Labriola On

Tomlin on the decision, Kenny being Kenny

Q. In assessing the team's performance against the Jets, one of the points you made was that "I think that we're all motivated to continue to work to do some of the things that we need to do to change the outcome of these games." What are some of the things that need to be done?
A. Singular focus. Detail, and the understanding that allows concepts to stand up in weighty moments. Play-making. We're down the field one-on-one in a couple of instances with some defensive backs and some safeties last week vs. some of our most dangerous guys, and we don't make the plays, and the plays don't get made for a myriad of reasons. But from a big picture perspective, that's what we want. We want our playmakers down the grass in one-on-one circumstances, and we've got to take those shots, and we'll continue to take those shots. But we've got to make the plays. And so, it's not just play-making. It's detailed coaching and creating an atmosphere where we've got an understanding when everyone is playing fast and more importantly, we're playing collectively fast. We're making good decisions on our feet. There's fluidity to the collective. And so that's what I mean when I'm talking about it. We're not getting the plays that we desire to change the outcome of the game, but it doesn't mean we're not in the right neighborhood knocking on the right doors. We've just got to continue to elevate in terms of execution and understanding, and thus the outcome of plays will change.

Q. Do you try and figure out why these things aren't happening? Does that help if you figure out why they aren't happening in terms of turning it around?
A. It's not hard to figure out why they're not happening. It's about developing the cultural routines day to day where we have a high level of preparedness, and we make routine plays routinely. I think that's a signature of professionalism. When we talk about football or anything else, you make the difficult look easy. You make routine plays routinely. It's not about the spectacular, it's about how elevated your floor is, how consistently you deliver performance as a collective. That's the balance we're trying to strike.

Q. During training camp, you talked about having an expectation for the defense to be dominant. In terms of meeting that expectation, is the ability to close out games with your defense at the top of the list?
A. Certainly. It's at the top, if not THE top (of the list). You want to put an exclamation point on your work. Your finish oftentimes defines you whatever it is you're talking about. And so those waning moments of the game are the weightiest moments of the game and thus, ultimately, those are the ones that define us the most.

Q. Is there something extra or special that needs to happen or needs to be done in order to function in those weighty moments?
A. Well, the games unfold differently each and every week. Sometimes it's attrition-oriented that requires the adjustment. You lose guys in-game, and you elevate backups, you have to adjust your schematics, they have to adjust their communication and understanding. Sometimes it's what's going on in-game that requires adjustments. But the bottom line is at the end of games, usually it's going to require some subtle adjustments not only by us, but by everyone. And ultimately how those games unfold depend on our ability to adjust appropriately and our guys' ability to execute those adjustments.

Q. You explained the decision to make the change to go with Kenny Pickett for the second half last Sunday as "looking for a spark." How does Pickett specifically provide a spark?
A. Points. The fluid movement of the ball, the winning of possession downs, the putting the ball in the end zone. I'm really specific when I'm talking about a spark. I'm talking about lighting up the scoreboard, winning possession downs, maintaining possession of the ball. Those are the things that I think happened when we went to him in the second half. Obviously not enough to win the game, and so there's more work there. We'll keep our head down and keep working, but he provided the spark that we hoped that he would.

Q. What about his interactions with his teammates? At the game last Sunday, it just seemed that there was a jolt of energy, and not only through the stands, but along the sideline as well. What about Pickett, in his interactions with his teammates, lends itself to that kind of reaction?
A. You know, I don't know if there is anything special that he does. I just think it's innately him. It's the same thing that endeared him to his teammates at Pitt, and the reaction of the crowd is probably an extension of the relationship that he had with his fan base at Pitt. He is who he is. He's highly competitive. He's a sharp guy. He's really genuine in terms of his desire to win and what he's willing to do in pursuit of it. And I think all of those things are attractive.

Q. Also with respect to the decision to change quarterbacks, you said, "Mitch's performance was a component of the decision, but not the only component of the decision." What specifically about his performance were you referring to?
A. Just that ability to bring out the best in others. We were lacking a little bit in the intangible things that position is measured by. Sometimes it's not about what he's not doing. Sometimes it's just simply about what Kenny might be capable of adding that we're not seeing. And so, I was somewhat vague because it is somewhat vague. There's an intangible component to it. I was asked a week ago, "When I'm there will I know it?" I said that I would, and I was there, and I knew it.

Q. Had you been getting closer to making a quarterback change as the first month of the season progressed, or did it all come on suddenly last week?
A. I think it all came about suddenly. Again, I don't anticipate failure. I don't weigh the possibilities. I'm not wired like that. We make decisions. We get 100 percent behind decisions. I think that's the way that you make decisions or plans, but we got to a point at halftime of that game last week and we realized it was time to make a change and so we made it. But I don't know that there was a high level of anticipation of that discussion, or the anticipation of being there. Business for us just doesn't run like that.

Q. Who's involved in the conversation? Not that you're asking for input, but don't you have to tell some people?
A. I welcome the responsibility of making those decisions, and I'm not putting them off on any other party. Certainly, I had conversations and gained opinions, but some people provide opinions, other people make decisions. And I'm the guy who makes decisions.

Q. But who needs to know?
A. Everyone. In terms of when decisions are made? Everyone.

Q. For example, that particular decision at that particular time – do you announce it to the team as a whole?
A. I did.

Q. You mentioned it during the training camp/preseason period, and then you mentioned it again earlier this week, and that was to praise the professionalism of your three quarterbacks through this process of the competition and then into the season up to the present where you've made a change at the starting spot. Have you found that such a level of professionalism through all of this is something that's rare in the NFL?
A. I don't know if it's rare. I hadn't been in a lot of these circumstances, or circumstances like this. But it doesn't mean I hadn't been around long enough to not appreciate it. I appreciate it. I appreciate the quality men they are, the team-first guys that they're displaying. And I just think sometimes it makes difficult times and decisions easier. Not easy, but easier.

Q. In the NFL, how do you help a rookie quarterback when it comes to putting together a plan for the upcoming game?
A. It depends on who he is and what the circumstances are. We don't view Kenny under those normal circumstances, to be quite honest with you. We're not working on a small menu and being as thoughtful as we were maybe when we were playing Duck Hodges. No. This guy is a quarterback. He's varsity. He's capable of leading us and delivering. And so, we're proceeding under really what you could describe as normal quarterback preparatory approaches and circumstances.

Q. Are there things that are off the table because of the venue?
A. No. I mean, we're not giving venue any unique considerations. Obviously, we understand it's a difficult circumstance, but it's also one that is very familiar. This is probably the third year in a row that we're playing in Buffalo or against this outfit and so it's somewhat routine for us.

Q. What are some of the kinds of things you would anticipate from Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier to make Pickett's life difficult today?
A. I believe Leslie and Coach Sean McDermott are fundamentalists. They have a core group there that's been together for a number of years. They do what it is that they do. And I don't expect that to change.

Q. So there's not a book in the NFL on how to torture rookie quarterbacks?
A. Everybody likes to think there's a book, but the reality is people just go out and play, and playing is difficult enough for most rookies. And so that's why it's always a topic of debate – teams' records vs. rookie quarterbacks, records vs. rookie quarterbacks for defenses and defensive coordinators, etc. The bottom line is most of the time when rookies are playing it's less than ideal circumstances. It's not because of what their capabilities are, but usually because of what's not being done around them. And I just think that Kenny's circumstance is a little bit different and over time, he'll prove that.

Q. In previous years, I would ask you going into a game like this, "What do you need from your quarterback today?" And you would say, "We need Ben to be Ben." What do you need from Kenny Pickett today?
A. We need Kenny to be Kenny. And the beautiful thing is he'll write that story. And so, I gotta give him the latitude to be him and to write that story and define what that means. When you put somebody in a position of leadership and they have the talent to do so, you've got to give them latitude to be themselves. If it's going to be special, it has to be somewhat organic. And so, I'll ride with that statement, and I'll ride with that statement for the sole purpose of giving him the latitude to define it with his play over the course of his career, and so it's an exciting thing. Let's live it. But along the way, understand that we don't grade on a curve. Victory is what we seek. Our business is winning.

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