San Diego Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner (after practice)
When you hear Titans players saying this isn't a rematch, it's a grudge match, what goes through your mind?
"It's what you should be looking at if you're getting ready to prepare for the playoffs. Both teams have put an awful lot of time into this starting all the way back at the offseason program, the draft, mini camps, training camp, the regular season, you do everything you do to get to this point. I thought our first game in Tennessee was real high intensity. Both teams have a lot to play for I expect this game to be very much the same."
Do you think you have an advantage since you beat the Titans a few weeks ago?
"I don't know there's an advantage in something like this. I think it's great we're at home. Our crowd was so wild for the Monday Night Denver game. That's as loud a stadium I've been in in a long time. I can't wait to hear them on Sunday because I can imagine it'll even be louder. I think that will help us in that football game."
How pleased were you to see the game scheduled on Sunday rather than Saturday?
"I thought we got a break having the extra day. We had the short week last week and I thought it affected us a little bit in how we played. Some of our guys were still beat up going into the game. Having the extra day I think will help us physically be ready for this game. We had a good practice today. We have a good start on our preparation."* *
Is your routine much different this week or do you try to keep things the same?
"The biggest thing for me is the preparation. That's one of the reasons you see ups and downs I think with teams in a season and even if you win there's peaks and valleys in a 16-game season because there's no way every week the preparation is going to be at that kind of level. I would expect…you get one shot in the playoffs, you get an opportunity to go. You worked hard to get here. My whole key to our team is if we prepare at the level we're capable of then the game, it'll take care of itself."
Do you think there was any more intensity during the practice today?
"I thought we had great focus. Again, we're familiar. We played these guys a month ago. There was good recall. In some cases there wasn't great recall, but obviously once they see it it comes back to them real quick. Wednesday practices, there's always some things you have to redo, you have to work on again. You have to come back out on Thursday and fix the things that weren't done exactly the way you want, but I thought we had a good practice."
How important is it for the organization to have some success in January?
"The important thing is to get there to get an opportunity to do that. Once you get in it, you only get so many shots whoever you are. Players particularly, this group has had a couple and I call that experience. Hopefully you grow from experience and you understand how important every snap is and that helps you get over the hump."
Is there any added pressure?
"I don't know that I look at it and say that getting in a game like this is pressure because this is why you coach, this is why you play, this is why as I said, you do all the things you do. There's something we all do on a weekly basis to prepare and get ready for these games. You go out and perform at the highest level you can. We have good players, they have good players. My experience is when you get two good teams, obviously the team that plays the best usually wins."
How much is it going to help having Jamal Williams back this week and where is he physically?
"We were careful with him last week. I think that extra week is going to help him. He looked quick today. He looked fast today. We know he's very, very physical and it will be big to have him back."
Are you concerned about Nate Kaeding's condition and is there any chance he won't be able to kick this week?
"No. Nate I think is making great progress. I think Nate's further along than he was last week. He made all three of his field goals last week. He had a lot of leg. In pregame, he kicked the ball both into the wind and with the wind with very good distance, very good accuracy. I think he's making progress and he's further along than he was last week."
Do you feel his range is about where it was or is there some grey area?
"Based on the way he kicked in pregame, I don't think his range is going to be a concern for me."
Is there a chance Nate will kickoff?
"We'll make that decision later in the week from a precautionary standpoint. It was funny, we went back and forth, went back and forth. Where Nate was it made it an easy decision for me. Then we go into Oakland and on the first kickoff they break out to the 40 and Dave (Rayner) makes a tackle. I said, 'That might have been a good decision to have Nate not kickoff this week."
Do you almost need to keep Rayner around for insurance in case Nate has a setback?
"Yeah, there's no question that right now that's where we're at."
How much do you say to your players this week about keeping their emotions in check considering what went on in that first game?
"We've talked a lot about that from I guess May 1 when we started our minicamp. I think that's been one of the strengths of our football team, our ability to keep our poise. We were tested early. We tested ourselves early with the way we started. I think our guys have been disciplined. They've kept their poise and as I said, for the most part I think we've done a good job preparing on a week-to-week basis. We've got to go play a football game and no one when you get to this point can afford to have a 15-yard penalty that stops a drive or continues a drive for the other team. We certainly can't afford to have a situation where someone would be ejected from a game, any of those situations. We just have to be a disciplined football team."
Will your defensive game plan be different if Kerry Collins plays as opposed to Vince Young?
"The biggest thing, you start with Tennessee and you have to start with the running game. Vince Young's a big part of that running game, so that is where some of the things change a little bit, but for the most part what we have to do defensively is based on what they do in the running game, with their offensive line, their running schemes and those types of things. Obviously whoever is at quarterback, there are some changes but what they do with the passing game isn't going to change dramatically."
Are you preparing on the assumption that Young is going to be 100 percent?
"Not at this point. We've looked hard at both guys. We just have to be prepared for whoever plays."
San Diego Chargers Quarterback Philip Rivers (after practice)
How much of advantage do you feel you have going into this game considering you beat this team just several weeks ago?
"I don't know if it's an advantage. I think the only one positive is you played three or four weeks ago and so you're a little more familiar with them than had you not played them during the year. It was a hard fought game on both sides and we were able to come out on top at the end. We all know what kind of game it was and what kind of game to expect. Other than having a little bit of knowledge going in before you kind of start the preparation, other than that, you'd expect it to be nothing less than what they all are as a playoff game against two teams."
Would you characterize this game as a grudge match?
"I don't think so. Not at all really to be honest with you. I think we all know some of the things that happened and that were brought up after that game. But I think honestly you've seen what they've done since our game which is go out and put three wins in a row, fighting to get in. We've kept a streak going. So really I think you've got two teams that are pretty hot going into the playoffs. Both teams really pride themselves on playing really good defense and running the football. It's going to be a physical game with a team that's got a lot of really good players. It's the reason why you play. It's the reason why you play the game is to be in a game like this. You play sixteen of them to get a shot at a game like this and you hope you win this one so you can continue to play on."
Is it a good thing that you guys aren't taking a week off?
"I think it is. Obviously there's a reason they give you a bye for being the first or second seed. But I think for us and this team, the way we started off kind of slow and kind of had some bumps in the road and now we've started to peak, I think it's best that we continue to play on. Hopefully we can just keep the momentum going."
How's the knee? Are you one-hundred percent?
"I'd say a hundred percent. Obviously wearing a little bigger brace makes me not as a threat to run than I usually am. But I feel real good being that it is the playoffs and you have gone through a long season. I feel good."
Philip, will you tell us where you are at as a quarterback compared to where you were at a year ago going into the playoffs?
"I'm a better player. There's no question in my mind. The numbers may not show it throughout the course of the year but I'm playing better going in this year than I was going in last year. Last year down the stretch I wasn't playing real well. So, sixteen more games experience and I feel good about where I am. I feel good about where our offense is and where our team is. We've learned a lot this season. We learned a lot last year. We learned a lot in the playoff game. I think we have all we need now to try and make a run. It starts Sunday.
How difficult was it to get over that playoff loss last year?
"It was tough. But there's really nothing you can do about it. You try to gain what you can from it to help you. Let it eat at you a little bit. Let it come up now a little bit in your mind and know you don't want to have that feeling again. There's nothing like, I've found out, there's nothing like playoff football. You remember it in high school is and obviously it's not of this magnitude but you never expect to be done. You're one game away from being done. You're one game away from moving on. Again, I'm repeating myself, but it's why you play the game."
How will last year's experience help you this time?
"It's not going to make us throw it better or tackle better. All of those things, that's why you play this year for. I think as far as the hype, as far as the emotion, as far as what to expect in that atmosphere, I think you gain some experience there. Maybe we were so amped up and so built up going into that game, playing against the Patriots who were Super Bowl champs three times past, that maybe we tried a little too hard. If that's one thing that comes to mind, maybe that's what it is. But other than that, you've got to treat it like you did all the other sixteen and if you don't, then we were doing it wrong for sixteen weeks."
Do you think seeing Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch in the first round will be tough?
"Well, they're going to be tough any week. You watch them against every team and they're tough. They make plays that make you rewind it three or four times. They're both from the same side. They do some things with them to try to create problems. When they get going they're tough to handle. I know our guys will be ready and fired up for the challenge. I'd like to think that the two guys over there blocking them are equally valuable to our team. Those guys will be excited to get after them a little bit. And the one thing too to remember, those aren't the only two guys on that defense. I think they finished ranked sixth in defense in the league this year. So, we know the task at hand. We'll be ready. I think it's kind of fun, the fact that you're going to play a team again that you just played a couple weeks ago. I know there will be a lot of emotions and excitement and it will be fun."
You talk about emotions and excitement, but those guys are putting some bulletin board material up there about how emotional and physical this is going to be. How do you respond to that?
"I don't see it as bulletin board material really. I mean, like I said, since our game, they've battled and won three in a row to get into playoffs. We've kept a streak going. You've got two teams that are really confident right now and that's usually what you get. There's only twelve of us still playing. There's twenty teams that are done for the year. I don't see it as bulletin board material. I really don't. I think both teams have great respect for each other and the players and the type of players that we have on each team. It's just what you want. Teams aren't supposed to like each other a whole lot out there on the field. But then we know that when the game's all said and done, there's a great deal of respect. Both teams know what goes on throughout the course of a season and a week of preparation and go out there and lay it on the line on Sunday."
What about the intensity level at practice, does it change any?
"Yeah, it should be the same and it was good. Again, if you say, 'Alright guys, it's the playoffs let's practice harder. Let's drop faster. I'm going to throw it better. You tackle better. Cover better.' then we've cheated ourselves all year. I think that's the trap that you can fall into. Obviously, the emotions, some of the hype obviously is raised a little bit, naturally. But we can't let that affect our play. We've got to play within ourselves, play smart, play disciplined and use our technique and fundamentals that got us here and we should be alright."
Does that come from Norv and has he kept even keels throughout?
"Yeah he has. And he kept it when we were 1-3. He kept it to 5-5 and our team kept it. There was nothing bad going on when we were 1-3 or 5-5. It would have been what you expect in a locker room, is guys wanting to figure out and get things done to get things going in the right direction. We got through that. Again, if you make this game bigger than it is, it'll be too big for you. If you don't, we'll get out and play the way we know we can play."
San Diego Chargers Linebacker Shawne Merriman (after practice)
Do you and your teammates feel a need for "payback" after some of the things that happened in Nashville four weeks ago?
"Not really payback at all. I think the situation, the things that happened before were really blown out of proportion. If any payback is due, the league already took care of it. I'm over it. I'm ready to just go out and play football."
When you hear the Titans talking about it being a grudge match, what does that mean to you?
"They're planning for a good game. If you're not, there's no need to be in the playoffs. It's going to be a physical game and not because of what happened the first time. It's going to be a physical game because whoever loses goes home. I think there's more at stake now then there was (a few) games ago."
So when you hit the field, all the focus is on winning the game?
"Yeah, we're going to all give each other hugs before the game starts."
Are you expecting to see Vince Young at 100 percent?
"We don't know that. I know he had the quad injury before. We're kind of going into this game preparing for both quarterbacks, two different style quarterbacks. Whoever we see, we'll have to go in and make some plays against."
How does it change the game if it's Collins rather than Young?
"Obviously you've got Vince who can move around a little bit more and he's known for using his legs, being a great athlete and still throwing the ball on the run and doing things. Collins is probably going to sit back there a little bit more and just kind of throw the ball and do the things he does."
Can you set the record straight on who told you that Jeff Fisher "put out a hit" on you?
"Just some teammates who weren't playing in the game and just saw him across the way. Some people were just around who weren't on the team who saw the same thing. That's what I heard and it just so happened they told me right before I went on camera (for an interview after the game) so that was the first thing that was on my mind right before the camera came on. I said that's what I heard and I think it just got blown out of proportion."
By the Titans or by the media?
"Probably by the media. I just repeated what I heard."
Can you name names?
"I'll just snitch on all of my teammates and tell on all of them. Yeah, all 52 of them."
Last season the Patriots said they fed off some of the things the Chargers said before the playoffs. Has that had an impact on how you've approached this week?
"Not really. I'm not a big talker in the first place. My teammates could tell you that I probably talk the least on the whole defense. I really don't have too much to say. All my (talking) will be done on Sunday with my pads and my helmet."
With the regular season you had last year, how tough was the playoff loss to deal with?
"It was tough because first of all that was my first time playing in a playoff game and having the kind of season we had and then going home so early in the playoffs was tough. That would probably help us now because now we approach this a little bit differently than we did last year."
What did you learn from last year that will help you this time?
"I think being a young guy going into the playoffs with more things at stake and on the line, it comes more naturally. The intensity raises up from the preseason to the regular season and now to the playoffs. Things just mean that much more. You don't get that second chance after you win or lose against a team and see them again to play them. You lose you go home and that's what makes the playoffs so great."
LenDale White wasn't the first guy to do a "Lights Out" imitation…
"He didn't even do it the best."
Who's done the best one?
"Probably Chad (Johnson) last year. I liked when he did it."
When a guy does that, are you looking for him the next time you play them?
"I was kind of maybe like 50-50 on it, like halfway laughing with them because it was funny and halfway I want to get those guys the next play. Either way, they're having fun with the game like I am."
Do you ever tell guys they're not doing it right?
"No, they laugh about it first before they say anything to me. They think it's pretty funny."
Have you gotten any residuals from the copyright?
"I haven't. I'm working on that right now actually. When that goes through I'll charge each guy $100 to do it."
When you play Vince Young, do you have to be more disciplined how you rush him because of what he can do with his feet?
"Yeah because he's a guy that can get out of the pocket and make some things happen. I think it's kind of a double-edged sword sometimes when you're playing a quarterback that's that good and can run so well that sometimes he might run right into you getting away from everybody else. You definitely have to stay in your lane and just do your responsibility."
How do you think the officials will approach this game considering what happened the first time?
"I'm expecting them to come in with a magnifying glass and some x-ray goggles to see everything that's going on during the game and paying attention to everything. You can't take the physicalness out of football. Point blank, football is a violent sport. You have to kind of let the game be played up in between the whistles. I expect that."
Is the intensity level the same in the playoffs or does it turn up a bit?
"I don't think it's going to change. I think being a linebacker, we have to be the most intense players on the field and a lot of times not just on this team, (linebackers) have to kind of set the tone early on."
Have you allowed yourself to think about how you felt last year after losing to the Patriots?
"It wasn't a good feeling at all. Losing in the playoffs especially, but the way we lost a close game, at home. We did see a good team. The Patriots last year were very good. Just going home the first time, your first playoff game wasn't a good feeling at all. We definitely don't want to experience that again."
To be honest, there were some "bone-headed" things you guys did last year against the Patriots. How surprised would you be to see those things again?
"A lot of things that happened in that game were uncharacteristic. There were a lot of things we didn't do the whole season, some dropped punts, some dropped balls wide open and some missed tackles. We did some things, I wouldn't necessarily say 'bone-headed' but uncharacteristic things in that game that we don't normally do."
Do you think the playoff pressure is why some of those things happened?
"That's a big problem that you have is sometimes when you put that much pressure. You've got to also remember that it's just another football game. You've been in the situation before. More is on the line now and there's more meaning in that game out of any game during the year until the next one. You still have to go out and make plays and not think about what happens if I drop this ball or what happens if I miss a tackle and it's going to be our fault if we lose because these things happen. You have to just go out and play football."
Is there more pressure because this team hasn't won in the postseason in a while?
"I've lost one playoff game in my career so I couldn't really answer. I think we are in a better position now than we probably were last year and not because of who we're playing but because of the experience. We've been there before. We know that feeling and we don't want that feeling again."
San Diego Chargers Running Back LaDainian Tomlinson (after practice)
On how physical of a game he expects:
"Pretty much like last time. It was a physical game and they're a physical team. It'll be tough to deal with."
On the Titans having something to prove:
"Usually the team that lost the game has a little bit more to prove. And usually, you play to that as competitors. I'm pretty sure that's the way they feel. They'll be ready to play. They're going to be tough to deal with."
On having a bad taste in his mouth after losing last year's playoff game:
"I think we're past that point. Our focus is on the Tennessee Titans right now. You don't have time to look back on last year."
On how long it took to get over last year's loss:
"It took a little while. I'm over it now though."
On how he appreciates making the playoffs:
"You get to point where you win so many games sometimes you can forget that the intensity level raises a little in the playoffs. With it being a struggle this year, you appreciate everything you get. You appreciate that you are at this point now. You have another chance to play the game on Sunday, when 20 other teams are at home right now."
"The sense of urgency is always there at the time of the playoffs, so practice is a little bit more focused…a little anticipation…but at the same time we still have says before the game."
On playing now as opposed to having the week off:
"We can continue in a groove and stay in football mindset. A lot of times when you have a week off you have a tendency to relax a little bit because you do have time off and you don't have to worry about an opponent. With us, we're going right into another opponent, so it seems like another game that we can stay focused on right now."
On having an edge:
"I don't think we have an edge. It was a tough game last time we played them and we barely escaped with a victory. We don't have an edge at all. We're going to have to earn everything that we get from these guys."
On the Chargers' offensive line:
"They'll be ready. They like these kind of games. They've done a great job of answering the bell every week. They'll be ready again to do the same."
On difference in playoff preparation between Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer:
"It's about the same. We focus on the same things. There are only a certain amount of things that you do during practice…different periods are pretty much the same with Marty and Norv. The intensity is still the same. It's not much different."
On the importance of continuity in practice between the regular season and postseason:
"It's pretty important. Most of the time, if players see their coach change, they may notice it and may sense that the coach is a little up tight, too relaxed, or whatever it may be. Norv has been the same."
On the Titans defensive ends:
"They are two of the toughest guys we have seen all year. Albert (Haynesworth) is probably the best we have seen all year. Vanden Bosch (Kyle) is so tough because his effort is relentless. He's a physical player. He just gives us a tough time. With Albert, as big as he his, he's quick at the same time, so he can penetrate the line of scrimmage and cause a lot of problems in the backfield."
On what he experienced his first playoff game:
"The intensity level. Everybody's focused was raised. Being my first time in the playoffs, at that time, I didn't know what to expect. Your emotions played a huge party. Being someone that had never been, I didn't have control of my emotions. That played a difference toward the end of the game."
On the type of statement the Chargers want to make this week:
"We just want to win the game. Whether we make a statement or not. Our focus is on winning the game. I don't know if making a statement is important to us. What's important is us trying to win the game."
On added pressure:
"Not at all. We're here at this point and no matter what anybody says, we made it back to the playoffs. The more we make it, the more opportunities we are going to have to win games."
On having Jamal Williams back:
"He's a big part of our defense. He has that mindset in the middle of a defense that you have to have. Obviously, his presence is felt so we are happy to have him back. We've missed him."'
On how much past playoff experiences can help him now:
"They defiantly help you because you are able to prepare differently than a team that is there for the first time. For example, our first time there, compared to the Jets, they just seemed a little more comfortable with the situation that we were. We were too emotional. We really did some things that were uncharacteristic of our football team. On the other hand the Jets did the things they always did. They didn't let their emotions take control of them winning the ball game."
How much is not winning a playoff game a monkey on your back?
"It's not a monkey on our back at all. I've been twice and most of these guys have been once. It's not like we have been four or five times and haven't won. The more you make it the more you are going to have a chance to win."