different with the Patriots, they better have it in their minds. We will try to do things the right way."
Can you take us back to when Joe [Flacco] released that ball and Jacoby Jones came down with the ball, how it felt on the sidelines? It has to be incredible. (Bill West)"I haven't taken stock of that too much yet. [I felt] probably the same way that all of our fans felt. It's just a good thing."
Ray Rice said after the game the win was even sweeter because it's not typically the game that you guys have pulled out in the past. What do you think about that and how you team is doing under pressure? (Kristen Berset) "I'd have to see that quote to understand what he was saying on that. I haven't seen that quote."
*What do you think about Bryant McKinnie and how he's playing not having started a game during the regular season? He said that to me last week that Ray Lewis actually helped him with his conditioning and eating right. Can you talk about his performance and how he kept himself ready to be able to perform for you guys? (J. Michael) *"Bryant [McKinnie] has played well. You're exactly right. It's been a season in the making for him. Sometimes things work out the way that they work out. You don't necessarily see them coming all the time. He's been working hard all year, and he's moving well. That's the key; he's healthy, and he's moving well. He's been big factor for us on the offensive line. I'm really happy with the way he's been playing. I'm sure Ray [Lewis] did have a big part of it. He and Ray worked together, so that's a plus."
A bunch of guys today were asked how long that loss last year in January [to the Patriots] lingered. How long did it linger for you, and does it bring back any bitter memories? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I don't have that marked on my calendar. I'd have to go back and check. I don't remember putting a red dot on that day after it was over with."
**One way or another, you guys have found a way to have success in the playoffs every year you have been here. Do you see a consistent key to the way that you guys are ready to play this time of the year? *(Childs Walker) *"We have players that understand how to work hard all year. You prepare to be a good team in December and January. We weren't as good of a team in December as we have been in the past, but January has been a good month for us so far. Our guys are hard workers. Our guys are persistent, relentless in their mindset and that, to me, is what it takes."
What did you see on Marshal's [Yanda] pull block in the fourth quarter on Ray Rice's run [to the 3-yard line]? He was the lead blocker and got to the linebacker. (Aaron Wilson) "It was a heck of a block. [That's] just how Marshal does it."
John, you always talk about the process as you go through the season. Now that you are in the playoffs and the wins have built up, is it easier to build momentum going into the next game or do you just repeat that process over and over again? (Mark Zinno) "'Process' is a good word. That's what you do – you just go to work. It's exciting – you can't say it's not exciting. I know all four teams that are in it are excited to be here. There are 28 other teams that would love to be in this situation. These four teams are the four that are here, so you have to be excited about it. I like to think our guys are excited every time they have the chance to play, but this a little more. It is the Championship weekend, and we're a part of it. But the process remains the same. The focus, I hope, is even greater than in other games, but we're excited about being here another week, and we want to extend it out another week if we can."
Do you try to contain your excitement a little bit?* (Mark Zinno)*"We told our guys today, 'We can't play until Sunday, but we can be excited for today. Let's be excited about today and the preparation for today.'"
I remember asking you after the Redskins game why you didn't attack with about 30 seconds to go before the end of regulation. Were you surprised that Denver decided to do the exact same thing and sit on it for the last 30 seconds?* (Stan Charles)*"That's a good question. You can go at it either way, but if you look at it historically, you probably would find more bad things happen in that situation than good things. And, you can lose the game right there real easily. Thirty seconds isn't much time. Even with timeouts, it's not much time to get the ball down in field goal range, and the defense can make a play, and there you go. So, you have to be smart there. I would never question that strategy there."
John, what have you been able to do since the bye week with stopping the run? I know that was an area you wanted to place emphasis on. (Matt Vensel)"I would credit our front – the front five guys really. The defensive line, the outside linebackers, [defensive line coach] Clarence Brooks' group, [linebackers coach] Ted Monachino's group, they're just playing fundamentally so much better than we did early. They're playing with their hat in their hands and their feet, and they're playing good, solid football up front. They're controlling more blocks than they're not controlling; that's the key."
You've also, offensively, stuck with the run, it seems, for longer stretches. I think in the game when you got the turnover, Ray Rice ran the ball five times and you guys ran three times from the 4-yard line earlier in the game, determined to punch it in. Is that a difference from earlier in the season? Is that a renewed focus? (J. Michael)"I really wouldn't look at it that way. You'd have to go back and look at every game, see what the score was, see how we were running the ball. We've got some confidence in our ability to run the ball now, but we had confidence earlier in the year as well. Every game is different, it really is. So, I hate to put a big label on it like that."
John, what is the challenge preparing for the Patriots' running attack? They have a few different backs who do different things, and just not knowing what they're going to do and how they're going to use them … (Matt Vensel)"That probably is the challenge right there. They have really good backs. All those guys are North-South runners, they explode through the line, they pick up yards very quickly, they can all catch the ball out of the backfield really well. Their quarterback does a great job of determining when they're going to run and try to run at some good looks. That's part of what makes that offense so effective."
John, you said you've had conversations with Jim [Harbaugh]. I know you don't like jumping ahead, but have you had any conversations about a Harbaugh Super Bowl? (Bill West)"Not that we'd ever admit to." *(laughing)
Ray Rice has called this a team of destiny. Are you? (Erik Brady)"I don't know. I don't know. I'd have to look up 'destiny' first and figure out exactly what it means. It's a pretty big word if you think about it. But our destiny right now is to go to Foxborough. That's our destiny, and that's the destiny that we've earned. And we'll be there on time, and we'll be ready to try to play our best game – and we're going to have to, because they're going to be prepared to play their best game."
John, earlier in the season when you decided to sign Corey Graham, how much did you really think he was going to improve you on the defense, and how much did you really scout that part of his game versus what he could do on special teams? (Kris Jones)"There wasn't as much to look at, because he hadn't played that many snaps on defense in Chicago. But, the thing that was interesting about Corey, is when he did play on defense, he played really well. So, we felt like he was going to be a contributor on defense. But the way we do it with all of our guys is we're about competition. We just think football is a competition sport. Really, it's hard to go by reputation in this sport; you'd get exposed so quickly. So, Corey knew that if he came in here and he earned the playing time, he would get it. And that's what's happened."