Postgame Transcripts: Week 18 at Tampa Bay

HEAD COACH MATT RHULE

Opening statement

"Obviously disappointed in the final score. Credit to the Buccaneers. Certainly, credit to Tom Brady [and] the greatness that he can present. Our secondary, I thought was excellent for most of the first half. I thought we did a great job defensively until the two-minute drive. I think the seven points going into the half and the seven points coming out of the half were obviously a really big swing in the game. With that being said, it was a seven-point game with 10:24 left. You know, our guys fought back in the game and just weren't able to get some stops. Just some simple missed assignments, plus some guys back there thrown into action. Then, obviously at the end we got aggressive. We tried to get back into the game and weren't going to punt, so the score got a bit out of hand. I thought the guys battled, played hard and it just wasn't good enough. Credit to them – they're a really good football team."

(On his thoughts regarding how the quarterbacks played, and why he didn't insert QB Cam Newton on fourth down from the 1-yard line regarding)

"The fourth and inches from the one that was just a quarterback sneak. Had it been maybe a fourth-and-1 where it was going to be a quarterback power – that's more of Cam's specialty. But really fourth and inches, you're assuming your line is going to knock them back. You know, Sam [Darnold] is 6-foot-4, [you think] he'll get the first down. From the field I thought he got the first down, to be quite honest with you, and the spot came up short. So, looking back, would I have put Cam in there at that point? To me, if it was a designed quarterback run, putting him out there made sense but Jeff [Nixon] made the call to go quarterback sneak and I thought the call was the right call, so we went with it. In terms of Sam, I don't know if this is correct or not, but it says he was 29-of-42. Obviously at the end I thought up until those two turnovers he had done a lot of good things. I thought he made some big throws. I thought the throw to Robby [Anderson] was big time. It was a zero blitz to his face, and it was as big time of a throw as you can make. You know, he stood in there. Deonte Brown played a lot. I couldn't see much that Sam did wrong up until the very end. Obviously that fumble and that interception – I have to watch the tape to see if he's expecting Robby to break it flatter or not. But it was a shame it was that fumble and that fourth down stop and that interception that led to the points and the score looking the way it did."

(On the reasoning behind being aggressive on fourth down)

"Well, the one was fourth-and-1 and obviously we felt we had a good play and were going to put it in DJ [Moore's] hands. We went for it on fourth-and-4 and didn't get it. Really at the end of the half I didn't go for it on fourth and whatever it was, four, and punted them down inside the 10-yard-line, and they were able to drive. So just based upon the feel of the game and the plays we felt we had called, we made a decision to go for a couple and a couple I decided to kick away."

(On the timeout at the end of the first quarter)

"We had two guys in motion, he was about to snap the ball, so I wasn't sure if he was going to snap it and we were going to get a penalty, so I was kind of reacting to what I saw out there. Unfortunately, the play clock was running down. I would've loved to have let it go to the half, but I didn't want to get a penalty in that situation because we had a decent, manageable yardage to go."

(On what he has been told about his future in regard to returning to coach a third year in 2022)

"I've been pretty straight forward with you guys. I'm never going to speak for Dave [Tepper]. Every conversation I've had with him, he's been supportive. I talked to him today before the game. We were talking about the offseason and what we have to do moving forward. Since I took the job, we've had a plan. I'd like to be further ahead in the plan. No one likes the results we have right now. We've talked about it time and time again – we know the areas that we have to improve. So, I've never had a conversation with him about, 'Hey, anything about my job status?.' or 'Hey, you're in peril.' It's always been talking about football and the future. So, I'll leave that to other people."

(On CBS color analyst Tony Romo's comments during the telecast that Matt Rhule had indicated he would be back and if he has been told definitively by David Tepper that he would be back in 2022)

"I've answered that to you guys off the record and on the record, I'm never going to speak for Dave, I'm never going to speak for anyone else but myself. Every conversation I've had has been about the future. What I told them is I'm going to coach until someone tells me I'm not the coach. The minute I make things about myself and not about the team then I'm not who I want to be. Today this was about going out there and trying to make sure that Shaq Thompson, Juston Burris, DaQuan Jones and those guys had the best plan possible, and Taylor Moton, that they had a chance to win the game. I'm not paying attention to anything else. So that's my job. But like I said, I don't speak for anyone else and every conversation I've had has been simply about the future and the plan and where we are in the plan and what we have to do in free agency and the draft – all those kinds of things. We're in a really important time for Carolina to get over the hump."

(On how he would like the offense to look moving forward)

"I'd like us to have a true identity of being able to run the football, play-action and protect the quarterback. We have some skilled players that are excellent players. So, we're going to go through a process now with both internal and external candidates. Kind of like what we did in the GM search, we're going to talk to a bunch of people. There are a bunch of really smart people out there from a lot of different places. We know what the strategy we want is. We want to be able to control the line of scrimmage and run the football and protect the ball and we want to be able to do those things. It's just the tactics for how to do it. We're going to try to find someone who can get that done at a high level. There are lots of people who can. It will truly be a process."

(On what he learned about his team today)

"We learned a lot of things, right? We saw some good and some bad. You know, [Rob] Gronkowski had a bunch of big plays where he's supposed to be covered and we're kind of just turning him loose. Who exactly that is – I'll have to go back and look at the tape and hear the communication, but I think we gave up seven big plays, explosive plays and that's something we haven't done. Obviously not having Jeremy Chinn out there, not really having Justin Burris out there [and] young guys being out there the communication really wasn't at the level we'd like it to be. There are also some good things. C.J. Saunders made some plays, Deonte Brown made some plays. We saw a lot of guys make some plays. We'll turn the tape on, I'll watch the tape on the plane. I'll watch it first thing tomorrow morning. I'll see lots of flashes. I saw Deonte get edged at the end for a pressure. But Deonte was in on some of those scoring drives, so it was his first chance to play. They'll be a lot of good, they'll be a lot to learn from. In terms of learning about our team, watching DJ Moore make that catch across the middle in game 17 when we can't go to the playoffs, to hit his shoulder and come back in the game, to see Jermaine Carter play at MIKE linebacker the whole game and play on special teams I was grateful to him. Justin Burris has been hurt and he's running down on kickoff. I tried to pull him off the kickoff team, I said 'JB don't get hurt out here, I can tell you can't do it.' He said, 'Coach, I'm finishing the game.' There are a lot of guys on this team that people should be proud of. I know everyone is disappointed right now and I know we don't like the win-loss record. I get all that – that's what this is about. But there are a lot of guys that I think really competed and laid it on the line. And that's what I said to them, we had a chance, it was seven points. We just didn't make the plays down the stretch. I didn't get it done for our team down the stretch. But a lot of young players got a lot of reps. Listen as I watch tape tonight and even tomorrow, hopefully I will be able to say I thought so-and-so played well because they got good reps."

(On his comfort level with how his team and coaches got ready for the game today)

"I thought offensively in the first half we went right down and moved it well. I thought we kept guys off the quarterback better today than we did two weeks ago. l thought the defense played fantastic. It was a mirror image of last week, right? We punt the ball down it's third-and-long and we get beat on a big play or else we're going to get the ball right back. Or even the fourth-and-1 that I was asked about earlier, we got the ball right back. The defense went out and made a stop and got the ball right back. I thought our guys competed, they played hard, they played physical. We lost [Jeremy] Chinn yesterday. We weren't planning on not having him, so we had to kind of shuffle around and they paid the price to at least get out there and know what to do."

QB SAM DARNOLD

(On if he was surprised by the call for him to run quarterback sneak instead of QB Cam Newton)

"No. Like you said, 4th-and-inches, you should be able to convert that with a QB sneak. Just didn't get it."

(On trying to get better grip of ball on 4*th*-and-inches quarterback sneak attempt by putting the ball on his hip)

"Yeah, I think that was it. Just mishandled the ball, and just tried to recover from there."

(On what he's done this season to solidify himself as the starter going into next season)

"I'm not worried about that right now. I just got done playing a game. I'll talk to a bunch of the front office guys tomorrow, I'll talk to [Head] Coach [Matt] Rhule, and talk to my coaches tomorrow and kind of go from there."

(On his ability to be more decisive when throwing the football after coming back from shoulder injury)

"As a quarterback, you're always trying to be decisive out there. Whether it's a one-high [or] two-high read, picking a side of the field, whether it's a true progression, whether it's man-zone, there's a bunch of different reads. I just try to go out there and make the best decisions I can. For the most part, I had a good rhythm going and then it just fell apart at the end."

(On the touchdown pass to WR Robby Anderson)

"Yeah, it was cover-zero. I could tell they were bringing it. The clock was running down low, and I didn't have enough time to change the protection. So, I just decided to back-peddle and give [wide receiver] Robbie [Anderson] a shot."

(On mishandling of ball on fumble)

"It was an [run-pass option]. I was trying to eye the nickel to the right, and the ball, I had to kind of pin it against my right hip. I tried to see the nickel, and noticed he wasn't coming. So, I tried to hand it off. By that time, the running back had already been up the field. So, I tried to keep it and just follow him. [The ball] just got knocked lose."

(On if he had a hold on ball before the fumble)

"Yeah, I had a hold of it and I shouldn't have turned the ball over. If that's what you are asking. Yeah, it definitely could have been more secure than it was."

(On identity of offense this season)

"I think being able to run the football [and] play-action off of it was big, especially early on. That was kind of our identity. I felt like we hit a lull after we won those games. I would say that when we were 5-5, and I think we lost to the [New England] Patriots. Or 5-6, and then we became 5-7. I think it was in the middle of that, when we lost against the Patriots, that's when things kind of changed a little bit."

(On if there is discussion in locker room of the future of head coach Matt Rhule)

"No. Obviously, people are going to talk and there's going to be rumors that float around. I dealt with it for the last three years in New York. It's just something that happens. You guys have a job to do. What makes our game so special is the fans, and you guys delivering information to the fans, that's what makes our game so great. There's always going to be rumors and speculation. For us as players, it's our job to, for the most part, ignore that noise and just go out and execute what we need to do and play at the highest level because at the end of the day, on the field, when we're out there playing the game, no one is even thinking about any of that stuff. We are all locked in on what we need to do to execute the one play that's called."

WR ROBBY ANDERSON

(On the outcome and playing to win to end the season strong)

"It's disappointing. We don't play this game to lose, don't work to lose, don't dream to lose. It's just disappointing and it's not what we're here to do."

(On what he thinks the future identity of this offense could be)

"One can only hope we're consistently successful [and] flowing [on offense]. Just letting people do what they're best at consistently."

(On if he'd be comfortable with no change in the offseason at the quarterback position)

"I just want to win. Win the Super Bowl, be All-Pro, Pro-Bowler, and be the best I can be for my team."

(On his touchdown)

"Just doing what I know I'm capable of doing. It was crunch-time, and I'm trying to win and make something happen and that's what I did."

DE BRIAN BURNS

(On the team's morale going into the game)

"Overall, [I] think it was good. We were talking about the game plan, guys were motivated – even though we weren't going to the playoffs. Guys were just excited and motivated to play this last game of the '21 season together. This is the last game, and the locker room might not look the same. So guys were happy about that we [have] that last moment to spend with each other."

(On Head Coach Matt Rhule addressing his status with the team)

"No. He hasn't said anything as far as if he's going to be back or not. We don't really talk about that, we were pretty much focused on the next opponent, and everything like that. He lets us know how appreciative he is of us and how hard we play, and how we could've just came out here and gave up and laid down. But it was a tough game in the beginning, so he was appreciative of our efforts. He didn't really talk about next year or nothing like that. Just focused on the present."

(On where the team needs to improve)

"In all honesty, I just feel like it all comes down to, like I said, select plays. I feel like we're mostly always in the game and we'll always have those one to two plays that can change the game but we're just not getting it done. Or we are just not staying focused in doing our jobs for the duration of the game. I feel like that's one of the main things is discipline and stamina – mental stamina, to continue to do your job at a high level the whole game. I feel like that is one of the main things, and I think that's going to come with experience and maturity. We still have a young team. Our team is extremely young, but I think it's going to come with maturity and experience. As time goes on there it's going to be growth."

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