Following their convincing 41-28 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was interviewed on the field by CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson.
“It’ll be a good game. They’re a good team,” Brady replied. “We played them earlier this year.”
Then a brief smile broke over Brady’s face.
“I know... I know everyone thinks we suck, and, you know... we can’t win any games. So, we’ll see. It’ll be fun.”
Even the Patriots’ own official team web site — which published a compilation of national pundit predictions for the Chargers-Patriots game early on Sunday morning — quoted 17 writers as picking the Patriots, and 10 picking the Chargers. For a game that FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Patriots a 58 percent chance to win — and 63 percent of the pundits are picking your team to win — it might be a little disingenuous to claim that everybody thinks you suck.
I’m quite sure, though, that over this season, more than a few writers have expressed the idea that the Patriots’ incredible dynasty might be coming to an end soon. I’m sure that’s hurtful to Brady. I understand how he might feel about that.
But surely Brady knows that he’s 41 years old... right? You kind of have to expect that when you’re the top dog, people are going to take shots at you — especially when you get a few years on you. And Brady’s been the top dog for a long time. Like it says in that truck commercial they show on TV during NFL games, until somebody gets out in front of you, your view isn’t going to change.
Of course, all of this assumes that Brady said that because is really is hurt by the criticism. Maybe there’s another reason. Maybe that thin smile gave it away.
Maybe Brady figures that by saying something like that on national TV, he can get his teammates fired up for a big game. In principle, I’m all in favor of that. A player — especially one who is a team leader — has a responsibility to do what they can to give their team an edge. That’s what leaders do.
And it’s certainly true that the ol’ make-everybody-feel-like-nobody-respects-them strategy tends to work pretty darned well. We all saw Major League in 1989.
And it seems like it’s working.
According to reports, the Patriots locker room was buzzing after Brady’s TV comments.
“Tom said it, so I can comment on it,” said wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. “Yeah, everybody does think we suck. Everybody thinks we don’t have enough”
“We know we have a lot of doubters, a lot of people saying this and that, counting us out and things like that,” said defensive end Trey Flowers. “It’s football. If it was going by what people said, there would be no reason to play the game. A lot of guys understand that we are doubted and counted out, and you definitely get a little sense of motivation to prove people wrong.”
Then on Monday, the official Patriots Twitter account doubled down.
Now the New England media is following suit.
“Football analysts predicted their demise last week. Then the Patriots crushed the Chargers,” trumpets a Boston Globe headline. “Five people who look the worst following the Patriots’ evisceration of the Chargers,” exclaims WEEI Radio.
Right. Now appearing in their eighth straight AFC Championship Game... The underdogs!
Like I said, I’m fine with anything Tom Brady wants to do. Far be it from me to tell him how to do his job, right?
But I also think it’s fair to ask this: what happens if you use this strategy... and it doesn’t work? What if you work hard to install this underdog mentality in your teammates, and suddenly — maybe even for no other reason than a couple of bad bounces of the ball — you are suddenly down a couple of scores early in the game? Do players suddenly remember all the negative press that’s being stirred up right now, and falter from lack of confidence?
I know. Lack of confidence? Among the Patriots? It does sound kind of silly, doesn’t it? But then again, we’re talking about Tom Brady saying that “everybody thinks we suck.” So that silly ship sailed a few hundred words ago.
So here’s a dispatch from Kansas City, Tom.
There might be some wrong-headed pundits who think otherwise, but the Chiefs don’t think you suck. They’re busting their butts in the film room and on the practice field because on Monday, their head coach didn’t just make a quick statement that the Patriots are a “good football team” like he does with every other opponent.
Instead, he said this:
“We know the Patriots. They’re very well coached. They’ve got good players, and this isn’t their first rodeo — they’ve done this a few times. And they’re arguably the — if not one of the — greatest dynasties in the history of the game. Our players will go through the process this week of getting ready to play a good football team, focus in on what we need to do to do that, and get going. It’ll be a team effort. It will take a team effort. It always starts up front with the offensive and defensive line. When you go through the playoffs, that’s magnified -- [in] every level you go to and go through.”
So go ahead and play your mind games, Tom. The Chiefs are planning to play this game on the field.