As valuable and indispensable as quarterback Tom Brady has been during his dominant reign with the New England Patriots, the active NFL legend shouldn't be the primary force that drives the team to a Super Bowl XLVIII berth.
On Sunday, Jan. 19, Brady and his band of ever-resilient teammates will travel to Mile High to take on the Denver Broncos—and must rely on a suddenly explosive rushing attack to pull off the road victory.
The supporting cast surrounding Brady is not of the caliber he's been accustomed to. With smaller, shiftier slot receivers in Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola as the top options, clutch possession targets should continue to be the norm.
That was the case in last week's 43-22 romp over the Indianapolis Colts. Brady did not throw a touchdown pass and completed 13 of 15 passes for 198 yards, while LeGarrette Blount ran for 166 yards and four touchdowns and the team had 46 carries for 234 yards and six TDs.
Brady didn't exactly put up "Tom Terrific" type of numbers; he showcased his experience, savvy pocket manipulation, nearly unparalleled field vision and supreme accuracy in the most critical situations.
ESPN personality Skip Bayless noted how Brady had the highest total QBR (75.1 on a scale of 100) in postseason history among signal-callers who hadn't thrown a TD:
The Patriots converted a superb 11 of 18 times on third down. When the relentless, physical ground-and-pound tactics driven by the 250-pound Blount weren't working, it was Brady who moved the chains more often than not.
A similar strategy must be utilized to defeat Denver, whose offense features not only the likes of record-setting QB Peyton Manning and his loaded receiving corps, but also a No. 1 all-purpose runner in Knowshon Moreno.
Battling back from a 24-0 deficit like he did to lead New England to an overtime win over the Broncos in Week 12 isn't going to work for Brady this time around.
Moreno ran for 224 yards and a touchdown in that Nov. 24 meeting, gashing what became the league's 30th-ranked rush defense. Now without Brandon Spikes in addition to fellow linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, the unit is even more susceptible to the run.
As the saying goes, fight fire with fire.
The upside to taking the air out of the football has revealed itself in the past three games for the Patriots—all wins by a combined score of 118-49—per the NFL on ESPN.
If this team is meant to win, Blount must be the battering ram, Stevan Ridley needs his sneaky burst between the tackles and Shane Vereen must continue as a receiving threat at the running back position.
That will keep the ball away from Manning, applying more pressure than he's already facing with the favored, No. 1-seeded Broncos to enhance his rather underwhelming playoff legacy.
Being an underdog is something Brady is taking pride in and using as fuel, per SportsCenter's official Twitter account:
Despite the 10-4 advantage Brady has head-to-head versus his Denver counterpart, whether or not the Patriots win on Sunday will come down to what happens when the two prolific QBs turn their backs to the defense and hand the ball off.
Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have reinvented this offense on the fly to amazing results.
Staying the course, continuing to do one's job—these are staples of the "Patriot Way."
Past Belichick pupil Nick Saban said earlier this week that his years in Cleveland under the New England boss were the "worst of his life," tweeted CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd. Funny enough, the motivational mural he put above each of his Alabama players' lockers applies to what the Patriots should be trying to do:
Traditionally, New England has relied on Brady's arm to ascend to the upper echelon of the NFL. That hasn't netted a Super Bowl since 2004.
Riding this new wave of excellence from the backfield should be what the Patriots do for the rest of the playoffs.
Whether it's guaranteed to continue working or not is a different matter entirely, but the strategy makes the most sense for them to top the Broncos and represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVIII.