2019 NFL playoffs: Patriots find motivation in being the underdog

The NFL Films documentary A Football Life: Bill Belichick, filmed over the course of the 2009 season, includes one shot of the exit door at Gillette Stadium on which a motivational poster has been affixed. The poster lists four points players have to keep in mind when leaving the New England Patriots’ facilities: Don’t believe or fuel the hype. Manage expectations. Ignore the noise. Speak for yourself.

The Patriots have proven to be masters of doing all that, but every now and then we get a glimpse behind the business-first facade the organization has built over the past two decades. Yesterday was such a moment. After New England’s 41-28 blowout victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL’s divisional playoff round, quarterback Tom Brady spoke with CBS about the contest and the upcoming AFC title game.

After the standard compliments thrown towards the Patriots’ next opponent — a Kansas City Chiefs team that Brady described as good — the 41-year old showed that the noise is not getting fully ignored in Foxboro these days. “I know everyone thinks we suck and we can’t win any games, so we’ll see,” he said following a game many of the national talking heads saw going a different way than it ultimately did.

Brady’s postgame remarks were not the only one regarding the Patriots’ underdog image — one, it seems, the has embraced and finds motivation in. New England wide receiver Chris Hogan was asked about it after yesterday’s game, and did not deny the Patriots using some of the narratives being built in the media to get themselves fired up. “Any motivation that you can use when it’s playoff time,” Hogan told reporters.”

“It’s fine, people can count us out. The guys in this locker room, we believe in each other, we believe in ourselves and our abilities. We’re just going to continue to work hard every single week,” continued Hogan, who finished the day with three receptions for 13 yards. The wide receiver, who is in his third straight postseason run since joining the club as a free agent in 2016, was not the only one to address the topic yesterday.

Defensive captain Devin McCourty also opened up about the Patriots’ handling of the outside noise. “We were going to prepare and be ready to go, whether you pick us or you don’t pick us,” the veteran said. “But, we see it. We see our quarterback’s too old, we’re not good enough on defense, the skill players aren’t good. We see it, but it doesn’t affect how we prepare. We love practicing and we love playing with each other, preparing.”

“We’re going to take advantage of that and come out ready to go no matter what,” continued McCourty, who is no stranger to him and his team — despite all the success it has enjoyed over the years — being seen as the underdog. “We have a team of great character, a lot of guys in there with really good character that are going to keep fighting and have already been counted out multiple times, so that never affects us.”

Tight end Rob Gronkowski, he himself being at the center of multiple rumors over the last year, shared similar thoughts. “You’ve got to ignore the noise throughout the week. You can’t really get too amped up about it because you’ve got to focus, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” the 29-year old said before also acknowledging that not all media-created storylines or criticism glance off the team.

“You do hear things like that,” Gronkowski said. “But you’ve got to ignore it in a way where it doesn’t ruin your preparation, ruin what you’re trying to do, ruin what you’re trying to accomplish that week. So, if you take it in, if you take it for motivation, that’s great. But other than that, you can’t let it get you down. You’ve just got to keep on preparing how you’ve prepared every week.”

The preparation aspect is one Hogan also pointed out, especially with the AFC Championship Game coming up. “We’re just going to continue to work hard every single week,” he said after his team’s divisional round victory. “It’s still a one-game season, so we got to get back to work on Kansas City. We’re going to work real hard all throughout the week so that we can go out there and play good football.”

Brady himself was also focused on the task at hand after his on-field postgame interview. “We’ve had some tough losses this year, but you just keep fighting,” the future Hall of Famer said during his press conference after Sunday’s contest. “That’s what football is all about. It’s a season. It’s not one game or four games or eight games. It’s 16 games and you get a chance to be in this position. We played good today. That’s why we won.”

Ultimately, the Patriots machine will not be undone by rumors or speculation or by being counted out by the media — the team itself will make sure of that and knows how to handle it, it seems. “We’ve been hearing things like that forever now for a few years,” said Gronkowski yesterday. “So, we just laugh at it, whatever they say, and we just keep moving forward.”

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