One of the oldest debates in the history of competition is the question of whether an athlete gets an advantage from having extra motivation or whether they just perform at their best because it's what they're supposed to do.
Personally, I've always been on Team: Motivation. I'll take that guy who's just the right amount of pissed off, insulted, disrespected or just flat out paranoid over the guy who's super talented but contended every time. It's how humans are constructed. That anger fuels the fight or flight response like a PED. It goes back to antiquity. How did Philippides of Marathon run 26.2 miles to Athens? He was feeling his city-state was disrespected by the Persians at the Battle of Marathon and wanted to rub the news of their victory in all the doubters' faces. Maximus Decimus Meridius was ten times the gladiator everyone else was because Commodus murdered his family and left him for dead. And what is the entire "Rocky" franchise but a search for a competitive edge. When his life wasn't shit and Adrian wasn't waking up from a coma and Mickey and Apollo weren't being killed, Balboa was just a credit card pitchman and robot enthusiast.
And so it's telling that Patriots team Hall of Famer Rodney Harrison, the Patron Saint of Finding Something, Anything, to Be Missed Off About, told The Boston Herald that he believes Bill Belichick has the exact right formula for using the doubts about a post-Brady era as industrial strength motivation. And so do his core veterans:
And, he believes both Belichick and the team leaders will make good use of the material at hand, whether it’s having some pundits ranking them well out of the top 10, or The Score, a Canada-based sports media outlet, rating their quarterback room dead last in the league.
Talk about disrespect — even the lowly Jaguars, with Gardner Minshew, Joshua Dobbs and Jake Luton, were ranked ahead.
“(Belichick) might bring up a couple articles … everybody saying it’s over, Brady this, Brady that,” Harrison told the Herald. “Of course he’ll say something about that. But at the end of the day, whether he makes the point or not, he knows the team will be motivated to prove they can win without Tom.” ...
Harrison buys in.
“It’s not just talk, not with the Patriots. It’s a chip you carry in the weight room, you carry in the film room, in the dining room, you carry at home watching extra film, it’s a chip that motivates you,” said Harrison. “It’s motivating for people to say you can’t win without Brady. I know I would be pissed. … So these guys are going to be motivated, pumped up and ready to go.”
And nobody would know better than Harrison. In 2004, the Patriots went to Pittsburgh to face a 16-1 Steelers team in the AFC championship game and they were 3-point road favorites. And still afterwards, he was yelling "Nobody believed in us!" to any hot mic he could find.
If anything, playing the disrespect card is the most enduring tradition of the Pats Dynasty. As old as them being 14-point dogs to the Rams in Super Bowl 36, as recent as this:And in between we got the Colts changing the pass defense rules in '03. Belchick reading the city of Philadelphia's plan for the Eagles' victory parade in '04. The ridiculous overreaction to Spygate in 2007 that produced a 16-0 season. The "We're onto Cincinnati"/"They're just not good any more" nonsense in 2014. Deflategate, fercrissakes. All that talk about "riffs" and the Pliability War and the dynasty being over in 2018.All of it has been rocket fuel that has kept this spaceship in orbit. And it's never been more real than it is right at this particular moment in history. When Vegas has them at O/U 8.5 wins, a total they haven't fallen to since 2000, it's really real to the point you don't need a Rodney Harrison seeing disrespecting ghosts. Right now it is objectively true that people don't believe in them and think they do suck and I couldn't be happier to hear the guy who knows better than anyone Belichick and his team captains are going to squeeze every drop out of that they possibly can.