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Patriots use element of surprise in Super Bowl pursuit

U.S Senator and Nominee for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) (D-Massachusetts) stands on the sidelines with New England Patriots owner
U.S Senator and Nominee for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) (D-Massachusetts) stands on the sidelines with New England Patriots owner

By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - "Just win, baby" was the famed motto of late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis during his team's heyday, but Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo thinks Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have gone too far.

Ayanbadejo believes the Patriots, one win away from a second consecutive Super Bowl berth, are hitting below the belt with the way they run their hurry-up offense.

"New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can't really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight," he tweeted during New England's 41-28 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday that sets up an AFC title rematch with the Ravens.

The hurry-up, or no-huddle offense, has been around for a while, but Ayanbadejo emphasized with a Houston defense caught out of position and in confusion when Brady quickly ran a play.

"Are you watching the game pats vs Texans?" Ayanbadejo tweeted. "If so you see the hurry snap offense catch em b4 they set up. It's a gimmick."

But all is fair within the rules of the gridiron, however, and Ayanbadejo's complaint is akin to a tight end moaning about a disguised defense showing a blitz formation before dropping back into zone pass coverage.

Shame on Houston for not being ready and credit the Pats, who have cleverly retooled and thrived over a remarkable run that could bring them a sixth trip to the Super Bowl in the 12 years since the partnership of coach Belichick and Brady.

The big surprise of Sunday's contest was how the Patriots made up for injuries during the game to key offensive players Rob Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead as third-string running back Shane Vereen scored three touchdowns to tame the Texans.

The Patriots scraped by last year's AFC title game with a 23-20 victory over the Ravens, who had a potential game-winning touchdown pass dropped in the end zone and a 32-yard game-tying field goal missed.

New England then lost a close Super Bowl to the New York Giants, but returned this season with a revitalized running game and an improving defense to make another title run.

Drew Bledsoe, a four-time Pro Bowler who lost his starting job with the Patriots in 2001 to Brady after he went down with an injury, said adaptability is a key to New England's success.

"The thing that I noticed watching these guys over the years, and it was true again yesterday, more than any other team in the league the Patriots evolve and change and develop players through the course of a season," Bledsoe told ESPN Radio on Monday.

"You see guys go down, pivotal guys, and every team likes to say 'next man up, next man up,' but the Patriots are continuously developing players."

Against the Texans, third-string running back Shane Vereen stepped up after injuries to tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Danny Woodhead to score three touchdowns.

"Their style of play evolves from game to game, and over the course of a year ... you're seeing them a lot more effective in the running game. Their defense has improved throughout the course of the season," added the now retired Bledsoe.

"One of the many things that has allowed them to be successful for so long is just how well they evolve and how well they develop players during the course of a season. I think they do it better than anyone else."

Ayanbadejo also tweeted "Can't Wait!" about the January 20 AFC road title rematch against the Patriots, who lost 31-30 to the Ravens in the regular season

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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