Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement:"Good to see everybody – appreciate you guys being here. We had a really good practice – really strong practice, very focused, very sharp. You see all the guys working after practice, which is what our guys do. We're getting ready to play."
John, is it just another Sunday and a big game, or does Christmas play into the whole thing. Do you like the fact that it's Christmas Day? (Peter Schmuck) "That's a great question. I do think it's special. It's a pretty amazing opportunity. We actually talked about that in the team meeting today, because you're very grateful to be able to be a part of this whole thing – all of us are. Everybody standing in this circle is. You get a chance to do this for a living. How amazing is this? This is what we do, and we get to do it every single day. Now you get to do it on Christmas Day, one of the two most important holidays of the year, to me, that and Easter. You get to do it with the whole nation watching. Something that people care about when they're going to be … I think I heard Mike [Tomlin] talk about that on Monday, and I thought he said it really well. He says a lot of things really well, and he talked about that really well, and I would just agree with what he said. To be able to be part of this, football, Christmas Day, be in people's homes, and do what we do, and do what we love to do, is just really an awesome thing."
*How are you going to handle it in terms of a Christmas celebration, family and all of that? Will there be a dinner beforehand? (Jerry Coleman) *"No, we'll be on our normal routine. The guys will get Christmas when they get back the next day. We won't have the luxury. I guess if you're in town and the home team, then you'll have a chance to do that, but we'll be kind of on a business schedule."
Is there anything odd about Christmas being about love and joy and all that goes with the Ravens-Steelers game? (Ryan Mink) "It all goes hand in hand. When you philosophically sit down and look at all that and examine your life, and you think about what it's really all about in life, you'll see how it all fits together perfectly. Very deep question. (laughter) You could use some deeper thinking. Is that what you said?" (Reporter responds: "Maybe sometimes.") "I like that." (laughter)
For people who haven't experienced Ravens-Steelers the way you have, what is it that makes it so special? (Pete Gilbert)"It's hard to describe. It's like a lot of things. You know it when you see it and when you're a part of it and when you live it. There's no game I think … Especially in Pittsburgh for us … It's great at our place. It's great there, but there's nothing like going in there with the terrible towels, and they basically have the yellow and the black everywhere. You see those guys come out who you're very familiar with and you respect so much. We respect their organization. We respect their quarterback. We respect their head coach. These guys are great at what they do – all of them. It's something I've really grown to love. It's rough, tough, discipline, hardnosed. It's really everything football is supposed to be. To me, that's what makes it special."
John, you've relied heavily on the pass this year. It seems like QB Joe Flacco has been up to the task. How do you assess his season coming off a knee injury and the fact that he has had to pass so much? (David Ginsburg)"I'm not really into making all of those kinds of big picture things right now. I'm focused on Sunday. We're trying to play the best game we can play Sunday. I can say this about Joe: I respect everything about what he does and how he does it, how he competes and everything like that. The other stuff, the big picture questions, are really for another time. I'm just excited to go play the game on Sunday. I know Joe is and everybody is. We're preparing and planning on going and playing our best football."
He does play well in Pittsburgh. Is it just his makeup? He has had some success there. (David Ginsburg)"That's a great question. I think it's a great point. It would be a great question for Joe. I do know that he's had really good games in Pittsburgh, and we need another great game from him in Pittsburgh."
The Steelers have won five straight, and we know they have a lot of weapons, but defensively, they seem to be playing very well now. What have you seen from their defense lately? (Cliff Brown) "They probably settled down. They are playing very good defense. They're limiting the rushing yards. They played really well on third down. They've given up very few big plays on the back end. They've tackled well. They do a good job pressuring the quarterback. They have a lot of young guys out there. They've incorporated their younger players now. You look at those guys, and they're playing really well. Coach [Keith] Butler does a good job coaching the young guys up. Yes, they're playing really good defense."
If you don't have CB Jimmy Smith, what will the challenge be like compared to if you have him out there? (Mark Schwartz)"Like I said, those are thing that we assess internally all the time. We'll continue to do that. We'll play with the guys we have. If Jimmy is ready, he'll be out there playing. If he's not, he won't. That's a medical thing. We respect the medical staff and all of those injuries. If he can play, he'll play, and if he can't, we'll go with the guys we have."
It looks like WR Steve Smith Sr. has a holiday alter ego. Do you guys have an advantage having an elf on the shelf going into a Christmas game? (Brent Harris, note Smith Sr. arrived to the press conference wearing an elf costume.) "Are you talking about the outfit he had at the holiday party with the kids?" (Senior vice president of public & community relations Kevin Byrne responds: "He has it on now.") "He has it on now? (laughter) He's full of surprises. I haven't seen that yet. I don't want to see it, maybe we just leave it – is he coming right out now? *(laughter) *That's a good segue. Let's segue to the elf on a shelf. There he is. I give you, Steve Smith Sr."
QB Joe Flacco
On what it means to him to be coming close to throwing 4,000 yards for the first season in his career:"Well, it will mean a lot if we can win a couple of games down the stretch and get in the playoffs. Really, other than that, it means we can stop being asked about it."
On how he would assess his season, considering his statistical success: "We are throwing the ball more. * *We have had to throw the ball a lot more in a lot of instances. It is tough to look back at the whole thing, but we have hit our bumps here and there. But I think we are starting to hit a stride. When you come out here and watch our practices, you can tell we are starting to hit a stride. This second half of the season, it is coming together with some of the new guys and our offensive line play and myself. I think it is all coming together at a good time, and we have been playing really well lately."
On why he has had success at Heinz Field: "When you dream of being in the NFL, you dream of going into hostile environments in high-pressure situations, where a lot is on the line, and people are into it. You do not picture playing in front of 10 people, like you do in high school for some of us. (laughter) You picture going into a place and playing in front of 70,000 people that hate you. That is what makes it fun. Obviously, we get a chance to play there a lot. I have played there a lot. It is not about being comfortable there or not being comfortable there. It is just about the fact that it is a big game in a high-pressure situation. They don't like us, and that is what it is all about."
On why it is fun to play in front of 70,000 people who hate him: "It is not a lot of fun when you don't win. But when you go in there and you do your job and you play the way you dream of playing and you always … When you are sitting in bed at night or thinking about what you want to do, you dream of those situations – being put in those situations and coming through in the moment. That is a lot of fun. I think we have all said it a bunch. There are not too many feelings in this world that are better than winning an NFL football game. That probably gets amplified a little bit when you get to silence a crowd."
On if he questions the decision to throw the ball against the Eagles on a late fourth quarter drive in hindsight:"No, we are not questioning anything, on my part. My job is to go out there and run the plays and do them successfully. We want to go ahead by 17 there and put the game out. I think the more aggressive you are in those situations, the more it is going to pay off at the end of the road. Yes, you might come up and bite yourself in the butt every now and then, but it is our job to recover and go win the game anyway. Last time I checked, we played the Eagles last week, and we won the game."
On if it seems "illogical" to play the Steelers on a day full of peace, love and joy like Christmas:"Yes, we mentioned it. (laughter) They are going to be wearing their dark uniforms; we are going to be wearing our light [uniforms], and it will be Christmas. Everyone keeps telling us, 'You are going to ruin our Christmas,' or, 'You are going to make our Christmas.' I'm like, 'That is the last thing we are worried about.' We are going to worry about … It is not Christmas to us as football players. We are going to be in a hotel for part of the day, wake up and go play the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is going to be a lot of fun. We can enjoy Christmas that night and on the plane ride home. It might be a little bit illogical, but I think people are going to love it. I think people are going to be sitting at home on Christmas and loving the fact that they get to watch Ravens-Steelers."
On how much development he has seen from rookie T Ronnie Stanley since the previous matchup against the Steelers:"Ronnie's head is in the right place, and he is always working to get better and better. Obviously, it shows in his play. I think that the one thing he has been able to work on is being more physical at the point of attack and really getting after people. I think he is doing a great job in that. I have said it before: I think Marshal [Yanda] being on the left side with him is definitely a confidence [booster]. I think it helps him with his confidence, everything. You talk about a kid with his head in the right place and willing to get better and willing to work and doing all the right things – he is that guy."
On if this game has the feeling of being another classic Ravens-Steelers game:"They are all such big games for us players. I guess when you are looking at it from the outside, and it is going to be more of a primetime game and more of a TV event, I guess you can say that, yes. But for us as players, they are all big games, and they all kind of feel the same at the end of the day."
On what S Eric Weddle has brought to the team and if he got snubbed from making the Pro Bowl as a first choice: "There is no doubt [he got snubbed]. When it comes to the Pro Bowl, it is about stats, and it is really about the fans, which it should be. I think Eric's season speaks for itself, just what he has gone out there and done – tackles, interceptions and all of that stuff. Now, having said that, you do not get a chance to see the kind of leader he is, the type of person [he is]. It is not easy to come off of a new team, come in here and try to prove to everybody, 'I belong here; I'm a good player.' And at the same time, be a leader right away. That is the thing you can feel from Eric. He has come in here, and he has not been bashful. He has made the right impact right away in leading this football team. How he plays on the field, that speaks for itself. Of course he should be there [in the Pro Bowl]."
On his reaction to FB Kyle Juszczyk making the Pro Bowl: "I am pumped for him. Kyle has been juiced about that. That has been in his head for probably the last three years. I am really happy for him. He is a great teammate, a good friend. I know he is excited about it, and I am excited about it for him. It is awesome."
WR Steve Smith Sr.
On his elf costume looking like a rookie outfit:"No, this is a new one. I have a whole bunch of them now. The company loves that I wore the … Which one did I wear?" (Reporter: "Yoda.") "Yoda. So they sent me a whole bunch of them. I have about seven of them now." (Ravens website reporter: "You do not have enough games left to wear them, perhaps.") "You are supposed to work for the Ravens! Not anymore. Your last day." (laughter)
On if the company providing the costumes is a new endorsement opportunity: "It is just free clothes. Just free clothes."
On how his elf costume helps him get ready for the Steelers on Sunday: "Well, Christmas is Sunday. I think it is going to be festive. It is a festive mood, so [I'm] trying to get festive."
On if playing on Christmas is a good thing, even though it takes players away from potentially being able to be with their families:"It depends on your family situation. If you have older kids, they kind of understand. When you have younger kids, you want to be in those moments. It will not really feel like Christmas for the guys that are playing, because it is a 4:25, 4:15 game. So a lot of our morning is going to be preparation for the game. We travel on Christmas Eve, so I don't have … Up in my place here, I have a pig as my Christmas Day, and my gifts are under the pig. It is a pink-lit pig. I try not to do too much, because we are going to be playing, so that means more stuff I have to take down. It is not really a Christmas for us as players that are participating in the game. It is business as usual. You kind of just do little stuff, but it doesn't change it – good game."
On what Ravens-Steelers is about compared to Christmas being about peace, love, and joy: "It is going to be joy, not a lot of peace. Somebody is going to come [out as the] victor; somebody is going to come out [as the] loser."
On if he thinks about how many games he has left in his career: "I try not to. I just try to be in the moment. I try not to think too far ahead. I try not to make this game more than it already is, which is a lot. You just try to narrow your focus, make it play by play, day by day, game by game."
On if the Ravens-Steelers games are more physical than any other game the team plays:"I think all of our AFC North games are pretty physical. There is a professional hate with each other. It is also [that] the Pittsburgh and Ravens rivalry is pretty fierce, pretty intense, hard-hitting. It has been that way for a long time. Our fans hate them. Their fans hate us. It is a great divorce."
On if he has any holiday message for Steelers S Mike Mitchell: "You have to be a little bit more savvy than that. Even for an elf, you have to be more savvy than that." (laughter)
On the Ravens throwing the ball a lot this year: "I do not see a problem with that. It is a passing league."
On if QB Joe Flacco is the type of guy you want in an offense that has had to rely on the pass:"Of course, yes. As a receiver, you always want to pass the ball. If you are asking a running back, they say run the ball. You ask a lineman …. When you have all of the guys on the offense, depending on which guy you ask, you are going to get a different answer. It just depends on what perspective you want to have. Do you want to run it, or do you want to pass? You talk to a wide receiver, [they] love passing the ball. I have not met a pass that I didn't like." (laughter)
S Eric Weddle
On QB Joe Flacco this season:"From the outside looking in, you always have a perception versus reality. The first day I got in, he's just very genuine. Joe is who Joe is. I can respect that, and I love that. He's the same guy out here at practice. He's the same guy at lunch sitting with rookies – sitting with older guys, talking to the equipment guys or the firemen [equipment assistants]. I love that he is who he is. He's not fake. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. He plays like crap [or] he plays great; he's going to tell you. When your leader does that and [is] the face of your franchise, everyone follows suit. I've always lived by that. I don't make excuses for good plays [or] bad plays. I man up for myself. I take accountability. When you have that from the top, it makes things go smoothly. He's a great teammate, great person, great father. He's definitely a special person."
On if not being voted to the Pro Bowl really doesn't bother him: "Do I think I played one of my best seasons? Yes. Do I think maybe the best? Yeah. But I don't have any animosity towards the other guys that make it. I don't know them from each game. I'm buddies with everybody. It is what is it is. I'm not going to waste time or energy spent on something I can't control. It's awesome for the guys that made it – for 'Juice' [Kyle Juszczyk] and Marshal [Yanda]. Marshal is six times running. It's amazing when you think about it. [Justin] Tucker is having an outstanding season, and C.J. [Mosley] is a consummate pro. He's the natural. I'm happy for my teammates. It's a team game. I know how it works. I've been around a long time. I know what my teammates and the organization think of me and what I've brought to this team. At the end of the day, that's really all that matters. The people that know me see what I do on and off the field. That's what you count on. That's what you hold dear to yourself. It happens every year. It's no different that it happened to me."
On the plan to slow down Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown without CB Jimmy Smith: "Jimmy might play. We don't know, geez. We don't know what will happen. We'll see Sunday night. Christmas under the lights. It's going to be tough with Jimmy or without. They present so many challenges and matchups across the board. They're playing outstanding football. They won five in a row. They're running the ball efficiently. Ben is playing outstanding, making plays inside the pocket and outside. We just have to play each play like it will determine if we win or lose, in all honesty. If we give up a big play, we give up a long touchdown, that may be the difference. If we all have that focus and we all have that mindset that this play that I'm about to play in could be the difference … If we have that sincerity, that focus, that determination to play my best each play, I think we'll have a great performance."
On if the reputation of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry was proven with the game in November: "I think, obviously, this game has a lot more meaning, as the winner most likely … Obviously, we have to win both to win the division, but if they win, they win the division against their rival, against a really good team in us, at home, under the lights. The circumstances are very unique being on Christmas Day. I think I played on Christmas once, Christmas Eve or the day after a few times. It's just amazing to sit back and think about. When you sit back and think that as a little kid you were sitting there watching games on Christmas, [now] you're going to be playing, and everybody is going to be watching. That's pretty surreal to think about. We have such a great opportunity to not only play in this kind of setting, but to have the chance to win the division. Having not had the chance [with San Diego] the last three years has been miserable in December, having not had meaningful games. Right now, you're just trying to give everything you've got for the team to play your best and have a chance at the division."
On having OLB Terrell Suggs on his side for this game:"He brings the fire, passion and energy, but also a calming influence to the whole defense and to the team. We all look to him for these types of games, not only to be our leader – be our playmaker – but also to calm us when things aren't going to so well, to calm our nerves and be like, 'Hey, Let's stick together. Let's do what we're coached to do. We're a great defense, a great team. Let's go play like it.' He's an unbelievable player, person, and it's been an honor to be with him these last six months."
On the most relevant take-away from the first Steelers game this season: "No two games are the same. Obviously, they'll make adjustments. They're playing really well. We just know it goes across the board. If you look at all of our wins and losses, we play well on first and second down. When we limit a team's running game, and we don't give up big plays, we play well defensively. When we don't, and we have spotty play here and there, we struggle, and it's a battle for four quarters. We know we have to play great quarters one, two and obviously, third and fourth quarter and go win the game. If we get that chance – we get that opportunity, we have to make the plays. It's going to come down to one or two plays in the fourth quarter. Hopefully we make the plays to win the game."
On ILB C.J. Mosley's selection to the Pro Bowl: "When I first got here, I was excited to play with him, because I've seen him. I was at the Pro Bowl with him in his rookie year. He's just light years ahead of where you'd think a third-year player would be, both mentally and the way he carries himself. He's a very quiet, humble kid. He takes coaching. He takes when I alert him to something or tell him, 'Maybe this is a better way to do this here on these plays. You can count on me this way.' He soaks it up, and it's like he's been practicing it for years. He's a special talent – a special teammate, a guy that leads by the way he carries himself and the way he practices. It's old school, and I love it. I love being around him. I love trying to give and share everything I can to make him a better player."
STEELERS CONFERENCE CALLS: WEEK 16
Head Coach Mike Tomlin
I know every game is important, especially in the NFL, but when you have a game like this with the AFC North title is at stake, does that add a little motivation?"I think the motivation is very evident and it's clear – one game for the North title. It needs no endorsement from me. If you can't get up for that, then you're a dead man."
You guys have been very good at home in December. Is that an advantage for you guys heading into Sunday's game?"I wouldn't necessarily call it an advantage. It's an advantage if you make it one. The environment is generally going to be a Steeler-friendly one, but it's going to come down to playmaking. We can't ride the wave that the environment creates. We have to create the environment."
The Ravens-Steelers rivalry has been defined by iconic names like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Hines Ward, Big Ben and Troy Polamalu. But, you and John Harbaugh have elevated the rivalry for almost a decade now. You guys have nearly split the wins and losses during that time. What makes Harbaugh such a difficult competitor?**"His goals are similar to mine, and that's to win and dominate the North in an effort to push yourself closer toward the ultimate prize. Whenever you have similar goals and similar commitments, rivalries are created. I think he would agree with me that the men that you mentioned first and foremost, the legendary football players, the guys like Ray Lewis and Hines Ward and others, are the guys that have really laid a foundation that makes it special."
I know you guys are very similar, but if there was one trait in particular you could steal from John Harbaugh, what would it be? "I've never worked with him, so I wouldn't have any answer to that."
Is there one trait in particular that you might admire about him? "Like I said, I base those judgments off of what I know and experience from a day-to-day standpoint. Generally, I don't have a lot of opinions regarding people I haven't worked with."
You mentioned some of the players that have defined this rivalry. Is OLB Terrell Suggs one of them? "No question."
What's your impression of him? "He's one of those generational players. He's played at an extremely high level for a long time, and he's not just defined by one element of his play. He's a pass rusher. He smashes the run. He's screen and perimeter ball aware. He's a very complete football player."
Is he the type of player you kind of wish you had on your side? "Who said I didn't?"* (laughter) *
How would you assess the way QB Joe Flacco has been playing? He had has had a few more interceptions than usual, but a lot more yards."I'm going to let Coach Harbaugh evaluate his play. That's not my job. It's our job to be ready for him."
QB Joe Flacco had success against you guys, particularly in Pittsburgh. Do you think it's his makeup or luck? "I haven't looked at it in totality. Really, I've just been preparing to play this week and looking at the things they've done of late and the things that are going to be significant in terms of what's determining the outcome of the game. No question that Joe's going to be a big element of that."
QB Ben Roethlisberger
On how it must be a typical Ravens-Steelers week with him having an illness or injury, considering Roethlisberger began the conference call admitting he has a cold:"I'm pretty sure this illness will be gone by the time Sunday gets here."* (laughter)*
On if this feels like a classic Ravens-Steelers game and the talk of people saying the rivalry has fallen off a little bit:"I don't know who started that talk. I don't think this thing, this rivalry, has lost any of its luster. It sounds crazy, but it is a fun rivalry, because it is physical, and it always means something. I have a lot of respect for a lot of those guys, and I think the feeling is pretty mutual. This is shaping up … Then, you add in Christmas and all these things … This is what everyone wants and expects."
On how much his knee injury affected him in the previous game against Baltimore this season:"Yes, well, I had major surgery [three weeks before], and I went back out there a little early. But I don't ever make excuses. If I wasn't able to get out there and play … I still ran for a touchdown. It was not a real long scamper or anything, but I was able to move around and what not. You want to be as healthy as you can against these guys, because that is how good this defense is."
On who he sees as the Steelers' biggest rival:"I think anybody in the AFC North [is our biggest rival]. I would assume everybody would say each team [in the AFC North]. I would probably say this one maybe has a little more than the others, just because of all the history and everything that is there and the players. That probably would be what I would have to say. This one maybe takes a little bit of an edge."
On how much he enjoys competing with Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs and what he sees from Suggs on film: "He needs to be tested. (laughter) I don't know how that man still plays at such a high level as old he is. He is an awesome football player. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. Him and I have had a lot of battles against each other. Like I said, a lot of respect for the way he plays the game, the respect he has for the game. [He is] just a tremendous football player, and it is awesome to compete against him."
On if the Steelers will come out aggressive or if they will begin the game trying to run the football:"This sounds like a coach. Is this [Ravens defensive coordinator] coach Pees talking? You can't pull a Rex Ryan on me." (laughter)
On if he thinks the Ravens' defense is different without CB Jimmy Smith on the field:"Well, he is a tremendous cornerback. He is long. He runs. He is smart; he knows how to play the game. He is a good football player, so if he is not going to be out there, you take away one of the best in the business. Of course it is a little different, but they are still the best defense – one of the best defenses – in the NFL. They are going to have other guys that they are ready to plug in and make up for it. I know [Eric] Weddle is back there playing some really good football. I know he is making San Diego eat some crow after getting rid of him, and he is loving every minute of that. This is just an all-around good defense. Obviously, [it is] not quite the same when you do not have everybody out there, but still a tremendous defense."
On how important RB Le'Veon Bell has been to the Steelers' five-game win streak:"It has been great being able to be a balanced offense. Teams have been doing a lot of two-high [safeties] stuff, taking away the pass, taking away A.B. [Antonio Brown], the big plays. They are giving us the underneath stuff, and that is running the ball and short passes. For him to be able to do what he has been able to do has just really helped us."
On if he can pinpoint why he has had some struggles against the Ravens and if it could potentially be due to the Ravens' familiarity with him and the Ravens always having a good defense:"I think it is a little bit of all of that. They obviously have always been a very good defense. They have very good football players over there. You play each other twice a year, you are going to learn a lot about each other. They have been able to do that, especially here recently getting after me and us. We are hoping that we can just do what we can to win a football game."
On if he figured the AFC North may come down to the Christmas Day game against the Ravens when he initially saw the schedule:"It seems like it always does, doesn't it? That is kind of just how this rivalry and this division has been. I do not think anyone would want it any other way."
On if it feels like the Ravens have had the Steelers' number recently:"Yes, they have our number. We are just going to try to find a way to win the football game."
On if the Steelers are using the Ravens winning the last four games as extra motivation:"If you need extra motivation for this game, then something is wrong with you."
On if it is true that it is bad karma to mess with the Steelers' terrible towel:"I don't know. Give it a shot, we will see what happens." (laughter)