HEAD COACH JOHN HARBAUGH
Opening statement:"I appreciate everybody being here. We are preparing for the [Kansas City] Chiefs. [It's the] first conference championship game [in Baltimore] since 1971, I've been told. [As a] matter of fact, [WBAL-TV sports director and Ravens Radio play-by-play announcer] Gerry Sandusky told me that right after the game. It was pretty cool to hear that from Gerry. I think he was probably about 10 years old when that happened, he said. His dad, [John], was the O-line coach [for the Baltimore Colts]. We're excited about it. We're looking forward to it. It's a huge challenge. [We're] playing a great football team. [They're] very talented [and] very well-coached. [They] know how to win. They've been in these situations many times. I think they've been in the [AFC] Championship Game ... Maybe this is their sixth time in a row. They've been here before. It'll be a big challenge for us. It's our first time with this team and these guys, but we're up for the challenge, and we're excited. What questions do you have?"
Is TE Mark Andrews close to a return? Is the expectation for him to play this week?*(Jamison Hensley)* "We'll just see how [Mark Andrews] goes. We're looking forward to it. He practiced last week, and I'm sure he'll practice again this week. If he's ready to play, he'll play."
How hard is it to gameplan against Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes who can make spontaneous plays with his arm and legs?*(Todd Karpovich)*"[It's] no question – you have to factor it in. The fact that [Patrick Mahomes] extends plays [and] buys time [in the pocket] – he buys time to run, sometimes. He buys time to throw. He's just a really elusive guy. You'll see him in space. Sometimes, he'll make guys miss. It's just Patrick Mahomes. He's unique. [He] plays his own brand of football. [He's] been very successful. We'll just have to study him and do our best to try to keep him under wraps."
How much will you go back on your previous AFC Championship Games and use it as experience for the current players?*(Jerry Coleman)* "I don't really think it applies too much. It's a new time. This game – it's this team against that team at this time, and that's what we're focused on. We have to keep it simple [and] just get ready to play the game."
What will it be like going up against Chiefs head coach Andy Reid given your previous coaching experience with him during your time with the Philadelphia Eagles?*(Noah Trister)*"Obviously, it's a big deal in terms of the relationship [with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid]. It goes back a long, long way. [I have the] utmost respect for Andy [and the] utmost appreciation for what he's accomplished as a coach. We were together for 10 years – the first 10 years [of my career] there in Philly. We were in a lot of Championship Games [and] a lot of playoff games. I learned so much. I just learned so much as a coach and as a person. Then, competing against him now [for] all these years has been really challenging. Andy's a great coach. He has a great staff. You can name all the guys: [Chiefs tight ends coach] Tom Melvin, [Chiefs assistant head coach & special teams coordinator] Dave Toub – all the guys that have come through there that we knew from the [Philadelphia] Eagles. It's just a very talented group of people, and [I] have the utmost respect for them."
Do you remember the first time you met with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid? What were some of the principles and lessons you learned from him that you took?*(Brian Wacker)* "I was hoping to be retained [with the Philadelphia Eagles when Andy Reid was hired as head coach in 1999]. I know that. He was coming in. I [worked] one year with [former Eagles head coach] Ray Rhodes [in 1998]. Ray Rhodes brought me into the National Football League. [I] can't be more grateful. Ray Rhodes was great to be around for a year or two. If Ray's out there listening, thank you very much. I'm always appreciative of what I learned from Ray. Then, Andy came in, [and] I was hoping to stay, and he gave me an opportunity to do it. I was young and just figuring things out. That was good of him, and [I] hope he's glad he did looking back on it. One of the things – I tell this story a lot – one of the things with Andy [was] he had this 3x5 card behind his desk on his bulletin board. It said, 'Don't judge.' I got the nerve to ask him about it one time, and he just basically [said] it was a Biblical principle. Take people where they're at. Assume the best. Try to communicate with everybody on equal terms. I've never forgotten that."
What was your sense of what the AFC Divisional win over the Houston Texans meant to the city of Baltimore? What will it mean to host the AFC Championship on Sunday?*(Childs Walker)*"It seemed like it meant a lot. I'll tell you – [for] the fans, it was meaningful. Even driving out of the stadium, there were still people everywhere lined up around everywhere. Of course, I rolled my window down and yelled, 'Go Ravens!' It was really fun. It was loud. It was emotional. You could just tell how much it meant. I would say that this [game] is even bigger. It's like gameday. I think everybody coming to the stadium [and] everybody watching on TV – just like we tell our players, 'Get a good night's rest. Get a good meal before the game [and] the night before the game. Get your clocks set. Get your game time ready so spiritually, mentally, physically let's be ready to go.' Let's be ready to be loud and be proud and rock that stadium."
What were you up to in 1971 when Baltimore last hosted a conference championship game?*(Childs Walker)*"What was I doing in 1971?"* (laughter) "You know where we were? We were in Iowa. My dad [Jack] just took a job at the University of Iowa to coach the secondary. That's when we lived in that little house [in Iowa]. We didn't have a car half the time. Sometimes, we had a car. Sometimes, we didn't. So, when we had a car, we got a ride to school. [When] we didn't have a car, we were walking. That's when Dad would say, 'Who's got it better than us?' We'd say, 'Everybody with a car.'" *(laughter) "He'd say, 'No, you don't understand the value of walking. Nobody's got it better than you!'"
So, I'm guessing you weren't watching the AFC Championship Game in Baltimore in 1971?*(Jamison Hensley)*"No." (laughter) "I do remember the [game-winning] field goal in [Super Bowl V]. Jim O'Brien [kicked it], right? I saw that kick. I can remember that kick at nine years old. Absolutely. [It was] straight ahead. Boom. It was a short kick as I recall."
This group of Ravens players obviously seem to keep it so loose despite the high-pressure situations. Can you put into words how much fun you've had being around this particular group and the chemistry surrounding them?*(Melissa Kim)* "Yes. It's been a lot of fun. I love being around those guys. It's just every day ... You like coming to work every day. You like driving in and bee-boppin' in. I'm usually here before most of them, though, so I see them coming in, most of the guys. They are fun to be around. They come in, [and] they are full of energy; they are determined; they want to prepare. They want to practice; they want to lift weights; they want to get the gameplan. They like being around one another. When we go to practice, the energy is high. Yes, there are a lot of laughs, but there is also a lot of determination and a lot of focus – a lot of conversation around football. When you're about football, it's fun to talk about football. Our guys enjoy that part of it, so yes, it's been fabulous. It's just a great group of guys. [They are a] very determined football team."
Do you expect CB Marlon Humphrey to practice this week? How is he progressing? How pleased have you been with the way that CB Ronald Darby has stepped up? He had a pass breakup on the second play of the game to really set the tone.*(Luke Jones)* "No doubt. Ronald Darby has played outstanding. Brandon Stephens has been outstanding. Arthur Maulet has played outstanding. Rock [Ya-Sin] has played outstanding. All of those guys have stepped up and played very good. The coverage has just been great, and with Marlon [Humphrey], I promise you – if Marlon can go, he will. If he can practice, he will. I think you will see it as the week goes on. Based on how much he practices, you'll probably get a pretty good feel for it. I'm pretty sure if he can be out there, he'll for sure be out there, so I'm very hopeful. We'll have to see what happens."
RB Dalvin Cook had eight carries in the game. How much does it help your coaching staff to see him in the game in a Ravens gameplan moving forward?*(Gerry Sandusky)* "Yes. It does. [Dalvin Cook] looked good, right? I thought he looked really good out there – Dalvin did. He ran hard, showed his skillset off and got us those yards at the end of the game, along with Justice [Hill], too, to help us seal it away. It's one more really good player whose hands we can put the ball into, and that's a good thing."
You talked after the game very briefly about RB Justice Hill. I know earlier in the year, there were fumble problems between him and QB Lamar Jackson. It hasn't happened for a long time, but in the last two months or so, how have you seen Justice Hill develop over the season?* (Bo Smolka)* "I've told [Justice Hill]; he's a supremely talented player, but his heart is even bigger. This guy ... he runs so hard. His acceleration [and] his bursts are right up there at the top of the league. He gets the ball north, he has really good vision, [he] catches the ball [and] he pass protects. [He's] a well-rounded back. I couldn't say enough about him. He's been a difference maker for us."
QB Lamar Jackson, and you as well, have talked a lot about being locked in. We've heard it a lot this year. From your perspective as a coach, what does that mean to you? Is there a particular example that stands out to what that meaning is?*(Brian Wacker)* "I don't think it's [really] complicated. You come to work, and you come to work ready to go to work and get locked in on what your responsibilities are and what your job is and make sure you're prepared. Even as a football player, on the specific thing, when you line up, you lock in. You lock in on your job, your responsibility, your eyes, your feet, your hands [and] your communication of the whole thing. [You're] just supremely focused, not looking left, not looking right, [but] looking straight ahead [and] looking forward, short term and really long term, too. You can be locked in for the long term, too. Specific examples to me are just every play; it's just every play. When you watch the guys play, you can see it. That's probably the greatest example of it, so you can pull up, to me, any play from this last game, and you'll see a bunch of guys who are locked in and focused. [Those are] probably the best examples I can give."
A lot has been made of QB Lamar Jackson's halftime speech. Have you seen that side of him before, especially in previous years?*(Cordell Woodland)* "Yes. I've seen it, plenty of times. [Lamar Jackson] is determined. I don't know ... It wasn't like some crazy thing. I saw it. The way it was described, it wasn't like* that. He was locked in, he was determined, and he kind of said some things. He said, 'Let's go. This is not the way it needs to be played,' and, 'We're better than that. Let's go take care of business,' is basically what he said. Someone said it was profanity-laced or something. *(Reporter: "Lamar said there was a lot of cursing.") "He said, 'There are some things I can't repeat.' Yes, but it wasn't like you're imagining. Honestly, I don't remember it that way, and I would have. I think I would, you know, because he's just not that kind of guy. He doesn't really talk like that, but no. It was great. It was good. I don't think it's a big story. The way he played is a big story. That's [an] even bigger story, but Lamar is a leader. Lamar is a leader from the beginning to the end, in the way he plays [and] what he says. Guys listen to him. The way he runs the offense, he's an A-plus-plus leader."
There will be a lot of talk about Chiefs' QB Patrick Mahomes and TE Travis Kelce, and rightly so, but how difficult is RB Isiah Pacheco now and their run game to stop? What challenges do they present on the ground?* (Jeff Zrebiec)* "Yes. They're running the ball really well. They'll come out with three or four kind of gameplan runs in certain ways. [It's] nothing that you haven't seen before, but they dial in on something that they try to exploit. Then, No. 10 [Isiah] Pacheco, man, that guy is coming downhill. He's hitting it that way, all out. He's 225 pounds. His knees are up high. He's rolling, and it's going to be a big challenge for us to deal with him, because he's as physical as a runner as there is in the league. [He's] as determined as there is, and we're going to have to be a physical, determined defense to tackle him. I like our guys. I like our guys' chances. Our guys will be up for it, and we're going to have to be, because he's a good runner."
What makes Chiefs' QB Patrick Mahomes so tough to bring down in the pocket? He's one of the best at avoiding pressures that turn into sacks. Related to that, how significant would it be for Kansas City if G Joe Thuney can't make it? He left the game yesterday with a pec injury.*(Jonas Shaffer)* "[Patrick Mahomes] just has great pocket presence. He sees the field, and he feels the pocket. He must have [an] antenna that he just senses all that, like your car has all those sensors that start beeping when guys get close. It must be that way for him, because he kind of senses the pressure, and he's able to just move around and get away but keep his eyes downfield, slip out [and] all those kinds of things. That's what he does. Everybody that watches football knows it. It's one of his gifts, so we're going to have to really study it [and] be good at defending it. I do like our guys' chances. We've got a lot of really good athletes, a lot of guys who play hard, so we'll just try to make it as hard on him as we can. As far as who's playing for them or not, that just kind of is what it is."
You are the second NFL head coach in history to make conference championship appearances after a 10-year gap. The only other one was Dick Vermeil, and that was because he wasn't coaching for 15 years. Can you just talk about the challenges that you've faced in reconstructing a team and working with everybody here to get back here?*(Kyle Phoenix)* "[I'm] not really thinking about that. It's like the last thing on my mind right now."
I wanted to go back to your post-game presser the other day. You started off with a scripture, and just thinking about how you've been talking throughout the season – you've referenced faith and spirituality here and there, we see you praying with the players, and they talk openly about their faith – why has it been so important for you to keep faith as a fabric of this team's identity?*(Carita Parks)* "One thing that is important here – and we've always been this way – is that everybody expresses who they are and can be who they are, freely and without apology. We always like to be our best self – we kind of encourage that of one another – and sometimes we fall short, but we're always striving for that, and we encourage each other to strive for that, and [we] try to support each other as much as we can. I need as much support as everybody else does. And so, we're really in a partnership here – players and coaches and scouts and everybody in the organization. [We're] in a partnership, and that's the basic part of it. So, if faith is a part of who you are and part of your life, then it's welcomed. So, I don't try to hide that – from my perspective – [from] who I am. It's sustained me, it's improved me greatly over the years, [and] it's the only thing I think that really does change your heart, in my opinion – is faith. You really can't do it yourself; it's impossible. It really has been for me. But the more I trust, the better I get, and the more I trust God, the better I get. So, I'm not ashamed of that, and I think our guys appreciate it, and everybody ... Whatever their thoughts are on it, they're welcomed, and there is always some good dialogue that way, because we've got some really smart guys. But that's the way we're formulated."
Speaking of smart guys and people expressing themselves, your defense has obviously been outstanding this year. When you think back to defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald's early years, what stood out to you most about him that gave you that belief and confidence in him?*(Brian Wacker)* "[Defensive coordinator] Mike [Macdonald] is just a real, genuine person. [There are] a lot of great coaches on this staff, [and] they all kind of share this particular trait. But he was here young. He was just out of college, and he was very eager and very smart and very motivated and hardworking and all those kinds of things, and you could just tell. He had all those kinds of traits. I think he's been raised the right way. His parents are incredible people. And so, he just got to it and worked hard at it and kind of came up through the system. And then, with this particular defensive system, he's probably been blessed with the opportunity to grow with the same system, and then the evolution of the system over the course of the last – what nine, 10 years – he's been right in the middle of all that. So, with a smart guy like that, who works hard like that, who's in that kind of a circumstance, that's the result. What you see is [that] he's just got a really good feel for it. He's got a feel for the game itself, but he's also got a great feel for applying the principles that he's been a part of developing, actually, over the last nine or 10 years. And he's a hardworking guy. He's got a great staff around him. I mean, it's never one person. All those guys on defense are great coaches. I'm telling you, it's a really good staff. They work well together, they collaborate, they listen to one another, [and] they communicate well with each other and the players. It's just a good group."
The defense has been great all year, and they were great again Saturday. It seems like the defense continues to ace every test. How excited are you for the challenge of them going up against this Chiefs offense that's been so good during this time of year?*(Cordell Woodland)* "No doubt. That's a great point. [I'm] just looking forward to it. Yes, excited for it – for the challenge of it. To go in there, with these bunch of guys ... I tell the guys all the time, 'Man, it's going to be an honor to take the field with you men in this game [and have] this opportunity to be side by side with you guys,' because I just admire them and the way they play. And it's true of our whole team – not just our defense – but you asked about the defense. It's going to be a massive challenge, but it's going to be one that we accept – right – and we couldn't be more excited about."
Obviously, you go back with Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo quite a few years. What has impressed you about how that pass rush and secondary kind of tie everything together and how they're able to generate pressure from a lot of different ways?*(Jonas Shaffer)* "Yes, [I'm] not surprised at all. [Chiefs defensive coordinator] Steve [Spagnuolo] was here coaching. I was with Steve in Philly for all those years, and then he was here for a couple years, coaching. So, you see ... He brought stuff into this ... And he's contributed to our system – [from] when he was here – and I can see that we've contributed to his system, too, when I watch him on tape, and that's good. That's the way it's supposed to be. But [he's a] great football coach. They have a great staff, too. [Defensive line] coach Joe Cullen is over there, too, and other great coaches. But [they have] a very smart system, [and they're] very well organized. They play really hard. It's a challenge to gameplan against. Honestly, I don't understand why I don't see Steve's name for [a] head coach [opportunity]. I'm scratching my head on that one. He's very deserving of an opportunity."
On a lighter note, I don't know if your daughter is a Taylor Swift fan, but I know the NFL seems to be. How are you dealing with the sideshow of the Chiefs at all?*(Jerry Coleman)* "Why am I not surprised [that] Jerry [Coleman] would ask me that question." (laughter) "No, I haven't been distracted by that at all. It hasn't really crossed my mind at all; I can't say it has." (Jerry Coleman: "So, your daughter is not a Taylor Swift fan?") *"No, my daughter is in college. She's not going to be at the game. I've got some Taylor Swift songs on my phone. I do. I do." *(Jerry Coleman: "Might they be deleted this week?") "No, what does that have to do with it?"* (laughter)*