(The following is a transcript of this afternoon’s NFL Network Conference call with network Analysts Cris Collinsworth and Steve Mariucci.)
MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us today on this conference call previewing Patriots/Giants on NFL Network this Saturday night at 8:00 Eastern.
Joining us on this call are Cris Collinsworth, the analyst for the game, and Steve Mariucci, one of NFL Network’s pregame analysts.
I’d like to open it up for a quick question for each of the gentlemen and then open it up to media.
For Cris and coach, from a former coach’s perspective, how would preparing for a game of this magnitude, how would you prepare for it?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: It is very exciting, and I think you’ve seen the response from the Giants players, that despite the fact that they have absolutely nothing to gain from this game, they can’t move up in seeding position, that they want to play, because they understand the historical significance of playing for an undefeated season and trying to stop an undefeated season.
I just left the HBO show. And Dan Marino was talking about that literally he has more conversations sometimes about the Bears game in which they knocked off the Chicago Bears and ended their perfect season at sort of the tail end of that season in ’85, than he does in a lot of the playoff games that he participated in and the Super Bowl; that’s something that’s brought up.
So you can understand why the Giants players, whether they get the opportunity to or not, are very excited about having a chance to derail the Patriots. And obviously from the Patriots standpoint it’s history. Nobody has ever gone 16‑0. The Dolphins were 14‑0. And the records that will probably be broken in this game, we’re going to have to have a record alert button on the bottom of the screen as the records go by, because there are going to be a lot of records broken in this game, I believe, that will be talked about for many years to come. This is historically significant. So we’re excited about the game, and I think it’s going to be a good one.
STEVE MARIUCCI: From a former coach’s standpoint, when you talk about being in the situation that the Giants are in, I was in it really twice where a playoff ‑‑ the playoffs have been determined. Your seed has been determined once it was the first seed, the home field advantage seed and once was just a wild card seed where you couldn’t improve yourself so you had to go into your last game with that in mind and both times I chose to rest players, and both times we lost. But also both times we won our next playoff game.
So in the long and short of it, it was worth doing in terms of advancing in the playoffs, being a fresh and healthy, rested team for the playoff games, which really is the most important thing. But it certainly doesn’t help you win the game, especially against a team like the Patriots.
So on one hand you’re going to have players and fans hoping that the Giants can snap that streak. They would become America’s team overnight, I think. There’s a lot of people that ‑‑ a lot of Patriot fans that would love to see a 16‑0 season and a lot of people that hope it doesn’t happen. However, from the big picture, at least from a coach’s standpoint, the health of that team is so important for the playoff run.
They know where they’re going in Tampa. And they probably started to get ready for that game as it is.
In terms of the Patriots, their seed is set. They know where they’re going and they know they have a rest. But like Cris said, nobody has gone 16‑0. I’m sure that’s important. And they do have a bye, and I think it’s going to be very important to that franchise and those players and coaches that they see if they can finish the season off the way they started it and dominate people and go and get that 16‑0 run. So their situation is a little different than the fate of Cowboys who have home field advantage and other teams that are seeded permanently for the playoffs, they can make history.
Q. I have a question for both gentlemen. I’m not sure if either of you have heard that the NFL has arranged for the game to be simulcast three ways on the NFL Network, CBS and NBC, and it would appear the fans have spoke and the fans that weren’t going to get the game. I was wondering what your reaction is to this?
STEVE MARIUCCI: I just heard of it a minute ago, I’m excited that the fans across the country and in many countries can watch the game. It’s a game that has great deal of meaning and importance.
And, heck, I’ve got some fans, friends that have called me from Australia and Costa Rica that said I’ve watched the NFL Network on TV down here, and so this game is going to be an interesting game for a lot of people across the world, actually. So a lot more Americans now can watch it at least for this game.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I give the NFL a lot of credit on this one. It would have been very easy for the NFL to hold out this bargaining chip, if you will, in the negotiations with the cable companies. And I certainly am not going to get into the details of that because I don’t know the details. But I thought it was a major step for the NFL to come forward and say, hey, we understand; this is a bit of a unique situation. This is history being made, potentially, and some records being broken, potentially, that are very significant.
And for them to step up and to step away from the bargaining table for a moment and to say this is what was in the best interests of the NFL fans as a whole, it’s a pretty significant move for them.
Q. I want to direct this one to Steve. How hard was that to pull starters and rest up? I’m sure you weren’t in a situation where you were playing an undefeated team. Do you think that would have changed your direction?
STEVE MARIUCCI: First part of your question, it is hard to say to a guy or several guys, first you can’t rest your whole team. It’s not like you put your second team in. You don’t have enough players suited up to do that, because guys have got to still participate in special teams, and you have to play the game.
So when you rest players, it might be four or eight or ten at the most. And obviously the primary guy would be the quarterback. At what point do you pull him out?
You’re right, never played against an undefeated team. So I suppose the competitive nature in us all might make us waiver a little bit in that regard.
But I think a coach has to keep in mind what the ultimate goal is, and that is to advance in the playoffs and get to that Super Bowl and win it. Sometimes you’re facing a short week like the Giants, maybe. And you gotta say, ‘geez, I’ve got this guy that’s got this nagging injury and that guy with that nagging injury, is it smart to play him or should I rest him and get him fresh for the playoff game?’ And that’s what you toil with as a coach.
But this game is so unique that way, nobody ‑‑ I know the Giants would love to break that streak. That would make their year. Although, breaking the streak and losing their face the first playoff game doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either.
So that’s why we’re all discussing this all week. It’s been a real interesting topic.
Q. At what point did you sort of come to the realization that this season‑ending game has the potential to be what it is: You know, possibly one of the biggest games in the regular season that we’ve ever seen? At what point during this season did you sort of notice, okay, this is going to be something special?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I think it was Week 3 that I made the ridiculous comment that I thought this Patriots team was the greatest team I had ever seen, which elicited a “What!” from Bob Costas on the NBC set. But watching them play offense, I just had never seen the kind of weaponry that we’ve seen on this offense.
I just think it’s phenomenal. Not to mention the play, the offensive line, in particular the interior three, the way they pass protect and give Tom Brady room to step up. It’s been a show. It really has been.
So I think from my standpoint I was watching this one pretty closely early on. If you remember, I don’t think the Giants were off to a tremendous start early. So it was more from a: Is it possible that this could be from an undefeated for an undefeated season type of thing. And so, yeah, I think collectively that from the NFL network side of things, anyway, that we’ve been eyeing this one for a long time.
I have to tell you honestly it really surprises me, and I’m proud of the NFL that they stepped up and made this game available to everybody. I really thought that they would continue to use this as a major sort of power negotiating chip with what was going on in these negotiations.
And the fact that they are allowing everybody to watch it in one form or another is pretty impressive.
STEVE MARIUCCI: I think most of us who do the commentary and analysis and so‑called experts before the season even picked the New England Patriots to maybe win the Super Bowl or be the favorite. You took a 12‑4 team made it better in the off season. Naturally you think that’s the team to beat. But it wasn’t until they started winning each game convincingly, and then people started saying, well, boy, this is a good team. Maybe better than expected. We on NFL Network certainly were looking at our eight games and trying to decide which games were going to be great games and certainly the Green Bay/Dallas game was. But this game, at the end, everybody started talking: Can New England go undefeated and what kind of game would that be on the network against the Giants, week 17? It would be amazing, never happened before.
So probably early in the season after five, six, seven games when you started thinking, ‘whoa, this team might be able to challenge and be like those Miami Dolphins.’ We’ve been looking ahead to this game now for a long time.
Q. Steve, I don’t know what else to ask about Belichick, but obviously you faced him before. What magic does he have that’s created this past six years or so?
STEVE MARIUCCI: He’s got a good football team, and not to take anything away from his coaching style and coaching expertise, he’s very good at it and he’s proven that now over time at the Patriots. To be quite honest with you, I don’t know Bill Belichick as well as I know most of the other coaches in the league.
I don’t know him personally. I do know that he does things his way. And he manages that team in a very consistent fashion. He’s been very lucky enough to have premiere quarterback that stays healthy and veterans that buy into his system and so people that come in new, whether you’re a rookie or a Randy Moss or free agent, you buy in right away. There’s no alternative.
And so simply put, he’s got it rolling, and Scott Pioli and Bob Kraft and that entire organization has really put together a solid team from top to bottom. They’ve had injuries before. They’ve stayed healthy this year. But last year they were banged up and they managed to put in some backups and continued to win, which means their scouting department has done a great job of finding other players that are capable.
So the word “dynasty” certainly can be used and let’s face it, the man’s done a heck of a job.
Q. This is for Coach Mariucci, if you were the New York Giants head coach what would you tell them before the game?
STEVE MARIUCCI: I would want that team to think that they can win. I would want that team to think that we need to play this game as hard as we can play a game and as well as we can play a game. And we’re going to give it our best shot.
It will be a little interesting, however, if in fact he has two or three guys sitting in pajamas over on the side which he held out, which could be the case, which in some ways says the next game is more important than this game.
So Tom Coughlin has been in the playoffs before. He’s coached very good teams before. But I think whoever suits up he’s going to expect their best performance of the year. He’ll demand it. He’ll expect it. And he’ll have those guys believing they can win that game even if there’s going to be a few guys that are resting.
And maybe he doesn’t rest anybody or everybody, but he could pull people out depending on how the game goes to protect himself for the next week. But I’m sure he’s going to try to tee it up and win it.
Q. Talking about Belichick and the Patriots, when both of you guys watch film of them, is there a common denominator? Is there a characteristic besides just mere the talent that separates these guys from other teams?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: You know, I think it’s unselfishness, is the number one characteristic, whether it was Corey Dillon, who, I guess, had a few issues in Cincinnati, came to the Patriots, became a model citizen, won a world championship.
And even when he left went out on sort of good terms with everybody and I thought that was impressive. Then you have Randy Moss, who comes in and understands that he now has a role on this team and the ability of Bill Belichick to allow individual players to do what they do best. It is an overriding factor.
And everything that you see with this football team, Adalius Thomas comes in as a free agent. Everybody thinks he’s going to be this and rush the passer and do all these different things, and he became a bit of a role player, until he really got fully indoctrinated into that football team. And yet you never saw any of these guys complain or think that they were being treated poorly.
There’s some games where the tight ends aren’t in the game plan. There are some games when Laurence Maroney disappears. There’s some games like last week when he’s entirely the focal point.
Yet you never hear of anybody complaining about their role on their team. They have bought into the whole is greater than any of the parts and more significant than any of the parts.
And I think one of the real untold stories is how he has gotten people to settle for less money. No question Tom Brady has settled for less money than he’s worth on the open market in the NFL. Randy Moss, no question he settled for less money than he’s worth on the open market.
So that sort of general, we’re all in this together and we don’t really care about what happens to us individually, that we’re going to try and look for the bigger prize has really been, and the fact that people buy into it, is what has made Bill Belichick so successful with this team.
STEVE MARIUCCI: I agree with everything that Cris said. Also keep in mind there’s a certain cause and effect here. Because when a team is winning, and dominating year after year, then you have players that want to be a part of that and give up a certain part of their salary to be a part of a winning team and have a great chance to get a ring.
And you have fewer complaints when you’re winning. And so the mere fact that they’re winning most of their games over the last several years really keeps the team thing not only in perspective, but the main thing.
And so they’ve been ‑‑ and they’ve lost so many coaches. They’ve had coordinators move on to other pro jobs and other college jobs, as you know. And they don’t seem to skip a beat.
And so they’ve got quite a thing going on there. And I don’t know what the stats are this year, because one of the things that impresses me is they’re a very smart team. They execute. They don’t make a lot of mistakes where they blow a coverage or there’s a miscommunication between quarterback and receiver.
They execute very well. They seem to be a very smart team. Well, a year ago they had the most college graduates of any NFL football team. Does that matter? I don’t know if it does. But it’s just another thing that they’ve got going for them. A lot of veterans. A lot of college graduates, a lot of smart guys. And there doesn’t seem to be anybody that’s high maintenance.
And it’s kind of the envy of the league right now. Everybody wants to be like that, you know?