They've been labeled one-dimensional. Pass happy. Too reliant on one player. Not to mention football's F-bomb: "finesse."
The New England Patriots on Sunday gave their critics the finger and extended their vocabulary. They added words like "physical," "versatile," "smash mouth" and "tough".
At least, just for one day. But the Patriots picked the right day to show a new side to themselves.
Rex Ryan and the Jets must have had an easy week of practice before the game. Their defense was a replica of their successful game plan from January. There were nickel and dime defenses left and right. There may have been a few wrinkles in there, but the point was the same. If the Patriots were going to beat them, it was going to have to be on the ground.
It was a situation that called for the Patriots to flip through their 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 offenses and dust off the offense from 2004, when they mauled defensive front lines and pounded the ball, over and over and over again.
They were able to do it. The offensive line had to be physical, which it wasn't in January. The coaching staff had to be faithful to the run, which it wasn't in January. Both were. The 30-21 final is proof.
The Patriots didn't just run the ball to meet a quota. They ran the ball to attack. They ran the ball to move the chains and score points. In the fourth quarter, up by six points and with the Jets primed to take the lead if New England had to punt, the Patriots needed to move the ball. They ran it 11 times in 12 plays.
On that drive, they faced a 3rd-and-4 at the Jets 46. They ran it, on a direct snap, no less. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the player of the game with 27 carries and 136 yards, gained 14 yards. They were able to kick a field goal seven plays later. Game over.
The message was clear. This time, New England wasn't afraid to run the ball against sub packages. This time, New England wasn't afraid to run the ball at any time. If you're running on a 3rd-and-4 in which a conversion is mandatory and Tom Brady's your quarterback, you can run it anytime.
This was refreshing to see if you're a Patriots fan. The spread offense and passes on first, second and third downs are fun to watch, but there is no sign that points to that being a strategy that works in the playoffs. On the flip side, abandoning the pass doesn't work, either.
What does work is versatility, the ability to play offense in different ways. In the playoffs, you have to be able to change your attack to combat the different schemes you see from good defenses.
Halloween's just around the corner, but this versatile offense can't be just a costume, a one-night-only disguise. The Patriots can't throw Sunday aside and say "that was just for the Jets." There should have been a lesson learned from the game. This is how a truly great offense is supposed to look.
They should still favor the pass. A team with Brady at quarterback and Wes Welker leading a group of talented receivers and tight ends should always lean toward throwing the ball.
But there will be times when the pass isn't there. The Patriots showed they can adjust. They showed they can get mean, too. They need to stay confident that they can do it consistently.
After all, in the playoffs, everyone's a bully. The teams that win are the ones that can punch back.