Head Coach Robert Saleh, 1.3

[please click photo for link to the video]

Opening Statement:

With regards to injuries, (George) Fant, we’ll know more Wednesday. He’s getting a second opinion on his knee, so that’s still in the air. Michael Carter, hopefully we’ll get him back, he’s still in the protocol, so hopefully we get him back. Dan(iel) Brown doesn’t look like he’s going to make it in terms of this week with the hip. Bryce Huff, we’ll know more on Wednesday with regards to his ankle. Same thing with (Jamison) Crowder and Elijah Moore.


Brian Costello, New York Post: With Elijah, Robert, do you think he’ll practice Wednesday? Is practice still a question or is the game what’s a question?

He had a really good workout today, we’ll see how he feels tomorrow. Wednesday we’re going to try to mock him out which means we’re going to try to get him through a practice. If everything progresses, if not, then we’re probably going to end up having to shut him down. We’ll know a lot more on Wednesday.


Connor Hughes, The Athletic: This one is probably, I mean you implied this was the case last week I think it was, but Mekhi Becton, is it safe to say he’s not going to practice and won’t see the field on Sunday?

He won’t see the field on Sunday.


Rich Cimini, ESPN: Hey Robert, with regards to George, is the preliminary thought there that it’s an ACL?

No, good question. I’m sorry, I forgot to say that. His ACL is intact, so knock on wood, this is just stuff from a previous knee injury that he’s dealing with.


Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, when you look at yesterday’s game and just kind of this stretch of games here, where have you seen the most improvement from your team?

On offense, obviously the quarterback has made a significant jump in terms of just his control and command of the offense. I think our run game and our offensive line play has been fantastic. We’ve had so much turnover at the skill position spots that it’s been really hard to really pinpoint individual players, but I think as a collective whole, with the coaching staff to get those guys in and out of the lineup and guys lined up, I think just a collective effort from everybody, coaching and players with regard to the skill players to create consistency I think has been so important because when you talk about the development of a quarterback to have a consistent play where people are where they’re supposed to be, whether or not it’s Elijah Moore or Keelan Cole, it doesn’t matter as long as they’re where their supposed to be. I feel like our guys have really done that and guys have really stepped up in those spots. Run game and quarterback have been improving significantly.


DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: Saleh, how impressed were you with your offensive line being able to help plow the way for the rushing attack to get 150, especially against a defensive line in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who hold opponents rushing to about, I think 88 yards per game?

Our run game, I feel like our run game is really taking off. I think I read somewhere we’re ninth in yards per carry, which is pretty impressive. We’re generating a lot of explosives in the run game. Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, Austin Walter came in yesterday, created some explosives. So, the ball has been distributed. It’s a great testament to John Benton, our o-line coach, and the offensive line. They’re playing their butts off and the scheme is really kind of a lot of pre-snap movement, a lot of deception and a lot of moving the line of scrimmage. It was pretty cool, and it’s been awesome to watch because not only run game, but in protection, things have been really coming together, too. It’s been cool to see the o-line develop the way it has.


DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: What does it say about, you had George Fant get out, but then Chuma (Edoga) stepped in, was able to play well, and then obviously Dan Feeney started for Connor McGovern and they, the o-line basically didn’t miss a beat, so what does that say about those two being able to step in?

I think you can say that about a lot of guys on offense, DJ, and on defense for that matter. There’s been a lot of guys who never would’ve gotten opportunities. I think we have 12 starters out from injury and another 10 from COVID, so there’s a lot of opportunity going on for a lot of guys who normally wouldn’t have gotten opportunities and they’re stepping up and taking advantage of it. I’ve always talked about how player A to Z just needs an opportunity and that doesn’t mean it always works out, at least you’re afforded that opportunity. Dan Feeney, I thought, played his butt off. Chuma stepped in, communication was still there, it’s really fun to watch when guys get their opportunity and have success at it, it’s kind of what makes this league awesome.


Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post: Hey Robert, you’ve talked so much since the beginning of December about playing December games and meaningful December games, which obviously you hope next year will have playoff implications, but your game on Sunday, yesterday, had some juice to it because you’re playing the defending champions and (Tom) Brady and whatnot. this coming Sunday you play the Bills, who waxed you pretty good early and also are trying to win a division championship. Can you just talk a little bit about that kind of juice added to that game and what it can mean to your guys and just kind of in your development phase that you’ve been on this year?

This is the first stadium we’re actually going into, we’ve been talking about December football and all that, this is the first one that’s going to feel that way. Buffalo is playing for a division, it’s going to be sold out, it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be everything you dream of as a kid in terms of going into a stadium and it just being as live and as juiced up as it’s going to be, and we’re going to get their absolute best shot. We got to give it right back to them, we got to make them earn it. It’s just a really cool opportunity for us to go in there and feel the energy, feel the juice, feel what another team, who is playing for a division, feels like. How it feels to lean on them, how it feels to try to separate, how it feels to tackle them, how it feels to be tackled by them, the urgency at which they’re going to play. It’s a tremendous opportunity to grow a lot in this moment and it’s something that I’m really looking forward to our guys to answering the bell on.


(follow up) Just how much of a measuring stick can this be for you because of the fact that it’s a division game with a team that got you pretty good last time and you’ve been talking all year about having the arrow pointing up as the year goes on and, obviously, Sunday was evidence of that?

I don’t know about measuring stick, Mark, but I do think it’s a tremendous opportunity for growth, a tremendous opportunity for growth. Whether perceptionally we are in a game and all that, that’s perception. To me, this is a tremendous opportunity to step onto the field with one of the better teams, like you said, who got after us at home, in a playoff atmosphere with them trying to earn a playoff spot. Not only a playoff spot, but a home game in the playoffs which is a big deal. It’s a tremendous opp, and it’s one that I hope our guys are excited about just like I am. I think we are.


Rich Cimini, ESPN: Do you have any second or day after thoughts on the fourth-and-two play?

You guys know me, I’m always going to look inward. Was going for it the right decision? Obviously, everyone can second guess or not, but felt sound in that decision. Really wanted us to have a chance to win it right there and a first down wins it. The play call, the thought process, all of it, I think was really, really sound all the way across the board and there was a miscommunication. Whenever there is miscommunication, obviously, it always starts with me first. This isn’t anything to blame anyone on, what hurts the most is the fact that it took up and dominated what that one sequence, which it is what it is, took away from all the unbelievable things that happened. I thought (Mike) LaFleur called an awesome game, I thought Zach played an awesome game, our o-line, our defense played really well. I thought there was so many great things that were happening in that game for it to be overshadowed by something that, like I said, always starts with me. That’s what made me sick, but being able to just go to bed, watch tape this morning just to see and have affirmation of how this game played out, I thought, I’m really proud of these guys and, like I said, I feel like we won that game and that was the frustration that you all felt yesterday. I love the thought process all the way across the board with everything, I thought the play call was magnificent, it was creative, and it would’ve been a first down. We’ll be better for it next time, that’s one silver lining to take is that we’ll win games because of the things that happened yesterday.


Connor Hughes, The Athletic: I know you focus a lot on the present, Robert, but when you look at your guys and the way you were able to play so close and position yourself to beat a team like Tampa, defending Super Bowl champs, and obviously a team that has Super Bowl aspirations again this year, do you ever allow yourself to think about the future of this team and the future of this franchise when you do have another full offseason of free agent signings and the rest of these draft picks that are coming up and what you can potentially become considering where you are now?

You do, but you also got to check yourself pretty quickly, because there’s still this week to worry about, and I promise as soon as evaluations are over and this game checks out and we finish and we’re diving into our tape with regards to self-scout and looking, that’s where all the focus goes to next. Do you allow your mind to drift? Sure, but at the same time, as a coach, you just can’t let it drift too far because the obligation, there’s still a lot of guys who are getting an opportunity that not only want to show that they belong on an NFL roster, but they should be starting in this league. And because of it, it’s our absolute commitment to devote every ounce of energy to them.


Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, some people are looking at the fourth-and-two yesterday. There were some former players on the post-game show that kind of questioned Zach’s judgement and labeled him selfish. Bart Scott and Leger Douzable and Willie Colon, kind of called him out and said, “He called his own number there to be the hero.” What do you think of that opinion?

I don’t know about that one. He’s a rookie, his head’s barely above water with regards to the scheme, he’s still in a pleasing motive of his career, in terms of just doing things the way it’s drawn up. If you’re talking year three, year four and he does something like that, then I guess you can start, maybe. But as a rookie who’s still trying to figure this league out and trying to figure what he can and can’t get away with and how to take control over things and all that. He’s nowhere close to that in terms of a selfish player. He wants to get better, he’ll learn from this. There’s an old saying that I learned from Kyle Shanahan, that the great players overcome coaching. Not everything gets drawn up the way you want it to be drawn and there’s times, even from the defensive standpoint, like, ‘God, I’m glad he did that.’ Because if we would have done it the way I coached it, he would have got beat. It just happens that way so Zach is in that mold where he’s still trying to figure out what he can and can’t deal with. I think he executed the playbook exactly the way it was designed to. In future years, he’s just going to look to the sideline and just flip the bird to Mike and say like, “Hey, we’re doing this buddy,” and he’s going to make it work because he’s going to know. I don’t think he’s anywhere near close to being able to even make a decision from a selfish standpoint because his neck’s barely over water with regards to schemes.


Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Just so I can let my editors know, when do you think bird flipping is going to take place? Is this a next year thing?

(laughter) The faster the better. (joking)


Al Iannazzone, Newsday: Robert, what was the staff meeting like today, what are your conversations with Mike (LaFleur) like today after what happened yesterday?

No one’s beating themselves up more than, and it’s, Mike, obviously, I feel like we’ve built a culture around here where people look inward first. Obviously, I’m going to look at like the whole thing is my fault. Could I have been more decisive in wanting to go for it on fourth down so Mike has more time to talk. So, everything starts with me. The conversation with the guys was to not lose sight of what happened on Sunday, yesterday, and to just really focus on the things that, not only the positives, but the things we can get better at. Don’t harp on it, everyone knows what happened, everyone knows that it sucks that it happened, well, how can we get better from this and just understanding we played our butts off and the guys need to know that. We played a really, really good football game against a really, really good football team and our guys can’t lose sight of that because of just one small sequence.


Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, do you have an answer on (Denzel) Mims today, why he played zero snaps?

We started out with Jeff (Smith), obviously. It was Jeff, (Braxton) Berrios, Keelan (Cole) and Ty (Johnson). Just the way the sequence of the game went on and just the number presented itself to get him in. Jeff has been doing a hell of a job. Over the last few weeks, he’s created a lot of reliability in terms of being where he’s supposed to be. Could he do things better? Absolutely, but the opportunity to get Mims out on the field just didn’t present itself.


DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: Robert, one position that there’s a lot of questions coming it seems at cornerback and obviously that has been kind of a spot of strength for you guys. So, how much has Tony Oden really helped the development of your young cornerback room?

TO, Marquand (Manuel), Ricky Manning (Jr.), Chip Vaughn, he’s in there too, they have a really good group. Tony’s done a really nice job with those corners. Again, do they have things they’ve got to improve on? For sure, but I love the way they’ve got better every single day. From OTAs, from the first drills, where it was like, man, this guy’s got a long way to go, to now, they’ve gotten better all the way across the board and I’m excited to see the development moving forward.


Brian Costello, New York Post: The TV cameras caught (Brandin) Echols after the game getting Brady’s autograph on his interception ball. Do you have any issue with that?

I knew you were going to ask that, Coz. No, you know what? I’m going to try and be as, I get it. I get it because there’s a lot of fans who watch and care so much about the result of the game and so they want the players to care, and they want to visually see that. So, optically, I can see how some people can take offense from it, but the reality is, the NFL is a brotherhood. These guys all know each other. They talk to each other on the phone, the call each other, they work out with one another. This is a huge fraternity of brothers and they just spent four hours going at it on the football field, they spent all week prepping on how they’re just going to absolutely embarrass one another and so at the end of the game, the jersey exchanges, those conversation that they’re having, that is a very cool, genuine moment that’s happening between players. I think it speaks volumes. One, it’s a little ballsy by a rookie to do it, but I think it speaks volumes about Tom Brady and his character. Major competitor, for him to sign the ball, I think it speaks volumes to him because I don’t care what anyone says, he picked off Tom, like that’s a childhood dream. That’s one of the greatest of all time and for Tom to humor him with the autograph and to do that for him, I think is pretty cool on his part. And again, I have no problem with it, not at all, because I know what those guys go through and trust me, Echols cares that we lost and he cares that Tom had a hell of a game. But to be able to pick off a guy like Tom Brady, how many guys can say that, right?