Monday night should have a big game, playoff-like atmosphere at Gillette Stadium.
As the Patriots and Ravens renew their at-times heated rivalry, the entire NFL will be watching to see which longtime AFC contender takes another step forward toward a potential Super Bowl run.
With only four games to play on the regular season the opportunities to improve are growing fewer by the week. The playoff seeding will start to come together and soon it will be win-or-go-home time.
Urgency is in the air and apparently, according to Tom Brady, that's a message that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been hammering home to his team this week as it prepares to battle Baltimore.
During his weekly press conference – this one coming on Thursday – Brady spent a lot of time talking up the tough, talented Ravens defense that he'll have to face on Monday night. He also was asked a number of questions about his health, his bruising running back LeGarrette Blount and any animosity that might exist between the Patriots and Ravens.
Here are a few of the highlights of Brady's time at the microphone wearing has TB12 winter hat in advance of a potential wintry weather game on Monday night.
1. "Coach has tried to put a lot of urgency on our team":A day after Belichick spent a lot of time talking up the Ravens entire organization for its toughness, Brady brought up a couple times how his coach has been ramping up the pressure on his own team this week. In a response to a question regarding Brady's availability at practice at Wednesday – "I'm feeling good, so it was good to be out there," Brady said, his recent knee injury apparently improving – the quarterback went on to describe the importance of preparation this week for the challenge at hand. In doing so he dropped the first of two references to the urgency that Belichick has been emphasizing this week.
"This is a big challenge for us. [The Ravens have been] one of the great teams in the AFC consistently over a long period time," Brady said. "They've got a great defense. They always have had a great defense, so they challenge you in a lot of ways with some good scheme stuff and a lot of really good players. This is an important week for us and I think Coach has tried to put a lot of urgency on our team and we feel it. We need to go out there and do a great job."
Later, in response to a question about animosity between the two long-time rivals that has spilled off the field into Deflategate and rules changes, Brady again deflected to the simple challenge at hand and what Belichick has been preaching.
"I think you just try to put everything aside and whether it was that or whether it was a playoff game a couple of years ago or whether it was a regular season game a couple of years ago or championship games, I mean, none of those really matter," Brady said. "It's really going to be about what this team does this week and like I said, Coach has tried to put a lot of urgency on that. We understand that, we know we're facing a team that's 7-5; they're at the top of their division. They have a lot of confidence in what they do and so do we, so it's going to be a good, tough matchup."
2. Blount's season "pretty amazing":Brady has been the benefactor of one of the more balanced Patriots offenses in recent memory. Blount was a key force for the unit in the first month without TB12 under center and has continued to pile up carries, yards and touchdowns since Brady has returned. Brady has clearly been impressed.
"It's been pretty amazing what he's been able to accomplish to come back from his injury last season," Brady said of his now-30-year-old running back. "He was having a great year for us last year and then got injured, but this year he's been so consistent, dependable. He's running the ball great, long runs. He looks very decisive. He's catching the ball whenever we throw it to him, so he's been a great factor for our team. We've got a great backfield."
Heading into a potential bad-weather game, Brady knows Blount's value – even against the Ravens No. 1 rush defense – can be even greater moving forward in December and January.
"He's had some big games this time of year," Brady acknowledged. "It is – it's tough if you get wet weather or cold weather. It certainly gets harder to tackle, and he's hard to tackle anyway given that he's 250 pounds. It's tough to bring him down. You've got to be able to win in a lot of different styles this time of year. You don't get too many great days to throw the ball, so you've got to be able to be multi-dimensional and to hand it off to him and then to force that defense to tackle him is a big challenge."
3. "You hear the music": Football fans everywhere can hum the Monday Night Football theme music with ease, but apparently the players are just as in tune with the famous tune. Asked whether MNF remains a special game for players, including the 17th-year veteran quarterback, Brady declared that it is, especially when the game is a big one in so many ways.
"It still feels that way, I think, especially when you hear the music when you run out," Brady said. "You only get one of them a year usually, and this year ours comes pretty late in the year. You've got two pretty good teams playing. I think it's two teams that are kind of similar, that are very mentally and physically tough. I think both teams are going to be at their best."