FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- He talks about the long hours. The hidden extra work. The mental and physical pressure to get it right and to be great. He does this and it is easy to see in New England Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell a seriousness, an exhaustion, a soft-spokenness and humility.
Actually, that is the demeanor of Patriots receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, too, and other Patriots skill players who surround quarterback Tom Brady. They never seem too far from 41-14 at the Kansas City Chiefs, that tortuous loss back on Sept. 29 that dropped the Patriots to a 2-2 record and made many believe that Brady offensively was surrounded by a bunch of bums.
That label stung then.
"Nobody likes to be thought of as a nobody," LaFell said.
Edelman added: "You viewed it as noise and hype and you just kept working to get better with even more poise and purpose."
Somewhere after bum, these skill players around Brady ascended. Brady has orchestrated it, throwing sassy passes and infusing the entire offense. But the complement around him featuring LaFell, Amendola, Edelman, tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Shane Vereen and others are not simply bit players. They have elevated their games equal to Brady. They have produced winning plays. They have become connected and vital in this offense.
From bums to beasts.
Former St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz has been watching. He remains as exceptional an offensive mind as there is on the planet. And Martz from afar can detect what has happened with this group.
"This group is playing at a high level now, but they probably walked into it earlier in the year assuming Tom Brady was the offense and all they had to do was blend in," Martz said. "Before you know it, that leads to you not playing with passion or purpose anymore. You're just playing. You've lost that edge. I imagine on several levels this was brought to their attention after Kansas City. They got called out on it. I bet in a few ways they were reminded of what it means to be a Patriot and the type of goals and standards that have been set. I imagine it changed some perspectives."
Martz particularly sees it with LaFell. He caught the late fourth-quarter, game-winning, 23-yard touchdown pass from Brady that pushed New England past the Baltimore Ravens in AFC Divisional playoff action on last Sunday. It was a changed play pre-snap that LaFell had to read. It was not an easy catch. But after spending his first four seasons with the Carolina Panthers and after joining the Patriots this season, LaFell showed his intelligence and growth in that spot.
And those are traits that nearly all of Brady's weapons have sharpened since that Kansas City loss, which was followed by seven straight victories and this playoff sprint.
"LaFell is a guy that played inconsistently in Carolina," Martz said. "He had way too many drops. I imagine he got to New England this year and understood there was a standard, an expectation, a way you practice, a way you prepare. I imagine early on he dropped a pass in practice. And somebody stopped the drill and said,`Whoa!' They said, `Hey! That is not how we do things. This is how we practice here, buddy. Get it right.' He's been sort of shaped and molded. They all have.
"What the Patriots have experienced reminds me of the  49ers. They got waxed 40-8 early in that season by the Philadelphia Eagles. They were doing just what the Patriots had been doing, sorting of walking through things. That loss got their attention. And they went on to win the Super Bowl [XXIX over the San Diego Chargers in 1995; they also won 10 consecutive games after that loss]. Sometimes nothing you coach, nothing you say, nothing you do can be more powerful for a good team than to get blown out like that early enough for you to create a new spark."
A new season.
Martz sees these championship game offenses mirroring the ones in the regular season.
"They all are using the entire field more than anyone did 15 or 20 years ago," he said. "They are more multiple in formations and in receivers. They are putting stress on defenses. They are willing to throw the ball on first down as much as on third down, and that was not always the case in the NFL. It's multiplicity and a lack of predictability. It's still different than the offense we had with the Rams. We did so much more with our formations, shifting and movement. But the common thing is these teams have less concern about throwing the ball on first down."
Martz believes Brady and Rodgers are the best fourth-quarter quarterbacks in the championship games.
"The quarterbacks left in it all have their unique complement of players around them," Martz said. "But I think both home teams are really going to be hard to beat in their stadiums in these games. Both of them have an inherent home-field advantage that I don't think will be overcome."