How Are The New England Patriots Feeling About The AFC Championship?

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Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (75) jogs off the field after the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Vince Wilfork

Q: I guess can you first start talking about what this means to be going to another AFC Championship and how the veterans can help you guys with the experience factor?

VW: I mean, it’s always a pleasure and an honor to be playing in this game. We don’t take anything for granted. Winning is hard. It’s hard to go this level. And you just look back at everything you’ve been through from offseason, from OTAs to mini-camp, offseason workouts and training camp and the season, midseason and towards the end of the season and boom, the playoffs are here. You play a playoff game and all of a sudden – boom – AFC Championship. So it’s a lot of work we put in to get to this level. A lot of hard work. A lot of things we’ve done good, some we did not do so good, but to be playing in this game is always a great feeling. Everybody needs to enjoy this feeling. It’s exciting because you’ve worked your tail off to get here. So as far as having experience in this game, you know, one thing I always try to do is try to treat it like a regular game. Our next opponent, which is a good opponent, a team that’s different now than the last time we faced them. A lot better team. I think they played well together as a team in all three phases. They’re coached well. They have great playmakers. A great offense. I mean, (Andrew) Luck is probably one of the best quarterbacks in the game. He’s a young stud. And you’ll be seeing a lot of more of him in his future. So we know how important it is for us to get off to a good start and play good football to be successful this Sunday. But it’s going to take everything we have. Everything we work for, you just kind of have to reflect back on everything you’ve been through and the moment that you’re in because you can’t let anything slip away at this point. Because like I said, we worked so hard to get here so the last thing you want thing is now leave a stone unturned. And we don’t want to do that, so everything we have to do leading up this game we have to do it at the highest level. Gameday we have to be play at the highest level. You know, the things that you have in the game now you won’t have a lot of opportunities. So when you do have an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it. But these teams are good. The Colts are good. They give you too many opportunities and when we do get a chance to have an opportunity we have to take advantage of it. So it’s going to be a good matchup. It’s a good matchup for us.

Q: Vince, it’s been a few years now that you have gotten to this game but not gotten over the proverbial hump. So is there anything at all that you are changing this week? Even like, different toothpaste, anything?

VW: No, I think it’s execution at the highest level. You want to look at it as the next game, but the only thing with that is you lose and you go home. And I don’t think anybody in this locker room wants to go home. So everything we have to do we gotta do it. And it starts with practice. It starts with preparation first, in the classroom, going to practice, watching the film, making the corrections, coming back in, getting a good understanding of how we want to play the game, getting a good gameplan together and just everybody executing at the highest level. And I think if we do that and everybody just knocks away and chips away at that approach we’ll be okay. So the past is the past. We deal with the future around here and right now we’re in the present and that’s what we’re going to deal with. And there’s no better way to deal with that than to tackle it starting today. We got a chance to see them play Sunday and you could just tell they’re playing with a lot of energy. Like I said, they’re different ball club from the last time we saw them so I don’t think anything we did from the last time to now is going to be… it’s going to be a totally different ball game because they’re such a different team now. They found a running game, they found some guys that can make plays for them and they’re playing well. They’re playing really, really good as a unit and as a team and they’re coached really well. It all starts with us in practice and just getting off to a good start and being able to execute come gameday.

Q: You and Tom Brady are the longest-tenured guys here. I wanted to ask you just two things about how you view him. First, emotionally on gameday, he plays with kind of almost a linebacker’s mentality emotionally. And secondly, he’s pretty relaxed during the week. It seems like he puts on a different mask on gameday. What’s he like, in general? He seems different.
VW: He is so competitive. That’s the first thing I always see. And everybody always asks me, ‘How is Tom?’ I don’t think there’s anybody else in this locker room that is more competitive than Tom. I mean, I don’t care if it’s a conversation, I don’t if it’s practice, I don’t care if it’s seven-on-seven, I don’t care if it’s gameday, I don’t care if it’s in the film room. He wants to be at his best. He wants everybody else around him to be at his best so as a teammate it’s easy to see my top leader coming to work, smiling, having fun and being at his best in the practice. It’s easy for me to go to work to see that guy do it. And he demands the same thing out of us, so I think a lot of the things he does he doesn’t realize how it affects everyone around him. He doesn’t have to say much. When he’s here in this building, he’s working. When he’s home, he’s working. A lot of the guys don’t understand that. That’s the type of person that he is. He’s going to give you everything he has. I mean, I don’t care how he’s feeling – mentally or physically – but he’s going to put his best on that field and you have to love that. You have to respect that. And that’s what I love and respect about Tom. I mean he always comes to work and trust me, we trash talk a lot in practice, I’m in his ear and he’s in my ear, but at the same time we make practice live and we make practice competitive because we try to get is as close to a game [atmosphere] as possible. And I think the only way to do that is to have some of your guys go out there and make practice upbeat. And when we do that, we’ve been so successful around here doing that. And that’s one of the things we’ve been doing around here for a while to try to go to practice and make those practices the best practices we can have.

Q: When you see him flip out like the other night, lost his mind after a play, do you say, “Ah, that’s just Tom?” Or do you say anything different?

VW: No, that’s just Tom. It’s just Tom. Like I said, everything he does he wants it to be perfect. He strives for greatness. That’s your leader. That’s what you want to follow – somebody that’s always going to strive to be great at whatever he does. And that’s he does and that’s what he brings to this game for us.

Q: Vince, from your advantage point what does Jaime Collins and Don’t’a Hightower bring to the defense? And what kind of impact have they had on what you guys have been able to do over the course of the season and to reaching this point?

VW: Well, I’ve seen them grow over the past year. They’re like younger brothers or my kids grow up and where they were last year to now is so amazing to see that. There’s a lot of credit that goes to those guys. From taking the coaching, taking it upon themselves to be a better football player, a smarter football player, understanding the game the way it needs to be played, things that we change on a daily basis/weekly basis and being able to get in and out of things. And as a backer, especially in this defense, but in general as a linebacker, you’re sort of the quarterback of your defense. And we have two guys with Jerod Mayo being out, we have two guys that have rose to the occasion this year and they’ve done a great job for us, a phenomenal job for us. Like I said, a lot of credit goes to those guys individually, but at the same time the coaching that they’ve received, just says a lot about where they’re minds are at, how focused they are, they know that they have to run the defense so they didn’t back down from a challenge. They stood firm and they’re still standing firm. And those guys we can kind of line them up wherever we want to line them up. It gives our opponents problems to see them in different spots. So that’s the advantage that we have. When teams play [us] they know that 75 is going to have his hand in the dirt, but from Dont’a and Jamie they can be in the dirt, in the turf, standing up, lined up wide. They have to identify what they are, who they are and what they’re going to do. That forces a lot of communication for an offense and our opponents and that’s a good situation for us to be in as a defense. So they’ve done a great job this year and they’re going to continue to do a great job. They’re going to be some good players from here on moving forward.

Q: You talked about playing the game a 100-perfcent, that’s every game you talk about that. And this morning you talked about playing at the highest level for this game. Is it more of a mental mindset to get the body to just execute without mistakes? Is that really what you’re talking about?

VW: No, when I say execute it’s from your body from a physical standpoint to a mental standpoint. To take what you saw on film and in the meeting rooms to apply it in practice to make it work and see if it works. If works, we know we have a good shot in the game if we execute it well. Things happen in the games where sometimes we prepare for them and sometimes it’s something different. And that’s where sideline adjustments come in at and we’ve done a great job over the years. As long as I’ve been here going over to the sideline, or going in at halftime, making adjustments and coming back being a totally different ball club. And that credit goes to the coaching staff understanding what they’re trying to do to us, what we need to do, how we need to get there and once they give us that, now it’s up to us to execute it. Most of the time we practice everything. But we just throw out a lot of stuff because we have certain things we want to do and if we need to get to it, we’ll get to it. It’s mentally and physically when I talk about executing at the highest level. It’s playing good situational football, understanding situations, just understanding everything and what’s going on just besides the play that you’re playing. Understanding what the down-and-distance is, the red area, goal line, third-down, [shotgun]…it’s so many things that go on with that and from our studies and our film study and our preparation we have a good understanding of what we want to do in those situations. So when those situations occur we have to be at our best. We have to be able to execute whatever we call, understand where we’re all at, what we want to do, who has what, where such and such is going to be, just understanding the whole scheme to the thing defensively and offensively to get us successful. When I speak execution, it’s from a standpoint where you will only imagine. You will only imagine. But it’s not just what we’re doing, it’s basically everything from the clock to the play clock to sometimes thinking about if it’s a four-down situation understanding third-down, what they want to do and if they do go for it on fourth down what we want to do, what we want to be in, anticipating what they’re going to be in so everybody at a high level just alert level goes up.