HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN**
"Just start here by sending my congratulations to (Fox 26 Sports Director) Mark Berman, who won the Ron Stone Award for media excellence last night at the Houston Touchdown Club, very, very well-deserving, Mark. Congratulations."
What did you think about your former player, Carl Nassib, winning the Lombardi Award?
"Oh yeah, just a great honor for him, great honor for Penn State. He was a guy that was a walk-on player when I was there and I was able to put him on scholarship going into my second year there. Worked hard, great kid, great family, very bright guy, and it was just really good to see him win that last night."
How much do you expect DE J.J. Watt's hand injury to affect him at all this week?
"No, I don't think it will affect him."
Do you expect him to play on Sunday?
When it comes to injuries, how does that affect how you game plan?
"You have to, as long as they are not on injured reserve obviously, you have to prepare for all their players. Whoever it might be, whether it's (Rob) Gronkowski or whoever. It's the same for them, I'm sure. Not to speak for them, but everybody has to prepare for the active roster and who may be there on game day. Obviously, you watch film and you see who their key players are and things like that, but you have to prepare for the whole roster."
Has NT Vince Wilfork given you what you expected from him this year and has anything about him surprised you?
"He's given us everything we've hoped for. He's given us obviously good play. He's given us good leadership, good veteran presence in the locker room. I wouldn't say – we knew that we were getting a really good football player that had played a lot of football in this league, and we knew we were getting a good leader and that's what he is."
If Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is able to go, what kind of impact does that have on the game?
"Big impact on the game. I mean, great football player, big, athletic, tough, great catch radius, great hands, instinctive player. I had him his first two years, 2010, 2011, really, really good football player, great guy. One thing that impressed me about him is right away how he was able to pick up the game and learn the game, the pro game, and just really good instincts. If he's out there, that's a big, big challenge for us."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROMEO CRENNEL
Can you talk about NT Vince Wilfork as a rookie in New England versus the Vince Wilfork you have today?
"The main thing about Vince then as a rookie, he was coming from a college program, they were a 4-3 penetrating defense and he was coming to a two-gap style defense, and generally, there is some transition that has to take place, but the thing that impressed me about Vince is he decided that he wanted to play and he put all of his energy into learning how to two-gap and how to play in our system and was able to play and help us. Now you see what kind of career he has had. That was the first exposure. Now this exposure, after being in the league for a while and playing many games and all of those kinds of things, one of the reasons we wanted him was because we knew what kind of football player he was, but we also felt like he would be a great leader and help the guys in the locker room and help us grow as a team and he is providing what we anticipated that he would provide."
If Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski plays on Sunday, how much does that change things?
"Gronk, he is not your prototypical tight end, but he is big, fast strong, aggressive, so you have to allocate some resources to him because Tom (Brady) likes him, Tom trusts him and when he is there, Tom goes to him. If we can take him away or slow him down, that will be a plus for us. If he is there, we have to do something about him."
What was he told about Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien before he accepted the job?
"I wasn't told anything about Bill. All I knew about Bill was that he went to Penn State and he was the head coach there in a tough situation and got the guys to play hard and won some games. Then, I was able to sit down and talk with Bill before I took the job and I felt that Bill was a football coach, football was important to him. Plus, he knew some people that I knew and things like that, so I felt like it would be a good situation, so I took the job."
How has Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien progressed from the first meeting with him to now?
"I think all first-time coaches in this league learn a lot. I have seen him learn. I have seen him adapt and adjust and you have to do that at this level because so many things happen. There are three or four things that happen every day that you haven't planned for, you are not expecting, and you have to deal with and he has been able to do that and deal with it and adjust. Still, with him, football is the most important thing and I think that is what makes him good."
How does he expect Texans CB Kevin Johnson to bounce back this week?
"Well, Kevin is a competitive guy, so I think that he will want to prove that he was better than he showed and so I know he has been working very hard in practice and once he is on the field, I think if they go after him, I expect him to be able to make a play and help us win."
What are the challenges of a guy like Patriots WR Danny Amendola?
"He is the prototypical slot guy. He has got speed. He has got quickness, he has got toughness, has a good understanding of defenses and leverage and how to read routes and how to run the route away from coverage. With that combination, it makes it tough for one guy to defend him a lot of times, you know, you have to try to get some help from somewhere and therein lies the problem with the Patriots. They have so many good players, you can't put help everywhere, so you have to decide where you are going to try to help and then, sometimes, it is a roll of the dice. You study the tape and you have a game plan and you say, 'Okay, I am going to try to help on this guy at this time, I am going to help on that guy next time,' and when you are right, it looks good and when you are wrong, it doesn't look good. With the weapons they have, that is part of the problem."
What do you see as some of the similarities of Texans DE J.J. Watt and former Giants LB Lawrence Taylor?
"Well, they are both tremendous football players and they give tremendous effort on the football field. They both like the game of football, they have a lot in common that way. If J.J. continues to play the way he is playing, probably, one day he will be a Hall-of-Famer, also. I like what he brings to the table and, hopefully, we can keep him going."
What were your first impressions of Patriots QB Tom Brady before he was named the starter?
"He was just a young guy, trying to work his way into a starting position, so to speak, and really trying to work his way into the backup position and he was able to do that. Then, Drew (Bledsoe) got hurt and then he got a chance to go into the game and play. Once he got in and starting playing, he began to get better and better as the weeks went on and then we were winning games. I think that helped him quite a bit. Early on, he was just a backup, trying to be a backup and then once you got him on the field, you saw that he did have some qualities that he has proven over time, now, that are pretty good."
Did anything standout about Patriots QB Tom Brady when he was a backup?
"He had height, for one, but he seemed to be a very conscientious young man that was serious about the job. You didn't see him a lot, other than going on the show team because Drew (Bledsoe) took all of the reps with the first team. He grew and has developed and he is a really good quarterback."
Former Rams Head Coach Dick Vermeil used to say that QB Kurt Warner was either really good or his own defense was really bad; did you ever have those same thoughts about Patriots QB Tom Brady?
How difficult will it be to set the edge this week?
"Anytime you can't set the edge, it's a problem. We have to tighten up all the way around at the point and then the support has to come to help on those outside plays. They have to get there quicker and then they have to use the proper technique in taking on the blockers, so we are able to get the guy on the ground before he goes too far, so we worked on that this week and we will see how they will try to attack us. Their primary runner is a big, strong, physical guy and he is more inside downhill than he is outside, but they do have capable guys that can get to the corner. One of my deals is to see how they are going to attack us in the game and what they are going to try to do as far as the running game is concerned."
Do you make adjustments for Texans DE J.J. Watt's injury?
"He won't be able to grab with that one hand and as a defensive lineman you have to use your hands a little bit. We will all just have to see how that impacts him and he is the one who is going to have to adapt his game to the fact that he doesn't have the grip with that hand. We will see how it goes. But having him out there is going to be good, I believe."
OLB JADEVEON CLOWNEY
How quickly do things need to happen against Patriots QB Tom Brady because of his release and experience?
"I mean, we just got to do our job. Watch tape, do our game plan, and just try to get after him up front and help the secondary as much as possible."
What do you see as far as the Patriots protection of QB Tom Brady?
"We just got to get to him. We got good d-linemen upfront. Everybody has to come ready to play and get after the quarterback."
Is it exciting to play on Sunday Night Football?
"Oh definitely. And you get to play against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, Tom Brady. I'm looking forward to it. Everybody's looking forward to it, to come out here and show the world that we can play."
What is it like to have NT Vince Wilfork in the locker room beside you?
"I call him 'unc', that's 'big unc' to me. But no, it's good to have him. I take advice from him. He's right beside me in the locker room. I talk to him just about every day when we're here about everything. Anything I have a question about, I ask him. That's why I call him 'big unc.'"
What's it like playing for Head Coach Bill O'Brien?
"He's a competitive guy. I think he wants to win just as bad as the players do and when you have a guy like that, it's good for the team. He's very competitive. He's willing to do whatever it takes to win."
What is it about Head Coach Bill O'Brien that demands respect?
"His attitude. He's got a good attitude and he's going to let you know how he feels about any situation or any player. He keeps it real with you."
Do you hope they run a throwback pass to Patriots QB Tom Brady?
"I don't know, but if they do, I hope we're on top of it."
You guys struggled to set the edge last week against Buffalo in the first half. How tough will that be this week against the Patriots?
"You go into the game and game plan against different teams. Different things come up in the game and Buffalo, we just had a hard time in the first half. We corrected the mistakes. We're going to try to not make that mistake this game early, go in there and set the edge early in the game. Try to force everything back in the middle and try to do better this week."
How different will it be facing a back like RB LeGarrette Blount this week?
"I think we're going to be ready. We're going to come and attack him just as much as he wants to get after us, so we just have to get after him and tackle, make tackles."
How much different is the Patriots offense with TE Rob Gronkowski out there?
"It's more dangerous. Gronk is a big target. They want to get the ball to him. He can line up against anybody. Corners and safeties are too short to guard him. Linebackers are too slow to guard him. He's just a very great guy and great competitor. We just have to game plan and get ready to play."
What about Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski's ability to block?
"He can block. But you know, we got a job to do too. Set the edge on him or whoever else is in front of us regardless."
You've been watching Patriots QB Tom Brady for a long time and now you get to play against him. What do you think about that?
"I'm looking forward to this game. Growing up, I watched him. I've been telling people, I'm going to get to play Tom Brady this week. I watched him all my life. I'm just going to go out, try to compete and make plays on him."
How special would it be to sack Patriots QB Tom Brady?
"It would be very special, very great. I'm going to try and do that."
ILB BRIAN CUSHING
How much does playing against the Patriots affect your mindset, or is it just another game?
"Well, it's not just another game, but it's definitely a similar approach to every game but just knowing you have to be on your toes even more. A guy like this is capable of really doing anything on the field. Anytime he touches the ball and gets on the field, we have to play our best defense on every single snap."
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski practiced today, so if he goes, how much does that change things?
"Well, there's definitely some adjustments we'll put in there, but for the most part we're preparing probably for him to play. If he does, he does, if he doesn't, we'll definitely just take some of those adjustments out, but we'll definitely know that we have other options as well."
Is it difficult playing Sunday night as opposed to noon?
"Just a longer wait, but we also know that the whole country will be watching so it's an exciting opportunity to go out there and showcase our ability."
RB JONATHAN GRIMES
What excites you about playing the Patriots on primetime TV?
"It's always exciting to play on primetime. It's exciting to play in any NFL game really. It's a big show, everybody is watching, and we just want to go out there and do our best."
Do you feel like every possession in this game you have to score?
"Right, I mean that's how we go into it. We always want to score. We want to be efficient, and just come together as a team, feed off of one another, offense, defense, special teams."
How do the Patriots test you mentally with these ever-evolving looks?
"I mean, everybody has a game plan every single week. I feel if we just worry about what we've got to do, then we'll be fine."
DE J.J. WATT
Tell us about your injury and any issues it may cause.
"I broke my hand at practice yesterday, and I'll play in the game on Sunday. There's really not a whole lot to it. Football is a game where things happen. You play through it, you go out there, you do whatever you can to help your team win, so that's what I plan to do."
Tell us how you broke it.
"In practice, playing football. I was playing football."
You said it happened yesterday?
When you've seen guys in the past, they have to club it up like Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul did this year, they seem like they can still play with it and be fine, do you expect it will be anything for you?
"I mean, no. I expect to play fully, don't really plan on adjusting anything or doing anything differently. Just going to play the game the way I play it."
When you play against Patriots QB Tom Brady, one of the things is how fast he gets the ball out. What have you seen from him compared to other quarterbacks with getting the ball out of his hands and making quick decisions?
"Yeah, I mean Tom is obviously one of the best to ever do it, so he has a great command of his offense. He's been doing it for a very long time. He's a very smart player. He knows that offense inside and out, so he knows where he's going to put the ball, and he's going to put it on his receivers fast because he knows he wants to get it out of his hands quick. You're not going to get a ton of opportunities for him to hold the ball for a long time and we know that. Everybody knows that. You just have to do your best to make sure you get your hands up and things like that, because he does get the ball out very quickly."
How's your professional and personal relationship with NT Vince Wilfork evolved since he arrived here?
"It's been good. He's come in here, he's done a good job, he's worked hard, he's a good locker room guy, so he's been good."
What's the most painful injury you've ever played through?
"There's a lot of injuries that – I mean, there's been some this year that already have– people are going to try to make a big deal out of this but I've played with worse than this before, even in this season. This, I'm not very worried about it. My elbow a couple years back was way more painful. This was painful when it happened but it's football. In the game of football, you're going to play with pain. That's just the way it goes. If you don't play with pain, you're probably in the wrong sport."
Have you ever played a football game with a cast on before?
"I've never played a football game, in high school I had – I don't remember actually to be honest with you. I don't know. I've played through a lot of different things through the years so I'm not worried about it."
When the opposing players know you have an injury, do they go after that at all?
"Let them try. I mean, what, the opposing players come after me every week, with every type of thing in the book you can think of. Feel free, go ahead, come at it. I'll take advantage of whatever you try to do. It's my job to go out there and get to the quarterback. That's what I do, so you can try to take advantage of whatever you want to take advantage of."
What have you seen from the Patriots running game as well as their passing game?
"They're a very good football team all-around. You're going to look at a team like that who obviously started the year undefeated for most of it and they're very well-rounded. In many different categories, they're good. So they're going to be able to pass the ball, they're going to be able to run the ball. That's what they do, and the passing game obviously helps set up the running game. They have great players, they have great coaches, so we look forward to a very good challenge on Sunday night. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Is something you'll expect to play with throughout the rest of the season?
"Whatever the doctors tell me to do. It's broken, so probably have to protect it here for a little while anyways. I don't know how fast bones heal. I listen to the people that do."
Where you surprised when they told you it was broken?
"No, I knew it was broken."
What'd you think when Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick compared you to Lawrence Taylor?
"Obviously, Coach Belichick is a Hall of Fame coach, a guy who's been around for a long time, seen a lot of players, coached a lot of players, coached a lot of great teams, so to hear such high praise from a man like that, it means a lot. That's extremely humbling and such an honor. Just today somebody showed me the comparison between stats between LT and myself, both after five seasons. That kind of blew me away. I'd never looked at that before, so that was pretty wild."
Coach O'Brien said as far as he's concerned you've already won the Defensive Player of the Year Award whether you play the rest of the season or not, so he suggested you just take Sunday off.
"Maybe he was trying, I don't know. No luck, buddy."
Were you surprised that Lawrence Taylor had 41 sacks in his first five seasons and you have 70.5?
"Yeah, that I was. You hear the comparisons all the time and you hear people either try and say you aren't as good or you're not as good, there's opinions all the time. People try and rip you down. People try and build you up, whatever it may be. But you just have to look at the facts."
Your groin injury kept you out of last week's practice. How much did that affect you in the game?
"It didn't, it didn't affect me in the game."
Will this affect your pre-game routine at all of playing catch with kids?
"No, it's not going to affect me at all. I may drop a couple more balls in the pre-game toss with the kids but it's not really going to affect me in any way. I'm going to go out there, I'm going to play like I normally play, I'm going to warm up like I normally like I normally warm up. You're just going to see a cast on my hand, that's all."
How does that help you prepare? Does it just help you clear your mind?
"For me, it's just fun. You put in all the work during the week. You prepare during the week, and game day is fun, and you're loose and you're free because you've put it all the work. You get nervous when you're not prepared. You get nervous when you're not ready to play the game. When Sunday comes around I've put in all the work. I've done everything I can do to prepare myself for the game, so I'm going to go out there and I'm going to have fun. I'm going to play catch with the kids like I do every single game because that's fun. I always tell the story about when I went up to training camp up in Green Bay when I was a kid, and just waited outside hoping for an autograph. To me, I know what it would have been like if somehow I could have caught a pass from a guy before a game. It would have been the most mind-blowing thing ever, so for me, I have that opportunity to give a child that experience or to give a fan that experience. Why would I not do it, you know, it's fun, it helps me warm up because I'm jogging around the whole stadium. If I wasn't doing that, I'd be sitting in the locker room staring at my locker, so why not you know."
Do you have an idea if the league will force you to wrap that or what they'll do with it and how free your fingers and hand will be on Sunday?
"No, that's whatever the training staff tells me. We have an incredible training staff. I know they've dealt with this type of thing before so whatever they need me to do, and whatever they need to do to comply with the league we're going to do obviously."
What have you seen in terms of the growth of Bill O'Brien since he took over you guys last year as a coach?
"Coach O'Brien is a great coach. He's a worker. He's a smart man. He comes to work every single day and is a guy that is in the battle with you. He's not a guy that's just going to stand far away and coach from there. He's going to come and he's going to teach every position about what they're supposed to do. He's very involved. He's going to make sure you do things the right way, and I think that's why we have so much respect for him in the locker room and that's why we play so hard for him."
NT VINCE WILFORK
What is your mindset facing your former team?
"It is the same mindset that I have every week. It's a football game and preparing for a football team. I don't look at them no different than any other team that I prepare for, so that is how I am going to approach it. Who knows how I'll feel on that day, but at the end of the day, I get paid to play football and that's what I am going to do."
Is there any extra emotion for this game considering how long you played in New England?
"Not really, I mean because over 11 years I developed friendship and personal relationship with guys, so I talk to them all of the time, the only difference is that I am not there with them. Those are friends of mine, guys that I have been in battle with for a long time, so I don't look at it any different. Like I said, I don't look at it any different going into this game as I do going into any other game. Who knows, I might feel different on Sunday, I have never been in this situation. As of right now, I don't feel no different. I look at them the same way as I look at any other team."
Is it because of your approach that this game is not any different to you?
"I don't know what it is. I am the type of guy that has never been nervous before a football game in my life or any sports that I have played in my life, so I never got butterflies, I am different. Maybe, it is something dealing with all of that. I am not making a big deal out of it and I am pretty sure they are not making a big deal out of it, because at the end of the day we have to play football. That is what I am here to do to help the Houston Texans win football games and I am going to do my best come Sunday."
How much will your knowledge of the Patriots personnel be an advantage to you?
"None. I don't think it will have any bearing on this game because they change so much. Even looking at them on film, they do a lot of things different than when I was there and that was just last year. Just knowing them and over the years and how much that they change and we change, I don't think anything that I have can help us in any form or fashion. I wouldn't even put ourselves in that predicament because the last thing I want to do is be giving the wrong stuff and it's not worth it at the end of the day. We have to play with what we see on film and I am pretty sure there are going to be some things in this game where we are going to have to make adjustments on the sideline and make adjustments at halftime, just like we do for any other game, so it's no different for us."
Does Patriots QB Tom Brady have some tendencies that you could pick up on?
No, not Tom. I mean, that is what makes him so great. My total 11 years there I always tried to figure out to see what I could take from him that could always give me an edge and there is nothing there. He covers all of his bases. He is hard to prepare for because he does things that guys don't even think about doing. We have to be on top of our game. Knowing how competitive he is, he tries hardest, he always self-scouts himself, so he is rarely going to give you something that is going to give his opponent an edge. I have seen it for 11 years, so I know exactly what he is capable of doing. We are just going to have to play with what we see."
Did you expect to finish your career with the Patriots?
"I always thought I would, but that is business. Sometimes we lose track of business, because you play the game that you love. A lot of us have dreams of playing this game since we were very young, with me, I was four years old. I always wanted to be a professional athlete. When you play this game you kind of block out the business aspect until it is time for business to step in and that was a prime case of this right here, it was just business, it was not anything personal that happened. I didn't leave on bad terms, they didn't leave on bad terms. I have very good relationships with everybody that I played with, coached with, my owner, I have great relationships with all of those guys, because they are personal friends to me just because of the time I spent with them. We both know that it is business and that is how I treated it. No hard feelings. I never regret anything that I have done in my career. Everything happened for a reason and I am just grateful they gave me a chance to be drafted in the first round, coming off a Super Bowl year, they drafted me. That year, 2004, when they drafted me as a rookie, we won the Super Bowl. That is always going to be a memory that I have and appreciation that I have for that organization. They gave me my first job and now I am happy to be here in Houston, they gave me another job to come down here and be a Texan. I don't regret anything that I have done in my life."
Even though you say it's a business, did it sting at all to leave the Patriots?
"For 11 years, anytime you walk away from something that you've been a part of for that long, I think there's going to be some side of you that's kind of sad and emotions involved and everything. I think I've been through that and I passed that time. There was nothing personal. I think at the end of the day, it was just a business decision that we chose to do. I think both sides agreed to move on, and that's what we did. It's good when you can have – I've been a professional for a long time, so I have to learn that. There's some things I have to go through in life, and as a professional where I can learn and look at stuff from both sides. This was one of those cases. I looked at it from both sides and it was good for me, it was good for my family. It was good for my situation. This was a better situation. I don't regret anything I've done in my life or my career. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it the same way."
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick talked for a long time yesterday about DE J.J. Watt and his respect for him and compared him to former Giants LB Lawrence Taylor. What are your thoughts on that?
"I heard about it, but just being in that locker room, being able to play against J.J. before, it's the same thing. The amount of respect that he has for J.J. and what he brings to the game, that just goes to show you that no matter who you are, to be compared to somebody like Lawrence Taylor, that's special. I have the luxury to play with this guy every day, and practice with this guy, and have dinner with this guy. I walk around with this guy, in the same meeting room with this guy, so I'm very happy and thankful to have that opportunity to play with a guy like J.J. Bill knows football, and that's one thing that I've always learned, there's always something I can learn from Bill because he looks at all aspects. He's not just a defensive guy. I remember being in the captains meeting one day and he was talking about a receiver running routes, what happens when receivers get tired and I'm looking like man, I thought you were a defensive coordinator, but here you are talking about depth of receivers compared to how you drop the ball, why you drop the ball, where his feet should be, so I really learned very quickly that he was one of the best to ever do it. I still think that to this day. I think he's going to go down as the best coach to ever coach this game."
Given the fact that the Patriots don't lose much, how much do you think that will affect them? What do you expect from them knowing they're coming in here having dropped two straight?
"I mean I don't know. I'm not there, but I mean they prepare every game as if they want to win and they're going to win. I don't think it's anything different from them. I think we're going to get their best. This game is all about, not just the Patriots, in general, it's all about opportunities and being able to execute. I think when you don't execute at a high level this time of year, you see the effects of a ball club. You can lose ball games, missed opportunities, you can cost yourself games. I think at this point you have to be at your best, so I think both teams understand that. I'm pretty sure that they're going to make their corrections and come in here a better football team than what you've seen last week and we've got to be prepared for that."