Read the transcript from Head Coach Mike McDaniel's press conference on Monday, December 19, 2022.
(Just to get the intricate housekeeping stuff out of the way first, LB Jerome Baker left with an ankle. How is he? Where is OL Liam Eichenberg in his recovery? I don't even think I should ask you about CB Byron Jones, because you sort of left it as not counting on it for this season, but if you want to add anything. So LB Jerome Baker, OL Liam Eichenberg, CB Byron Jones and anyone else you can think of?) – "Hm, I don't know. I'm not sure if I feel as inviting about information today. (laughter) We'll see. You're just trying to do your job, so I'll help you. (laughter) No news on the last, so we can stand pat on that one. What was the first one?"
(LB Jerome Baker left with an ankle.) – "Oh yes, he had a lower extremity, but he seemed pretty solid today. Unless anything comes across my plate unforeseen, I think we should feel very comfortable with him. Then the next, I don't know when it's going to be, just because you don't – with Liam, I don't know when it's going to be. There's been no setbacks at all, but I'm not sure if you've written about or if anyone noticed he was playing by far his best ball that he's – I think PFF noticed actually, which is neither here nor there. (laughter) He was playing his best ball when he got hurt which is kind of frustrating. Our grades matched PFF's, I guess. (laughter) So what I don't want to do is rush the process with him and not build upon the good ball that he was playing. So as it stands right now, I feel pretty good about him getting a good week of practice in. I'm not sure what that's going to mean, I don't want to get ahead of myself, what that's going to mean for the game. But I know it's not if but when. So I'm feeling good about how he's progressing, not taking a step back and I want his confidence to be the same as when he left. Was there another one?"
(I think that's it unless there's anyone you can think of that we forgot.) – "You would never. You would never forget. (laughter)"
(We spoke to S Jevon Holland about the neck roll and the stinger he got, and WR Jaylen Waddle seems fine. So you seem to be in pretty good shape. I guess S Eric Rowe and RB Jeff Wilson Jr., obviously, couldn't go. Too early to tell with them or were they close?) – "Both of them were fairly close. I had to rely on my past experiences with Jeff Wilson to protect him from himself. As you could see, we have some capable depth at that position. I think that was a little bit on display this past game. He's looking solid, hoping – he's such a tough guy that I have to be proactive with him so he doesn't do some negative stuff to himself or the team in that way, because he's an important part of this team. So we'll take it day by day, both of those guys, but it was definitely – I wouldn't have been betting on whether they both would've played last game because I would have left myself vulnerable to some losses. I don't like losing bets, that's why I don't bet that much. (laughter)"
(Is it a relief to be coming back to play at home after three-straight road games, including a lot of travel, elements and even a hostile environment last game?) – "I kind of knew what it was. I guess yeah, I love the home stadium. I feel like I've lived in Miami my whole life at this point, I don't know why. Going to the west coast, I was like, 'What is this dry stuff?' I hate lotion now. (laughter) I wouldn't say it's a relief though. The point of that – we knew exactly what that trip was going to be like. We knew what those three games against good opponents, we knew it was a challenge and we were kind of excited for that challenge. We know exactly what we ended up doing in those three games. That definitely wasn't the desired outcome, but at the same time, what I'm talking to the team about and what I think is very important that I really, really truly believe deep down to my core, is that if you're going to lose football games, you should get something out of it. I do think – just moving forward, to make yourself better and to make that purposeful. I was very, very proud of the effort. I was very proud of the lack of excuses that were made by the locker room, the players, the coaches, in general, because now that I can talk about it in the open, yes, that is difficult – for sure. Time zone switches. But everybody has to go through their own stuff. I thought they approached it with a severity enough to get something out of it, because if you go half in or utilize excuses and you lose, it doesn't really – you can just say, 'OK, we'll turn it up,' and then you don't really get anything out of it. I don't see – that's not to say that I see it as, I don't know. I said something about asterisks last week about there's no asterisks in the win-loss column about inclement weather. There's also no asterisks for moral victories. So I'm not necessarily saying that as much as I'm saying that I think we allowed ourselves to utilize every experience because of our intent and our commitment moving forward, and if we choose to do it and if we execute all the things that we haven't and utilize those experiences, we'll look back and say, 'Those were very beneficial, and that's the point. Because when you go all in and guys really put forth their best effort under some challenging circumstances, human nature is to kind of, '(sighs) Here we go again.' But I'm very confident in the human beings on the coaching staff, in the human beings in the locker room, that we'll be happy to play another game. We love our home venue, but it's not exactly like, 'Oh, finally. We're home.' It's more that we need another opportunity to play football because it's a bad taste that you want to try to get rid of. You need some Scope (mouthwash). (laughter)"
(There's no asterisks for snowballs. However, of the numerous entities that could have done something, I know the PA Announcer said it, but stadium security, police, referees, what could have and should have been done? And moving forward, where you're possibly in the playoffs, what do you think could happen?) – "Oh, if I would take the bait. (laughter) I do not want to – I appreciate the question and I do not want to insinuate that I do not hold your question in any sort of low regard or anything. I don't want to dismiss it, I should say. However, it is what it is. Like I said, the only concern I had was with players' safety, specifically with the ice balls going at people's heads. I know the NFL is concerned with player safety as well. So however it's handled, it's not for me to worry about. I should probably worry about coaching a little bit more."
(There are different philosophies on what I'm about to ask you. I know earlier in the year, when the team was on a win streak, QB Tua Tagovailoa made a reference, "Hey, we're not afraid to talk about the Super Bowl. We're not afraid to use those words around here." Now that you're a couple of wins away from getting your foot in the playoff door, is it just Green Bay this week? Or is it Green Bay as a step toward the playoffs? How do you want the players to look at this?) – "I think the players have gotten reps at what I was concerned about that I really knew we need, which was football in playoff atmospheres. There's a lot of young guys that it's different when you have – I mean, that crowd in Buffalo was awesome. It was rocking. It felt legitimate. That's the type of environment that you get when you build upon a season and there's a lot on the line. I think specifically at the end of the season, you look less big picture, because in terms of the only way that you can really do the things that you want to accomplish, you have to give full intent to the next opponent. So I want them to see one team and one team only – the Green Bay Packers. What I do know is that game matters more than any other game. I think when you're down the stretch, it's almost like you do reverse. You can talk big picture and talk about the goals when things are far away. When stuff gets closer, it's almost like you're challenging yourself to be more locked into the moment than other teams, players, individuals, because a lot of games are won and lost that way. When you start worrying about things that aren't right in front of you, which happens. A lot of people can start talking of what type of this game is this and you got to do this to this. No, I think you have to learn how it's one game at a time or you are severely punished in this league. Down late in the season, you have to learn how to fully attack an opponent, because every single team that you play in these months have things to play for in one way shape or form, whether it's seating, whether it's getting into the tournament, or whether it's taking out aggression on their lack of involvement in the tournament. It's all – players really are motivated, and you don't want to have self-inflicted wounds because you're thinking about some games after the next. I believe there's two games after Green Bay; they may or may not be in our division. But I don't know. You guys would have to tell me. All I think of is I'm like a, I don't know. I'm like one of your children and this time of year, all I think about as Christmas. Except this Christmas, there's a football game. (laughter)"
(I wanted to ask you about your two rookie receivers. With WR Braylon Sanders, was there anything you'd seen in the opportunities you are able to see him work on the practice squad that intrigued you enough to throw to him Saturday? What was that that made you want to do something that you would have done with WR River Cracraft had he been in that slot? What skillset with WR Braylon Sanders? Also with WR Erik Ezukanma, has it entirely been a result of obviously veterans who are reliable ahead of him or has there been maybe more of a learning curve than you had hoped for? So on those two, WR Braylon Sanders and WR Erik Ezukanma?) – "So with Braylon (Sanders), he was – well, it just so happened that the first time, I believe it was the Detroit game, where he was activated, it was so late in the week and an injury came up, and he had prepared exclusively at the position that was injured. So he was able to get some live bullet experience, and although he did have a point of attack fumble, I look way deeper into the players' experiences than that, and what I did see was a guy that the game wasn't too big for him. In this specific – so he kind of got a leg up there. I also think that I've really seen Erik (Ezukanma) progress during the course of the season, tremendously. From a starting point perspective, it was interesting. He was probably as physically ready for the professional game as any young receiver we had on the roster. But it was probably the biggest jump in terms of schematically, hearing a huddle called and all that stuff. You learned a lot about guys with how their teammates respond to them, and I've noticed a lot of people gravitate towards him. He's been doing a good job and progressing. So it hasn't been anything negative in that regard, or we had to do X, Y, or Z. It was more that both of those guys had been really progressing, and then one guy got some game experience. And when he saw the opportunity, he had an injury in the meantime. But we felt comfortable with (Ezukanma. That's a tough atmosphere, talking about at Buffalo, to have your first varsity experience since playing with some of the guys in August. I guess that would have been against the Philadelphia Eagles in preseason, which feels like a millennia ago. So really, they've done a good job. I'm very, very happy with them and what they've done with their opportunities, because Erik has practiced very well in his opportunities as well."
(Kind of a two-parter for you. How do you assess QB Tua Tagovailoa's performance now that you've had a chance to watch the tape? And if you did like it, how did you like his ability? Or what does it say about him to kind of bounce back from a west coast swing that maybe you didn't have the offensive production you guys are used to? How did you feel he bounced back from those two games?) – "This game was really cool for me, because I had complete faith in where he was going to go. I think it took a couple games; he identified exactly what was kind of holding him back to a degree. Again, it wasn't by a longshot, him, that was the reason for losing. That's a collective thing. Or offensive efficiency, that's a collective thing and all the skill positions know where they played a part in it. But what to me, that I see that is so unique about Tua, what he was able to do is identify something that he could control. And in this particular game, I saw him completely correct the things that I thought were really holding him back in the two previous (games). It's a very rare thing to do in sports is to have control. Really just the strength, the mental strength, it takes to harbor all the pressure, all of, really, how people just will undress every single play or really hold you incredibly responsible or have a narrative flip in two games after playing however many – it's a lot. And I think not too many people are built for that. I think we're seeing a young player that is exhibiting – that game against Buffalo, he was exhibiting some of the things that I think make him so unique and why I feel so fortunate to coach him because he learned from the two previous games and was able, in live speed, to directly attack those. I think, case in point, there was a sack in the, I think it was the first quarter, down by the 12-yard line, that he, in-game, recognized that he hung on, No. 1, a little too long, and then because of that kind of missed two and three; which in the two previous games, it would have really, really affected how he played moving forward. It kind of reminded me of the Baltimore moment, to be honest, where he identified, 'Oh, I'm forcing something,' and then immediately has the mental fortitude to go back and persevere. There was another one in the third quarter, I believe the first drive of the third quarter, where he's dropping back and he's hanging on (Jaylen) Waddle for a quick route, and they're not on the same page, which, in the heat of the moment, you could either do one or two things – you can get down on yourself because you didn't anticipate what he was doing, or you can get down on Waddle, or you can move on to the next play. It was a throw that got batted down directly, like a Dikembe Mutombo swat. The very next play, he threw a 67-yard touchdown."