By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

ATLANTA (CBS) — Hell hath no fury like a football team that feeds off the doubters. The 2018 Patriots are the latest example.

While it’s completely bewildering for the most successful franchise in NFL history to ever lay claim to being an underdog or anything of the sort, the fact is that the claws and fangs were out in the media with regard to the Patriots. Much in the same way that a large majority of baseball fans got sick and tired of the New York Yankees at the end of the last millennium, football fans are simply exhausted from seeing the same team in the Super Bowl every other year for two decades.

And media members — both writers and TV talking head-types — are not exempt from such feelings, so they’re quick to pick at every possible weakness (perceived or real) that the team and its leaders have.

While it’s been clear that the Patriots used the doubt and the criticisms as motivation, newcomer Jason McCourty spilled the beans that the message was delivered loud and clear to players all week long — and that message was almost certainly ordered by Bill Belichick himself.

“Just fighting, fighting, fighting — that’s what we did tonight, man. We kept fighting as a defense this entire season, through the ups and downs,” McCourty said. “Throughout the course of this week leading up to the Super Bowl, we had the headlines in our building of ‘The Patriots Dynasty Is Done,’ ‘This Defense Isn’t Any Good,’ ‘Tom’s Too Old.’ All that was sitting on the wall.”

Jason, who had never even played in a playoff game in his career before this season, seemed to express a moment of regret, as if he shouldn’t have let that Belichickian motivational tactic slip to the public. But if he did regret it, that feeling didn’t last long, as he then popped up from the podium and shouted, “WHERE THE AFTER PARTY, AT?!”

A few minutes earlier, as some stray confetti was still raining on the turf, defensive end Trey Flowers was asked if he and his defensive teammates felt any slights at all of the attention paid on Aaron Donald and the Rams’ defensive line.

“Hey man, you know, the motivation was coming to play in this game. That was all the motivation we needed. Obviously, there wasn’t nobody talking about us, there wasn’t nobody saying that we’re good, [they were saying] that we can’t stop ’em, things like that. We just put it on the scoreboard. We gave up three points, offense took care of business and got 13, we won the game. We’re champs,” Flowers said.

It was Jason McCourty, too, who ended up making arguably the biggest play of the game, when he burst to the end zone to break up a would-be touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.

Flowers said that was a play that will go down in Super Bowl history.

“Man. Definition of heart. Definition of not giving up. Resiliency. Man, it was just great players being great,” Flowers said of McCourty. “We don’t got all the great players in the media, so to speak. But that’s a great play in Super Bowl history. That’s when it really matters, man. When everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s giving all they got. So we champs, man.”

It was a message that Belichick himself blasted out to the world on the celebratory postgame podium on the field.

“Everybody counted us out from the beginning the season, mid-season,” Belichick told Jim Nantz. “But we’re still here.”


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