LG Joel Bitonio (1.4.24)

On good guy award…

“I appreciate it. I know you guys have a tough job to do, so trying to help out any way we can, but it’s appreciated and thank you.”


Is this the game that you’ll be able to rest the back and take Sunday off?  

“I’m not sure yet. I know Coach (Kevin Stefanski) has a plan for that and just kind of having everybody just prepare for the week and see where we’re at come tomorrow or Saturday. But it is a nice position to be in where if we need to relax some guys, we have that ability to rock some guys and get their bodies right for the playoff stretch.”


So you’re racking up the Pro Bowls now. How do you feel about that? You’re really getting into the conversation now for Hall of Fame. 

“Yeah. Anytime you get recognized, it’s a great honor. And that’s coaches, players and fans all voted for that and I’m appreciative of it. Coach (Kevin Stefanski) kind of mentioned yesterday, especially lineman. It’s such a group award and you’re playing with guys like (Amari) Coop and this year (Jerome) Ford and David Njoku, who are making great plays and they help us look good. We try and help them look good, but it’s an honor. I saw Dan (Murphy) said something about fourth most in Brown’s history and the names above are you know Lou Groza, Jim Brown, Joe Thomas – that’s pretty special company. That was the one that kind of like made me go, wow. Like, this is pretty cool because you live in the moment from season to season and you try and take it one game at a time. But like I said, anytime you recognize, it’s a great honor and we’ll see about the other stuff. I’m just trying to do the best we can this year and we’ll go from there.”


Racking up the good guy awards. You’re the all-time winner in that. 

“Put that on the record sheet.”


You’ve been here the whole time with David Njoku. I know we asked you before. What is it like to see a teammate then be rewarded and have everything kind of finally come together? 

“Yeah, I thought we had a lot of guys that deserve recognition, but David was one that I was a couple of weeks ago. I was like, man, I really hope he makes a Pro Bowl this year because he deserved it. He’s worked. The person he is and he came in as a 20-year-old. I don’t know what you expect a 20-year-old to do when you’re a first-round Draft pick, but I know coach (Kevin) Stefanski has talked about it, but the way he’s matured and the way he’s been a core part of this team and one of our leaders, one of our playmakers. It’s been a special little run he’s been on, catching passes and making plays for us. I was so pumped for him when I heard he made it, because just the change he’s made. I don’t know how many times he asked for a trade or wanted to get out of here, and it takes time to learn and develop, and he’s done all those things. So for him, I know that was really special.”


You had the back and you had the knee. Now you’re on with an oblique. Is this as beat up as you’ve ever been in a season? 

“Yeah. It’s just one thing after another for me. I don’t know if it’s like a domino effect with the knee and everything kind of just works together and it adds on. Luckily for me, I’ve been able to play through most of it. You know what I mean? But, yeah, just the body being beat up, you’re always beat up, you know what I mean? But these are things that are kind of just like, dang, that’s annoying me right now. But hopefully, we get this little stretch here and we get the body as good as possible going into the playoffs and really make a run out of it.”


I know you said you making Pro Bowl is kind of like a team award. I know they didn’t make it, per se, but the fact that Ethan (Pocic) and Wyatt (Teller) were named alternates, how cool is it that the entire interior of this offensive line has been recognized?

“Yeah, it’s great. I mean, those guys are playing at a high level. They’re competing every day. We wanted to be one of the stronger O lines in the league. Then you lose your top three, four tackles, but the inside three, I think have stayed healthy for the most part. Wyatt, he’s played every snap so far this year. He’s done a good job, and Po, I think, has gotten his chance to prove that he’s a good center in this league. And it’s so tough with the program because I think, look at the top five centers in AFC, and I think they’re playing. It’s like all of them are very similar. It’s just kind of who got the vote here or there to get in. Same with the guards. I mean, we know Wyatt, he’s a real player, and he’s made some awesome blocks for us over the years, and hopefully those guys get a chance to get recognized as well. But like you said, being an alternative is big. I’ll shout out. J-O-K (Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah) and Dustin (Hopkins). I think both of those guys truly deserve to get in. Obviously, Justin Tucker is one of the greatest here of all time, but I think if you look at Dustin’s body of work, the game-winners, 50-yard plus, he’s done such a good job for us this year, and he’s part of a lot of those wins. And then J-O-K, he plays outside linebacker off the ball and he’s in the same voting group as guys that are great players, TJ Watt and Trey Henderson, but they just play different positions and so it’s hard for those guys to get the recognition. I’m glad he got some recognition, but, yeah, it’s one of those things where you want to see as many of your guys get recognition as possible because it means the team’s doing pretty well.”


Jim Schwartz said the atmosphere at the Jets game is like top five 30 years in the league. How about you? 

“Yeah, it was great. Running out of the tunnel was pretty cool with the lights out, all the lights going on, the light show, and then I don’t think the crowd ever got quiet. Like, it was so loud when we were on the bench waiting in some of those big plays that Joe (Flacco) made. It was a pretty awesome experience. Then we go to the playoffs after that, and I think everybody stuck around. It was very fun. It’s definitely up – you know, it’s one of the top atmospheres for home games I’ve ever been in.”


Did you polish off a few empties like David (Njoku) did at the end? 

“No, I didn’t. You got to be careful. He came down with a mysterious illness yesterday. See what happened with that. But no, I think it’s just a testament to our fans. They’ve been great all year and it’s truly a home field advantage for us. So, it was fun to celebrate with them, though.”


We talked a lot, overcoming all the injuries. Was there a moment or time when you said, hey, we’re going to be okay, despite all these high level? 

“I don’t know if we had time to think about it because I feel like you said, every week it was something new or some major, big debilitating injury. And coach (Kevin) Stefanski) was so smooth and even keel about it, and he never showed us worry. When Deshaun (Watson) went down, obviously, we were like, we had just played our best game as an offense in that second half in Baltimore, we came out with a win and I think were riding high and there was a second that we’re like again. You know what I mean? Like, we just got to this point. So, I think everybody would say there was a question at that point, but the next day I think we were ready to roll and were like, ‘Hey, we got a chance to keep winning our defense plays great. ‘They got to keep it up now here and now (Joe) Flacco is here, and he’s played amazing football. But it’s just been the next man up all year and it’s such a cliche, but when it’s part of your culture it’s not a cliche anymore.”


Why do you think he’s (Joe Flacco) fit in as quickly and as well as he has? 

“I think he’s just a good guy. He’s a good person. He loves playing ball and he wants to win and all those things make it easy to fit in. They say winning cures all in that sense. But he’s been great from the start. He’s easy to talk to. He has so many stories. He’s had so much experiences that I think the locker room just wanted to gravitate to that.”


Joel, you talked about the atmosphere on Thursday. Just out of curiosity, do you think that the structure of the playoffs should be revisited by the NFL in terms of where teams sort of finish and division part of it? Where more like the NBA where if you’re a higher seed because in fairness to you guys, you’re eleven and five, you have the second-best record in the AFC right now, but you’re only going to be able to fifth seed. And I know you guys don’t care necessarily where you play at.”

“It’s something to think about. You could have the division winners get in the playoffs no matter what, but it’s kind of reseeded to [the] best records and stuff like that. It gives people something to play for later in the year. Your division is kind of one of those things. That’s the goal, you want to win your division because that gets you a ticket automatically. But it would be nice, you know like you said, we have the second-best record in the AFC right now. It’d be great to have a home playoff game in those situations. But you know, the team we’re going to play is going to win their division and that’s always tough to do too. So, I see both sides of it, but I wouldn’t be opposed to them looking to adjust it where the better record might get home-field advantage or something of that nature.”


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