AFC Championship 2013: Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley could play key role against Ravens

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The Patriots have long relied on lesser-known running backs for offense balance come playoff time. This year, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley have provided just that.

There's little doubt that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' passing game have been crucial to the Patriots' five Super Bowl appearances in the Brady era.

But as in years past, the Patriots have found a balancing offensive asset in their running game, and once again, yards are coming from some lesser-known contributors. And to advance to another Super Bowl under Bill Belichick Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots will likely again turn to their running game for steadying production.

Patriots running back Shane Vereen was a key part of New England's win against the Houston Texans in the divisional round, becoming just the second Patriots player to score both a rushing and receiving touchdown in a playoff game.

A second-round selection in the 2011 NFL draft, Vereen battled injuries in 2012, but has come on strong as of late to give the Patriots another strong option in the backfield to compliment Stevan Ridley, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards and scored 12 touchdowns during the regular season.

In fact, in three of their last four AFC Championship Game appearances, the Patriots have compiled more than 100 yards rushing, including seeing strong performances from BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2012), Laurence Maroney (2008) and Corey Dillon (2005) pace victories and secure berths in Super Bowls for New England.

Certainly, the Ravens will prepare for a multi-faceted attack from the Patriots, including the running game. And come Sunday's AFC Championship Game rematch, don't be surprised if New England's running game plays a key role in an attempt for a sixth Super Bowl berth.

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