AFC Championship game 2013: Patriots offense changes, stays the same since 2007

David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

The legacy of Patriots coach Bill Belichick includes the transformation of a vertical passing offense to the efficient version we see today, and both of them led the league in scoring and yards.

When the Patriots take the field in the AFC Championship game, it will mark the fourth time in the last five years they've appeared in it.

And that's not even the most amazing part.

The Patriots monster non-championship 2007 team was as ruthless a vertical passing team the game has ever seen. It played with a massive chip on its shoulder, not as if people were afraid of them - which they absolutely were - but as if people didn't believe they could score points at a prolific rate.

The mental preparation and motivation of Bill Belichick and his staff was phenomenal that year. Up until the end, of course.

The Patriots were the league's top scoring and total yardage offense in the league that year. Quarterback Tom Brady averaged a mind-boggling 8.3 yards per attempt. Wide receiver Randy Moss had probably the best season a wide receiver has had in the non-Jerry Rice era, catching 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns. He racked up an insane 15.3 yards per catch.

The 2012 Patriots were the league's top scoring and total yardage offense in the league. Brady averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, and it's difficult to find people outside New England without an immediate Internet connection to list off the Patriots' depth chart at wide receiver.

As Belichick transformed the team from the ground-and-pound, tough defensive squad that won two Super Bowls in the early 2000s, he moved them into one of the best vertical teams of all time by 2007. From there, he quietly transformed the team into one of the best short-passing teams of the last few years.

All the while, the Patriots rack up division championships and AFC Title game appearances like it's their birthright, not an earned position of respect.

Let's keep in mind, Belichick's background was on the defensive side of the ball. His ultimate NFL legacy as one of the best match-up coaches who ever walked a sideline could be how he was able to manipulate one team over a 10 year period to become the best statistical offense of different seasons using a completely different offensive approach each time.

Say what you will in regards to the Chicken vs. The Egg argument of whether Brady makes Belichick better, or Belichick makes Brady one of the best players in NFL history, the fact is you'll struggle to find a quarterback who has succeeded with a running back being his top target (Kevin Faulk in the earlier part of his career), a wide receiver (Moss and Welker) and to an extent, a tight end (Rob Gronkowski and his 90 catches, 1,393 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011).

The Patriots' appearance in this game following a season in which Brady completely dominated pretty much every defense he went against is as commonplace as losing teams blaming the officiating for a loss. It's so typical, they've surpassed any and all ability to be doubted or underrated.

The power behind a team believing no one believes they'll win a game is well-documented, and they're going up against a franchise that has, perhaps, the largest inferiority complex outside Cleveland. That sort of mentality seemed to have taken over in the Patriots' recent lack of positive conclusion to the seasons of their recent best teams. They lost two games to Giants' teams that didn't have either the statistical success or the win/loss record the Patriots did.

How different is this Ravens team from those Giants teams? A bit underwhelming through noticeable stretches of the regular season, road wins in the playoffs led by a quarterback who may not end with the best statistics, but made plenty of high-level plays when his team needed them and a defense that simply seems to improve as games continue.

This game is so reminiscent of the recent Patriots' big losses it's not at all surprising the amount of betting volume gladly taking the nine points the Pats are giving up to the Ravens (it's down to eight points now, according to OddsShark).

Maybe that, in an odd way, that would put a loss on Belichick. He was able to motivate a team with a target the size of Rhode Island on its back to a 16-0 record, but lost out in a very limited offensive output in the Super Bowl in 2007. He fell short against the Giants-Engines-That-Could again last year after dispatching a lesser-talented Ravens squad.

Perhaps this game, and a subsequent one if the Patriots are able to pull it off, will really push the bar Belichick and Brady have set so high over the last decade. Winning a fourth Lombardi Trophy would put the franchise officially with the big dogs of the NFL - Dallas, San Francisco, Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

With only the Steelers having won four with one coach (Chuck Noll), Belichick's legacy could be made whole with a championship this season.


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