Head Coach Todd Haley
Can you shed any light on your quarterback situation for us?
I really can’t. It just came up this morning. Illness is the way we’re putting it on the injury report which is what it is so it’s a last-minute thing and we’ll have to take it from here on out.
Can we assume that the illness is somewhat severe if you were to call up a third-string quarterback?
No. I just got through telling our media. No matter how many ways I say this people are going to think I’m not being truthful, but we’re making a roster move which we were aware of the last two days. We had decided last night that the direction we were going to go was to bring up Palko because we’ve kind of lived on the edge with two quarterbacks throughout the year and then Matt has this come up this morning so it looks like it’s tied together but it’s really not. We’ll just have to take it from here on out and see how things go.
Can you describe your own reaction when you got that phone call this morning?
I’m the head coach so any player on our team I’m pushing them all hard and pushing our trainers hard that this time of year we need all hands on deck. Any time we have somebody that’s not full go or can’t go it’s always going to be disturbing to me. That being said, we got through the day. That’s how you become a better team. You continue to have guys developing and that development continues through the offseason, training camp, preseason and all the way through the regular season. That’s part of trying to become a good team and getting this foundation laid, developing our young players.
This is the biggest game this team has played in a long time. What do you expect from your young players?
I try to stay out of hypotheticals. This is our biggest game to date, at least the group as we know it, the Kansas City Chiefs right now. Since I’ve been here this is the biggest game that we’ve played. That being said, last week was the biggest game that we had played up until that point and the week before at Seattle was the biggest game we’d played. We’re just trying to continue in this foundation-laying process and the key to the Kansas City Chiefs and the key to me as the head coach is that we just continue to get a little better every day. That’s what we’ve been able to do and we’ve continued to develop players and get those two and three and four-year players to make progress. Our young players have come in and made an impact and that’s what we’re trying to get done and really take it just one day at a time, one practice at a time. Right now we’re about three-quarters of the way through a Wednesday of a week that starts our fourth quarter of the season. We just finished the third quarter 3-1. Our goal each quarter is to try to get to three. It’s basically a four-game season for us and that’s the way we’ve handled it the entire year. It starts at San Diego against the reigning AFC West champs that are as skilled a team as we’ve seen to date and that’s even changed since the first game of the year where I said some of the same things but really now as you put on the tape of the Chargers they are hot, they’re playing at a high, high level and they have some dominating players at multiple positions throughout the team.
How influential on the rest of your season was that season-opener and what you guys did that night?
When you’re starting a new program, which we did last year, and you’re really in the foundation-laying process, which last year we were in that, this year we know we’re going to continue in that foundation-laying process – trying to lay a foundation that would hold up and stand the test of time that would allow us to be very similar to the Chargers, a team that’s a good team year in and year out and plays in big games. That’s what we want to be someday. We’re clearly not there yet. We’re just trying to make headway. But in that process it was very critical for the players to see some reward to their hard work and efforts and I think it was critical that we start out in a positive fashion so a win like that against a team that we know is a really good team was big for us.
Were you surprised at the way the Raiders ran the ball against the Chargers last week?
We had played the Raiders team not too long ago out in Oakland and I know that they are a big-time running football team. I am surprised. I think that San Diego’s defense is one of the best if not the best defenses in the league. They’re clearly the best defense that we’ve seen or will see. Any time a team is able to run like that it’s going to be somewhat of a surprise but at the same time having just played that group, they can run the football. They’re big up front. They’re dominating at some positions also. It’s just one of those things where they got going and it was hard to stop but we were in that same type of game last week against Denver. We just couldn’t get the run stopped.
On whether a defense that’s just gotten run over is harder to beat the same way
I think each week’s a new week. The one thing that I don’t think is that it’s going to carry on because it happened last week. I think that’s what our guys are learning here and that’s part of the learning process is that the past has no real influence on the present or the future for sure. What’s happened will not affect how this Sunday goes. What will affect how this Sunday goes is how the two teams play and generally the team that plays better will win.
Do you still believe the Chargers are more talented than the Chiefs?
I think they’re a highly, highly skilled team. They’ve got some players at positions that are dominating. And by that I mean the top one, two, three players at positions.
Is there any one point this year that you were convinced that you had a possible division champion on your hands?
I don’t think that way and I really work hard at our team not thinking that way. That’s why we break the season up into quarters and we really try to focus on the task at hand. Especially while you’re in this foundation-laying process. Sometimes when you’re a better team, you’re a good team, you’re a proven good team over time, you can worry about some of those things, but we surely can’t. If we’re not completely focused and eliminate all distractions, we’re going to have a hard time competing most weeks and that’s just the way that it is, but if we’re getting better, our eyes, our heads are down and we’re just trying to work a little harder each day and get a little better each day. I think the guys are building confidence, there’s no doubt, that we’re making progress and we’re doing things the right way and we’re coaching them the right way and we’re asking them to do things the way you have to do them, they believe those things and that’s a real sign of progress and that’s what I’m interested in.
On winning close games in the fourth quarter and how he’s done it
I think first off understanding that’s the way 50 percent of the games are going to go. They’re going to be seven points or less. Because that’s the way they’re going to go, you need to be very efficient in a lot of different areas. You can’t turn the football over and expect to win. You can’t have a lot of penalties and expect to win. That’s yardage that maybe a good team or San Diego at times can overcome some of those things. I know that we can’t. I think our players understand that we can’t. In the games that we’ve struggled in some of those areas or turned the ball over or had more penalties than our opponent, they’ve been games that either we’ve lost or have been very close or we’ve felt fortunate to have won. We’ve just got to continue doing those things. We know we’ve got to run the football efficiently. We’ve got to stop the run. We can’t turn the ball over and we’ve got to take it away a few times. If we do those things and do a good job in the special teams, we should have a chance most weeks to at least compete.
Have you seen a development in Matt Cassel in the second half of the season of throwing the ball away instead of pushing it and creating a turnover?
I wouldn’t say the second half of the season. Matt’s been part of this from Day One. He’s continued to make progress from Day One going back to last year. And it is a process. It’s especially a process for a young quarterback who hasn’t played a lot. He’s a quarterback that didn’t play any in college, sat for a few years in the NFL and really has two and a half years under his belt right now which is very little when you think about guys playing four years in college and then coming into the NFL. Each and every day is a chance to gain experience for him but that being said Matt from Day One and from the start of this year he’s been very clear in the understanding that to be the quarterback of our team he can’t be careless with the football and he’s done a terrific job with that through three quarters of the season but that started in Game One and it’s continued all the way through and it has to continue in this final quarter of the season.
Is there any way that the things that Matt does as a quarterback affect your running game?
What I require of the quarterback is that No. 1 he finds ways to win. No. 2 is he cannot be careless with the football. He has to be a good leader. You have to be able to throw at a certain level to even be playing in the NFL. But those are one and two. Find ways to win. That’s his job as the quarterback and that’s the way he’ll be judged and graded as far as I’m concerned. He’s done a very good job of leading this team, of being an efficient leader, meaning he hasn’t put us in bad spots that we can’t overcome, so yes in a way I think that does help the running game because if he were careless with the football and we were behind or in second-and-20s or third-and-15s instead of third-and-3s and 4s we’d be running the football a lot less. So I think it’s probably a pretty good question.
Running back Thomas Jones
When you first got to this team did you envision things happening this well this quickly?
You know what, any time you get in a situation, you’re coming to a team that had a tough year prior to you getting there, you really don’t know what to expect. All you’re doing is just trying to work hard and trying to build up that team chemistry and figure out what you’re identity is. Honestly we’re in a really good position right now but we also understand we have a lot of football left. Right now we’re happy with what we are but we can definitely do a lot better.
You’ve been in really big games. What’s your own assessment of how ready this team is to play a game like this?
It’s still football and that’s what we’re looking at. The X’s and O’s, executing the plays, executing the game plan, eliminating mistakes. This time of the year those are the things that matter. It’s a big game. Obviously all of them are big games. You just have to do the little things right and that’s what we’re focusing on.
On if he’s excited about running the ball against the Chargers
They’re a talented defense. They have some really good players. They’ve been playing really well as of late so we have our work cut out for us just like we do every week. But the main thing is we’re just focusing on us and the things that we need to do to put ourselves in the best position to be successful and try to get a win.
Any personal feelings about the Chargers at all? You’ve got some history with them.
No, not really. They were on our schedule before the season started and now the game’s finally here. I don’t really have any personal feelings. I have the utmost respect for Coach Rivera. I was with him in Chicago. We had a great relationship and they have some great players on defense. We have our work cut out for us but we’re just working extremely hard this week to try to stay on track and focus on the little details.
Aside from talent, how do you guys manage to run up that kind of yardage?
Obviously our offensive line has done a great job all year of coming off the ball and giving us room to run. The offensive coaches have done a great job of sticking with the running game and not giving up on it. As far as running backs, we work really hard during the week. We watch a lot of film. Usually we’re at work at 7 a.m. an hour or so early. We don’t leave until around 5 (p.m.). We put a lot of work in watching film and we spend extra time in the weight room, in the cold tub and things of that nature to try and make sure we’re prepared because we know more than likely they’ll be a couple extra guys in the box. We know what our job is and that’s to try to get yards.
Was there anything about that season-opening win over the Chargers that catapulted you a little bit into the season?
When you have a big game like that at the beginning of the year on Monday Night Football and you played at home in that kind of environment and then you win the way we won that game, which was a total team effort and it came down to the wire and we found a way to win. I think that gave us a lot of confidence going into the following weeks. It’s a long season. You have to have a short memory. I think for us it was great that we started off that way. We’ve had some ups and downs along the way but you start to understand that you really have to play one week at a time and you can’t dwell on a big win or a tough loss.
What did you think when you heard Matt had come down with something?
Obviously we want to know what’s going on with his health first, make sure he’s OK and we have other guys that are going to have to step up if he’s not able to go. If he is able to go I’m sure that he’ll do the best that he can. It’s not my call on either level because I have my own job to do. First of all I just want to make sure he’s doing OK health-wise.
Is he the type of player that would tend to practice when he’s sick and push through?
I haven’t been in this situation with him so honestly I couldn’t answer that question.
Are you guys believing that you’re good enough to ultimately go all the way?
That question’s hard to answer to because when you’re not even looking that far down the line, I don’t have the answer to that. All I know is that right now we still have to get better as a team. We’ve played well at times and we’ve had some games that we haven’t played so well. But we have to continue to find ways to get better every day and every game and that’s what we’re focused on. We’re not even thinking about the playoffs or if this team loses or if that team loses. None of those things matter if we don’t take care of our business. We’re just focused on the Kansas City Chiefs right now and what we’re doing against the San Diego Chargers.
On if a team gives up a lot of rushing yards one week usually makes it tough for the next team to repeat that
It just depends on how a team bounces back. It depends on that team. If you have a short memory and you’re able to let things go, sometimes it makes it a little bit easier the next week, but if you’re stuck on certain things that happened in the past it might slow your progress a little bit so I’m not sure as far as how the Chargers are going to feel and how they’re going to come out and honestly that’s not really my concern. They’re our next opponent and we’re just focusing on us and trying to make sure we understand our game plan and understand things that we’re trying to accomplish on Sunday to get a win.