New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates one of his team’s five first-half touchdowns against the Los Angeles Chargers during the AFC divisional playoff game last Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

In the minutes after the New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in the AFC divisional round playoff last Sunday, Tom Brady was interviewed on the field and immediately set the tone for the upcoming week.

“You know, everyone thinks we suck and can’t win any games,” he said. “It’ll be fun.”

A day later, wide receiver Julian Edelman posted a hype video on social media with the hashtag “#BETAGAINSTUS.”

The Patriots have always been known to take the slightest slights to the nth degree. This time, they’ve upped their game.

Yeah, the Patriots are 3-point underdogs Sunday in their AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

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It’s the first time New England has been an underdog in the playoffs since Jan. 19, 2014, when the Patriots went to Denver as 4.5-point underdogs for the AFC championship game and lost to Peyton Manning and the Broncos, 26-16.

But don’t think anyone is buying the notion that the Patriots need any extra motivation. They’re playing in their eighth consecutive AFC title game, a remarkable streak that speaks to the sustained excellence of the organization.

As Brady said on Thursday, “If you’re not motivated this week, you’ve got a major problem.”

It’s not easy being king, for sure. And the Patriots have certainly been at the top of the NFL for a long time now. They’ve won five Super Bowls since 2001 and played in three others.

Yet, whenever the Patriots lose a game, when they look vulnerable or merely mortal, the national media is quick to pronounce that the dynasty is ending.

It was ending in 2014, after a particularly embarrassing 41-14 loss in Kansas City in Week 4 that dropped the Patriots to 2-2. Brady was done. The Patriots were old. They won their next seven and went on to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl.

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In 2015, injuries devastated the Patriots’ roster and they lost to the Broncos again in the AFC title game, 20-18. Could the Patriots recover? Sure. They went 14-2 in 2016 and defeated Atlanta 34-28 in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Last year, the Chiefs came into Gillette Stadium for the season opener and scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to stun New England, 42-27. Again, the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl.

This year, they lost five games in the regular season — each against teams that didn’t make the playoffs. Critics said the Patriots were the weakest team left in the playoffs for the divisional round. Brady wasn’t the quarterback he once was. New England responded by scoring 35 points against a good Chargers defense in the first half.

Safety Devin McCourty said the Patriots hear the talk, but it doesn’t take away from their focus on the next opponent.

“For us, we were going to prepare and be ready to go, whether you pick us or you don’t pick us,” he said after the Chargers game. “But we see (the criticism). 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.”

Over the years, the Patriots have had a lot of team mottos — Do Your Job; Next Man Up; Not Done — with one constant: “Ignore the Noise.”

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There’s always something that could rattle the team. The Patriots don’t get rattled because, well, they know better.

“I think, if everyone thinks we’re great, that doesn’t mean you take the week off and just show up for the game,” McCourty said on Wednesday. “And if everyone thinks we’re bad, it doesn’t mean we have no shot to win … Each one of the guys in the locker room, at different points in their life, has been counted out and counted against.”

After the Chargers win, tight end Rob Gronkowski said the Patriots can’t afford to listen to the slights.

“You really can’t get too amped up about it because you’ve got to focus, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “You do hear things like that, 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.”

Underdogs against the Chiefs? Just another little push.

“It doesn’t change much for us,” Brady said. “It just kind of shows you what people think about what our chances are. That’s about it. No more added comment to that.”


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