FOXBORO -- Surprise, surprise: There aren't any Ravens on Tom Brady's Christmas card list.
Certainly not Terrell Suggs.
"No, probably not this year," the quarterback said Wednesday with a grin. "Maybe one of these years we’ll get together for dinner or something."
Both the Patriots and Ravens are battling for playoff spots in the unsettled AFC. New England currently sits at No. 2 overall while Baltimore is itching to climb up and out of the sixth and final slot.
Quips tossed from the podium are child's play; the real fight kicks off on Sunday. And Brady has nothing but respect for the Ravens' defense, especially the talented (and talkative) Suggs.
"He’s a great player," said Brady. "He’s always been a great player. He presents a lot of problems for an offensive line, for an offense. He’s big, he’s rangy, he’s powerful. He plays the run and the pass. For a guy that’s that size and how athletic he is, to play the way he does is amazing. He’s done it for a long time. Then he got injured last year, comes back, plays great toward the end of the year, has a great offseason, obviously, and hasn’t missed a game this year.
"Between him and [Elvis] Dumervil, the way they rush the quarterback, you don’t have a lot of time to stand back there and figure out what to do with the ball. They force you to throw the ball quickly and then they have Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb and [Corey] Graham that can all cover. That’s really the challenge. You have to figure out a way to get the ball out of your hands. But they’re pretty good at coverage, too. That’s why they’re one of the best defenses in the league."
Baltimore has the AFC's best defense inside the 20. Opponents have scored just 15 touchdowns in 35 attempts for a 42.9% conversion rate. The Ravens 'D' has also allowed the second-fewest first downs (242) in the conference.
Weren't they supposed to struggle without safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis?
"I think those two are Hall of Fame players. They’re phenomenal players and they were that for that team for a long team. They really set the standard for what defensive football is all about," Brady carefully prefaced.
"[But] they’re still a great defense without them. I think they still really carryover from what they’ve done. They obviously have a lot of leadership with Haloti [Ngata] and Suggs and [Jameel] McClain and Lardarius Webb. They still have All-Pros at all these positions. They’re still a great team."
It probably helped that Lewis declared his intent to retire a full year ahead of time. And though the free agency losses of linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe hurt, they happened in March.
Baltimore moved through the offseason with a plan. The team scooped up first round safety Matt Elam, and second-round weak-side linebacker Arthur Brown in April's draft. It also signed former Jaguars middle linebacker Daryl Smith.
Pass coverage was a problem and the Ravens addressed it.
"Ray Lewis is a Hall of Famer, he’s one of the best players I’ve ever played against, but Daryl Smith has really stepped in and been a big leader for them," Brady noted. "He’s right in the middle of the defense. Really smart, instinctive player, really good against the pass, fast sideline to sideline. He’s got a lot of qualities, a great linebacker. He’s made a lot of plays from an interception return for a touchdown, strip-sacks, fumbles and stuff like that. He’s really good.
"Elam is a young player with all the skill and ability. He’s made some big plays for them. He’s gotten some pretty key interceptions, made one last week. He’s a really good player."
You can see why the Ravens don't fill Brady with holiday cheer.
"Friggin’ Baltimore," he ruefully smiled, "they’ve always got a good defense."