*With the Ravens traveling to Kansas City for this weekend's wild-card matchup, Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley and linebacker Derrick Johnson spoke with Baltimore media via conference call.
Topics discussed covered their thoughts on Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis, Johnson's surprise at winning the division and Haley's interest in how his team will recover from a huge loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 17.
Here are the highlights:*
How has your team responded after last week's big loss to Oakland?
Todd Haley: "Well, I don't know that. We'll find out on Sunday. They were out there, and we were practicing today and working, and you know, this is new for our team for the most part. We've got some guys with some experience at this stage of the season, but not a lot. We're a team in transition that wasn't a very good team for a period of time that is trying to change that and has made progress, but we're not there yet and we've got a lot of work to do. So, each and every one of these experiences is a big one for our team and its development. So, we'll see. That was a difficult loss and to a division rival, and we've got to bounce back."
What stands out to you about Joe Flacco?
TH:"A lot of things stand out – big, physical, drop-back quarterback that's got a big arm that can make all the throws. He has very good vision, he understands the concepts that are being called and the spacing or progression of the routes. Just a good, developing quarterback that with each year that I've seen him, he continues to make progress, and I think that shows, and just how the team has progressed."
What do you think of Ray Lewis when you watch him on tape?
TH:"Well, he's a phenomenal player, and has been. When Ray came out, I was actually in personnel and on scouting and had to write a report on him, so it's amazing. He was a great player in college and has been one of the great players in the NFL and just amazing the durability and the ability to be in there year-in and year-out and be at the center or the core of that defense and play at a high level."
Have you been able to put a finger on how the team went from a four-win team in 2009 to a 10-win team this season?
TH:"I think it's been a process. You know, like I said, the job was available for a reason. I got the opportunity to come in here and be the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs because they had been struggling for an extended period of time. So, it was a big job, not a real pleasant job – especially last year – but there's a process that you go through. I've been fortunate enough. I was in New York as a scout in the personnel department when we won three games in two years, and then part of the coaching staff when we won nine, and then 12 the next year. In Chicago, I was part of an eight-game turnaround, Dallas, part of a pretty good turnaround, and then obviously Arizona, being part of that team that hadn't won much ever and we were able to get pretty close to the Promised Land.
"I had some experience as an assistant coach, and a coordinator, being part of turnarounds. It takes time, it takes work, it takes work, but you set your expectations, you let the players know what's expected of them and how we're going to do things, and now, we're two years into that process. So, we made progress throughout last year, we made progress throughout a second offseason together, we've continued to bring in personnel upgrades that creates competition at as many positions as we can, and we're making progress. We're not there yet, but we are making progress. I feel like we've got it going in the right direction and we've just go to continue getting a little better every day."
How is the situation with Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis heading to Florida, yet still being with the Chiefs through this season, working out?
TH:"I've been real clear to our guys here. You know, I made a statement on that, and Charlie's done a terrific job here. He's going to continue to do a terrific job, and he's a professional, and he's good at what he does, and that's the way it's going to go."
LB Derrick Johnson
How has the Chiefs' rushing attack helped the defense?
Derrick Johnson: "It's an ultimate team game, football is. When your offense runs the ball like they do, it definitely helps us out. It helps us win, too. When we do a good job of stopping the run, and our offense stays on the field and runs the ball like they do every week, that gives us a big chance to win."
Are you surprised about the team's success this season?
DJ: "Every year, you plan on winning your division. I don't want to say I'm surprised that we won our division, but you can say [I'm a] little bit surprised at the quick turnaround. But, that's football. Once we get our chemistry going on both sides of the ball, you give yourself a chance to be successful."
What have Weis and Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel brought to Kansas City?
DJ: "They brought a lot of experience to this team – the coordinators on both sides of the ball. We have a lot of respect for them. Todd does a great job of getting this team ready to go during the week. He's a great motivator – passionate guy about what we need to get done on Sunday. He's like a kid in the candy store; he's loving the success that's going on right now. And, everybody's in the boat; everybody's buying into the system."
After making the playoffs, is winning Sunday just a bonus?
DJ:"No, you can't look at it like that. You can't look at it like that. We don't look at it like that. When you get yourself in the tournament, you're trying to win it all, and it comes one game at a time. You'd be selling yourself short if you go into the playoffs thinking, 'We didn't do that [well] last year. We did well this year, let's just… That's it. It's good enough.' No. Football is a sense of urgency to win every year. And why not go for it all? That's what we're trying to do."
Are the Chiefs using the sentiment that the Ravens are expected to win the game as motivation?
DJ: "You can't look into the media and look into the papers and look into the news. The Ravens have had a lot of success in the playoffs, and we haven't lately. We haven't been here lately. So, sure, they're going to be favored, but that's football. That's why we play the game. We respect them a lot, so they should be [favored]."
How critical have the rookies been to the team's success?
DJ: "We've got a great amount of respect for our rookies. Our rookies are – especially our two rookie safeties [Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis] – they really came up and played big ball this year. Especially Eric Berry, being a first-round pick and having that pressure on him, I think he's handling it really well. Lewis is our other rookie free agent, well, a late-round pick rookie guy, but he definitely came along and really turned some heads. I'm a starter and I play well at a high level, and they've really helped us out this year."