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

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January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Dan Connolly (63) against the Denver Broncos in the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Connolly

Q: What is it like playing for Bill Belichick? Has he changed in the time that you’ve been here?

DC: I just have to say it’s an honor to play for an organization like this. Coach Belichick is my coach. He asks a lot of us, and we come to work every day and prepare to work hard. It’s a good organization to play for.

Q: Has he changed much?

DC: Not that I know of. We’re working hard every day. That’s one thing that has remained constant.

Q: There has been a lot of talk all season long about overcoming adversity and what lessons were taught over the first four weeks. Last week, you guys were down 14 points twice. How much did you draw upon that and how much do you want to avoid being in that same situation on Sunday?

DC: Yeah, we prepare to kind of face any situation. We try to focus a lot on different situations that could come up in a game. We try to always be prepared for that. You never want to be down like that, but you never know what’s going to happen in a football game. So, if you’re ever confronted with that, presented with that, you just have to be prepared. So, we try to always prepare for certain things that could come up.

Q: Last week you only ran the ball 13 times. Against the Colts the last few times, you have run the ball a little bit more. As an offensive lineman, I am assuming you want to run the ball more, right?

DC: Sure. It’s always nice to run the ball on a defense. I can’t comment on what we’re going to do this week. That’s up to [offensive coordinator/quarterbacks] coach [Josh] McDaniels and Coach Belichick to call the plays. But, whatever is called, I am going to try to do my best to get the job done.

Q: With the shifting along the line early in the season, how much did that help last week when Bryan Stork goes out, Ryan Wendell goes to center and you guys were still able to produce?

DC: I think it helps out a lot. We always try to prepare as many guys as we can to be able to fill in a spot. You never know what’s going to happen in a game. Guys get hurt; that’s just the nature of the business. So, you try to prepare guys to come in and not slow down at all. We’ve got to keep going when somebody steps in. Yeah, having the different combinations early in the year definitely prepared us for what we’ve faced late in the season.”

Q: How special is it for you to be in this spot right now, playing in the AFC Championship Game?

DC: It’s a great place to be, obviously. We put in a lot of hard work, but we just have to keep pushing, keep working. We can’t be comfortable just being in this game. We have to keep working hard.

Matthew Slater

Q: Back in the AFC Championship Game, how will your experiences in the past ones help you going forward this week?

MS: That’s really tough to say because each season is so unique and each team is so unique and each situation that we’ve been in has been different. I don’t really think you can compare this situation to past ones. Certainly, knowing the atmosphere and what that’s going to be like, the competitive nature of the game, what that’s going to look like, will be somewhat helpful. At the end of the day, it’s about showing up and playing well. That’s really all that matters.

Q: It seemed last week there was a sense of fear about the Ravens. This week, because of history, there’s maybe a sense of comfort. I know you guys say that history doesn’t make a difference, but what do you guys do to make sure you’re not resting on your laurels and overlooking the Colts?

MS: I certainly wouldn’t say there’s a sense of comfort amongst the players and the coaches in our locker room. I think we have a sense of urgency and understanding of what this football team is capable of. They’ve won two games and are arguably the hottest team in the AFC, with one of the best young players in this league with Andrew Luck, so we understand that this game is going to be a dog fight. Whoever doesn’t play well, whoever doesn’t show up, their season is over. That’s the reality. A sense of comfort is not what we have at all. I think there’s a sense of urgency. We understand that we have to play better than we did last week or we will be watching the next game.

Q: Have you found through your experience in these types of games that special teams, which are important all the time, take on an even greater importance than they normally do?

MS: Certainly. As I’ve spoken with many of you about this over the season, those plays are unexpected. Big plays in the kicking game are unexpected and when you’re able to have a huge momentum play like that, especially in a game of this magnitude, it really can be the difference in the ball game. I think that those are plays we can’t take for granted. We have to go out each snap and have a sense of urgency and understanding that that could be the play that changes the game. We have to prepare with that same sense of urgency and understand that our phase of the game – it may be 20 snaps a game – but it could be all the difference at the end of the game.

Q: Tom Brady was in here earlier saying that during the week he’s a pretty mellow guy, but for those three hours on Sunday he just lets it rip with his emotions and everything. Do you ever look at him during the game and say, ‘What is this guy doing? Is he going nuts? Why is he going so crazy?’ Is that what he’s like?

MS: After playing with him for seven years now, you just know that Tom is a competitor and he wants to do well. He’ll do whatever he can, whatever is in his power, to encourage us to play better, to motivate himself to play better and at the end of the day, for us to win the game. Whatever that takes, if that’s him yelling at us, going crazy, then so be it. We’re just out there to compete, play well and hopefully have team success at the end of the day.

Q: Josh Cribbs wasn’t on the team the first time you played the Colts. Can you talk a little bit about what he brings to the return game?

MS: Certainly when you look at Josh Cribbs, he’s one of the best return men to have ever played in this league. I think that dynamic that he brings is going to have to change the way we prepare this week. How aggressive he is – he’s willing to take chances, he’s willing to put his body in compromising situations sometimes for the betterment of his team, all in the name of field position and making a big play. I think he’s unique in that he’s such a large man. I know we said that last week with [Ravens return specialist] Jacoby [Jones], but it’s the same thing this week with him. With how aggressive he is, as cover guys we can’t allow ourselves to get comfortable and assume anything with this guy because he’s liable to take it the distance any play.