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Patriots Riding Creative Offensive Game Plans to Super Bowl

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IJanuary 19, 2015

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — If Netflix ever makes a show about New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, they may have to call it "Eligible is the New Ineligible."

Every year, it seems the Patriots have some sort of trick up their sleeve for the playoffs.

This year, their unique usage of eligible and ineligible receivers has confounded two defenses en route to the Patriots' second Super Bowl appearance in the past four seasons, their third in the past eight years, their fourth in the past decade and their sixth in the Belichick era.

At some point during the 45-7 thrashing in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts lost track of who was eligible and who wasn't. The result was a 16-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to left tackle Nate Solder.

Mike Reiss @MikeReiss

Via @Patriots, Nate Solder is the 3rd OL in #Patriots history to catch a TD pass, joining Tom Ashworth (12/17/05) & Pete Brock (11/21/76).

We had our first glimpse of the Patriots' new strategy last week, when the Patriots upended the Baltimore Ravens 35-31 to advance to the conference title game, with tight end Michael Hoomanawanui catching two passes from the unique formation and Julian Edelman adding another reception.

This added offensive dimension is not just a new wrinkle. It is a revolution on par with The Beatles taking over America. Now, the Patriots will get back to where they once belonged.

Perhaps the most surprising element is that the Patriots have been able to keep this all under wraps for months while they practiced, tweaked and perfected it. 

"Very few times," said a hysterical Solder about how often he's caught passes from Brady in practice. "But we're always ready when it comes up."

For Solder, this isn't exactly uncharted territory. Solder has run a few routes in his NFL career, but this was his first reception and touchdown.

The most startling aspect of this tactic is that the Patriots can unroll it so seamlessly. They have drawn up the game plan, practiced it quietly and perfected it, only to reveal it on the grandest stage. It's as if George R.R. Martin wrote the final two books in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series and premiered them consecutively on HBO.

Now, imagine how incensed the fans of the show would be if they had no advance knowledge that this was going to happen. They'd be scrambling to their DVRs to make sure they didn't miss a minute.

That's probably what it will be like for a Seattle Seahawks player or coach over the next two weeks. 

"I think it's just another thing to game-plan for," said offensive tackle Cameron Fleming, who declared as eligible so often that he may have to change his position to tight end for the Super Bowl. "Everything we do out there, they have to look at and get ready for."

Anthony Gulizia @AnthonyGulizia

For the 4,757th time, Cameron Fleming has reported as eligible.

But even on the off chance that we see absolutely no instances of eligible tackles and ineligible tight ends in the Super Bowl, there's still plenty of room for Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to show off their offensive wizardry.

Even if you remove those select few plays from the game plans over the past two weeks, you are still left with a remarkably stark contrast between the two strategies.

Against the Baltimore Ravens, it was as if the Patriots didn't have a running back on their roster, as Brady slung the ball all over the field with 50 pass attempts. With the Colts in town, running back LeGarrette Blount was the star of the show, toting the rock 30 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns on the night.

The Seattle Seahawks have to prepare for all that, while keeping the Patriots' "deceptive" offensive game plan in the back of their minds.

"Well, we thought it would work," Brady said of the touchdown pass to Solder. "It was a great time [to call it]. Josh called it. Nate made a great catch. Tough conditions out there—it's raining, I mean, for God's sake—and he runs over two guys to get in there. He played a little tight end in his first year [of college], so I don't know. Maybe we have more tricks up our sleeve."

No one knows what scheming game plan Belichick will cook up for the Seahawks, but by the time the Seahawks know, it will already be too late.

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