"I've been a fan of his for a long time and enjoyed the few times we got to play. I remember when I heard the news about him coming to the NFC, I thought this was a real possibility. I'm excited about the opportunity to play against him."
-- Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers eagerly anticipates his third career face-off with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady in the NFC Championship Game. (Green Bay Packers via Twitter)
"We've been pretty good on the road all year outside of the first game and the Chicago game. For one reason or another, we've just done a good job. Some years it's been like that. I've been a part of other teams where it wasn't quite like that."
"Let's keep that streak going. That would be pretty sweet. Let's get another one. We're going to be challenged to get it because we're going up against a great football team."
-- Despite being a warm-weather quarterback heading into Lambeau Field, Tom Brady remains confident in his team's potential on the road. The Buccaneers finished 6-2 in road contests, winning their last four road games. (Buccaneers.com)
"He's the greatest player to ever play the game. If you add him on any roster, I'm sure the outcome would be somewhat like this. He always gets his teams to the playoffs. He's a winner. He's a natural-born winner, leader, all that. At this point in his career, he's just playing chess and we're definitely very happy that he's on our side."
-- Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans on Brady, who is heading to his 14th conference championship game. (Tampa Bay Buccaneers via Twitter)
"Yeah, we don't play that game this week. That's the message to everybody. We play the Packers in the NFC Championship Game."
"You start thinking about the Super Bowl you'll get your ass beat and be packing your bags on Monday."
-- Despite the fact that the Buccaneers' stadium is being outfitted for Super Bowl LV, head coach Bruce Arians knows the danger of looking ahead to the big game. (Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times via Twitter)
CIRCLING THE WAGONS
"Taron Johnson. That's a play that people are going to remember for a long time here in Buffalo, potentially a franchise-altering play."
-- Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen reflecting on the game-sealing 101-yard pick six by cornerback Taron Johnson, clinching a 17-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens en route to the AFC Championship Game. (The Athletic)
"Coach made a good call, a Cover-2 call, and I'm just reading the eyes of the quarterback. I have the seam in that coverage, and he took me to the back side, and all I did was cheat. He didn't see me, and the ball came to me."
"I kind of looked down, but then I looked up, and I saw a whole bunch of green grass to the right side. So I figured if I could race over there -- I know Lamar is fast, but if I have lead blockers, I feel like I could take it."
-- Bills cornerback Taron Johnson giving us the play-by-play of his house call. (ESPN.com)
"You look at trying to stop them and it's kind of like, who are you going to stop? You look at how they're winning games, and they're making big plays, explosive plays. We've got to find a way to limit their explosive plays. They're going to make some plays. They're in this spot for a reason."
"It's not just 87 [Travis Kelce], and it's not just [Tyreek] Hill, either. ... They've got other guys on that side of the football who can make a lot of plays. No. 17 [Mecole Hardman] can take the top off. He's getting the ball in his hands and making plays. Pat Mahomes gets outside of the pocket and makes plays. It's going to be a happy medium trying to figure out ways and trying to figure out how they're attacking us."
"The first time we played them, we definitely wanted to limit the explosives, so we were playing two high safeties the whole game, inviting them to run the ball. I think we'll be a little more aggressive. Be able to show up in the run game, but also get back in their deep passing game."
-- Looking ahead to the AFC Championship game, Buffalo Bills safety Jordan Poyer explains how his defense plans on trying to stop the Kansas City Chiefs offense. (Buffalo News)
"I went to BYU. Every down is a throwing down."
-- Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid on his decision to pass on fourth-and-1, when backup quarterback Chad Henne completed a pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill to hold onto a 22-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns. (Lindsay Jones, The Athletic via Twitter)
"Other than LinkedIn, I don't think hashtag 'Henne Given Sunday' or 'Henne-thing Is Possible' is gonna show up on LinkedIn. It's great for him to have confidence, just like I said before. Once I got in that huddle, everybody had confidence in me. They were pushing for me, had my back, and this is a great team."
-- Henne on whether he saw quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who left the game after entering concussion protocol, tweet #HenneThingIsPossible following the game-clinching play. (NFL.com)
I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH: THIS IS NOT A JOKE
"Here's what I do know, is that this team is going to take on the identity of this city. This city's been down and it found a way to get up. It's found a way to overcome adversity. So this team's going to be built on we're going to kick you in the teeth, and when you punch us back, we're going to smile at you, and when you knock us down, we're gonna get up and on the way up, we're gonna bite a kneecap off, alright, and we're going to stand up and then it's gonna take two more shots to knock us down, alright, and on the way up, we're going to take your other kneecap and we're going to get up and then it's going to take three shots to get us down, and when we do, we're gonna take another hunk out of you. Before long, we're going to be the last one standing."
-- New Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell used his introductory press conference to establish the culture he hopes to bring to his team, emphasizing toughness, resilience, and some light cannibalism. (Will Burchfield, 97.1 The Ticket via Twitter)
THE MIND OF GRONK
"Karen, hello! Where are you Boston? This is crazy, you're Zooming into our press conferences. This is nuts."
-- Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, despite living in a socially distanced world for nearly a year, is still baffled by the concept of video conference calls. (Ryan Hannable, WEEI via Twitter)
"We're going to the AFC Championship Game!"
Devin White: "We ain't in no AFC!"
-- Gronk hopped in a video with linebacker Devin White to celebrate the team's win and resorted to muscle memory when exclaiming victory. (Ian Steele, ABC 6 via Twitter)
'PERFECTLY BALANCED, AS ALL OFFENSES SHOULD BE'
"Whenever you're the No. 1 rushing [offense] and the 30-something passing [team], that's not right. That's not balanced. We got to find a way to balance our game. Even with our great rushing attack, we got to be able to throw the ball and be able to move the ball through the air."
-- Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown stresses the need for his team to balance out the rushing and passing attacks on offense. Baltimore averaged an NFL-worst 171.2 yards passing this season, 20 yards less per game than they averaged rushing. (ESPN.com)
STRAYED FROM THE PACK
"There hasn't really been too much communication [with Detroit]. I mean, every time I go on any kind of anything public, you know, I get asked the question. And it's simple. It's like, yeah, it's hard for me to do anything for anyone that takes anything from me, you know? So I feel like after everything I did for the organization, that shouldn't have even been a thought, honestly. I would have happily been there to fulfill my duty to participate and give back to the receivers or however (they want me to help) -- just the organization as a whole. And, you know, if that happens, I'm not saying I'm here thinking I'm transactional. But in that particular situation, you know, I love football still. I give back to football any way I can, whether it's through my camps or going to see different teams in the NFL, college, what-have-you. But to do it here at home (would be great), the fans love me, I love the fans here -- but I can't step foot into the building after I dropped so much in there. Because that stung. I mean, it straight up stung. Emotionally, but business-wise? No, it just doesn't work like that."
-- Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, opened up about his extremely strained relationship with his former team. Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp later stated she would like to mend things between the organization and the slighted wide receiver. (Kyle Meinke, MLive via Twitter)
HOPE? IN CLEVELAND??
"It sucks, to be quite honest with you guys. It sucks because so many people have sacrificed so much during this process and this very strange season and overcome adversity. So many people have stepped up -- families of players and families of staff -- and everybody sacrificed so much for us to be able to do this. It is just unfortunate for us to come up short. It sucks because we believed in it."
"That is why we are here, but trying to find the positive out of it, we are setting a new standard here. Everybody is saying in the locker room and continue to tell guys that we are going to be back. It sucks when you come up short, but you get that taste of it and realize you learned lessons. For now, it is definitely going to sting. ... Looking at everybody from our side of the ball, we gave it our all. We just came up short."
-- Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield discussing his emotions following the team's loss to Kansas City. (NFL.com)
"I think Baker showed this entire year the type of player and leader he is, and that's what you need out of the quarterback room."
"He continues to get better since he came here as a rookie. Continues to grow as a player and as a person and as a leader. And that's what you need. Baker, I think his growth is not yet done. He is not a finished product and I think he'd be the first one to tell you that. But you continue to see him get better and better each and every year."
-- Browns center JC Tretter discusses the development of Mayfield throughout this season and his potential going forward. (NFL.com)
THIS WEEKIN SOCIAL MEDIA
MINSHEW MANIA: MULLET MODE
-- Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew was already a contender for best facial hair in football, but he's now throwing his hat into the ring for league's best hair.
A FAREWELL TO BIG TRUZZ
Ravens players gave Mark Ingram their jerseys with personalized messages as a parting gift 🙌
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 22, 2021
-- The Baltimore Ravens take jersey swaps to a whole new level, leaving hand-written-on-jersey notes for running back Mark Ingram after he was released from the team.