FOXBORO -- Rex Ryan says he was just kidding. He didn't really mean it when he said he had a "mole" at Gillette Stadium telling him which Patriots quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett, would play in Week 4.
This week he doesn't need a network of spies to tell him who to prepare for.
"My sources tell me Brady will be the quarterback," Ryan joked on a conference call Wednesday.
Brady and Ryan have met 15 times dating back to the start of Ryan's head coaching career in 2009 with the Jets. Their matchups date back even further when factoring in Ryan's years as a defensive assistant and then defensive coordinator in Baltimore.
But after three games this season, three games in which Brady has completed 75 percent of his passes for 1,004 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions, Ryan said it's hard to imagine a time when the Future Hall of Famer has looked more at ease.
"Well, I mean, it’s almost like, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him better . . . I mean he he’s played in the league for 17 years, 18 years, something like that," Ryan said. "You know, obviously, he puts the work in and everything else and it’s just a real credit to him.
"Like I keep thinking if I stay in this conference long enough, that maybe that dude will retire but I don’t see that happening anytime soon."
The respect is mutual. While Brady has the edge in the win-loss column, he clearly appreciates what Ryan's teams are able to do on the defensive side of the ball.
They can be an annoyance in the way they deviate from what they've shown on film.
"I think there’s an element of what you prepare for, you may not get many of those things," Brady said Wednesday. "We’ve played him sometimes when he’s been blitzing a lot, and he doesn’t blitz as much at all. Then he hasn’t been blitzing much at all and then he blitzes us at all.
"I think you just have to be prepared for everything, which is a bit of a challenge because there’s only so much time in the week that you have to prepare. You’ve got to try to nail down what you think you’re going to get, then practice it and be able to adjust if need be when you get out there."
The philosophy behind Ryan's plan for Brady and the Patriots is a simple one, even if it results in complex pressures and coverage schemes.
"He’s too good," Ryan said. "If he could just sit back and without challenging him, you know, it’s tough enough when you present something he hadn’t seen, but it’s damn near impossible when he hasn’t seen it."
Benefitting Brady in those types of what-the-hell-are-we-looking-at scenarios is that over the course of his 16 years as a starter, he's seen just about everything. And offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has been by his side for just about all of it. Together they are often able to delve into their memory banks and pull out a game plan from their shared past, scrap the week of practice and preparation they'd just gone through, and roll with something different.
If you're Ryan, you hope you can keep Brady guessing for 60 minutes. At the very least, you hope you can buy your team some time before he figures things out -- because odds are he will.
"Same guy like he always is," Ryan said.
Tom Brady has fans everywhere, apparently. Even in Pittsburgh. Even on the Steelers roster.
Showtime's Inside the NFL caught video of Brady meeting with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before Sunday's game between New England and Pittsburgh.
The pair hugged near the 50-yard line at Heinz Field. Brady called Roethlisberger "big guy." Roethlisberger, who was out with a knee injury, told Brady he wanted to play "so bad."
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Then Roethlisberger became a fan. And like many of them, he had a request.
"Um, hey, listen," he said. "I've never done this before, but I would love to get a jersey at some point. It'd mean...There's not many I want to put in my office. You're the best, dude."
Brady was happy to oblige. Just not right at that moment.
"Sure, I'd love to," Brady said. "I'll get you after the game."