When Tom Brady first supplanted Drew Bledsoe at quarterback and led the Patriots all the way to a Super Bowl victory, he was the ultimate underdog.
He hasn’t been able to claim that title since. The Patriots are always a contender now, and Brady has only gotten better. No one will get caught calling the Patriots sleepers or underdogs as long as Brady and coach Bill Belichick are in town.
Instead, opponents like to assume the underdog mantle and use it as motivation against the often-successful Patriots. The Texans, who are coming into Foxboro on Sunday for a divisional playoff game after getting thrashed 42-14 by the Patriots earlier this season, are among those doing just that.
“Love it,” defensive star J.J. Watt said of being called an underdog, according to Dave Zangaro of Comcast Sportsnet. “I love doing things people tell me I can’t. That’s a great feeling. Right now, there are a whole lot of people telling us what we can’t do. I see a lot of guys in this locker room working hard to prove what we can do.”
Calling themselves underdogs may help with the motivational hype, but it’s a funny place for the Texans to be after starting the season 11-1. They essentially made themselves the underdog after wilting in their marquee matchup with the Patriots, which was billed as a battle between two of the AFC’s best teams. Now, few expect them to win — but that may be the advantage they didn’t have before, when they fully expected to hold their own against a Patriots team that then dismantled them in all aspects of the game.
“That’s the secret weapon of the underdog,” defensive end Antonio Smith said. “Yeah, it bothers us, and you just sit there, and you take it, and you let it harbor, and you let it fester and grow into what you need it to grow into.”
At least one Texan wasn’t buying the new label, though. Running back Arian Foster seems to have seen enough of the pregame chatter, and his message as Sunday’s game approached was that the labels are secondary at this point.
“I don’t care about that,” he said. “I don’t know what an underdog means. We’re not supposed to score more points than [them]? I don’t [know]. It’s all stories, man.”
It always is. But the difference with the labels is that the winning team is usually the one determining them.