Did everybody practice today?
"The guys we expected that would practice practiced and we had some guys that are limited right now. I'm excited that we will have all our guys when we get going next week when we prepare for who we are going to play next week."
What did you sense about the team by the way they practiced today?
"They seemed really focused. We cut back in terms on the number of plays, but the plays we ran, I thought we executed extremely well. We started introducing different things that we have to handle in the game and the guys realize that if we use this time properly, we can get a jump start on some things that we have to be able to defend and there are some things that we have to be able to attack that we can have a better understanding of."
Your last loss came out of the bye week. Is that at all irrelevant here or is there anything you can take from that and apply it to your preparations for next week?
"This is a different type of bye week. I don't see a comparison between the two of them because when you are in the middle of the year and you've played some games, the bye is about getting away and getting some rest because you know you've got a long haul after that. It's more mentally getting away from it. I think our guys understand that we are going to give them some rest, but this bye week is about doing some extra work in terms of preparation."
If you were asked to identify an unsung hero or two this year, is that impossible with all the guys that you've had?
"It's a long list. It's a real long list. As I've said, if in August you were talking about (Brandon) Siler starting the number of games at inside linebacker that he has or Brandyn Dombrowski starting at right guard and at right tackle over a considerable amount of time, I don't know that you would be sitting here thinking that this would've turned out the way it did."
Stephen Cooper is one guy that has gone under the radar. He's just been going out there and doing his job quietly. Has this year been one of his best years as a pro?
"Because he's done the football things that you are talking about, and he's stepped up another level in terms of being a leader and the quarterback of the defense. He makes things go by getting people lined up and runs the show when they get out on the field. Stephen (Cooper) is a very smart player who doesn't make mistakes. He's always been a real good tackler and has a good year in that area."
Given that he's healthy, can you see an expansion of L.T's role or is going to be the same thing that he's been doing?
"I saw it happen when we played Cincinnati, and that was the most production that L.T. has had in terms of the run and the pass mixed. I'm excited to have him fresh and healthy and we will still lean on Darren (Sproles) for the things he does well. I like the mix we have there."
Looking back on the season are there any games that you look back on and say, ‘that's how we need to play in the playoffs?"
"I've gone back through a lot of our games because I know whoever we play is going to be doing that, particularly the teams that we play who are similar to whoever it is. It's not one game, it's in a lot of games when the most critical situation came, that we made the stop or we made the great play, made the great punt, or we covered the kick well. That's what we have to do. Our games come down to the last two minutes and you make a lot of plays up to that point so you have a chance to win. You have to make plays in those situations to win and that's what our guys have done in all three phases."
Is that because of the focus the guys have had throughout the week? How do you prepare for a play when you don't know when it will happen?
"That's the key. There are four or five plays that will decide the game. You don't know which ones they are until you play the game. Our guys have done a great job with that but I really believe the experience that we have and the experience our players have had in those situations that have made the difference."
When you have such a high-powered offense, how critical is that left tackle with Marcus and what he's able to do?
"Particularly when you have a young right tackle where you don't have to, but we are prepared to help out a lot. Marcus is out there by himself. I look at what he did out there in that Dallas game and he had a great game. He's had a lot of great games this year but to go on the road and go up against what many believe to be the best pass rusher in the league and to play at the level he did, it says a lot about what he's done for us all year."
He's pretty loose all the time, have you ever seen him tight in games?
"I've seen him uptight. This game will humble everybody. We went to Tennessee a couple of years ago and it was long afternoon for him. Everyone in this league gets humbled at some time but it's how you respond. He always responds great."
If Don Coryell is amongst one of the 15 finalist for the Hall of Fame what would that mean to you?
"If that's the case, that's exciting because he means so much to so many different people that have been in this game. This system and this style started with him and it's gone around to so many different players and coaches that you can't name them all. Certainly Ernie (Zampese) coming to the Rams and me being involved with him for three or four years and getting to be around this offense was special. I've never had a close association with coach Coryell but I've got the utmost respect for him. When we used to come down with the Rams and practice the Chargers, I used to go and stand and watch him because it was so much fun to watch him coach and to see the energy he brought to practice."
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
What do you take away from past playoff experiences?
"I think just the way you lost the game and the way you won the game. I think that's what you take away from it. Some things you can do better, maybe starting the game or finishing the game. That's pretty much it because it's going to be a different team. The team we played a couple years ago, three years ago in New England, it's not the same team. Obviously, the Colts team we beat last year isn't the same team. It's different, but the experience factor is something you take away from it."
Are you guys the same team?
"No, we're not the same team. Obviously, we got a lot of the same guys on the team, but it's not the same team. I remember a long time ago one of our coaches saying, we had a team meeting and one of our coaches told us, ‘you know guys we need to get off the stuff we did last year. This is not last year's team. This is a totally different team. We may have a lot of the guys that were on the team, but it's a totally different team. We're a totally different team and that's the way we'll approach it.'"
Do past seasons predict anything?
"No. Absolutely not."
Can you point out one or two unsung heroes who have stepped up this season?
"You're putting me on the spot. I don't know about just one or two guys. You look at what our fullbacks have done, Salt and Pepper is what we call them. You look at them guys and you look at (Brandyn) Dombrowski coming in and doing what he's done for us. You look at Mooch (Scott Mruczkowski) who came in for Nick (Hardwick) and then Nick coming back. You look at couple guys across the defensive line, the guys that filled in. You can't really point to one or two guys. It's a lot of guys that helped us."
What does that mean to you?
"It's a total team game. We've proved it by the way we've had to play filling in different guys."
"They have done a great job with their preparation. We've seen them put extra time in the classroom. When we're playing certain teams, to know exactly what they're doing out there and it's helped them. We have the upmost confidence in them guys that they're going to get the stops that we need to get when we need to get them. That is something we talk about a lot between each other. We say, ‘hey guys, you need to get the stops and we're going to put points on the board and make it easy on you. You guys are making it easy for us and we'll do the same.' It works hand in hand."
How great is it for Philip (Rivers) to have the three big targets?
"I think if you ask any quarterback in the league they would love to have the size of those guys; big guys that can run. Any quarterback would love that. I think it works well with Philip. His strengths throwing the ball down the field and putting the ball in areas where only they can get it, I think has been great for him."
Is the ability for Gates and Vincent to be so athletic at 6'5" impressive?
"Yes, it's pretty impressive. It really is. To see those guys move, jump, spin and all of the things you're use to seeing smaller guys do; but big guys are doing it."
Do you notice a difference playing teams with playoff experience like the Patriots?
"I'm sure there is a bit of difference from the experience factor just by how they have different situations throughout the game. Experience a lot of times they don't make the mistakes that some of the teams that haven't been in the playoffs have. That's the biggest difference, but at the end of the day it's still football. You have to execute the plays that are called."
On Marcus McNeill's emergence and being a character:
"Mac came in right away as a rookie, if you remember and did well. He's been playing well for a long time. I think the difference this year is the mind set he has. He's healthy again, but he has that mind set of I can be dominate. He plays like it. Commenting on him being a little different is not such a bad thing. I like a crazy lineman. I really do. I think they're the best guys to have on the team. They keep it loose. Those are the guys you want out there."
QB Philip Rivers
Was there a different feel today?
"It was a little different feel. Obviously with the game 10 or 12 days away, I don't know if relaxed is the word, but there's a little different feel to practice, but it was good. It was focused and we got done what we needed to get done. There's certainly something about the feel of playoff time. There's 20 teams that are done and to be one of the teams again that has a chance, it feels good. The way our schedule sets up and everybody's mindset, this will be a really good week for us before we get into a regular game-week next week."
Are there a couple of unsung heroes from this team that stand out to you?
"It's hard. For me to single a few out, I'll leave some out but just coming to my mind offensively you've got Brandyn Dombrowski who fought like crazy to make this team and then all of a sudden in week one he's thrown in there at right guard for a couple weeks and then all of a sudden he's thrown in there at right tackle, and he also played almost a whole game at left tackle last week. He's a guy that has been huge and what he's been asked to do is very demanding and he's risen to the occasion. That's one guy that stands out on the offensive side of the ball. I could single out others that have been. I know there's been a lot made of Brandon Siler and his play. His will and eagerness to be in the lineup on defense has never stopped. Every day he's been here, he's wanted to be out there on the defensive side of the ball and at the same time appreciating and taking advantage of his role on special teams. Those are two guys that just come to mind and again I'm leaving some out. There's been so many guys that have contributed this year and in some way or fashion and I think it's been the most complete team effort for a season that we've had since I've been here and to have won those last 11 straight and have that many guys contribute even makes it that much more of a special regular season. Obviously we want a special postseason ahead, but it's a heck of a run we've had through 16 games."
Can you talk about the fullbacks, Jacob Hester and Mike Tolbert?
"Those guys are super unselfish guys. Everybody would love to take every snap at fullback but they're really super unselfish guys that really compliment each other well. You won't find any that are any tougher or that likes football any more than those two guys. Both of them have played at a really high level. They do different things and give us another dimension too, catching the football out of the backfield. Both of them have done that well. They're also two young guys that also contribute on special teams as well, really good special teams players, and it's been real nice to keep them both fresh and healthy and mix them both in there."
Talk about how the team stayed together after losing Nick Hardwick and Jamal Williams early in the season?
"I think it had an effect and there were other guys that were beat up as well. As healthy as we were through training camp, it went away after week one and we also had as tough as an opening schedule as we've probably had against some of the best run defenses and some of the best defenses in the league. We came out of that first five-game stretch 2-3 and things weren't looking so good. I remember standing right here and saying ‘we've got to keep playing one game at a time, there's 11 games left.' I remember saying ‘there's a whole college season left,' and I remember saying that and we won the rest of them, so that one game-at-a-time very zeroed-in approach worked well for us. And it'll take just that now. When you get in the postseason there are only 12 teams and there'll be eight left after this week. It's very easy to fall into or get caught up in who's left and what scenarios there are and I think it's key for us to stay as focused as we have all year in the one game at a time and don't get caught up in it so we can go out and play our best."
Is there a difference between playing a team with a lot of playoff experience like the Patriots and a team like Cincinnati or New York that hasn't been in it as much recently?
"Whoever it is, you're going to get a solid football team. They all bring different challenges, different experience and different schemes, so whoever you get there's obviously some similarities in some of them and there are some differences. Whoever it is, you get down to this time of the year they're going to be a challenge and a good team and we'll be enjoying but watching those games with high interest this weekend to see who it ends up being."
Are you able to anticipate the plays that Norv calls coming in from the sidelines?
"In many cases, I am able to anticipate what's coming in and if not, within the first few words I kind of know where he's headed with the play. That's a good sign. For one, that's doing it each game, each time we're around one another and when our offense is around one another you get that rhythm and that feel and understanding. And the way we practice and prepare, you should know or have an idea that when it's 3rd-and-2 what's coming in, or in a two-minute drive, what are we going to do. Our preparation and the experience that we've been through together allows for that to happen."
Can you talk about Marcus McNeill at left tackle?
"Marcus is playing at a really high level and this year, like usual, you see (the opponent's) best pass rusher on him every week. We went thru a span there in the NFC where you had (DeMarcus) Ware and Trent Cole and Osi Umenyiora in New York, and then Elvis Dumervil in our division and some of those guys and the list just goes on and on. But you usually get the best pass rusher and Marcus enjoys that challenge and kind of thrives in it. He's had a heck of a year and we'll need him to have him continue to play at a high level.
"We understand not only his importance, but the whole line play, including the tight ends and the backs. It allows us to push it down the field and do a lot of the things that we do. There's no doubt that they've played a huge part, as they always have in our success."
Can you talk about Marcus' personality?
"He has a little bit of that out-on-an-island mentality. At some point you're going to give up a sack but he has the mentality like he's never given up one and he's never going to give up one and that's the only way to do it when you're out there by yourself when you're getting in some cases, the best athlete on the field. He enjoys those challenges and brings it each and every week."
LB Stephen Cooper
How much has it helped you guys that you've avoided costly penalties and mental errors this season?
"That's so big. Whenever you give up penalties and give offenses a chance to get more yards and make more first downs, it keeps us on the field longer and keeps our offense on the sidelines. Our whole mentality is getting three-and-outs and turnovers because whenever Philip gets the ball, they're going to put points on the board. That's what we prey on."
Who are a couple of the "unsung heroes" on this team that have stood out to you?
"I would definitely say guys like Steve Gregory, Paul Oliver, Brandon Siler and Tim Dobbins. Those are the kind of guys that go under the radar because they haven't been doing stuff in the past but this year they've been making big plays. Brandon Siler is playing great inside linebacker. Tim Dobbins is doing a great job. So are Steve Gregory and Paul Oliver on the back end. If we can keep playing at our level, those guys are going to show that they're stars."
How much has that meant to you to have so many guys step up?
"It's big. Our defense, due to a lot of injuries this year, it showed how much depth we have. Our coaches are doing a great job of putting us in position to make plays and putting us in positions where our strengths are and not our weaknesses."
How do you make sure that you guys are ready for those four or five plays that can decide a game?
"The biggest thing is we're trying to make the big plays minimal. We gave up one big play last week that was very disappointing. I think this season we haven't really given up too many big plays. We make teams grind it out, run the ball, pass the ball. If we keep doing that, we'll have a successful year."
Have you spent any time looking at the Patriots yet as a possible opponent?
"We haven't really looked too much at them. We played Denver twice this year and they pretty much are similar to New England. Josh McDaniels was a great offensive coordinator there (in New England) and I think he carried the New England offense to Denver so we're real familiar with that. The Jets, we know they run a two-back offense. They like to run the ball so we know we have to be ready for that."
What did you learn from the Bengals game last month?
"We know that we've got to shut down Chad (Ochocinco). We've got to keep Cedric Benson at a minimal and not let him get any big runs. We've got to stay physical up front and get after the quarterback."
How different would it be to play a team with so much playoff experience like New England versus one like Cincinnati without a lot of postseason experience?
"It really isn't about what team we play. It's about us going out there and doing our job. We're real hungry right now. That's why we're on an 11-game win streak. We just want to make sure we get a first-round bye and have a home game. Guys were banged up but now we're healthy. We're going to go out and get these next two days of practice and look forward to next week, whoever we're playing."