When talking about the high-powered offenses in the NFL, a few teams come to mind quickly. St. Louis, San Francisco and Indianapolis light up the scoreboard with regularity.
Offense is not often the first thing that comes to mind when New England is brought up. Yet the Patriots finished the regular season with 371 points, the third-highest total in the AFC and sixth best overall. That's not bad for a team that has spent most of the season without its franchise quarterback or most talented receiver. It's also a team whose feature back had a combined 968 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns over the last two seasons before getting 1,157 and 12 scores on the ground this year.
The man largely responsible for the offensive success this season is offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who came to the Patriots with Head Coach Bill Belichick last season. Weis and Belichick faced a major hurdle early in the season when Drew Bledsoe was injured against the Jets in Week Two and the reigns were handed to second-year man Tom Brady, who had three career pass attempts.
What happened with Brady at the helm is well known at this point, as he rallied the team from an 0-2 start to an 11-5 record and the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff bracket. Weis credited both Belichick's leadership and a similar experience as reasons for the teams ability to move forward all season.
"The toughest job that a head coach has is to hold the fort and keep the ship from sinking during times of duress," Weis said. "Bill did a great job of keeping the team together when it could have fallen apart easily. Fortunately for both Bill and myself, we went through a similar situation in 1999 with the Jets when in the opening game against New England Vinny [Testaverde ripped his Achilles. Here we are early in the year saying what are we going to do now."
That year the Jets inserted Rick Mirer, but then turned to Ray Lucas, a move that spurred a late-season rally. The Jets did not match the 11-5 mark put up by New England though. This season the Patriots turned things around quickly after a bad showing in Miami that dropped the team to 1-3.
Weis said the offense did not have to be changed when Brady stepped in.
"What we did is start off easy and work our way into the magnitude we would normally have," Weis said. "I often here how we changed the offense, but the offense really never changes.
"We knew going into the San Diego game we were going to have to throw the hell out of the ball because otherwise Rodney Harrison was going to be like an extra linebacker in the front. We went in knowing that was what our play was going to have to be. Whether it was Tom Brady or somebody else, that is what we were going to have to do."
Weis likes to spread the ball around, but he's also capable of adapting to a game plan that keeps the ball on the ground. Against Miami in Week 15 New England ran the ball 44 times and was able to hold the ball for nearly 37 minutes in controlling the tempo of the game.
"Every year as your team develops or evolves, you have to change," Weis said. "Two weeks ago we ran it 44 times. Friends of mine think that is almost sacrilegious to hear that Charlie Weis would run it 44 times in a game. You have to swallow your ego and suppress your own feelings to put your players in the best position to win. I think that is what Tom has done and what the team has done."
He has also used some trickery at times to spark the offense. This season wide receiver David Patten has thrown a touchdown pass, running back Kevin Faulk completed a pass to Brady, and reverses to Patten and Troy Brown have been used with relative regularity.
"Everyone likes to think you have imagination and you are creative, but the bottom line is that you have to play to your team's strength," Weis said. "Right now we are playing smash-mouth football. That doesn't mean we don't want to throw it or that we won't throw it down the field. One of the big critiques is that we don't throw it down the field enough.
"Let me just tell you, when we throw those balls out to the wide receivers for the split-end screens, to me that is a toss sweep. Every time we run the ball, we want to get over 4 yards. If I throw the ball out to Troy Brown and he gets 5 yards, I just ran a toss sweep and it's a gain of 5 yards as far as I'm concerned."
Usually coordinators for successful teams find their names bantered about as possibilities for head coaching jobs. Eventually Weis would like to run a team, but at the moment he is clear on where his focus is.
"All I am interested in right now is our next playoff game," Weis said. "I think it would be very selfish on my part at this point to be worried about anything other than trying to get to the next playoff game.
"It's a rhetorical statement on my part to say that you wouldn't appreciate interest from people. I'd be lying if I said otherwise. That's not the point. I learned a long time ago you can't be putting yourself ahead of the team. Right now my main focus is to spend the next week-and-a-half getting ready to play the best performance next Saturday night at 8 o'clock."