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Transcript: 12-26-2022 Press Conference recapping win at Titans

HEAD COACH LOVIE SMITH

Opening Statement

"We're starting to warm up a little bit. Starting to get back to (feel like) Houston. Normally I talk after the game, so it's been a while now since we've played that game. It seemed like that game has been forever. Did a lot of good things as we talked about then. All three phases kind of contributed to it. We needed to finish. We've talked a lot about not being able to finish. The guys finished. Lot of positives today. The players won't be in today. We've moved on to the Jaguars quickly. They're playing excellent football. (They've won) four of their last five. Offensively, (Trevor) Lawrence is playing good there. Their offense is. Defensively, they're playing well. Got ourselves in the position to win our division. Injury-wise from the game we had a few. Everybody is getting better. Some of the players that didn't play last week, like Kenyon Green, hopefully they will be available for us."

What have you seen from DL Ogbonnia Okoronkwo these last few weeks since he's become the full-time starter?

"Consistent play starting off with that. Once you get in the starting lineup, you're expected to play like a starter. He's been understanding with his play. He has rushed well, rushed the passer well, plays hard, has made plays in the running game too. Just his overall play has been very good. That's what we've seen from him. He practices that way. He's just enjoying playing football right now."

Why is winning the division a big goal for you guys?

"Even if we were undefeated right now, we'd be talking about it. The first thing you have to do is win your division. There's a reason why you're in a division. That group of people you align with, you want to be the best. Where we are in our season right now, we understand what our record is. As you're looking for some positives as we build going forward, to have a winning record against the division says a lot. Our division champion could end up winning it all for that matter. For us to have a chance, we're 2-1-1 right now in our division with an opportunity to go 3-1-1. That's big for our guys. I know they're going to show up this week and continue to play hard like they've been doing."

Do you ever evaluate based on other teams? If so, is there a greater emphasis on team within the division?

"No, you're just trying to matchup with the team that is on your schedule. You do go back to the division, yes. I think you always go back to your division. For us, you back to the AFC side before the NFC side. You want to matchup good against those opponents first, absolutely. That's how it's always been. We put a big emphasis on winning the division. All those things, yes. It's never changed for me, and it won't."

How was it getting WR Brandin Cooks back this Sunday?

"It's always coach talk, next guy up. That's our mindset, and that has been the case. It's been evident this year on how we have at all positions. You have some players that there's a reason why you pay them as much as you do. Brandin (Cooks) is one of the best receivers in football, so when he's not playing we're going to miss that. To get him back into the mix last week, he made his presence known. Outstanding from start until the finish, finishing up with that big play. In order for that big play to happen, I can't tell you how good of a job the offensive line did. Losing guys, two starters not in there at the time. Davis Mills too, he was under pressure to give Brandin a catchable ball, and great play by him."

Can there be somethings that carry over from Sunday's win to the game against Jacksonville?

"Yes, I think you look at how you're playing during a period of the season. There are different periods, different seasons to a year. There are different periods too, I think. We're not the same team that we started off as back there. Played a lot of young players, they've gotten better. Just figuring out exactly everybody's role right now. As you look, it's just not this game carrying over. It's been a few weeks now where we've been playing pretty good football. I think everybody is noticing that. Again, we have two more great opportunities. It's not like we played a clean, totally perfect game this past week. There are some things that we have to clean up that's why I'm anxious to get back on the practice field, going back to that same routine."

Where have you seen LB Jake Hansen improved from his time at Illinois until now?

"I know Jake (Hansen) probably as well as anybody on our team. Seen him grown up from there. He's heard the message that we are giving. Some of the players are hearing it for the first time. He's heard the message quite a few times, and he buys into it. The winner, if you look at the turnover ratio most weeks, it's been like that for a long period of time. Some people really buy into that. That was a takeaway. The running back had the ball secured. Plays like that can give the team momentum, which it happened for us."

Did you think the fumble was when the momentum shifted for you guys?

"There were some big moments in it. We had a turnover, and they got the ball on the positive side. We stopped them on four downs. That was a big series. They had the ball driving during that time. That was definitely big for us. That set that momentum, finish the momentum that we had."

What have you seen from QB Davis Mills in the last couple of weeks?

"He's made plays. That's what we look for from the quarterback position. Looking for him first to protect the ball. It's always about ball security. We will still work on securing it as a runner. What we needed from our quarterback position, Davis (Mills), at that moment, we needed a drive. He had some clutch passes in tight windows, and he did that right up until that final touchdown pass. So what that shows is growth right there. If you just look at another young player that's taken steps, he took a step back. 'Hey Davis, let's take a step back.' He did that, learned some things from that moment and is making the most of this second opportunity."

Does someone else recovering a touchdown in the end zone create forgiveness for the person who fumbled?

"It's the same flat line on ball security. Davis (Mills) fumbled the ball. He can't do that. The forgiveness and hugging part comes with Rex Burkhead for getting in there and recovering the fumble. He gets the double plusses and all that. We asked the guys to play hard until the whistle blows. That's what running to the ball and pursuing the football can do for you. If you keep pounding the rock, it normally cracks a little bit. If you keep just working hard, breaks go your way. We've had the ball bounce to the opponent a few times, so it was about time for it to go our way."

What has impressed you the most about the play of your young players?

"We see them getting better. They've been getting better, but still those young player mistakes have continued to happen. But you have to go through the process a little bit too and get to the end of the game and see how they handle it there at the end when the pressure is really on. The pressure was on, and the rookie Jake (Hansen) got the ball out. The pressure's on, and the rookie Christian Harris. That was a tough (interception). Especially when you can't feel your fingers to be able to catch that. If he had caught it cleanly, he might have scored with it. Then of course (Jalen) Pitre. That's the growth of them making plays to finish out a game. Again, all of their futures are bright. There are so many other guys I can talk about that're making plays. Blake Cashman continues to play in his role. Maliek Collins is playing well, Jerry Hughes. There's just so many guys. The offensive line though, we lost some big pieces during the game, and for them to step up and block that defensive line said a lot."

Do you give out game balls?

"Yes, we give out game balls. We had to get back to that routine and look at again what the qualifications were. It's been a while since we've given out one. Yes, we give out one offensive, defensive and special teams game ball. You're probably going to ask me who it is, but we haven't told them yet, so we'll wait for them first."

Do you think players will be more relaxed now that you have that second win?

"I think they have been acknowledging what has been happening. I'm talking about the good and the bad. We just haven't been able to finish. I think they're going to acknowledge the good and the bad, but how we finished in that game. There are two more opportunities for us to take more steps. Back to the division games, we have history. This is a team that could represent our division that we're getting a chance to play. To finish up the season like that is big, so I know the guys are going to be pumped up. Also, we have not won at home yet. We're getting an opportunity to finish it up the right way in front of our home crowd that's really been patient with us. They deserve to see a good showing."

What has allowed this defensive line to get better throughout the season?

"First off, I think Kenyon Jackson and Jacques Cesaire are doing a great job. Our defensive line coaches are coaching them up. It needs one of the guys in the group too, and that's Jerry's (Hughes) role. Jerry and Mario (Addison) have played a long time, just the tempo they set in the room with everything that the defensive line does. When you see a player that's been playing as long as Jerry playing that way, you have to up your game. He's been nothing short of outstanding all year. Not with what he's saying and telling the guys to do, but what they see him doing in all situations. It's just for him to finish it up the right way. To be acknowledged a little bit as a Pro Bowl alternate too, it kind of says what the rest of the league thinks about him."

Is there a chance that OL Tytus Howard and OL Jimmy Morrissey will be back this week?

"They are feeling well, feeling good, all that. You can start the process, and we've been evaluating them. Both of them felt really good after the game. Again, we have a concussion protocol that we put the players through. If they are ready to go, we'll be ready for them to go. If not, we'll wait until they are completely healthy and ready to play."

What have you seen from the offensive line finding success in recent weeks, even with some injuries to starters?

"George (Warhop) and Hal (Hunter) have been coaching the guys the same way. They coach them hard throughout. They're detailed. The expectations in the room are high, and you practice for moments. There is a reason why we dress eight offensive linemen. Injuries can happen, and you have to be ready at any moment. Not just at your position, but also to move in the way Tytus (Howard) has done the last couple of weeks. A lot of the things we're talking about right now, especially offensively, is kind of based on what that offensive line has done. Pass blocking is great. The last month, it seems like there's someone (in the defensive front) that's been on that All-Pro team or a couple of them. But they just keep stepping up, and the protection has really been good lately."

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