Tom Brady is the man in New England. And the passing offense is the show.
But sometimes you have to win with things other than your proven strengths, and that was certainly the case Sunday evening in the Patriots 23-20 win over the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.
While Brady and the passing game were struggling to find consistency New England won a playoff game the way cliché says playoff games are won – running the ball and stopping the run.
The complementary efforts of the Patriots much-maligned defense have gotten a good deal of attention the last couple days. The group held the dangerous Ray Rice to just 67 yards on 21 attempts, including just 21 yards on 10 carries in the first half.
The defense also obviously made the plays it had to at the end (Thanks Sterling Moore!) in order to force the Ravens into what ended up being a shocking miss of a 32-yard field goal.
While the defense was coming up big, so too was a Patriots running game that's been an afterthought for much of the season. And it was veteran former 1,000-yard rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis getting the job done.
After a lackluster regular season in which he led the Patriots with 181 carries for 667 yards for just a 3.7-yard average, Green-Ellis put up his best performance in nearly two months. Despite facing a Ravens run defense that ranked No. 2 in the NFL in the regular season, Green-Ellis carried the rock for a game-high 68 yards on 15 attempts for a 4.5-yard average.
Green-Ellis showed nice patience and burst on a second-quarter 7-yard touchdown run that broke a 3-3 tie. Green-Ellis actually carried the ball five times on the 10-play scoring march, totaling 36 of the 75 yards. He also tacked on 15 yards on a face mask call against the Baltimore defense in which he actually had his helmet pulled off his head, before capping it with the 7-yard score.
He actually got the ball rolling on the drive with 13- and 11-yard efforts on the first two plays, quickly moving the Patriots from their own 25 out to the 49.
Not only was Green-Ellis' performance particularly impressive because of the defense it came against, but also because it had been so long since the back had run with this type of production. He topped 60 yards just four times during the regular season, and hadn't reached that level in his previous seven games dating back to an 81-yard effort against the Chiefs on Nov. 21. He topped 4.5 yards in terms of average in a game just three times in 2011, and hadn't even gone over 4 yards a carry in any game since that matchup with Kansas City.
With rookie Stevan Ridley sitting out the AFC title game as a healthy-scratch a week after losing a fumble against the Broncos in the divisional round, any hopes the Patriots had of running the ball in traditional fashion against the Ravens came down to Green-Ellis. And the guy who's never fumbled in NFL action came up big.
"We're a team. Whoever gets the ball, whether it's me or any of the other special players, we just try to make plays," the humble back said afterwards. "That's all we've got to do, go out there and make plays. Coach [Belichick] gives us the ball, he trusts us with it, so we've got to do what we've got to do with it."
Because of that mentality, and in part because of Green-Ellis' ability to get the job done against Ray Lewis and one of the best defenses in the game, the Patriots head to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
Plenty of players and coaches deserve credit through the year for New England's run toward another Lombardi Trophy. And while Green-Ellis may have been an afterthought on offense during much of the regular season, he was anything but that in Sunday's big win over Baltimore.
That impressive effort earned him a second look in this week's Take Two-sday!