HEAD COACH MATT RHULE
RE: Opening statement
Obviously, we're excited to win that football game. I'm exhausted by the end of that. Credit to our guys to score on special teams, to score on offense, to play great defense for most of the game. Got some turnovers, some guys stepped up. I thought Curtis Samuel was a difference-maker today. Donte Jackson, they took five shots at Donte, and he made the play every time. Tre Boston getting a pick, Tahir Whitehead getting a pick. Michael Schofield had to step in, had to move over to left tackle because all the guys are down, Russell's [Okung] down, Greg's [Little] down, Trent Scott got hurt and he stepped up. So, you know, it wasn't always pretty at the end, but it was one we're proud of, for us. That was a playoff game for them. I think the Giants lost, at least they were losing when I went out to the field. They were fighting to go make the playoffs, so for us to step up in that type of environment and win a game and win a game all the way through the end, I think is a good step for us.
RE: With all the struggles you've gone through recently, if it speaks to the perseverance of this team
I've been proud of this team. I've been proud of this team even in some of the losses, you know, I mean, I think that they've battled, they fight. We had a lot of the same mistakes today but we were able to play our way through them and guys made plays. We were very confident coming into the game and I think that's a testament to who these guys are that they bounce back from yet again that loss from last week. Went through Christmas and all that, I think, without distractions and got here. So, I think we're building. I think we're building a program that's got, you know, real character and the character comes from the guys in that room.
RE: Why in his mind was this an important win and what it means for his program going forward despite outside discussion of improving draft position
I think teams that have historically tried to lose to improve their draft pick, hasn't really worked out for many teams. Winning franchises win. They win at everything. It's hard for me to even think that way because it's just something my mind doesn't work that way. We're here to win. We have a locker room full of guys who want to win, they've won their whole life. Sometimes you guys will ask me like, do you have to learn how to win? Well, if you believe that if you never actually win, then you won't learn how to win. We're the Carolina Panthers, we're a professional football team and we're someone that you know we expect people, when they line up and play us, to respect us, and know that they're going to be in for a dogfight and then we expect the win. To do anything else but that does not respect the Panther and to me I'm always going to put the Panther first and we have to find ways to win games. To me, to go on the road in cold weather, coming off a tough loss last week, you know, this was big for us. This is really big for this team. We have all these young rookies; we have an undrafted punter. How about the job that [Joe] Charlton did today putting balls down inside the ten? I mean, if I tell him hey, we don't win this game, kick it through the end zone, is he a good partner next year? I think to me, for all these guys, we're trying to teach them what it takes to win. And that's, you go out in the field, you don't beat yourself and you find ways to get things done and I think we did that tonight.
RE: If there is something to the young players figuring out this different scheme that Phil Snow is running and understanding it better than earlier in the season
I really believe [Defensive Coordinator] Phil [Snow] has done an amazing job. He's adapted personnel. Like even this week, we had [Brian] Burns like in some pass-rush situations, but we didn't have him in the three-down stuff, so we put three linebackers on the field. I think Phil just does a great job and his group does a great job of adapting and so we've changed some of the things that we're doing. At the same time, I think our guys, they're learning the game, they're learning what we do. They didn't have OTAs, they didn't have the fifteen-hundred reps, they didn't have the chance to get those corrections; and really for the vets too. The vets, they were coming into training camp based on what they had done in Cleveland, or what they had done here last year. So, they had to learn a whole new scheme from scratch and that's not easy. But I think we want to be a team that improves every year and hopefully, we'll come out of this season and we'll have an offseason to really go back and drill down and teach things. You don't really get good in my mind until the veterans start teaching the young guys, right? And so when you have to teach the veterans from scratch, it's really hard but as they start to say, hey this is how we do things, you get a lot better.
RE: If it is satisfying to get out to an early lead and be able to maintain that and see complete effort after previous close losses
I was happy that we played well, at times, there's other times we didn't play well, right, but we played well at times, we found a way to win. I thought our special teams really helped us. It's what was one of those games, one of the things that happens, is when you have a lead and you're holding onto the win and by the end it's just kind of, it's not really exhilarating, your kind of exhausted right? When you win at the last second your exhilarated. But I was happy, when DJ [Moore] caught that fair catch, I was happy for all these guys. The thing I said to the guys in the locker before the game is like, I see Brian Burns, them say, he's not going to play this week and him will himself on the field. I see Zach Kerr come back from COVID and I see Tre Boston come in every week. I see Shaq [Thompson] answer the call week after week. I see Johnny Miller hurt knee, hurt ankle come back every week. I see the sacrifices these guys make to come out and play and try to win and so I'm glad they got a win, this win. And to me again, I think you have to be in certain scenarios to understand what they are. Like, this was a playoff game, not for us, but for the Washington Football Team and for us to go out and play as well as we did and then Washington was going to just go away, they fought back. And then our guys, for our guys to make enough plays at the end to win it, our defense made a bunch of fourth-down stops for those last two drives or third and fourth down stops, I think two or three of them. So that's a lot to build on.
RE: If this role is what he envisioned for Curtis Samuel and what he has meant for the team this season
He's been a guy that does whatever we ask him to do. Plays tailback, plays wide out, blocks, made a bunch of big catches today. I thought that run was really a special run that he made helping us in the run game. We knew we had to run the ball 35 times to win the game and we ran it 35 times. He's just an all-purpose guy and he's a tough guy, and I think when your best players are tough minded, you know hard-working guys, you have a chance to win. I think every time Curtis makes a play everyone's excited.
RE: What running the ball 35 times and winning with defense shows him about where the team is
Well, it's to me, it's how most teams win in December. Lots of things happen early in the year, but the good teams in December, they run the football, they play defense, they take the ball away. We're not perfect in those areas but I think that we're a team, I hope has a plan, and everyone tries to complement each other. And if you were on the sidelines today, you would have felt it was team that was playing for each other, that was playing together, that was not any one person trying to do it. We've come a long way in that regard, those guys are out there. When we made that first touchdown, that punt, our whole defense and offense ran out to celebrate with those guys, to my chagrin when we didn't have enough guys out there for extra point. But my point being that they're enjoying playing for each other and in my mind, that's as big as anything, when the moment doesn't feel too big, when you expect to win, and if you have ability to run the ball, play defense, protect the ball, play good special teams, I think you always have a chance, at least in December.
QB Teddy Bridgewater
RE: Winning a close game after a number of one-score losses
It's a great feeling any time you can win in this league. We've been victims of being so close and been on the other side of being close, so it's a great feeling to know that, for one, all your hard work and preparation throughout the course of the week came together on Sunday, and also, you look at the way we played today it was some great complementary football. Special teams, defense, offensively, I think we did a great job of executing the game plan. Of course, when you walk away from games there are some things you want to improve on, but to win in this league, we understand how tough it is so we're just going to enjoy this moment.
RE: Curtis Samuel
I can only speak on this year and Curtis has been outstanding for us. He's been able to do some things that you don't usually see wide receivers do. We've asked him to do a lot: we've asked him to be a running back, we've asked him to be a lead blocker, we've asked him to run routes and catch passes for us. And he's done everything. So, to see a guy like Curtis have the success that he's having it's great and it's rewarding to all of his hard work.
RE: What is says about the team that guys are still pushing through
It just says that this a team of selfless individuals. Guys have been banged up all year – it's the game of football, it happens – but you look at Brian Burns, here's a guy who no one thought was going to play and then he shows up, he goes out there and he makes plays like he does. Zach Kerr flying around, even John Miller up front, different guys have just been fighting through different things and it's great to just win and reward those guys. We appreciate those guys laying their bodies on the line each week for us and it's rewarding for those guys to come away with a victory.
RE: His personal feelings about this win
It was great. I take my hat off to special teams, Joe [Charlton], he drilled that punt to back those guys up and make them have to drive the field. As frustrating as it's been all year coming up short, you learn so many lessons each week and this week, we learned another valuable lesson that we have a bunch of tough guys who will battle through whatever just to see this team win. We talked about it all week, basically playing for Coach Rhule. I said we play for our families and for different reasons, but I think it was time to put a complete game together for Coach Rhule and I think we did just that.
RE: How they put together a complete game today
I think the biggest thing we did was imposed our will. We said we wanted to make it a physical game. It was a playoff atmosphere as far as we knew that those guys were playing for something big and we knew that coming in we wanted to be a physical team. We talked about how we've responded well all year when teams come out and hit us in the mouth and I think it was a great job of us just coming out and playing fast today. I told Coach that when we're going fast, we're at our best and I think we did a good job of doing that.
RE: Chase Young
He's a first-rounder for a reason. I think he was the second pick, I believe, and he was the No. 2 pick for a reason. He's a guy that when you watch him on tape he's making plays, so you have to know where he is on the field, you have to be aware in protection and in your drops. He made some plays today to give those guys a spark. He's going to be a great football player in this league.
RE: Whether he'd vote for Chinn or Young for Defensive Rookie of the Year
I'm sticking with the home team: Chinn. Loyalty over royalty.
WR Curtis Samuel
RE: Coach Rhule calling him a difference-maker today
To me that means, sometimes when things probably are not going right for our offense, sometimes I go out there and make plays, get the team started, get the excitement going, just get everything going. Like I say all the time, any time I get the opportunity to touch the ball, make the most of it.
RE: His performance today impacting his mindset in a contract year and Marty Hurney not being with the team
I'm not really too sure about your second question but career highs are great, but most importantly we got the win. We wanted to go out there and win today. If it takes me to get numbers like that, whatever the case may be, my main focus is the win. I'm happy I got those stats, but I can't get numbers like that without the o-line blocking for me, without the quarterback, without everyone else doing their job, tight ends blocking, everybody doing their job. I credit those guys for my success today.
RE: His thoughts on the future
I'm not worried about that. Each and every week we are just trying to get a win.
RE: Showing his skillset this season
In college I played running back, played receiver, I pretty much did it all. It depends on what system you are in. I feel like it's a good system this year, fortunate enough I get to run the ball and I get to catch the ball, put defenses in a bind. Not really just using me as a receiver when I can do so many more things. I just credit our coaches for putting me in the right position to make things happen.
RE: His 47-yard run
The O-line did a great job with blocking. They did what they had to do and then I had to take over at that point. I feel like no one man can tackle me in space. I know I had to make that guy miss. That's what the coaches expect of me and that's what my teammates expect of me. I was able to make him miss. Coach Rhule always preaches don't run out of bounds, just try to get each and every yard you can. I just tried to stay in bounds and keep my feet moving and tried to get in the endzone.
RE: If he has proven himself this season
My mindset this year wasn't about proving anything. It was just showing what I can do, to myself. Just going out there and playing like I was in college, like I played my whole life – enjoying the game, having fun, all around the field, making plays for the team to put us in positions to win.
RE: Making a statement by being able to run the ball
When you are able to run the ball like that, that stacks the box and that lets guys on the outside like Robby (Anderson) and DJ (Moore), me, take advantage of one-on-one match-ups. We feel like nobody can stop us one-on-one. When we are able to run the ball like we did today, it helps out our offense tremendously.
RE: The progression of the team's attitude throughout the season
It's great. Sometimes, when teams as people say, 'we have nothing to play for,' we have a lot to play for. We are going to go out there each and every week and play as hard as we can. Playoffs or no playoffs, that doesn't really matter. Our pride – we know how good we can be, we are going to go out there and play each and every week. We are going to all come together as brothers, as we know we are, and just put it all together in all phases of the game.
RE: Any additional pleasure after defeating a team with playoff implications
No, I mean, we came out here and we did what we were supposed to do. That's how we feel. We know throughout the whole season we had many games that we felt like we could have played better, a lot of wins that we probably could've had. Today was just coming out and playing as a team. Offensively, get things going. Defensively, special teams, let's get things going. Let's just put a full, complete game together, and let's see what happens.
RB Mike Davis
RE: The importance of winning
That's always the goal, to go out and win. We don't care about draft picks. At the end of the day, our job is to perform, go out and play well.
RE: Creating a winning culture
Like I said, we want to win every game. We don't come in thinking about the draft picks. And now we just want to create a winning culture and we want to get used to winning. We don't want to have any losing games.
RE: WR Curtis Samuel's success in the rushing attack today
It's very exciting, man. I love it. I'd love to go out there and block for him. It's really exciting seeing him go out there and ball. I'm rooting for him every chance he gets.
RE: Wearing "Rivera Strong" sweatshirts in pregame
I feel it was very important for the guys that played for him previously. And we understand the things that he was going through. We just wanted to let him know that we have his support, we were thinking about him and we have his back.
RE: Reaching 1,000 scrimmage yards on the season
It's really amazing because - I just want to say I appreciate everybody who helped me along the way, my offensive line, everybody who believed in me - the coached, running backs coach (Jeff Nixon). It's crazy because before the season, my fiancee, she always says to write down my goal before the season. One of mine was one-K yards and it's crazy because I asked her, 'do you think this is doable? Do you think this is realistic?' And she was like, 'yeah, I think it's realistic,' but at the time in the back of my head, I'm just like, 'there is no way.' As the season was going and I saw that I was getting close, I can tell you that I wanted it really bad. It's an amazing feeling. I promise you, I can't believe it happened. I'm blessed. I'm thankful for everything.
RE: What went through his mind when he realized he hit the milestone
Really everything, I just think about my dad. I really wish that he could really see everything that I'm out here doing. I'm trying not to tear up. Man, my dad had such a big impact on my life and I know he'd be so happy to see me get one-K yards, man. I just know he'd be really happy right now. He'd be jumping for joy. He'd be having fun. I just know he'd be happy for me.
CB Donte Jackson
RE: Whether the defense had a chip on its shoulder
We definitely had a chip on our shoulder. We knew we had to come in and play playoff football. Put the records out the window, put what happened in the past out the window, put any game, any bad play, any good play out the window and just come show up and play playoff football. As a defense, that was our mindset all week. We wanted to come out here – we had a lot of distractions this week – and play playoff football and I think for a large part of the game, we did that.
RE: What the Ron Rivera hoodies meant to them
It means a lot. It means a lot, it's more than football when it's that point. For me, I know for a fact that Coach Rivera is somebody that is like family to me. He's a guy who is always genuine, he always put his players first, he always took the fall for players when he shouldn't have and it's just a respect thing. It's bigger than football, it's bigger than coach and player, it's just family. Even guys who didn't play for Coach [Rivera] had to talk to some of the players who did play for Coach [Rivera] and that's why you see guys who didn't even know Coach Rivera and didn't play for him have these hoodies on. Because at the end of the day, it's all about family. It's all about showing up for something that's bigger than ball and just glad to see Coach Rivera on the sideline and healthy and doing what he loves to do.
RE: How refreshing it is to be back on the field healthy
For me, I sat out three weeks – I had the Minnesota game, the Detroit game and then the bye week to get my toe healthy. During the time when I wasn't playing, I knew when I came back, I had to show people what I am when I'm out there and I'm healthy and I'm on the field every play. It's a whole different player, it's a whole different game. I know what I bring to the table. I bring qualities to be one of the best corners in this league and I'm just going to keep on proving that week-in and week-out. I got healthy, so there are no more excuses, there are no more, 'oh he could've made that play if his toe was healthy.' No, my toe is healthy and it's showing up. That's what I do. I'm a player and it's refreshing to be out there and not feel anything, but I'm going to keep playing until they lock us out of the building.
RE: What's different about winning late-season games
Anybody can show up and play great in December and have a good preseason, have a good camp. It's really when it gets cold and the season gets long, Coach Rhule being a tough guy, that's when he's going to judge his tough guys. That's when he's going to come out and he's going to see who's still fighting til the end. I'm a guy – and a lot of guys on the team are the same – who is going to fight until they lock us out of the building and that's just what it is. We came out here and we knew – put the season behind us, put the record behind us, put all the close game losses behind us and just come out here and play playoff football. Because if those guys win that game, they're going to the playoffs. So like you said, it's a pride thing. We aren't going to let anybody clinch on us and that was the mentality.
RE: How this team's mentality looks for next year
A lot of points this season, we were really searching to find our identity and find out what we do and what we have – and that's what we're doing. We were in a search trying to find our identity, but we found it. We're hard, we're tough-nosed and we're going to fight for a whole game and that's just what we're preaching on that side of the ball. Shaq Thompson keeps the guys going and he has us out there playing with a ton of confidence and that's what we're trying to do.
S Tre Boston
RE: Why this win was important
Because we're the best team out there. We knew we were the better team; we knew what it took to get the win. We had Coach [Matt Rhule] already tell us throughout the week that he's going to die with us and that's big. When you've got a coach who's not willing to switch things up, look at the development of the young guys in the last few games, knowing that they're not going to make the playoffs, you put everything on the line for that. For us, we came to play today. We knew what they were going to do, we knew that they were going to try to run the ball on us and we had the same objective: we were going to stop the run and run the ball on them. And I thought we did a great job of playing as a team.
RE: His thoughts on the Orange Bowl
UNC is going to get that dub even though we've got the boys who've got to do better things for their options in life, but I like UNC to catch that dub. Who do we play – A&M? I don't care who we play, dub: UNC.
RE: His interception
That's been on my list all season. Obviously, we know I've kind of switched up high playing this defense. I've been a big box guy this season, so to get that interception it means a lot. To help my team get a win means a lot. To go out there and play good ball, do what I have to do to get a win for my team, it just feels good. An interception is on the list every week, but we know the league and it's hard to get them here, so I appreciate the gift. It is giving season, so I appreciate it.
RE: Talking to Ron Rivera after the game
Yeah of course, I got to talk to all of them. Like I told you all, before the game I wasn't talking to any of them. I ain't going to lie. I told y'all I was there for one objective and that was to win. We're in the middle of a dog fight and when you've got your friends between the lines, it's only bragging rights to who knocked who out, who got the win, so after the game I told y'all I'd be ha-ha laughing with those guys and we were. Fortunately, we got the win. They didn't and I told you, we'll have a dinner or a lunch in Charlotte with these guys later on this offseason, hopefully COVID allows that, but this was big for us. Kudos to those guys going out there and trying to fight. It's a great coaching staff, you know how much appreciation we have for them – respect we have for them – so kudos to those guys coming out and trying to get the win. But maybe next year.
RE: Whether this is a more complete version of the defense after the missed reps in the offseason
Yeah, I think when you take a whole brand-new staff, you have a whole brand-new team, brand-new schemes, you can see us building throughout the season. We've had good games – specifically on defense – we've had shut outs of the Lions, we've had first half of Vikings, we've had second half of the Packers, and it's about putting it together each and every snap. It's about guys trusting the process, guys doing their one-eleventh and you're seeing that. Down the stretch, we asked more of that. We asked guys to hold themselves accountable to doing their job and you see that. Today, we came out there, we focused on what we had to do. We knew that the objective was to stop the run on defense, we came out there with that objective and I thought we did a good job of stopping the run and not letting them get going. That's what we've got to do best. For us to have this new staff, new players, it's about building each and every week. I told y'all a few weeks back: when that wall on the house is just one wall, everybody is going to say stuff about it, but as we build this house and make it a home, we're going to be one to reckon with.
DE Brian Burns
RE: When he realized he could play in the game despite the knee injury
I realized, I would say probably Saturday. I did "Fast Saturday" and I went full speed, I felt good. Getting out here I felt good. I wanted to play a lot more to be honest, but got to be smart. But yeah, I felt good.
RE: What it meant to him to get a win despite some of the "noise" about injuries and improving draft position
It meant a lot. A the end of the day, I want to win, I want to help my team, and I just want to play. I don't know, it's just in me to play. It's just I don't give up. That's how I operate. I don't give up and I just really want to be out there with them and just help them any way I could. That's why I played.
RE: Shoulder injury
Yeah, it's not bad. I just kind of got a stinger when I was coming around the edge and I stuck my arm out and I kind of deflected the ball. From that point on, it was kind of banged up. It'll be alright. It ain't nothing to worry about.
RE: If he wanted to set an example as a leader for younger players by playing when he wasn't 100 percent
Yeah, facts. I just really wanted to show them that I'll fight through whatever to be with y'all and win. If I can play I'm going to play. Only way I'm not going to play is like if there's no way I can run or anything. That's the only way I'm not going to play. That's kind of how I see things.
RE: If there was talk about shutting it down for the season due to the injury.
No. Not with me. Of course they wanted to limit my reps or if it was really that significant or that bad of course I wouldn't play. But if I had any shot of playing I was going to play. That was pretty much it, period. That's it.
RE: How hard it is to create culture and toughness like Matt Rhule wants in the midst of a losing steak
Honestly, I think that in itself really shows the toughness and pretty much the will of this team. I feel like going through a season like this, and we're still battling all these close games and we're losing by one possession, like that really kills your confidence, it kills you. But to see these guys battle even though we're not going to the playoffs or anything like that, but we're still battling for a win and what they did out they did out here shows a lot of toughness and that's what we're trying to implement into this team.
View game action photos of Carolina's Week 16 game at Washington.