Chiefs head coach Todd Haley:
Q: Can you talk about what you’ve seen from the Patriots so far?
TH: I think that they’ve been one of the great teams of the last decade and a lot of that continues to just evolve and get better in a lot of different areas. Starting offensively, Tom [Brady] looks like he’s playing at as high a level as I’ve seen him play. He’s got a lot of good – some veterans, some young developing players that look like they all have a chance to be really, really good. What [Wes] Welker is doing to this point is phenomenal. Having coached receivers for a long time, I knew he was really, really good but what he’s doing right now is just off the charts. Throw in the fact that [Rob] Gronkowski has 700-plus yards and you still have a guy named Deion Branch over there and Chad Johnson and [Aaron] Hernandez and two running backs I really, really like including [Danny] Woodhead. Up front, they are as solid and sound as any team we’ve seen as far as protecting the quarterback. They look like they have a chance to keep getting better. So it’s a great challenge for our defense to even slow down this offense. Their defense [has] some familiar guys – Shaun Ellis is a guy that I’ve coached with or around with the Jets. We drafted him while I was there. [Vince] Wilfork [and] Andre Carter, I’ve had to game plan against a bunch through the years and it looks like he’s kind of had a rebirth and playing at a high level. [Jerod] Mayo is just one of my favorite linebackers just through the years of coming out of college and then seeing him play and perform at the level he has. The secondary has had some injury issues that they continue to fight through, but they’re a competitive, tough group that makes plays at the right time when they need them most, that’s really helped the team win a bunch of games here. It’s going to be a great challenge. [They’re] always a team I try to watch and pay attention to even when we’re not playing them, just from the standpoint of trying to see what’s hot and working in the NFL.
Q: If Devin McCourty can’t play on Monday, how big of a loss is he to the Patriots defense in your eyes?
TH: I think he’s a really good player. He plays physical [and] tough. Like I’ve said, we’ve had our own share of injuries as New England has. Coach [Bill] Belichick is one of the greats for a reason and one of the key things to being a great coach in this league – at any level really – is to develop your players that aren’t necessarily front line players, but then are ready to play when they need to. I don’t have any doubt that Coach and his staff will have that done. To me, it’s hard for me to look and say we have a huge advantage in any area really.
Q: How devastated is Matt Cassel that he won’t be able to play in this game?
TH: He’s a tough, tough guy and has played through a lot of aches and pains here since we’ve been together. I think he’s most devastated that he’s not going to be able to play period, for our team. He’s such a big part of our team and the guys count on him and he’s a prideful, prideful, competitive guy that wants to play every week and he’s proven that it’s been impossible to get him out of the lineup barring maybe an organ removal or a couple of those things. It’s disappointing to him and I know we’ve got high goals and expectations for this year and he’ll just have to be on the sidelines rooting his teammates on, which I know that he will.
Q: Does the offensive style change with a different quarterback?
TH: I don’t know dramatically. We’ve got a lefty, so some things are going to change. Tyler’s [Palko] a drop back quarterback much like Matt [Cassel], similar skill set, so I don’t think we can dramatically make a whole bunch of adjustments, other than little tweaks here and there.
Q:Rob Gronkowski has made some pretty acrobatic catches. And for a big, tall, stocky, and heavy guy like that is that surprising to see a guy be able to use his body like that especially in this last game he played?
TH: Both these guys that are really playing well, [Aaron] Hernandez and Gronkowski, are players that I both personally really thought a lot of coming out and we spent time with both the guys at the combine. We spent a lot of time watching tape and [they’re] players that [we] really, really thought had a chance to be good and they haven’t disappointed. Gronkowski is just a physical presence that just – much like some receivers that I’ve coached in the past like a Keyshawn [Johnson] or somebody like that, that once the quarterback understands that you can throw it when he’s covered, that’s always a great trait, characteristic to have. If you’re a guy catching the ball from the quarterback and the quarterback knows he can throw it when you’re covered which obviously Tom [Brady] does a bunch. That’s just a testament to Rob and how good he is able to position and use his body to make catches on top of having just great, great hands.
Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko:
Q: What are your thoughts on making the start on Monday Night Football?
TP: Obviously, it’s exciting and getting a chance to get your first start and obviously it being Monday Night Football makes it that much more exciting. Everybody is watching – friends and family and all that stuff. At the same time, this is my job and the guys on the team are expecting me to execute and go out and do my job and have nothing change from when Matt’s [Cassel] gone down and me stepping in. It’s kind of bittersweet at the same time with all the stuff that’s been happening, but it’s still my job and guys on the team are expecting me to do my job.
Q: How nervous do you expect to be?
TP: I don’t know. Right now, I’m so loaded up with trying to get the game plan down and making sure we’re doing everything on our end to make sure we’re ready and prepared. I think probably when you get to the field on Monday night and you realize it’s game time, I guess that’s maybe when the nerves will start to happen. I’m really trying to focus on just getting everything done on our end.
Q: You’ve been a lot of places and mostly under the radar. How long have you waited for this chance? How long does it feel like?
TP: What is it, my fifth year? So five years I guess. I don’t know. I guess it’s been a long time coming, but I guess when you’re really entrenched in it, you really don’t think about how long it is. You set a goal and my goal was to be a starter in the NFL and I’m getting my opportunity right now. When you set a goal, I guess the way I was raised, you don’t really worry about… just focus on the process and trying to get better every day. That’s really the only thing I’ve tried to focus on. I’m not saying it’s been easy because it hasn’t, but if it’s something that you want to do and you want it bad enough, then you’re going to do anything you can to stick around.
Q: The guy you’re replacing took over for someone who was injured and basically earned a huge contract. The guy you’re facing on Monday was really the same type of story 10 years ago. Do you think about the position you’re in and what this could actually do for your career?
TP: That’s nice for you guys to talk about, all that stuff, but you can’t write the story before it’s written. It’s obviously comparisons and all that other stuff, but that’s not going to win the game – because it’s aligning this way or it’s not aligning this way. Right now, my job is to go out and to give our team a chance to win. I don’t have enough time to think about all that stuff and if you’re thinking about playing for a contract or playing because you’re facing a guy that it happened [to] or the guy that you’re replacing this happened to him and it’s going to happen to me, then you’re really taking your focus off what’s really important and that’s the game plan. And` the task at hand is to try to beat the Patriots and it’s a heck of a task for us. Everybody on the team that night is going to need to be locked in and focused on one goal and that’s winning the football game because these guys that we’re facing on Monday night, they’re no slouch. They’re a great football team and the reason why they’re the New England Patriots is because they’ve done it over a long period of time.
Q: What did you see from the Patriots defensively, particularly against the Jets? They had a lot of guys out injury-wise and they still were able to be pretty effective against the Jets.
TP: Yeah, that just goes to show you how good Coach [Bill] Belichick is. He’s a defensive genius and he has a lot of guys out and they do a great job of trying to take away your strengths. They try to get you to make mistakes and get you behind the chains and put you in long yardage situations and try to make you make mistakes. I think Coach Belichick, he’s proven that he’s a defensive genius and I wouldn’t expect anything less. I’m sure he’s not feeling sorry for himself because he’s got some guys out. He’s got an untested quarterback and I’m sure he’s not going to take it easy on me.
Q: There’s very little film on you out there compared to all the other starting quarterbacks. Can that be a little bit of an advantage possibly?
TP: I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that question – I’m not a coach so I don’t know how they face it or how they look at it.
Q: You were cut by the California Redwoods. Was that the lowest point of your professional career?
TP: I don’t know. It really was just something that happened and you kind of` keep plugging along. Things don’t always go the way you want them to go in your career. I don’t think anybody, at least the way I was raised, you’re not too good to be brought down to Earth or to get fired. They play football there too and for whatever reason the coaching staff chose to do that. I don’t really look at it as a low point in my career. It’s a process. I’m not a big quote guy, but this thing is a marathon not a sprint and sometimes you have to scrape the bottom before you can reap some benefits. Getting cut anytime, getting fired is not a positive experience, whether it was by them or by an NFL team, it’s not a positive experience.
Q: You were in the locker room and the meeting rooms with Brian Waters last year. Did you talk to him at all or have a lot of interaction with him?
TP: Just a professional working relationship. We talked and would see each other there in the building. We never hung out or anything. He’s done a heck of a job over his career and he’s a heck of a player.
Q: Just looking back, when you were in college Joe Flacco transferred because of you and he comes in and starts right away, while you had to wait five years. My question is, isn’t life really weird sometimes?
TP: I guess. You guys do a good job of putting those stories together – the feel good stories or the make-you-feel-bad stories. I don’t really look at it that way. It’s football and there’s no blueprint on anything. Whether you want to be a teacher, a garbage man, whatever you want to do – there’s no blueprint on getting where you want to go. There are obstacles, there’s adversity you need to overcome and it’s just the way that life is. Anyone that has ever accomplished anything great has had to overcome some obstacles, whether it’s at the highest level in the NFL or like I said, whether it’s being a garbage man. I don’t know. You would have to ask other people. But everybody in life has to overcome their own adversity and their own personal struggles. You can never really knock anyone’s struggle on how they’ve gotten there, why they got to the situation you’re in. I can’t explain it. I don’t sit back and try to make sense of everything. You live your life a certain way and you work hard and try to do good for other people and whatever happens along that line, you control those certain things you can control. Everything else kind of works out, either good or bad and you have to deal with it on either end.
Q: Do you think there’s an advantage for you that Romeo Crennel and Bill Belichick have very similar defensive philosophies? Do you think it helps that you get to practice against Romeo’s defense?
TP: I don’t think this is really any advantage for me going into this thing. I have enough chips stacked up against me. I don’t think there was only one way to run defense when Bill was there and when Bill and Romeo were on the staff. They have different teams and they’ve done different things. I don’t think there’s really any advantage to that.
Q: You seem to have a really clear mind and positive outlook on everything that has happened with you. Where does all that come from? Where do you draw your inspiration?
TP: It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I’m not saying I’ve never had a bad day. But as you get older and you go through things and you experience life I think you just learn how to handle situations differently. I’m sure that I’ll handle things differently in five years from now and look back on how I handled certain situations and learn from them. Everything is a work in progress. Again, I don’t want to sound like a quote book, but you just try to take everything day-by-day. You’re not guaranteed anything today; you have to earn everything you get. That’s pretty much how I attack everything: with a tough mentality of going at it with as much as you can and getting up the next day and doing the same thing over again. It’s just the way I was raised, I guess, and the way I try to look at it.