Patriots LB Mike Vrabel Conference Call

<p>New England Patriots and former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Mike Vrabel spoke with reporters Wednesday to talk about the AFC Championship game this Sunday. Here is the transcript of his comments during that interview.</p>

PHOTO: New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel is shown during their AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Jan. 27, 2002 in Pittsburgh. The Patriots take on the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002 in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Q. Is it just a coincidence that in the AFC Championship Game that you are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only other team that you have played for in your eight years in the NFL?

MIKE VRABEL: I would say it's pretty much a coincidence, but I think they are both good teams and they both deserve to be there. So I guess I've been lucky enough to play for two good organizations.

Q. How do you think Bill Cowher and Bill Belichick are alike and not alike as coaches, since you've played for both of them?

MIKE VRABEL: Well, I mean, I think they both, are very good at what they do. I think that Bill Belichick is a guy that really puts a lot into the game plan and has a strength with the X's and O's.

I think that Bill Cowher does a great job of motivating his guys and getting his guys ready to play. You know he gets everything out of his players. Everybody that's been through there has been successful.

Q. What do you remember most from Super Bowls as far as having the possibility of going to another one?

MIKE VRABEL: Well, I don't try to look that far ahead. To make it to one is special and I appreciate it. So really I think our focus right now is directly on the Pittsburgh Steelers and the problems they present.

Q. Tell me about leading the New England Patriots, a career-high 9.5 sacks, the most of any player under the Bill Belichick tenure?

MIKE VRABEL: I think that you get lucky. You try to look back, and convert on all of your opportunities when you get around a quarterback. Sometimes you miss him and sometimes you get him. I think to be able to make the move and get in the pocket and do what we are trying do as a game plan is more important than trying to put up some big numbers.

Q. Having played in Pittsburgh, both Championship Games are in Pennsylvania and there's a possibility of an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl. What makes football so special there in that state? What did you experience in your years there at Pittsburgh that just could make this such an event?

MIKE VRABEL: Well, I think there's a toughness. I think there's a toughness in the state. You look at Ohio, for me growing up in Ohio and playing high school football in that state and watching it now and watching it grow, you see the similarities between Pennsylvania and Ohio. And the toughness that they bring and the tradition and the kids that grow up, they want to be like the great players, and they want to follow in those great players' footsteps onto college.

I think both states have great college programs that breed football.

Q. Last week you guys played the No. 1 passing offense and this week you're playing the No. 2 rushing offense. How different is that in preparing and what challenges does it present?

MIKE VRABEL: It presents a lot of challenges. I think that you have to leave last week; you have to let it go. And this week, you have to put a neck roll on and you have to prepare for something a little different and be ready to go in and try to match their physical toughness.

Q. Are you expecting a lot of Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis in this game? Are you expecting them to double up like in the past?

MIKE VRABEL: I don't see them doing anything different. I don't think we stopped either back in the previous game. They have got to feel pretty confident with whoever they put out.

Q. What can you do schematically-wise? Last time it seemed like they had success up front; is it just a matter of you guys getting off blocks more?

MIKE VRABEL: We just have to -- you have to play better and fundamentally. You have to try to buckle down a little bit, where instead of trying to come off blocks and giving up some push, you just kind of have to stay in there and stay on blocks and maintain your position and not try to come off blocks, and by that time, the guy is pushing you three yards down the field and you're trying to make a tackle.

Q. Is this team better than the 2001 team you beat?

MIKE VRABEL: This would be the best football team that we have played to date.

Q. In the whole run?

MIKE VRABEL: Absolutely. It wasn't even a game last time; they were running the clock out after halftime.

Q. What learning experience do you think this team has gained losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular season, going into this AFC Championship Game, and just the playing experience overall of playing this team once and knowing what they are capable of?

MIKE VRABEL: I don't think you really learn much or gain much from losing. I think that we realized that obviously we can't show up and turn the ball over four times and get down 21-3 because you're not going to win that football game against Pittsburgh. They are not going to shoot themselves in the foot. They are not going to make a whole lot of mistakes.

We obviously realize the nature that they like to play, and that's physical and tough and they are well-coached. It will be a heck of a challenge.

Q. What's the difference going from the Colts where the quarterback directs everything to an offense with a rookie where they kind of support him? How do you approach that?

MIKE VRABEL: Well, I think that you just have to put the game into his hands, and we weren't able to do that the last time.

So, they are going to continue to run it and do the things that they have been so successful with that no one all year has been able to stop them. We are going to have to try to do that, and that's a difficult task, so we have to start today and tomorrow and really prepare and be ready to play and be ready from the get-go. Just to get down like we did last time, you can't do that.

Q. Did you see anything that the Jets did that you guys might try to incorporate? You don't have to go into specifics, but what did they do specifically? They had success against Roethlisberger twice this year?

MIKE VRABEL: I think the Jets -- after playing them, they are a good football team. I don't think it was some aberration that they played well against Pittsburgh. They didn't play well enough to win, but they played well enough to give themselves a chance in the fourth quarter.

I think we need to -- we need to do our own stuff. We can't just sit there and try to change things this late in the season and just say, well let's just try to do what the Jets did. We have to go in there and do what we've done and what we've been successful with over the years.

Q. If the Patriots do or do not get by the Steelers and get to the Super Bowl, do you think that yourself and other players will be okay since you know these past few years you've been there and you can always get back there next year?

MIKE VRABEL: You know, that's pretty silly and ridiculous, but if you want to go that route, you can. But I think that our focus is on winning this game and preparing. The one thing we try not to do is look ahead and think about what would happen if this or if certain things happen.

Q. Anything that they did that surprised you scheme-wise in the Halloween game?

MIKE VRABEL: They played great. They played the way they have played all year. They played unbelievably consistent. You know, when they do that each week and you have a team that shows up each week and just does what they do, it's tough because you know that every week is going to be a battle, and every week they are going to be ready to play and they are going to bring that same intensity every week.

Q. What are your best memories of playing in Pittsburgh?

MIKE VRABEL: Well, I think, you know, obviously we made it to the AFC Championship Game my rookie year. I enjoyed my time at Pittsburgh, but it just wasn't as fulfilling as you would hope, you know, coming out of college and being there. So you play four years there and you put everything into it that you can, like I did and I think they will say the same thing. It was a good time to move on.

Q. Did your career develop more under Belichick than if you would have stayed in Pittsburgh?

MIKE VRABEL: No, I don't think so. I think I got more of an opportunity and I became a better player just from the linebacker standpoint. I had not played there until my second year in Pittsburgh. I was a defensive end and I played the same position that Aaron Smith did. So at 250 pounds I was trying to play that position my first year in Pittsburgh and soon after that, we changed to linebacker, but it took some time. It wasn't like they didn't have good players. Obviously, you've seen the type of players that leave Pittsburgh and go onto play other places.

Q. If this is another bad-weather game, do you think it would favor your defense a little bit?

MIKE VRABEL: I don't think that the weather or the cold or the temperature or the snow would favor either team. It would favor the team that plays better.

Q. You're ranked in the top five every year in red zone defense. What makes your defense so good when you get down in that area?

MIKE VRABEL: Unfortunately when you give up plays to get down there, you'd better be pretty good when you get down there. Unfortunately I think we've had a tendency to give up some cheap plays to get down there, but we've been able to regroup and we've got a good scheme. I think that's a key to winning in the NFL is just making teams try to kick field goals.

Q. What role has Romeo had in shaping the defense?

MIKE VRABEL: He's had a lot. People try to overlook him and his importance in our game plans. But, you know, he's got a great staff underneath him, and then they give us a good plan and he comes in and he's able to relay it and give it to the players. And we work on it through the week and he makes changes where he sees necessary.

Q. Curtis Martin of the Jets this week said that Belichick is kind of like Bobby Fisher, and if you give him time to prepare for a team he will dissect it. When you get your game plan every week, do you look at it in amazement at times?

MIKE VRABEL: Well, I think there's certain things that he picks up, and it may not be necessarily reflective in the game plan. But he'll show us clips of things that he's picked up through his study and try to relay them to us and he does a good job. He does a great job.

Q. Why do you like the 3-4, and what are the advantages and the differences between the way Pittsburgh plays?

MIKE VRABEL: I think obviously the linebacker -- the 3-4 gets another linebacker on the field; I think that the more opportunities that you have to get five guys on the field that are linebackers it is good. Obviously, I enjoy it and Tedy Bruschi and McGinest and Ted Johnson, all through the line.

I think they blitz a little bit more, you know, out of it than we do. The formation and everyone lining up I think looks the same. I think they do a little bit more blitzing out of it than we do, and I think that's been their characteristic pretty much since Coach Cowher has been there. That's what they do and they have been very successful with it.

Q. How do you explain Bruschi's uncanny nose for the ball?

MIKE VRABEL: He made plays in college and he made plays since he's been here. It continues and he's just a guy that's just a football player making football plays. It's not something that you can practice or it's not something that you can coach guys. You have guys that can go out there and you have guys that can't, and Tedy is certainly one that makes them and makes them at important times in the game.

Q. What makes the Steelers' line so tough this year? They had a poor year last year; is it a matter of them being healthy or specific players doing things that you've picked up on from the last game?

MIKE VRABEL: They are a great unit. I think that the one thing that any player will tell you is when things are going well, you're playing that much better. And so they are getting good effort out of their backs, and that's making the line just play that much better and block harder and know that if they block, they are going to have success. I think that they have gotten the credit that they deserve.

Q. Are they different in that they are going to stick with the run; even with the Jets they really stuck with the run -- is that unique in the NFL and is it easier to prepare knowing they are not going to put the game in the quarterback's hands?

MIKE VRABEL: Well, they have run the ball more percentage of the times than anybody in the last 20 years. I think that would tell you that they are not going to -- they are not going to steer away from what they have done. They run the ball 60 percent of the time. So I would imagine that that's going to continue.

But, you know, when they have to, and when they want to and they choose to, they go downfield and they make big plays. They have got receivers that can do it and they have a quarterback that's been able to get them the ball.

Q. What do you think of Cowher's struggles in these Championships games? Is it just coincidence, he's obviously done a good job in Pittsburgh to get them there, but they can't get over the hump. Do you take anything out of that from when you were there?

MIKE VRABEL: No, I always thought we were well prepared. I've only played in this league eight years, and I'm not about to try to critique coaches, especially one that's won eight division titles in 13 years.

Q. What do you make of the fact that you guys are favored in this game when everyone was counting you out last week?

MIKE VRABEL: Well, we don't take much of it. Everybody in this business and this profession has to have short memories; so it's "what have you done for me lately" and that's what happened. You play a good game and everybody jumps back on and they want to make you the favorite.

So I know they are not making much out of it and I certainly know we are not.

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