“I’ve played against Tom Brady a lot. You can’t beat him without pass rush. If you can’t pressure him, you will not win.” – Tony Dungy
“Matthew Stafford gives them the ability to pass the ball all over the field. You have to cover every blade of grass against these guys.” – Drew Brees
“He’s the best player on the planet, but he is nasty…when he gets to the quarterback, he’s not trying to shake your hand, he’s trying to punish you.” – Rodney Harrison on Aaron Donald
“He’s one of the best receivers in football and maybe the number one weapon in football right now.” – Chris Simms on Deebo Samuel
“This thing is amazing in how quickly it’s bubbled up and we have to take it seriously.” – Mike Florio on rumors Tom Brady may retire after this season
STAMFORD, Conn. – Jan. 23, 2022 – NBC Sports began its coverage of the NFL Divisional playoffs today with a special edition of Football Night in America leading into the Rams-Buccaneers playoff game from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on NBC and Peacock.
Maria Taylor hosted the special edition of FNIA from NBC Sports Group’s Studio 1 in Stamford, Conn., and was joined by Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy and former NFL quarterback Chris Simms. Two-time Super Bowl winner Rodney Harrison and Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees joined co-host Jac Collinsworth at the site of the game. NFL Insider Mike Florio provided reports from his home studio.
Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst), Michele Tafoya and Kathryn Tappen (sideline reporters), and Terry McAulay (rules analyst) are calling today’s Divisional playoff game.
As part of NBC Sports’ NFL playoff coverage, the Football Night in America crew spoke with stars from each team, including Aaron Donald with Mike Tirico; Odell Beckham Jr. with Chris Simms; Mike Evans with Maria Taylor; and Shaq Barrett with Tony Dungy. See below for highlights from each conversation.
Los Angeles native Snoop Dogg, who will be part of the Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show on NBC and Peacock, narrated a matchup preview.
For the first time ever, Football Night in America and Sunday Night Football are streaming on Peacock Premium every week this season. Viewers can sign up here. Peacock Premium is included at no additional cost for Comcast’s eligible Xfinity X1 and Flex customers and Cox Contour customers.
Following are highlights from this afternoon’s edition of Football Night in America on NBC and Peacock:
Dungy: “In the first game that these teams met (in Week 3), it was passing game, passing game, passing game. So, I really think protection is going to be key. Who would have guessed that with all these stars that Joseph Noteboom, the backup left tackle for the Rams, and Josh Wells, the backup right tackle for the Bucs, might be the key guys today?”
Simms: “It’s going to come down to who can protect the quarterback? Who can win the line of scrimmage?”
Harrison: “Tom (Brady) absolutely hates this kind of defense because it has so much speed and they can put pressure on you directly in the middle of your face, which makes him uncomfortable.”
Brees: “You used to be able to know where Aaron Donald was and double-team him. Now you have Von Miller, Leonard Floyd, all these guys to worry about and you can’t take care of all of them.”
Brees: “Matthew Stafford gives them the ability to pass the ball all over the field. You have to cover every blade of grass against these guys.”
Harrison: “If I’m Todd Bowles, Matthew Stafford has never played on this level and in a game of this magnitude, so I’m coming out and stopping the run. In the fourth quarter, I want to put it in his hands to have to win. I’m throwing everything at him…so every time he drops back, he has to try and figure out what exactly they’re doing.”
Brees on WR Cooper Kupp: “The key for any great receiver is the ability to get separation and with his releases, getting in and out of cuts, how he makes every route look the same. He has got it all…If you want to study a wide receiver and his technique, watch this guy.”
Harrison: “Aaron Donald is nasty. He’s the best player on the planet, but he is nasty…when he gets to the quarterback, he’s not trying to shake your hand, he’s trying to punish you.”
Brees: “I’ve got a missing ligament in my thumb because of Aaron Donald.”
Simms on Buccaneers facing teams with good pass rush and complex defenses: “We’ve seen them lose four times this year. It was against these types of defenses (Rams, Saints twice, Washington)…that can make Brady flinch at times and that’s when we’ve seen them primed for an upset.”
Dungy: “I’ve played against Tom Brady a lot. You can’t beat him without pass rush. If you can’t pressure him, you will not win.”
Taylor on Tom Brady’s playoff records: “Since there’s not a graphic big enough to host all those records we decided to create a scroll like the credits at the end of a movie.” (laughter)
Florio on Tom Brady: “Out of the blue, the question comes up this week, will he retire after the season? I have no idea what changed or how it changed or why it changed, but the thinking is, maybe he’s gotten to the point where he recognizes he’s missed too much of his family time. He’s been around the NFL for 22 years now and it could be that he takes a step back and figures out whether or not he truly does indeed intend to continue in 2022. This thing is amazing in how quickly it’s bubbled up and we have to take it seriously.”
Harrison: “Tom Brady hasn’t always played with Hall of Famers and All-Pro players. He’s played with really good football players that didn’t have the big names. That’s one of the most impressive things about Brady. He can play with anybody. It doesn’t matter who you line up next to him.”
Simms on WR Deebo Samuel: “He’s one of the best receivers in football, maybe the number one weapon in football right now.”
Simms: “The 49ers defense was special. The special teams were special, of course…You have the 49ers who are a Super Bowl team with maybe not a Super Bowl quarterback, and you’ve got Green Bay, who in my opinion is still too Rodgers-centric, if he doesn’t take over the game. We look at them as a Super Bowl team because he’s a Super Bowl quarterback, but I don’t know if they’re in the class of the 49ers as a complete roster and I’m not surprised by the upset that we saw last night.”
Taylor: “I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due, Chris Simms actually did give the advantage to the 49ers. And that’s the only time I’ll ever give him credit, ever.”
Dungy on head coach Kyle Shanahan: “We’re going to be talking about coaching searches and everyone is looking for that master in Xs and Os. Kyle Shanahan is that. You look at how he developed this team to win in tough situations, to win with defense, and yesterday, win with blocked punts and field goals. I love the way they put this team together.”
Dungy on QB Aaron Rodgers’ post-game comments: “I appreciate Aaron’s honesty, but I would much rather have heard him say, ‘You know what, this is two years in a row where we’ve been that close to the Super Bowl. I want to come back and do this. We have the right thing going here.’ Look to the future and be excited. That was disappointing to me.”
Simms: “They’re not that far off. They’ve got a good thing going on there in Green Bay still.”
Simms on QB matchup between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen: “I think these are the two best quarterbacks in the playoffs still. Yeah. I’m saying it. I know Tampa fans are going to get mad at me…They are phenomenal with all the off-schedule plays they make.”
Harrison on TE Travis Kelce: “He’s the heart and soul of this offense…When (Patrick Mahomes) really truly needs a big play in the most critical moments, that’s the guy that he goes to.”
Brees: “When they’ve struggled this year as an offense, it’s when they got so enamored and infatuated with the big play, they forgot about the matchup that they had right underneath. Travis Kelce’s the guy who moved the chains for this offense.”
ON HEAD COACHING SITUATION
Florio: “The good news is, of the eight head coaching vacancies in this cycle, we’re two weeks removed from the end of the regular season and no one has been hired. We’ve been saying for years – take your time, take your time, take your time. They’re taking their times. That’s good for (Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron) Leftwich and (defensive coordinator Todd) Bowles because no dominoes have fallen yet. They continue to be in consideration.”
Dungy on teams taking their time in making head coaching hires: “I think it’s great. It’s great for Leftwich and Bowles, for Brian Daboll and Leslie Frazier, coordinators for the Bills. They’re in the mix, too. But it’s also great for the owners. Take your time. Don’t just look into the best Xs and Os guys. Who fits your philosophy and fits into your building? You don’t want to make a one- or two-year decision, this should be a 10-, 12-year decision, so take your time. I love what they’re doing.”
Taylor: “You even said a 15-year decision.”
Dungy: “15 years – Mike Tomlin.”
Following are highlights from FNIA interviews this week:
Aaron Donald on people taking his dominance for granted
Tirico: Do you remember when Shaq was really good and he wouldn’t get the MVP? Because people wanted to share the MVP. I’m only asking that because Micah Parsons had an unbelievable year and T.J. Watt was terrific. But it feels like sometimes people are looking for somebody else to give the Defensive Player of the Year Award to, because you’ve won it three times and let’s find somebody else, but you’re still as dominant as you’ve ever been, I see you smiling, do you feel like sometimes people take for granted your dominance at the position?
Donald: At times, but you know, I think when you play consistent football at the dominant level, and you consistently show it year in and year out I think people kind of just expect you to do that. So it’s like, okay, alright. We know what he’s going to do. Let’s kinda look past it, but you got to play ball, that’s what it’s about for me. Trying to find ways to be dominant through a slide protection, a double team, triple team, and still trying to find ways to have success, to help my team. So I definitely think at times people might overlook it because they kind of just expect me to do it or are just tired of seeing me have success, but I guess it comes with the territory.
Donald on facing and hitting Tom Brady
Donald: You know, he’s been there a lot, a bunch of times. So, he’s got that experience. He’s going to study and find ways to slow the rush down and not let us get some opportunities to get to him. And that’s all quick passes and things he does and trying to establish a run game. But one of the things we talked about as a group, as a D line, is not to get frustrated. If he’s getting the ball out quick, get your hands up, but continue to rush, continue to fly around. Because he can’t do it every single play. There’s going to be plays where you’re going to have to hold the ball and those are the plays that we’re going to have to get him down to the ground or hit the pressure on or make him feel uncomfortable to the point he can’t step up in the pocket. We’re playing against a great quarterback and just like any other quarterback in this league, you get to him, you hit him enough and he feels you around him. You can make them feel uncomfortable. And that’s what we got to do to have success in this game.
Tirico: Aaron, is that true? Even with the best quarterback of all time, that if you can just even hit him a little bit, you can have an effect on him in a big game like this.
Donald: Nobody wants to get hit a bunch of times. And then you got a bunch of guys that are flying around and ball hunting, trying to get to you. I know he has a lot of experience and he’s going to stay cool, but you know, you got somebody around your legs or somebody hits you. Why are you trying to throw the ball and everything? Isn’t going to be how you want it to be. So that’s what we have to do.
Donald on playing next to Von Miller
We kind of knew since the first game versus the 49ers. We hadn’t had too many rushes, but the couple rushes we did, we saw some things that we were like, ‘we’re going to be able to do some special things together.’ So then through the season, we start building and they had opportunities to really pin our ears back and get after the quarterbacks and start and see how we play off each other. We still got a lot more football left, so we are going to continue to try to play at a high level and dominate.
Odell Beckham Jr. on why he chose the Rams over the Packers
I wanted to be in a spot where I felt like I could thrive. I wanted to be in an atmosphere that was special. And it came down to a few places. I feel like I put out a lot of love and love is what you would want to receive back. And that’s what I felt the most love from the Rams, Von (Miller) was here, Jay (Jalen Ramsey) was here and they were like, man, let’s go chase. And, and I was very torn between two teams, when it came down to the final decision, it was Green Bay or LA. I’m just blessed and thankful to be exactly where I’m at and having an opportunity to compete for the Lombardi Trophy, which is the only the reason we play. I’m a huge fan and always talk to AR 12 (Aaron Rodgers) and Davante (Adams). It just boiled down to that I felt more honored and respected and wanted to be here rather than another place where obviously, they felt like we would love to have you. This was like, no, we want you here and that felt like we would love to have you.
Beckham on why the Rams have a special environment
Von told me, ‘Man, it feels like the Pro Bowl.’ And it’s very laid back, but it’s very focused on the work. And obviously when you’re winning there, you could be a little more lax and all that, but it’s just a setup from the schedule to the way we practice to the way the guys in the training room take care of you to the strength staff. It’s just been a perfect fit and really truly has allowed me to be successful and to want to succeed. You know, it’s tough when you’re in environments where things get tough and you don’t feel like you’re being pushed or things of that nature. This has been pretty seamless. And like I said, I’m just in a huge place of gratitude in my life.
Beckham on his relationship with Brady
He’s somebody who’s given me great insight. You know, whenever we wanted to chat, just he’s been there as a mentor, as a big brother. As much as he was the guy that I watched all the time and I didn’t used to like him because he was always winning or he beat my team. The Rams were the team that I loved and he beat the Rams and there’s all that back story behind it. But just to be able to sit there and we’re watching one of a kind, just to be able to watch them go to work. I look forward to it, like I said, but, hopefully the defense does what I know they’re capable of doing and our offense takes care of business, all that good stuff, special teams. I’m looking for a victory.
Mike Evans on praise from Tom Brady
Evans: It’s something I don’t take for granted. I used to be a kid in the fourth, fifth grade watching my Indianapolis Colts. I’m a huge fan and I’m watching Tom Brady beat up on the Colts and he’s making me cry as a kid. And now he’s giving me coaching lessons and he’s throwing me the balls as my quarterback, and we’re trying to win championships together. It’s very surreal.
Taylor: And did you tell Brady that he made you cry?
Evans: Yeah. I told him about it. He’s cool with it. He’s heard it all before.
Taylor: Well, he kind of made up for it. You guys have a Super Bowl ring together.
Evans: Yeah, he helped me get the Super Bowl. So we’re good.
Shaq Barrett on adjustments needed after Week 3 loss to Rams
We need to get to the quarterback more. We gave them a clean pocket for a lot of the game. The last time they played San Francisco, if we can simulate that pressure, then we’ll be in a good position. But if you give the quarterback enough time, you’re going to find somebody to throw the ball to. So I think if our front five and seven, whoever is rushing the pass, if we can get there, we’re going to have a great chance of winning in the game. Odell is a great playmaker, he’s a great receiver. He makes it hard because you can’t double him and (Cooper) Kupp. So it just makes it that we have to pick our poison and put our best corner on one of them, double the other, and then our pressure gets there to make it easier. But, it’s going to be tough with Odell and Kupp out there.
Barrett on Todd Bowles’ mindset
We want to most definitely come out there and be aggressive, like Coach Bowles is known for. And we just want to come up, make the plays that we need to make to help get the offense back the ball in great scoring or starting field position. That’s going to be a goal of ours and a goal of all the pass rush. So when we’re getting after the quarterback, a sack is great, but a strip sack is even better.
–FOOTBALL NIGHT IN AMERICA–