"Ignore the noise."
It's one of many mantras that hangs on the door which New England Patriots players must walk through on their way inside Gillette Stadium.
It's also the one mantra which hung over the Patriots' collective head going into their divisional-round meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs. In picking up the 27-20 victory, though, the Patriots proved once again that they are masters of the art of rising above distractions.
Between the relative health (or lack thereof) across the roster, the conflicting reports about tight end Rob Gronkowski's health, a black eye for head coach Bill Belichick and the off-field incident involving defensive end Chandler Jones, the Patriots were swimming in a bit more controversy than usual.
But then again, this is a team that routinely, nonchalantly deals with controversy. Safety Duron Harmon exemplified this when speaking about Jones, per Glen Farley of the Enterprise:
Glen Farley @GFarley_ent
#Patriots safety Duron Harmon on the Chandler Jones matter: "We just try to ignore all the distractions."2016-1-13 17:30:23
The Patriots spent all week swatting away questions about Belichick's shiner, Jones' trip to the Foxborough police station and Gronkowski's trip to the hospital. There was speculation all week as to whether wide receiver Julian Edelman would be his usual self in returning from a seven-week hiatus with a foot injury.
All those questions and all that speculation were put to bed with New England's win Saturday.
"I'm really proud of our team," Belichick said, sans black eye, after the game. "We've kind of been battling along here for a few weeks and I thought we had a real good two weeks of preparation—not that we did very much last week on the field but in our meetings and our walkthroughs, just going over the things we went over I think it helped make us a better team.
"This week of practice was probably one of our best weeks ever in terms of focus and concentration, everybody being alert and on top of it," Belichick added.
Best. Week. Ever.
That goes specifically for Jones, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald:
Jeff Howe @jeffphowe
The Patriots loved the way Chandler Jones responded this week at practice. Jones was said to have a great week.2016-1-16 19:34:24
As a team, though, the Patriots had to let it all serve as background noise, not a diversion from the task at hand.
This isn't the first time the Patriots have faced this kind of situation, though. In fact, there was arguably more noise around the Patriots after their last meeting with the Chiefs in 2014 than there was before this meeting with them in the 2015 playoffs.
The Patriots didn't have to lose to the Chiefs this time to learn about their mental toughness.
Truth be told, all the talk about off-field situations as potential distractions is usually very overblown. Particularly as it relates to Jones, though, it's not as if the Patriots offensive linemen were unable to watch film of the Chiefs front seven because they were too distracted checking their phone for Jones updates.
These situations are a distraction for as long as the players have to talk to the media each week, and then the focus shifts back to preparing for the game.
Based on their behavior and their response to questions, it should have been easy to discern the Patriots' ability to put the distractions behind them on their way to a fifth consecutive trip to the AFC Championship Game. It probably helped that Jones issued a public apology for his "stupid mistake" just a few days after the incident took place.
The good news for the Patriots is that now that they've advanced to the AFC title game, the noise should quiet significantly.
We got our answers as to Edelman's effectiveness when the receiver posted 10 receptions for 100 yards; Belichick's black eye was never addressed and will never be addressed, so you can just forget about that one; Jones apologized, then started; Gronkowski played at a high level with seven catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
Anything else? No? OK, then. The Patriots can put 100 percent of their focus on earning a second straight trip to the Super Bowl—as if their focus wasn't there already.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.