Head Coach Kevin Stefanski (12.29.23)


Opening Statement:

“Okay. Thanks, Jordyn (White). All right, injury front, Elijah Moore spent the night in the hospital. he is home now. He’s in concussion protocol, so we’ll just work through that over the next few days with him, but glad that he’s back home. Mike Ford has a calf injury. We will update that as we get back more information the next few days. But like we talked about last night or this morning, or whenever it was, proud of the effort, proud of the fight that the guys had out there was a fun night and happy to do it in front of our fans like we talked about. And then we’ll have this little breather here over the weekend, and then our focus is we got to finish strong and that’s what we intend to do. And with that, I’ll take any questions.”


Hey, Kevin. Can you say any more about Elijah (Moore)? Like, just how long was he in the hospital? Did they find anything? 

“No. Yeah, I don’t have a ton of other information other than say that he’s doing better, he’s home. I’ve been texting with him. Those are always scary, as we all know. But I will say this about him. I’m very proud of him. He was getting going. I thought the route he ran for that touchdown was outstanding. He’s done a great job for us. And with Amari (Cooper) going down, put him over there in that spot and didn’t miss a beat. I mean, the play he made to break up was almost an interception, break it up, grab it. He was outstanding.”


I know you’ve talked about the job that Andrew (Berry) has done in the front office, kind of giving you the depth of the roster, but just in the season of injuries, how important has it been for them to continue to add guys who stepped in and had huge roles for you? 

“Yeah, I think it’s been unbelievable. And I think, again, the credit goes to Andrew and his entire staff. I mean, our crew works really hard to find people that are sometimes available and working them out. I mean, just look at the guys that are playing for us that weren’t with us at training camp. And that’s just a testament to our personnel staff in finding guys that we knew we could trust. And then obviously, the coaches getting them ready to go.”


Yeah. Kevin, staying on the receivers for a minute. Do you feel like Amari (Cooper), you know he’ll have this little extra time to get well and do you feel know he might be ready for the season finale? 

“Yeah, I hope so, Mary Kay (Cabot). But it’s really hard to know what happens on these short weeks, you go into it and you don’t know until the guys get out there in the field and have to move around. In Amari’s case, he couldn’t go and he tried like crazy. But I do think rest will be a big deal this weekend and then we’ll see how he’s doing next week.”


Kevin, obviously when we speak to you, a lot of it is nuts and bolts football here. But for you, when your name is mentioned along the likes of Paul Brown, you and he are the only coaches in franchise history to win eleven games multiple times and you passed Bill Belichick on the team’s win list. Just what have you enjoyed most about this run this year? 

“Yeah, as you can imagine, I don’t really spend time thinking about how I factor into that. Daryl (Ruiter), I’m proud of this football team. I’m proud of the players. Look at that locker room. Look at how they are on the field, look at them picking each other up. I think it’s about those guys out there on the field.”


Kevin, now that you’ve had a couple of hours to soak it in, how did it feel to clinch the playoffs in front of that home crowd? And were they as electric as you? Hoped they would be? 

“Yeah, they were, Cam (Justice), and they were electric from the jump, I mean, pregame. And electric’s the word. Just because there was a buzz. There was a buzz in that stadium, they came ready to roll and that fourth quarter, you could feel that they were just waiting for that clock to hit zero like probably all of us were, so that they could finally celebrate that. So special for them, special for our players to be able to get around the stadium and be with our fans. I mean, those are great moments for this organization, for this city and then know we’ll very quickly turn our attention to next week and try to finish this thing strong.”


Couple of questions. Kevin, how about Dustin (Hopkins) and Corey (Bojorquez)? Do you have any idea whether they might be ready for Sunday? 

“Yeah, I don’t really have an update. I think Corey has probably a better chance than Dustin, but we’ll see how that goes throughout the next few days.”


And then depending how things work out Sunday, it’ll affect your chance of winning the AFC North. The question is what is your philosophy on rest or rush when you have players that you might want to, could sit against the Bengals? 

“Yeah. I think it’s so dependent on where you are and what you feel like you need for your football team. Obviously, there are moving parts here going into these last ball games, so we’ll see how it plays out on Sunday and then we’ll make the appropriate decisions. But it doesn’t change the fact that we want to finish strong.”


Hey, Kevin, to go back to Elijah (Moore), I mean, you alluded to being proud of him in the way he played and came around. I mean, I know he’s been honest this season about having to fight through some of that personal frustration and how he’s not let it get to him and contributed in the ways that he can. So what does that just say about him and what he brings to that room and the locker room in general? 

“Yeah, Ashley (Bastock), you know, we do a game captain each week that’s chosen by the players and they chose Elijah. This last, you know, part of it obviously going up against your former team, but more of it was just how hard he works. He shows up every day, he does his job, he practices really hard. So just proud of him getting that opportunity last week, excuse me, last night, getting those balls and doing something with them. And as you know, we’re blessed to have a bunch of different guys on offense that we can get the ball to and feel really good about. And Elijah is certainly one of them.”


And then just what have you overall kind of seen from Alex (Wright) these last few weeks as he’s taken a larger role in that d line with Ogbo (Okornkwo) out and the way he’s been able to get to the quarterback and especially how he’s improved in that regard over the last year. 

“Yeah, I think Alex continues to get better. I mean, a young player, young person. And I think every single rep, every single game, I think he just continues to build on what he’s doing – plays hard, has made big plays for us in really these ball games down the stretch.”


Kevin, you know, you look at the Jets, had a really good front. I think they were like second in the NFL, right behind your defense. And to get in the red zone five times in the first, get four touchdowns, how important to get off to that start and kind of get it where you could take the gas off a little bit? 

“Yeah, I mean, you go into every game, Fred (Greetham), not knowing exactly how it’s going to play out. I have a ton of respect for Coach (Robert) Saleh and that team and that defense is really, really good. We had a couple of things go our way early in that game, in that first half, and we’re able to get some big plays. I think the big plays were really the story of it for us. And then, like you mentioned, second half kind of made sure the clock was rolling and obviously didn’t have the same amount of explosiveness that we had in the first half.”


Kevin, you talked about Jerome Ford a little bit after the game, but it seemed like he was running really hard. Did that stand out to you, too, how hard he was running? 

“Yeah, he was running hard. I thought the guys did a nice job of moving that defensive front, which again, is very, very good against the run. But Jerome ran hard. I thought all the runners ran hard. And then the play Jerome made at the end of the half is incredible. Joe (Flacco), to get out of there, get him the ball, and then the rest was all Jerome and he just would not be denied.”


Talk about guys running hard. Obviously, David Njoku has done that all year long. How’s he continued to get so wide open lately? 

“Yeah, we practiced on Tuesday of this week, and you’re two days removed from Sunday playing against the Texans. And Dave was flying around like it was training camp. Now, he was dressed like it was training camp, too, because it was 57 degrees out, but he just looked fresh and was moving. So, I felt real good about Dave going into this game. Joe obviously understands Dave’s skill sets, and getting him the rock on the move is a good thing.”


Kevin, on the long Jerome touchdown, Joe just gets clocked in the face before that. Maintains his composure, gets his footing back, gets that little pass off. So I was just wondering your thoughts on his ability to do things like that, but then also just doesn’t flinch. I mean, Amari’s not going to play in the game. Doesn’t flinch. Elijah goes out. He maintains his cool. So just wondering about that.

“Yeah, I mean, on the first part, that play was great. And those are the off-schedule plays. Those are the ones that the chalk ends on the chalkboard and the players take over. And Joe had a little bit of burst there getting away from the D line, found Jerome. I was not sure from my angle if he was close to the sticks, if he had the line of scrimmage, but obviously, he knew where he was. And then Jerome again made an unbelievable individual effort. But as it pertains to Joe, he’s played in big games, Mary Kay (Cabot). So, he’s a good stabilizing force there in the huddle for our guys, on the sideline. Regardless of – we know injuries are a part of this thing, so regardless of who we have available to us, we kind of just narrow our focus and Joe is a big part of that, just making sure that guys are just doing their job.”


Kevin, how much of that blocked field goal attempt, how was that a galvanizing moment, I guess, for you guys as a team and just kind of, especially to build the momentum for the defense moving forward?

“Yeah, Kelsey (Russo), that field goal block unit, that’s something that we take a lot of pride in. And we have some guys that are outstanding on that group with Shelby (Harris), Jordan Elliott and Dalvin (Tomlinson) and Myles (Garrett) and Denzel (Ward) over the course of time. So that’s not a play off for us. And that was a big play in the ball game. I think it helped maybe getting the five yards moved back a little bit, maybe change the trajectory of the kick potentially, but we have guys that don’t take a play off, and they want to get that ball because that’s just a game changer when you come away with no points there.”


Kevin, Kareem (Hunt) and Jerome Ford lead you in touchdowns scored this year. I know Joe, obviously, is getting a lot of credit for the offensive success, and rightfully so these days, but just what can you say about those two guys and their contributions? Even though they may not be putting up those big yards, when you get down there on the goal line, they’re finding a way to get the ball in the endzone. 

“You know, we talked about Jerome. Just those big plays, was just a really good effort. Even the first touchdown there, carrying a guy into the end zone. So Jerome did a great job. And then Kareem, all season long, really all the time that I’ve been with him, has an incredible knack for short yardage and goal-line running. He has that nose for the end zone. He has the nose for getting the first. He just has a great run style when you get in those moments because he goes and gets it. And if he needs to BYOB, if he needs to bring his own blocker, and we don’t have a guy for the safety, he does that. So just his style, the violence with which he runs, has been a big deal in those situational moments.”


How big of a hit was that? The two Marquise Goodwin blocks on the ends, down inside the five yard line there in the film room. 

“Hey, great effort by MG. And again, I was talking to AVP earlier (Alex Van Pelt), obviously proud of the effort, proud of the score and those types of things. But just proud of the guys for how they fight together and how they literally pick each other up off the field. I think that just goes a long way in being a connected football team.”


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