Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement:"Good to see everybody. Thanks for coming. We had a really great practice and had a good week of preparation. Obviously, a team of this caliber in this kind of situation will get everybody's attention. This game has had our full attention, and we are excited to go play on Sunday. We will continue to prepare until that time."
**Did Bernard [Pierce] practice today? *(Mark Zinno) *"Yes."
**Are you feeling pretty good about the team's overall state of health? Injury report has been fairly clean this week. *(Luke Jones) *"Yes, we look good. We look good. We are very similar to what we have been the last few weeks. [I] don't think there will be any surprises – barring any surprises. We should be in good shape injury-wise."
[Defensive coordinator] Dean Pees said yesterday a way to make life uncomfortable for Tom Brady is to hire Tonya Harding. (laughter) (Mark Zinno) "Is she available?"* (laughing)*
*The teams that have success against Tom [Brady] – including you guys – have managed to frustrate him a little bit. Is it as simple to say to bang him around a little bit and get after him? (Mark Zinno) *"It's easier said than done. Any quarterback you want to get him off the spot and disrupt the timing of things. He, obviously, gets the ball out very quickly. They have a lot of control passing stuff underneath with good receivers, mainly 83 [Wes Welker] and 81 [Aaron Hernandez] who do a great job underneath, but all of them. The offensive line does a good job, so that's something that you shoot for doing. You have to do it; you have to be successful doing that or you're not going to stop this offense."
Is there anything more else that you can say to this team before Sunday? Do you have some special speech planned without divulging what it is, or has everything that can be said been said? (Jerry Coleman) "I don't think there's anything that I can say to them or anybody could really say to them that they don't already know – that they aren't prepared for, but we will say a few things anyway. That's just kind of what we do. All the guys communicate. We'll talk. It's an exciting time. It's the best time of the year. It's the second-best week of the year. We are trying to earn the best week of the year. That's what we are shooting for. We are going to try to stay together after this game. That's our goal, so that's what we're shooting for."
*Last time that you played the Patriots, Cary Williams got targeted a lot by Tom Brady. What have you seen from him in terms of that game going forward? I know he's kind of frustrated by questions because Tom Brady targeted him. Do you feel like he's improved? *(J. Michael) "It's a ridiculous question, so I can see why he'd be frustrated by it. Great quarterbacks like Tom Brady go after the defense. They go after whatever they feel like the route calls for, what the coverage calls for."
*He says that he had a chip on his shoulder going into last week going against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Is that something that is good? (J. Michael) *"You will have to ask him that. That's a good question for him, if he is the one that said it."
Coming off being home against the Colts, an emotional game, and then an emotional finish in Denver, how do you settle that down a little bit more to try to stay more focused? (Bill West) "Football is emotional. It's an emotional game. It's a tough game. You put so much into it. These guys have put so much into their careers and everything. Controlling that and managing that and focusing that energy is what you have to do to play well. It's going to come down to execution. It's going to come down to the team that plays the best football for that three-and-a-half hour timeframe. That's what it always comes down to. Our focus and our energy is going to be directed towards that."
It seems like the 12th man is traveling very hard for this game. Lot of buses and we are hearing it all the way across … It sounds like they are going to travel very well to this game, too. (Bill West) "That would be great. I always love the 'O' chant [during the National Anthem. We are going to do our best to make them happy and proud that they went up there."
**Dean [Pees] said yesterday, as well, that Bill Belichick always looks for weaknesses and tries to exploit them. Knowing him and coaching against him as you have, did you do any extra this week to try to eliminate the weaknesses or do you focus more on your strengths and try to play to those? *(Mark Zinno) *"Probably both. You always have to chase your weaknesses. You always have to try to improve those things whatever they might be. It could be field goal protection. It could be coverage. It could be anything. You have to try to shore anything up that you feel can be attacked, and at the same time, you want to build on your strengths and find ways to attack their weaknesses. You worry about yourself first, and you try to be the best team that you can be in terms of execution. But they have weaknesses, too, and we will go after whatever we feel that we can go after with them, as well."
**Obviously, your focus is on your game. Do you plan to keep one eye open on the game that is before yours – at least getting score updates throughout that? *(Garrett Downing) *"Like everybody, I'm sure I'll see the score for the game and everything. I'll be pulling hard for the 49ers. [I] can't get emotionally wrapped up in that stuff. Obviously, there will be focus on our game, but I'm proud of Jim [Harbaugh]. He's a great coach. He's a great competitor. He's the toughest competitor that I have ever seen. I've had to compete with him and deal with him since he was born. He's a handful. He's one of the toughest competitors you're ever going to see. He's the toughest competitor that I have ever seen. Obviously, you have seen how he's built his football team. That's the way they play."
Is it more of a calm state for you now? This being your third time on this stage, you know what to expect as far as the pageantry and everything like that. Just your overall state having done this … (Luke Jones) "I haven't done an analysis on my emotions or my state over the years. It's probably for you guys to judge. You can put a gauge on that."
C Matt Birk
On what his plans were coming out of Harvard prior to being drafted in the sixth round:"I was thinking [my NFL career] would probably be pretty quick. Not really a career, more of just an experience. Those first couple weeks of training camp my rookie year were pretty rough. I just kept working hard. I've been real lucky. I got drafted into a good situation where it was just an awesome offensive line. They didn't need me to play right away. I could learn from the guys who were the best in the league at what they were doing and learn the game, the program and how to be a pro. I've been very blessed to be in great situations all along the way in my career."
On if he is in better condition this year than he was at this point last year:"I don't remember last year. I feel good. At this point in the year, it doesn't matter. During the season you think about how you feel, needing to get treatment or whatever. At this stage of the season, you don't really think about it because we're one of four teams left vying for a championship. It really doesn't matter how you feel. You'll feel fine in February, March and April. That'll be the time to feel good. I'm out there every week, so yeah, I feel good."
On Patriots DT Vince Wilfork:"He's a great player. I have a ton of respect for him. I've been playing against him for a long time. When you go against him, you've got to pack a lunch. He's a physical presence, but he's very smart, too. His football IQ is off the charts. Obviously, he makes a lot of plays, does a lot of things and is a very disruptive force. It's going to be a great challenge for all of us up front to go up against a defense anchored by him in the middle."
On if his health convinces him that he can play for a few more years:"Perhaps, or perhaps not. I'm a live-in-the-moment kind of guy. I really am. I never thought I'd be here in 2013 still playing football. I don't worry about the future. I don't make any decisions until I have to. That's kind of my motto. It serves me well."
On the effect LB Ray Lewis' retirement has had on the team:"A guy like Ray Lewis, you send him off properly with press conferences and all that stuff. Guys like me, I just disappear, and you are sitting around one day like, 'Whatever happened to that one guy that his locker used to be over here?' That's how it goes." (laughter)
QB Joe Flacco
On if he is doing anything special to get prepared to play a cold weather game: "No. We were actually in here [indoors] for a couple of days. We just went outside today. There's nothing you really can do. You just have to go adjust and get ready to play football."
On if the experience of being on this stage in previous years helps him: "In terms of going out there and playing football, it's another football game. All the other stuff that surrounds it, we've been here before, so we know how to put it on the back-burner. We've had some experience in just tuning that stuff out and just going and playing. So, I think that might help a little bit."
On the big plays and stretching the field: "We've got guys on the outside that can do it. Torrey [Smith] has been big. Jacoby [Jones], Anquan [Boldin] – those guys are good at doing those kinds of things. We've been able to exploit some of that on the defenses that we have played. It definitely gets us going. It is a big part of why we won those games. I don't think we need it to be successful, but it definitely helps us out."
On developing a personal relationship with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell: "Our relationship has been great all year. It was awesome to have him in the room as a QB coach and have the talks and be around each other a lot, so you can have honest conversations and grow your relationship. He has been great. He is a great guy, so it has been easy to talk to him about certain things and make changes, make adjustments and things like that."
On the comfort level to be able to bounce ideas off each other: "Yes, it's kind of what we do. It is just a time to go in there and see what we do well and see what we do not. Bouncing ideas off each other and things that can make us better."
On looking forward to matchups like this against other elite quarterbacks:"I don't know. It is just what is called for right now. It is definitely a great opportunity. It is tough to look at it like that. These guys are a good football team. We feel like we have a good football team. As much as people want to talk about the quarterback matchups, that's not really what comes down to winning football games."
On having the feeling of being on a team of destiny: "I guess it would lead you to believe that we know something that other people don't know, so we can go out there and play with that confidence of that. But, I think we play like that all the time. I think we feel like we are a great team and nobody can beat us. I think when you play with that kind of confidence, it definitely gives you a leg up just in case the other team isn't necessarily playing with that. I don't want to say they are not; I am sure that most of the time they are. But if anything, it may give you a little bit of an advantage just because in order to be successful in this league and really in anything, you have to have that confidence. Right now, we are walking around with a little bit of that."
On how he manages not being overwhelmed by expectations and pressure "I think it's just me. I don't really do things I am not comfortable with doing. It is just who I am. This is a big stage, but there are things that are a lot bigger – things that matter a lot more than this. We play this game because we love it and have fun doing it, and we play to go win. We understand that we do everything in our power to go win that football game. So, there's no need to get all worked up over stuff like that when you know you have put all of your time, all of your effort into going out there and having fun and winning the football game. There's no need to blow it out of proportion and get overwhelmed by that kind of thing. I think when you have that mindset, it is easy to go out there and stay calm and play in that moment."