Sunday, March 9, 2014
By MATT VENSEL The Baltimore Sun
Having grown up in Annapolis, New England Coach Bill Belichick remembers watching quarterback Johnny Unitas, one of the NFL's pioneers of the pass, drive the Baltimore Colts up and down the field with their version of the two-minute drill. At the time, no one did it quite like the man with the golden arm.
Tom Brady, who has run the no-huddle offense for the New England Patriots, has played the equivalent of nine more quarters than other QBs because of the speed of the game.
The Associated Press
Nearly four decades after Unitas retired, quarterback Tom Brady often forgoes a huddle, racing to the line of scrimmage to exploit reeling defenses. Some suggest the Patriots are pioneers of sorts, but Belichick spikes that notion.
"It's not like that's something new to football," Belichick said.
But you would think otherwise given how often his Patriots have caught opponents off guard.
This season the Patriots ran more plays, piled up more yards, picked up more first downs and scored more points than any other team in the NFL. With their offensive stars producing video-game-type numbers, the Patriots will be home against the Ravens in the AFC final Sunday for a second straight season.
For the Ravens to leave Foxborough with a win, they must find a way to slow Brady and the Patriots, something few teams have been able to do.
The Patriots have used the no-huddle offense for a little more than a quarter of their plays this season. But it's when they use it, not how often they use it, that makes it so difficult to defend.
"When they make plays, they hurry up to the line and they speed the game up on guys. If you're not ready, if you're not prepared for it, it will catch you off guard," Ravens cornerback Corey Graham said. "They've been catching guys off guard."
The Patriots' offense ran 1,191 plays in the regular season. That was 164 more than the NFL average, meaning Brady played the approximate equivalent of nine extra quarters compared with the average quarterback. They had 444 first downs, 130 more than the Ravens, who ranked in the middle of the pack. And they averaged a league-best 427.9 total yards per game.
Playing the role of Magic Johnson in New England's fast-break attack, Brady had 4,827 passing yards and 34 touchdown passes. Wes Welker tied for second in the NFL with 118 receptions. Rob Gronkowski, out for the rest of the playoffs with a broken arm, had the most touchdown catches for a tight end (11) despite missing five games. And led by running back Stevan Ridley and his 1,263 yards, the Patriots ranked seventh in rushing.
The Patriots, who scored 76 more points than the second-highest team and led the league in touchdowns, often had to wait until they reached the end zone to get a breather.
In their 41-28 win against the Houston Texans in the playoffs, the Patriots gained 457 yards and scored five touchdowns. The Patriots were credited with 10 no-huddle snaps -- the official scorekeeper missed at least one other, though -- and scored twice on no-huddle plays.
"If you don't get lined up right and right away, you've got no chance," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said.
After a 14-yard reception by Aaron Hernandez in the first quarter, the Patriots sprinted to the line, and the official spotting the ball dodged linemen. Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson and linebacker Brooks Reed slammed into each other while scrambling to get lined up. Amid the chaos, Shane Vereen was not touched on his 1-yard TD run.
Two quarters later, after a 23-yard run by Ridley, Brady barked out another no-huddle play call. Getting the snap off just after Texans defensive end Antonio Smith subbed off the field, he quickly threw the ball to Brandon Lloyd, who sidestepped a flat-footed cornerback for a 5-yard touchdown.
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