: “It was a big step for us as a team. Nothing’s changed on this end. We went into this game with the sole intent and purpose of trying to figure out a way to play better than the Tennessee Titans
today, at home, in front of our crowd, and get to two wins in this fourth quarter of the season, and we were able to do that. It was far from perfect, but I’m really happy with the guys for the effort and the enthusiasm with which they played. Their focus was really good. We did some things we’ve got to clean up and that we’ve got to understand can hurt us in different situations than today, but we’ll handle that. A couple of the keys here for us were special teams, number one; we wanted to play well on special teams. I thought our punter and punt coverage was terrific, against a guy that’s done some real damage to teams – this young (Mark) Mariani. I thought Dustin (Colquitt) and the cover team were terrific. Kickoff team/kickoff coverage was another area that we had to be real good in. We didn’t have the best kicks. When it’s cold and the weather is like this…we still have a young kicker in Ryan (Succop) that’s got to understand the conditions. He’ll get better. As far as his kickoffs go, he is in this cold weather and you go from an indoor stadium to an outdoor, cold atmosphere…he’s just going to get better and better. That being said, our cover guys were really good, did a terrific job of flying down the field, making plays for us. I thought our return game in both areas was pretty good and that’s been something that’s been getting better. That was one of the keys to this game for us going in; we wanted to be real good on special teams and feel like we won on special teams and I feel like we did that when it was all said and done.
“Defense…I thought again we have to eliminate these potential game-changing, one-play big plays that have kind of hurt us throughout the year. Other than a couple of those big plays and a couple of penalties at the wrong time, which we’ve got to eliminate, I thought our defense played really good against one of the best runners in the league in Chris Johnson. We made Eric Berry one of our coach’s pick captains this week which is a big deal having a first-year guy doing it and I thought he stood up and made a big play when we really needed it; knowing that they were going to get the ball to start the second half - interception for a touchdown and had another interception called back…Brandon Carr had a big play defensively…I can’t name them all. I thought the pass rush was good, for the most part, throughout the game, but again you have to stop the run first, make them one-dimensional…I felt like we were able to do that. I’m really proud of our guys on defense and I thought the plan we had going in was terrific and the guys understood it and were focused and did a great job.
“Offensively, there were a lot of really good things. Dwayne Bowe has been a little quiet here for a couple weeks, but he was challenged and stepped right up to the plate. He stepped right up and made a bunch of big plays for us. I thought Matt played terrific for the most part, really operated well, was efficient, especially early in the game, which we wanted to do (to start well). He took us up and down the field and did an excellent job and the runners combined, fought it out against a team that was clearly intent upon stopping the run. We were still able to get enough running in there to make the game go the way we wanted it to go. It was a big win for us. I don’t think a lot of people thought we were getting to 10 and that’s a big step for this team. I know I don’t mention it a whole bunch, but I am proud of these guys and what they’ve done.
“I’m going to take this opportunity to wish everyone happy holidays and Merry Christmas. Thanks for coming out - all the great fans. It was loud and it was hostile and that’s just the way we like it. These guys like playing here.”
By the end of the day, you guys could be division champs. Worst case scenario, you’re playing Oakland next week for the division. What kind of accomplishment have you seen with this program, just being in that position? “I mentioned the 10 because double-digit wins in this league is a milestone, but it’s not why we’re playing, not why we’ve worked this hard for the last year and three quarters. We’re in the present tense and we’re trying to get to three wins in this fourth quarter and that is really all that we’re worried about. I told them that they could root for whoever they want to this afternoon, but I’m rooting for this team, for the guys in that room. We’ve got a nice group of guys that are learning how to really look out for each other and really stick together when things aren’t great. When you can do that, weather little interruptions and storms, good things happen and you have a chance to become a really good team, so that’s where we are. Next week we’ve got a chance to reach our goal, get to three wins for the third time this year and that would be huge.”
On taking Matt Cassel out in the third quarter and playing Brodie Croyle instead: “I have a great respect for the Tennessee Titans. It was not a situation where we thought we had the game in hand or anything like that. It was a strategic area that we had to get cleaned up. I’ve got complete faith in Brodie and it didn’t hurt Brodie to get a little playing time in there. We just had to get something cleaned up strategically with Matt, what we weren’t able to get done during the change of possession. There was a fairly quick turnover, so Brodie got some snaps, but unfortunately, we tipped the ball to them.”
Why Eric Berry as a team captain? “That’s been something that we as a coaching staff have done all year, giving guys an opportunity to get up in front of their teammates and help lead the team and we haven’t had a young guy. We’ve already said to these guys they aren’t rookies anymore. They’ve got enough experience under their belts that we’ve taken that label off of them.”
Not because it was against Tennessee? “Some of those things factor in; he’s not from there, but he spent a lot of time there. It’s a big honor for those guys that we give it to because the rest of the guys are team-voted and this is just a weekly thing and it was a big thing.”
On the play of QB Matt Cassel, especially since coming back from the appendectomy: “He was very efficient last week and again this week in all phases. He’s clearly become the leader of this team and these guys are looking to him for that leadership. I think when you go through some things like he went through it just adds to [the leadership]…the guys already knew everything that he’s shown [prior to the surgery] that he’s going to be willing to do anything and everything for this team to help it win.”
On RB Jamaal Charles’ productivity, especially in the passing game: “Jamaal coming out…I always thought Jamaal had real good hands and has natural receiver skills; it was more with Jamaal being able to handle all facets because being a running back in this league is a difficult job because you are one of the few guys, you and tight ends, that have to transition between run and pass and that adds in a whole bunch of factors that can affect you as a play’s going on. I just think it’s been more of Jamaal developing and getting a better grasp of his role on this team and that’s what we’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks. The next step for us, as a team, is just guys understanding their roles. I believe firmly that on good teams, that’s what really starts to occur as the year goes on – guys understand their role on the team. It may change due to injury and things like that, but when you get to this stage of the season, the more that guys understand, and it may just be being a practice squad look guy but that’s the most important job. Once they understand their roles, they can just do it to the fullest of their ability and then you start to really operate as an efficient team. When you see teams really blossom and become good teams, that’s one of the things that occurs. In Jamaal’s case, he’s got a big role on this team. He does a number of different things for us and he’s got the ability to do it. He’s just done a wonderful job of understanding his role and making plays for us, both run and pass.”
How much did the way Matt Cassel bounced back from his surgery reinforce his leadership, maybe even step it up a notch? “I think all the guys knew that he was willing to lay everything on the line for this team way before that occurred. When you do have something like that, you’re talking about having an organ removed from your body, it takes a guy fighting to get back into the lineup as quickly as he did that strongly reinforces what [his teammates already] knew. You can’t say enough about him, but really just the way this team has developed into a team that believes in each other, knows their roles and embraces them…we have a lot of guys like that. They are not going to be taken out. It’s going to take a lot for them to be out of the game because they want to be in there helping their team.”
On WR Dwayne Bowe: “I can’t say enough about Dwayne, how he’s developed here…you’ve seen him just blossom also. There are too many guys to talk about. I was mad at Dwayne for a second because I thought that he had over-celebrated, but the officials told me you could only have one guy jump into the stands and I guess we had multiple guys, so we’ll have to get them on that. I was mad for a second because I thought there was a slip up, but Dwayne was like, ‘Coach, I knew you were yelling at me but I knew I didn’t do anything wrong.’ Dwayne has really developed and that is the name of the game.”