TUESDAY MEDIA AVAILABILITY – WILD CARD PLAYOFF WEEK
Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement:"Good to see everybody – I appreciate you guys being here. [We] had a good practice, a good start. It's a short week for us. We started today, which is a day earlier than we would if we played on Sunday, and we're ready to turn it over and get ready for Pittsburgh."
John, the obvious question: What was it like to see DT Haloti Ngata out there smiling, joking, [making] tackles or whatever he does? (Dave Ginsburg)"It was good. We didn't make tackles today, but it was great to have him out there. I talked to him yesterday when he came in to start up on Monday, and it's great to have him back."
John, when you throw everything into it – Ravens, Steelers, and now it's the playoffs; it's at their place – just the whole magnitude of that. A lot of people say this is the best thing in the NFL when these two teams play each other. Well, what are your thoughts on it going in? You've been through so many of these." (Craig Heist)"I've said a lot about that and stand behind all of it. It's great. It's great to be a part of it. It's a playoff game now and it means a lot, and we're looking forward to it."
What have you seen from the secondary in recent games? It looks like they've kind of solidified out there, and you've kind of found a combination that's working well. (Ryan Mink) "They have. I feel really good about the way they're playing back there. They're playing good technique; we're playing better together. We still are chasing perfection. We have a lot of work to do every single day on a lot of things, and when you play a group like this who has so many weapons with a great quarterback who can find the weapons, that's the thing that you really start thinking about. And all the other stuff, obviously, it's a great question about the esoteric stuff to do with the game, but we're really wrapped up right now in the X's and O's of it – the practical stuff. And that's the stuff that we're thinking about: 'How do you cover these guys?' 'How do you cover their routes?' 'How are we going to match up with different things they do?' 'How are we going to get pressure?' 'How are we going to move the ball?' 'How are we going to protect?' Those kinds of things are what we're thinking about right now."
How does that impact without having RB Le'Veon Bell for [the Steelers]? Does that change what you do? (Craig Heist)"I haven't heard a final thing on that. What's the story on that? Is he going to be there?" (Reporter: "[He's] likely not to play.") "'Likely not to play?' When I hear, 'Definitely he's not going to play,' then I'll still be suspicious." (laughter)
Do you just assume [RB Le'Veon Bell] is going to [play]? Is that basically what you have to … (Jamison Hensley) "You have to." (Reporter: "You really don't … I mean, they're not going to tell you.") "Right, you have to assume that those guys are going to be out there until they're ruled out, and we'll prepare for everybody."
You mentioned the esoteric: The strategy involved, does it help though that you see these guys so often that the strategy is such that the familiarity exists? (Jeff Darlington)"It does help in some ways, and in some ways it makes it tougher, because I feel like we know each other so well the level of strategizing is way deeper. It's more subtle. You look back on so many games … It's like chess: You're more moves down the road. We're looking ahead more moves maybe than we would with an opponent that we don't normally see."
John, did you have a chance to take in the press conference? [What are] just your thoughts on Jim [Harbaugh] taking over the Michigan job in kind of a homecoming? (Aaron Wilson) "I did get a chance to take it in. I didn't get the question part of it, but I got his presentation and I thought it was fantastic. He did a great job. I liked the look in his eye. He felt right, and he felt happy. I felt like he was really at peace, and he was excited to be there. And then I saw a lot of the old faces, the old coaches, guys that my dad coached with and just the happiness of the Michigan people. [CSNBaltimore.com reporter] Cliff [Brown] gave me a picture of the Michigan game – his daughter is at the Michigan game right now. They introduced Jim, and he got to the microphone, so I can only imagine Crisler Arena right now. I bet that place is going absolutely nuts. It's a great day for Jim; it's a great day for his family, because Ann Arbor is such a great place. It's a great day for Michigan and the Michigan family. But I'm proud of him. No matter what he would've done, I would've been happy and proud for him. So, I'm proud of him and happy for him."
John, how much pride do you take in … You said before the season you wanted to improve the run game, and you really did going from No. 30 to Top 10. How much pride do you take in getting back to establishing that running style? (Jamison Hensley) "It's imperative. We have to be a good running team, because that's who we think we are. That's going to be in the Raven DNA forever, as long as I'm here. But also as long as [Ravens owner] Steve [Bisciotti] is here, because he believes in it, and as long as [Ravens general manager and executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] is, because he believes in it. It's what we believe as an organization is important, so that's where we need to be."
And half your team – I think almost half – has not played a playoff game. But still, how much confidence do you have when you have … It's a good to start, I guess, to have a quarterback that's been in so many playoff games as well, right? (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, we have enough guys. Our guys that haven't played in a playoff game, every team is going to have that – that's the nature of the league – and they'll lean on the guys who have been in a playoff game before. But we've been in these games. We've already been to Pittsburgh on Sunday night, so we've been in that environment before – that specific environment before – and that's probably the biggest plus for us.
John, in terms of matchups, what makes WR Antonio Brown so difficult to defend? (Aaron Wilson) "The fact that he does so many things so well truly is the thing that jumps out at you. Antonio Brown is gifted. He runs all the routes; he's not just a deep threat, he's a route runner; reverses; as a punt returner, as we saw in the Cincinnati game last week. He's a multi-dimensional guy that can score at any point in time."
John, throughout the course of the year, we've asked a lot of the players and even yourself about handling adversity, and one of the players put that back on you as the reason as to why they were able to handle it and why this team was able to handle it. Do you put any stock in that? I know it's kind of a pat-yourself-on-the-back kind of question, but how much of that comes from you? (Craig Heist) "It's not really a question I'm going to answer in that way, but I really think it starts with the fact that we have character guys that we stand on a rock … I told the guys this today: 'Our team stands on a rock-solid foundation of character,' and that's where it begins. If you think that that means you're going to get through life unscathed, you're mistaken. Life is going to hit us all in the gut, and some of it's going to be of our own doing. But it's about how you bounce back and how you respond that matters, and our guys have done a great job of that this year."
DT Haloti Ngata said he felt "nice and refreshed." How noticeably fresh did he look? (Jeff Darlington) "We didn't have that kind of a practice today, so we'll see tomorrow how he moves around, but I'm sure he's fine. He's been training – that's what he told me – he looks good, and I'm sure he is. I'm sure he's busting out of his skin. I'm sure he's ready to go."
John, how much of an asset though is it to have a quarterback like QB Joe Flacco whose been in so many playoff [games], so many pressure situations? I don't think there's really been a situation in the playoffs that he probably hasn't been in yet. (Jamison Hensley) "You're going to find most of the teams that get to this level are going to have quarterbacks who can play under pressure and can make plays when it matters. Joe basically took it over in the fourth quarter against Cleveland, [and] that's what had to be done. Joe is capable of doing that. Yes, it's a great asset, it's a necessary asset at this stage of the game and, like I've said many times, I love Joe. I think he's the best quarterback in football, and I'm glad he's our guy."
QB Joe Flacco
On whether the intensity level is raised in the playoffs: "It's tough to say that it actually does. The game, obviously, there's a very 'right now' meaning to the games. You know that you have to win in order to stay in it, so your mindset is probably a little bit different. If you heard how our crowd was at the end of the game this past Sunday – I guess the crowd may be more like that the whole entire game [in Pittsburgh] – but the bottom line is this is Week 18. We're all banged up a little bit, so it's tough to really … It's tough for these games to really match the intensity that some of the games in the early [part of the] season probably do, in reality. But like I said, it's probably more mental and you understand the importance of right now and being in the moment, so it probably makes the games feel a little bit different in that sense."
On playing against Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's game plan: "I think the biggest thing is they are very good at doing what they do. Obviously, we've been going at it a long time now and people have grown off of him and are doing similar things at other places. And they do a good amount of things, and they try to put pressure on the quarterback. They do a great job of stopping the run. But like I said, I think the biggest thing over there has been the players that they have and their ability to really sit there and run it and do the amount of things that he asks them to do. I don't know if his call sheet is very long or elaborate or anything like that, but he can come up with some things that are tough for offenses, and those guys are very good at doing what he wants and operating it."
On whether the Ravens-Steelers rivalry is as good as it has ever been: "Oh, of course. And it's awesome that we're both back in the playoffs. It has been a couple years. Last year neither of us were in it, and that's what really makes these games so important is the fact that both teams have been playoff teams vying for playoff spots and vying for Super Bowls. I think that's really what makes games so important and so fun to watch."
On whether the slow starts on offense are a concern: "Obviously, it's something we need to address and fix and make sure it doesn't happen. But I think the biggest thing is just to go out there and be aggressive and do the things that we do well and make the plays when they're presented to us and just play fundamental. At this point, you can't have it be too big of a concern. We're all 0-0, and it's a very big game, and we have to worry about some other things and going out there and playing each play. So, it's not going to be on our mind when we take the field and it really can't be if we want to have any success."
On whether the fourth quarter success against Cleveland can carry over into the Steelers game: "It's tough to say that. Every game is so separate. There have been times where we've been really good and quarters where we haven't been, but it's tough to really look at that game and say it's going to translate to the next. We have to make sure … It's a new team, new system. We have to make sure we're ready for it and just go out there and be excited. It's going to be a tough place to go into and not be up and be ready from the very first snap."
On whether there is a key to taking Pittsburgh's crowd out of the game: "The biggest thing is just moving the ball and not give them a lot of third-down chances to really get up and get going early on in the game. We've probably hurt ourselves more so than anything with false starts and little things like that. And when you do that – especially on the road – you give their crowd a good chance to get into it and really get fired up. A three-and-out definitely energizes them, and usually it carries over to the next series. So, the biggest thing we have to do is move the ball early and get into the flow of the game. If we play the way we want to, then hopefully they won't be too big of a factor for the full 60 minutes, but you can't rely on that. These guys are a good football team, and they're going to be pumped up to have a home playoff game back in their stadium. It has been a while."
On whether the team has discussed never winning a playoff game in Pittsburgh:"No, it has not been talked about, specifically. Winning in Pittsburgh – obviously, we'd like to win this week. So it'd be nice to get … It's obviously something that we want to do, because they're the guys that are in our way. But it hasn't been something that specifically came up. I know that we've lost there a couple of times since I've been there. It's not really of any importance at this point. We just have to go up there, and we've played there a bunch. We've won there before, and I think that's probably more important is the fact that we have gone up there and won before and we just have to look into that a little bit and go up there and play with confidence."
On whether it is nice getting DT Haloti Ngata back from suspension: "Of course it is. He is one of our guys, man. He's our teammate, and he's obviously a good player. So, it's great to see all your guys, and it's great to see him and Terrell [Suggs] walking back out to practice together. It feels good.
On whether he has seen an evolution in the coaching style of John Harbaugh: "I think all the core things are the same. Obviously, I think [John Harbaugh is] able to trust us a little bit more, especially the guys that have been here the whole entire time. And he has a little bit [of a] different style in certain little things in how he manages little things, but his core beliefs and the things that we do out here are all pretty much the same as when he first got here."
On whether issues with the snap against Cleveland was a fluky problem: "Yes, it was just like a fluky thing, some miscues. It shouldn't happen, and it won't happen again."
DT Haloti Ngata
Opening statement:"I just want to start off by saying I did make a mistake. I'm glad the team was able to get us in the playoffs, and hopefully I can help them out in this playoff run. And [I'm] just excited and thankful the team was able to get us in the playoffs so I can play again, and I'd love to talk about anything about the Steelers."
On how difficult the past month has been for him:"It was rough – definitely rough. I was talking to a bunch of the guys, and it felt like I was retired, just watching the game, watching football during the season while I was just at home watching the game. It felt weird, but I'm just glad that we were able to get the wins and get into the playoffs."
On if it was tough for him to stay in shape:"No, not at all, not at all. It wasn't tough at all. I feel like I owed these guys, and I've got to make sure I stay in shape for when we make it to the playoffs [so] I can come back and make a contribution in a playoff run."
On if the hardest part was feeling like he let his teammates down:"Yeah, definitely. Definitely teammates, family – especially family – and them just taking some of that responsibility, too. I think they felt a lot of it, and teammates and fans. So, it was tough for the whole time I was off."
On what his emotions are coming back and how he feels:"Awesome – I feel amazing. Guys are yelling, 'fresh legs' all the time, and I just feel like a young kid being out there and being able to jog around. So, it's just an exciting time and it's great to be back with the fellas."
On if he's been doing the same workout regimen as he normally would:"Yeah, I mean, I'm not going to want to get too strong. I'm just training to maintain and just stay in shape and make sure my cardio is good, so when I come back I was able to run."
On coming back right in time for a playoff game with the Steelers:"You don't even need to say any more. It's playoffs. We are a rival team playing against each other, but it's just playoffs. It's either one game, or you move on. It's just an exciting time."
On how he describes his motivation level knowing he gets to play again this year:"I just feel like I owe these guys. So, I'm just going to do whatever I can to help the team, and I'm definitely just ready to get back out there again."
On if he expects to have to knock any rust off after missing four games:"No, I don't expect any rust. We'll see how the first series or two goes. And I'm pretty sure everything will just dust off and then just be as usual, and hopefully I can just make more plays."
On if he looks at it any different because he's returning for a playoff game as opposed to say Week 13 or something:"Oh, yeah. It's time to turn everything up – it's playoffs. It's an exciting time, and hopefully we can have a great week of practice and do well down there."
On the possibility and impact if Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell doesn't play:"Le'Veon Bell is probably one of the best running backs out there right now, so it's going to be a big impact if he's not playing. And Ben Tate is not a rookie running back; he's been able to do a lot of good things for different teams. So, it's going to be huge if [Bell] isn't going to play, but Ben [Roethlisberger] and Antonio Brown do a lot of great things in the passing game."
On what he thought when he saw the Ravens would play the Steelers:"I got excited. It's Pittsburgh-Baltimore. It's a great rivalry, and we'll expect a great game."
On what he can tell young players about what to expect for a playoff game:"We just tell our younger guys, like Brandon Williams and those guys that have never been there, just that it turns up a little bit. And they'll see it, mentally and physically, just during practice and then they'll understand it when they get to the game. So, it turns up definitely a little bit, but they'll know it when they get there and know that they have to turn it up as well."
On if he and head coach John Harbaugh have had any conversations since he returned to the team:"We talked for a little bit. We were up there in his office, and he's just excited I was back. I was excited to be back. And he was just making sure I was staying in shape and gave me a little poke in the stomach and stuff like that." (laughter) (Reporter: "Was it tight?") "I don't know. It's always going to be soft; I don't know if there's anything … (laughter) *I've just got to stop him from squeezing. *(laughter) But yeah, he was just happy that I was back and in shape."
On if he has attempted to get a prescription for Adderall and what his future is with that:"We'll just see what happens. Right now, I'm just focused on the Steelers."
WR Steve Smith Sr.
On how the offense has reacted to slow starts: "You acknowledge it, and you try to avoid it. But at the same time, you also understand why the slow starts [are happening]. We haven't been playing teams that are nobodies. They're pretty good on defense. So, that does have a … They do have their hand in it."
On whether it is imperative to have a fast start against Pittsburgh: "If we've rallied in the last four games – not being captain obvious as well – and we've won, I think we don't want to do that then, huh?" (Reporter: "I mean you don't want to get in that position.") "You don't want to put yourself in a hole. You have to play better. But at the same time, it's the playoffs. Anything happens, and everything happens. We just have to play ball, and we have to play better, and we have to make more plays than them. And hopefully, at the end of the game, we have more on the scoreboard than they do."
On the job head coach John Harbaugh has done this season despite facing adversity: "We're in the playoffs. [Through] all [of] the adversity, I think he has done a terrible job. (laughter) I think a lot of other people would have done a better job. (laughter) No, he has done a fantastic job. A lot has gone on. You don't want to compare any other year to just right now. It's abnormal, and it has been very unique and interesting and at times a circus. But just like when things like this happen – to say the least – [you have] to really just take it for what it is. There are players [whose] wives may have children during the season, parents and loved ones pass away, but unfortunately, at the end of the day when you accept that jersey and you play, you have to put aside all those things, all those feelings, all those distractions and focus on playing. And I think that's what we've done, and unfortunately that is our job and, that's what's expected. When they put the 46 people out there on the [active roster list], you can't say right before kickoff, 'Well, I'm having a tough time. Coach, I can't do it.' You're expected to play, and you have to do it."
On his success this season and whether it was what he came to Baltimore for: "I came here for a little bit more." (Reporter: "Super Bowl? You're on the way.") "I came here for a little bit more. The old adage of, 'You give them an inch, take a yard.' I came here for something more than just those [accolades]. I came here for the ultimate prize, and we're going to take it one week at a time."
On how he would assess head coach John Harbaugh's coaching style after playing in Baltimore for one season: "It has been awesome. I've had a good time. Me and him, we're very similar in some ways, and it has just been fun. He does a great job in the way he communicates, the way his style – he way he engages with the players, the way he motivates, the way he allows the other coaches to motivate as well. So, it has been great. It has been cool."
On whether he is glad to face Pittsburgh in the playoffs because of the intense rivalry with Baltimore: "I'm glad to be in the playoffs. And the two games I played [against Pittsburgh] … Watching it on TV and playing it is night and day. It has been really interesting." (Reporter: "Why is that? Expand on that.") "When we played Thursday night, it was only, what, my second home game here. It felt like a playoff atmosphere. It was loud to the magnitude [that] my wife had to buy 'Deuce,' my newborn, headphones, because it was just really loud – the baby Beats, or 'Baby Bops,' whatever it's called. Then when we went there, it was the same thing. It seemed like a playoff game. It was just intense, and you could tell by some of the things that happened on both games that I just sat there, kind of watched. It was my first rodeo, so it was wild."
On what he expects a Ravens-Steelers playoff game to feel like: "I think [in] the playoff game everything is faster, moves faster, more intense. I guess with the professional dislike, I think it's going to be even more interesting, and I hope to be in the thick of it." *(laughter)
OLB Terrell Suggs
On what DT Haloti Ngata's return brings to the locker room emotionally:"It couldn't happen at a better time. He was missed a lot in the locker room, especially by me. But as soon as we won, we saw the score, we're in, and we're like, 'Yo, we get Haloti back.' Now the locker room is kind of back complete, so to say. It's good to have one of the best interior linemen in the game going into a big playoff game like this. It was a great lift."
On how the Ravens welcomed DT Haloti Ngata back from suspension:"We just hugged him. We're glad to have him back, but we know what we have to do. We're in the playoffs now, it's the second season, and we're facing a rival. So, we're just happy to have him back going into this big game. This is our season. Everybody tries to get into the playoffs, but we're actually here, and we got one of our leaders back. It was great."
On the Ravens' state of mind knowing they haven't beaten the Steelers in the playoffs:"All those facts are there, but they're all in the past. We know we just have to play one football game. The other ones pretty much have their result, but this one doesn't. Come Saturday, it's an opportunity to do something special and do something we haven't ever done. I think we're up for the task, so we'll see."
On the first thing that he said to DT Haloti Ngata upon his return:"I can't tell you. (laughs) I'm not going to release that."
On the reception he expects from the crowd at Heinz Field:"You all already know that. We kind of already know what the atmosphere is going to be like, but I think that's what makes this game so special; this is what makes our league so special. You know I'm definitely going to enjoy it. I'm going to have fun with it."
On the players' and coaches' roles in keeping things on track throughout the season:"We're a unified team. Coaches and players alike, [you] never take your eyes off your goal. We wanted to win the [AFC] North – we didn't – but we still were able to accomplish making the playoffs and getting 10 wins. There's a lot of positive you can take from that, and we all just stuck together. Whatever happened from the beginning of the season to the middle to the end, whether [it's] injuries or what have you and the suspensions, we just dealt with it all as a team and we kept trucking, and now we have the new season."
On if there was ever a time when this season's challenges seemed like too much, especially when his close friend DT Haloti Ngata was suspended:"No, we knew the task. We knew it was going to be a difficult one, but we just knew it wasn't going to be impossible. If we couldn't do it, it couldn't be done. We won three out of the last four without him, so yes, we did it."
On if facing the Steelers again in January feels like déjà vu:"Kind of. I think the football gods are definitely smiling on us, if you look at the games in the AFC. We get to go back to Pittsburgh. We split [the regular season series] – both teams won one, both teams winning by 20 [points]. The tempers were flared. It's a good week for football, a good weekend for football. And like I said, we're going to enjoy it, but we can't play the game until Saturday. It's only Tuesday now."
On if he was keeping his fingers crossed for a rematch against Pittsburgh in the playoffs:"No, you just want to get in, and then you see where you go. But I think the simple fact that it is this team, it makes it a little bit more interesting, a little bit more fun. All that kind of played into it, so now you all have something to write." (laughter)
On if he is fueled by being considered the underdog as the No. 6 seed:"It doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter. There have been times we've been the [No.] 2 seed, and we still got our ass kicked. It doesn't matter. As long as there's time on the clock, you have the opportunity to play. [Either] you have to go on the road to do it, or you get to play some home games, some playoff home games. Whatever the task is, only the worthy will reach it."
On why he wasn't wearing an expressive T-shirt during Steelers week in the playoffs:"It's a little more attention to detail. If you think about it, you're only as good as your last game, and in the last game, they kind of got one up on us, so to say. But hey, Round 3..."
On how much he pays attention to RB Le'Veon Bell's injury:"You obviously have to pay attention to it for the simple fact that he is a key part of their offense. He's a hell of a back, and [then] also kind of anticipating what you're going to get from him. Whether he's in, whether he's out, it's a big difference, especially with so much riding on this game. He's a Pro Bowl player and he's a great player. So, you definitely have to pay attention to that, but we're going to continue to work and we're going to do what we do."
On DT Haloti Ngata's reaction to his Tongan sack dance tribute:"He sent me a text and he sent me a video of it. He was like, 'Man!' We have a brotherly bond. He was flattered that I honored him, but he said he's going to work with me on it, on the dance moves. I didn't hit all my points right, all the steps, but it was fun. He was appreciative."
On how his relationship with OLB Elvis Dumervil has grown off the field:"It's like the same thing with Haloti [Ngata]. We're all different. We're definitely opposites, but we all just get along. We all have a love for playing defense; we all play physical defense. I guess you find something in common and then you just go there, but that's what's so special about our locker room. Everybody is different, and we just accept everybody for who they are. I just get the fun of being the jokester."