Q. In your recap of the game in Buffalo, you said, "Largely, we were a disaster in all three phases, and we have to own that, starting with myself, and I do." How do you own that?
A. You know, first is just acknowledging it and analyzing why, and reviewing performance is a big component of moving forward. And I don't care whether it's positive results, or negative results. And then you formulate this week's plan with that growth and understanding in mind. There are some things that happened in-game, mix of people, best accentuating your positives and minimizing your negatives. I just think particularly on the front side of this journey, there's growth in all performances and how we analyze it, how we review it, how we take that information and formulate the next plan in an effort to grow is significant. And again, I'd be in that mindset regardless of outcome, but obviously, when it was as negative as it was last week, it makes that process and that mindset regarding that process doubly important.
Q. How do you expect the players to own that?
A. In the same ways that I do. The things I say to them, that I express to them, that I live out for them, I expect them to model. I expect them to own it. I expect them to analyze it. I expect them to formulate this week's plan and be all-in in their roles regarding it, and get singularly focused on the opportunity to redeem themselves
Q. Is part of "owning that" about words spoken in public, in sessions with the media as an example?
A. It can be, but I'm talking more intimately. I'm talking about not kidding ourselves, not looking in the mirror or among our groups and pretending it's something it's not. Now, it can be in regard to the media. I don't want our guys wasting any energy defending themselves for what transpired in the media. It's fruitless. We understand where we are. This is a big-boy football. This is professional football, there's a certain negativity that comes with negative performances. And so, we shouldn't waste any energy trying to combat that or deflect that in any way. And that's what owning it means as it pertains to the media in my opinion.
Q. When it comes to "owning it," is Kenny Pickett showing you what you need to see from a young quarterback?
A. He is. But he has shown me what he needs to show me in a lot of areas. Not only owning it, but just enjoying the process of preparation, of being open and honest in the process of growing as a leader and having difficult conversations with teammates. He's owning it in a lot of ways.
Q. Are you aware, or made aware, of what players and maybe even coaches are saying into microphones when asked about the team's current situation?
A. I get that information in a variety of ways, formally and informally, but it's not something that I spend a lot of time seeking out to be quite honest with you. When you hold the position that I hold, a lot of information ends up on your desk, particularly negative information. People can't wait to tell you.
Q. Or maybe do you deal with it proactively and tell them what you expect in terms of how they handle things before they get behind a microphone?
A. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Sometimes it's an opportunity for growth, and lessons are better learned organically. Sometimes I work to protect certain individuals because I understand where they are from a maturity standpoint or from an understanding standpoint relative to professional ball and so forth. I'm thoughtfully utilizing both approaches just depending on who we're talking about and when. I just think that's just a realistic perspective.
Q. In talking about how the team might be able to dig itself out of the hole it's currently in, you said that some of it was about the development of players and concepts. What are concepts?
A. Whether it's a defensive call, or an offensive call, or a special teams call, concepts grow within a group. The concept itself doesn't grow, but as our understanding of the concept grows, so does the concept. Not only guys' global understanding of the concept of what we're trying to get done with something, but their roles in it. It allows them to play fast and fluid individually and collectively, and oftentimes that's the difference, particularly on weighty downs. A receiver knowing his space in a zone on a possession down and tight turn into the quarterback will give him the necessary space to produce run-after-catch and maybe move the chains for a first down, maybe produce a much bigger gain. A guy who doesn't know and understand his space in zone, he's slower to react to that space, and there's less likelihood or opportunity for run-after-catch, etc. And so that's what I mean when I'm talking about concepts growing. I'm talking about guys' understanding of concepts and their roles in it allows concepts to grow and work more effectively. It's the same thing on the defensive side in the blitz game. Once we understand the timing of particular blitzes, those blitzes really grow in effectiveness. A late blitz is a bad blitz. Oftentimes, a poorly designed blitz run right oftentimes is a good blitz, because timing is such a critical component of the blitz game, for example. And so, individuals within a defensive unit learning how important timing is, the collective understanding of how important timing in the disguise is, allows a defensive call to grow. And that's what I meant by it.
Q. This is a phrase that seems to have been used a good bit over the years, and it has been applied to a variety of team sports – "lose the team." If something bad happens, but the players continue to compete, the coach is praised because he didn't "lose the team." If a team gets off to a bad start early, the situation will be monitored to see if the coach "loses the team." What does "lose the team" mean?
A. I think "lose the team" has very little to do with performance, and it has everything to do with attention. I think losing the team are things that happen outside the stadium as opposed to what happens inside the stadium. I know oftentimes from a lay person's perspective and from a media perspective, it's described and talked about based on what transpires in the stadium, but I think for those of us that are inside the business and inside team collectives, they understand that "losing the team" is something that happens day to day. It's something that happens in the drudgery and the routine, lack of attentiveness, etc. What happens inside the stadium is just kind of a result or the tells of what it is that you describe.
Q. You mentioned that it happens day-to-day. So how does it manifest itself? How do you know?
A. I don't know that you do. I don't know that anybody who's ever lost a team is standing in front of the mirror saying, "Hmm, I've lost this group." I think everybody knows but that guy.
Q. When you're on a regular schedule in terms of games being seven days apart, what's the process of putting the game plan together on both offense and defense?
A. Day 1 and day 2 of prep is first- and second-down football, high volume things. Alumni zone football is what you call it in college, the stuff that happens between the 20s on first and second downs that don't carry any weight and aren't situational in any way, aren't two-minute, aren't possession downs, aren't red zone. It's the high-volume stuff that's often described as offensive and defensive personality. Those are the things that are the focus on day 1 and day 2. Day 3, you start moving into possession down football, and that's a big component of it. Then day 4 and day 5, you really focus on other elements of situational play – red zone, short-yardage, goal-line, two-minute, etc. But you tee up that possession down football on day 3. You get out in front of that, you have two good days of that because those downs are so important in terms of keeping the drive alive from an offensive perspective and getting off the field from a defensive perspective. And then obviously, special teams has a similar progress along that developmental train, but that's usually less interesting so they don't talk a lot about it.
Q. How much adjusting happens once you get into the three practice days, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday?
A. Daily. Daily. But again, adjustments oftentimes are subtractions as opposed to additions. You have an idea that a concept is potentially fruitful. You work at it. You look at it on a Wednesday. You don't like it. You take another look at it on Thursday. You confirm it, yay or nay. And so many times these discussions about fine tuning or adjustments are subtraction-based discussions, although not exclusive to that. I'd imagine it's probably 3-to-1 subtractions to additions as you lean in on the weekend.
Q. When it comes to calling plays off the final list, are those called just one time apiece?
A. No, it depends. Some plays, like I mentioned some alumni zone plays or high-volume plays, you might call a base run four or five times in a football game; you might make a base run-stopping defensive call five to seven times in a football game. Some things are high volume calls. Some things are called multiple times, but they're dressed up differently. You might have a third-and-medium call that you like, and so you might dress it up a couple of different ways and call it two or three times, and so some things get called multiple times. And to be quite honest with you, based on circumstance, oftentimes, there are certain things that don't get called for a myriad of reasons – matchup related things, player availability, attrition that happens in-game, the moment never presented itself, etc. There's more preparation than oftentimes gets displayed in terms of what's called because you'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
Q. If a play doesn't work the first time it's called in a game, do you ever go back to it?
A. It depends on why it didn't work. If it didn't work because of execution, you might have a conversation and go back at it. You might insert a different guy and go back at it. If it didn't happen because of schematics, maybe we didn't get the look from our opponent that we wanted. And so maybe you take another shot at it hoping to get the look that you intended. And so sometimes success or no, you run things back in an effort because you're looking for something. It's not as simple as that didn't work, so put it on the shelf. It's much more complex than that. Why did it break down? Is it personnel related? Is it scheme or matchup-scheme related? Is it worth taking another shot in an effort to get a desired schematic that you wanted to run it against? It's just complexities to the conversation.
Q. OK, flip it around. You call a play that works. Do you ever call the same play on the very next snap?
A. You're capable. But 99 percent of the time, if you do it's dressed in a different way. And so that's what I mean – you give life to a concept by dressing it up. Different formation variations, different personnel groupings, pace. All are variables in terms of how people digest opposing concepts, whether it's offense or defense. And so, you put a different look on it. If it's a defensive blitz, you run it out of base, you run nickel out there and you run it out of nickel. If it's offense, you go three-wide receivers, and if you like it, you run two wide receivers out there, and you present it in a different way. Oftentimes things that are repeated because of success are dressed up differently, but at its core it's the same concept.
Q. Today's challenge is Tom Brady. Even at 45 years old, is that how you have to look at it, that today's challenge is Tom Brady?
A. Without question because his intellect is what makes him unique and special, but that would have been true if he was 25 as opposed to 45. It's always been his above-the-neck game and the way he processes information and his competitive spirit that drives him, and that's why as some of his physical skills maybe erode because we're all human and Father Time is undefeated, he's still highly effective and someone to be reckoned with. Because it's the intangible things that make Tom Brady Tom Brady. His processing, his competitive spirit, his leadership, his pinpoint accuracy, oftentimes don't get highlighted enough. Arm strength is one thing, arm strength leaves you. Pinpoint accuracy, I would imagine Terry Bradshaw is pretty accurate right now. Probably not at great distances, but probably still very accurate.
Q. You mentioned all those intangibles, but if you had to pick one of those, what makes Tom Brady what he has become?
A. Competitive spirit. It's in the eyes. That guy is a lot of things, and I hadn't spent time around him, but one of the things you know about him if you're in this business is that he seeks competition. That's why he's still doing it. I mean, there's nothing that's missing on his trophy shelf in his basement at his house. OK, so why is he still doing this? Because he's a competitor and those competitive spirits still burn. And he's got to feed that beast.