HEAD COACH LOVIE SMITH
"Our guys, we understand what our record is for the season, but over about the last month, we've been playing pretty good football. All three phases. Haven't been able to finish though. That's what's really hurt us, but today, there's a lot of things going on. We understand it's a lot bigger than football. We understand moving the game back. We waited patiently for them to start the game. Our guys definitely showed up today. Offensively, we're going to work the two quarterbacks. You know, the plan was to run the football a little bit more but they're one of the best run defenses in football so we leaned on the pass. Pass-wise, I thought Davis (Mills) threw some good balls. The receivers, Phillip (Dorsett). Of course, I thought Brandin Cooks was outstanding today. Had injuries. Whenever you lose Tytus (Howard), then we lost Jimmy (Morrissey), but again, it's always kind of the next guy up. But we needed to score. We needed to drive at the end when we were down. And that just said an awful lot of the offense to go down there and get that touchdown like that. Defensively, the guys (have) been playing hard and playing well for a while, for a period of time now. Nobody harps on taking the ball away more than we do. And I think our three rookies, Jalen Pitre, rookie. Christian Harris, rookie, and then Jake Hansen with the takeaways. All of those were big. Ogbonnia (Okoronkwo) continues to rush to pass well. Guys just follow. I mean, all kind of took time doing it. In an ideal world, you know, you want to play on Christmas Eve and now the guys get a chance to spend time and enjoy Christmas with their families. But we needed this one. We have a Saturday night meeting. It was about a three-game season. I think we're 2-1-1 in the division and we want to end up with the best record in our division. Finish up with two more division opponents so those games are huge for us. Take your questions."
When we look at the way you're able to win the game kind of in some unconventional ways even with a fumble recovery in the end zone. It's like you guys were due for one with all the times you get close.
"Yeah, you're right. We're definitely not going to apologize for it. Of course, breaks have gone, for whatever reason, we haven't made plays and the breaks haven't come our way. But if you keep fighting, you keep playing, keep showing up, things normally change. And Rex (Burkhead) had to fight for that ball. And I could go over so many other plays that it took all 48 guys contributing."
How do you feel like things changed after Jake (Hansen) was able to get that forced fumble?
"Play that needed to be made. Whenever you take the ball away, it's about momentum. Game is about momentum and on both sides. As momentum shifts, when they were able to go down and score after we went for it, I went for it on fourth down on the other side of the 50, right? Isn't that what y'all want me to do every time? Well, we did that today, all right? And that really helped an awful lot. But after that play to, you know, get momentum back, of course, would be."
You mentioned that keeping that drive to score. I mean, what did you think about those coming back from that, the offense and the goal line situations? Today it seemed like y'all made some adjustments.
"Do you think it's, that's how you draw it up and really you just go back to the offensive line. I'm talking losing Tytus (Howard) early then Jimmy (Morrissey). I mean, how many times do you go the third option on the offensive line and still be able to hold up against a very good defensive front? I thought they played hard. It's the reason why they're the division leader. But in that drive, though, again, we had to have the protection. Quarterback had to make some good throws. Davis (Mills) did that and receivers, (Brandin) Cooks, Phillip (Dorsett), all of the guys kind of made plays that we needed."
Coach, overall, the tackling was really good. There was maybe a couple of drives that some were missed. Put the tag in as something that you harped on the entire year. Were you impressed to see them do that?
"Yeah, I was impressed after that first drive. First off, Derrick Henry is the best running back in football. I mean, this guy's as good as there is. He is tough and a lot of those missed tackles on a normal back would go down. But the guys kept fighting and at the end when we needed to clamp down and played the run a lot better, the tackling was better. Gang tackling, and it takes more than one to get him down."
Outside of that 48-yard run, you guys held Derrick Henry to 3.5 yards per carry. So what kind of went into limiting him outside of that?
"I guess just discipline football when you play against a back like that. We know he's going to get the ball quite a bit and it's got to be discipline in your gaps. And when you get an opportunity to make the tackle, you got to make the play. First drive and we missed about three tackles I think on that long run that he had. From there, you just got to learn from your mistakes and keep fighting. And again, that's what this group has done all year. They just keep fighting and adjusting. Adjustments just don't happen at the half, you know, each play. I thought the coaching staff did a good job of doing some of the things we need to do to get the win."
What does a kind of win like this do for this team right now?
"Well, I think first, we have to analyze exactly how we've been playing. And, you know, the last two teams that beat us have a chance to win it all. This team could win it all. I mean, they have a chance to represent our division. And we've been playing tough. If you've been watching our football team play and you know football, you'd say that, 'Hey, this is a team that's trending here.' That's what we're doing. We're getting better. As I told the team in there, I mean, we're playing good football right now. An opportunity to beat anybody we play and we're going to get a chance to do that because Jacksonville is playing outstanding football, too. So we're going to enjoy this, but we understand what's at stake next."
Coach, you don't get too emotional. You pretty much keep their emotions intact. What did it feel like to you to walk into the locker room, to hear your players laughing and smiling and even the music playing behind you right now?
"Well, I mean, still waters run pretty deep now. When you said I don't get emotional, I believe me throughout that game. That was a good game to be in, a good football game. But when you see a guy like Christian Harris give it all he's kind of been through and get that at the end. And just for us to finish the way we did it. These last three games have come down to pretty much the last play of the game so we got over that hump."
How'd you spend that extra hour before the game? What'd you guys do?
"I think I might have taken a nap for about 20 of those minutes, but that's pretty much what the guys you know – 'Hey, guys, we've got an extra hour. We'll get back on our routine an hour from now.' Right now, you've got a little bit more time to mentally get prepared to play. So, 'Hey, guys, we're not postponing the game. The game is going on, so get ready to go.' That's what they did."
(Davis) Mills been taking a lot of criticism the last couple of weeks. Can you talk about the plays that he did make in the game?
"He has. We have. When you lose games, that's what we signed up for. But things can change quickly. That's what I've seen in this league. I mean, you can be down. If you keep fighting, there's a chance for you to get that bad taste out of your mouth, Davis (Mills), and the rest of us. All of us been in that same situation, but we got it done today."
Can you talk about what Dare (Ogunbowale) did there down there in the red zone? Which is in terms of the vision, his mind?
"Well, it's amazing when your roles change. I mean, and Dare (Ogubowale) I'm talking about, he's been special teams look, third-down guy, getting more reps and which led to – we're missing a great player on our team but I just love the way those guys stepped up. Royce (Freeman) getting tough yards too. Rex (Burkhead) made a couple of plays there. At that running back position, I liked all the things they did today."
You mentioned Cooks earlier have been a great game, getting that touchdown, having him back. What can you say after this game on the play, the touchdown on his return to the team?
"Well, what I would say about Brandin Cooks. We've missed Brandin (Cooks) probably most of the year a little bit. He's been banged up and he's a great player. So that gives the team a boost when you have a player like that. I know he's been working hard to get back, rehabbing to get back to be able to help this football team win. And today was a good example of what he can do for our football team. Just glad to see him have success like that. Played outstanding ball."
Lovie, this week being able when you come into this game this week knowing you guys have an opportunity to disrupt the AFC South. Was that something that you guys talked about in terms of, obviously you guys are focused on yourselves, but was that part of the message? Hey, guys, like, you know, if we reach our potential this week and do this.
"The message was this. Again, two teams have beaten us that are very good football teams. We have a three-game season in our division. Guys, the best we can do this year is to have the best record against division opponents. That was our goal and Tennessee was the first one that was up. So based on what all we've gone through to be able to finish up against your division. We plan to someday be the division champ. And this is the division champ, of course, that we're playing. So that's been our motivation. We're playing in our division. That should get you pumped up about it. You shouldn't need any more. You shouldn't need any more incentive, of course, except for that."
There was a three-game stretch obviously the Commanders, Dolphins, Browns, is around from where its competitive and obviously, you've had three games down to the wire. What's been the biggest change from that three-game stretch to this three-game stretch?
"You know, you don't want to hear about. We were missing three players, though. I'm going to throw that in. Not three technique and on the offensive side and we weren't playing our best ball then for whatever reason. You know, it seemed like that game was two years, that period of time, that was two years ago now. But I know that even then we've been close throughout. We've been competitive throughout. And it just takes time is the message. When you come in and you want to win every game right away. But when you're changing culture, you're changing in all these things. And you need to go through some adversity to figure out exactly who's with us. So that's what we went through there. Yeah, I remember that stretch, but the guys remember that, too. But look at what they continue to do, just work hard. And I'm excited about finishing up this year with them."
You mentioned a little bit earlier. Was it fixing kind of run there in the second half and after that, was it as simple as just making tackles?
"If you go back and look at – a lot of times you look at the stats. I got out of this yard, just terrible on run defense. No, we missed tackles and some critical moments is what has happened. And if you miss certain tackles in critical moments, it can be a breakout. Explosive. That's what has happened. We've limited that. That's what we've done here lately. And at the same time, guys, I'm going to go back. The three takeaways we had, those are rookies. So it just takes a little bit of time to get it right. And I'm going to say this, again, but if you're looking at that football team right now, they've gotten some things right from run defense to needing a drive. In football, offense is who's going to have to go down and score some drives late. So there's some hurdles we're getting over right now. Merry Christmas to all of y'all."
QB DAVIS MILLS
What are your initial thoughts about getting the win?
"It's awesome. Great feeling getting the win coming off that against a divisional opponent. Ready to go home for Christmas."
What does a win mean personally for you and the team here today?
"It's great. I mean, these guys have been fighting so hard week in, week out, all season. We just haven't gotten the results we wanted, but we feel like really these past couple of weeks and the tail end of the season we've put a lot of good efforts up, put a lot of good stuff on tape. Just have to find a way to finish games, and today that's what we did. Really all three phases, offense, defense, special teams making plays in and out of the game to make sure we came out with the win."
What was kind of the plan coming into today?
"Yeah, just from film studying the past couple of weeks against those defenses that struggle with a lot of 11 personnel groupings. People were making plays and I felt like once we got our calls out there, we matched up well against them. We just needed to execute and find a way to get in the end zone."
Can you take me through the touchdown play with Brandin Cooks?
"First look, second man. He gets one on one in the boundary. Whoever he's with, we ended up zoning out his side. The play was pretty much designed to sell like their running across the back of the end zone. I needed to just buy a little bit of time to scramble so they could adjust back to the other side and find a way to get open. I gave him a chance and he ended up making a great play getting his feet back down in the end zone and getting us the touchdown there."
To go for it this time in this game, what was the conversation there?
"That was big, Lovie (Smith) going for it on fourth down, especially when we can stay on the field. Ices their defense, ices their offense. Making sure we're staying out there controlling the football, controlling the game. Confident in us, his players, to go out there and convert those fourth downs. Unfortunately we didn't get it, but in moments like that we want to stay on the field so we can keep the ball in our hands."
When the game got delayed, how did you manage your time?
"Just kind of pushed back the pregame routine an hour. Stayed in the locker room, try to stay warm. It was pretty chilly this morning."
How did you handle the weather this morning?
"Oh, nothing crazy. Pretty much the same. Just wore an overcoat over the suit today to try to stay warm. But I wasn't too cold. I know there was a couple games across the country that were a little colder than we had here to deal with. Stay warm and we were good to go."
Is this the coldest game you've ever played in?
Did the weather affect you a lot?
"I didn't think the cold weather really affected us too much. Field was a little slick, icy at times, but other than that, I don't think the cold weather affected too much. We were staying warm, I think once the wind picked up a little bit we noticed that. But other than that, we were good."
What's been your journey so far and what does today show about that?
"I think what I was saying earlier just goes to show how much fight this team has. The record is what it is at this point, but we're coming and fighting for everything we can do, week in and week out to try to go out there and scratch our way to get some wins. We've been close the past couple weeks, got it today. I'm really excited for these next two games to close out the season. Our guys are ready, and we're excited to get back in front of our fans against Jacksonville."
What was the reactions to the final touchdown, anything on the sideline or takeaways from that?
"Even keeled. Nothing crazy. There was still time in the game at that point. I had to wait to celebrate the clock said zero."