The Patriots have seen many players come and go over the years that they have been one of the pre-eminent franchises in the league. But one constant the Pats have had throughout the last decade has been quarterback Tom Brady.
In his only previous meeting against the Vikings, he carved them up for 372 passing yards and four touchdowns. As the Vikings prepare for the sequel Sunday night at Foxboro, Mass., Brady will be the focus of attention of much of the Vikings' defensive and offensive game-planning. Not only does the defense has to deal with him, but the offense is going to be asked to exercise ball control to keep him off the field.
Cornerback Frank Walker dealt with Brady when he was playing with the Ravens and, when asked what makes Brady special, he said it's difficult to pinpoint just one aspect of his game.
"There a lot of things," Walker said. "Pinpoint accuracy. Knowing the defenses. Knowing where the weaknesses of the defenses are. Where to go with the ball at the right time at all times. He is good at what he does."
What he does is find a way to elevate the play of his receivers. Randy Moss set an NFL record for touchdown catches with Brady in 2007 and Brady has helped make Wes Welker a Pro Bowl performer and an annual candidate to catch 100 passes a year. Current Vikings Greg Lewis spent the 2009 offseason with New England and said that it's no accident that Brady has become a dominant quarterback.
"He's very slow, but he's very deliberate," Lewis said of Brady's on-field demeanor. "He understands defenses well. He studies. He knows when to change plays, when not to change plays and when to let a blitz come and throw hot (to the uncovered receiver). He's very mindful when it comes to the game of football. He knows what's going on and you're not going to surprise him with anything pretty much."
When asked his opinion on Brady, wide receiver Greg Camarillo was reminded that fans in Minnesota don't get to see Brady as much as East Coast fans, to which he responded, "That's a good thing." If they did, they would be considerably more concerned about what Brady brings to the table in familiar surroundings on Sunday night.
Camarillo is no stranger to Brady. For two of the last three years, he got to see Brady do what he does best twice a year while with the Dolphins – much less the hours of film he watched on Brady playing against other teams. He isn't the prototype quarterback – he isn't an acknowledged tough guy, he doesn't have a cannon for arm, his running ability is glacieresque – but he has the "It" Factor. He is a winner and Camarillo has an insight most of his teammates not named Moss don't.
So what is it about Brady that makes him a Hall of Famer? It's time to admit that guys like Brady and Peyton Manning could walk away from the game after this season and get voted in on their first ballot. Camarillo said he has that certain something that few possess. It starts with his calm demeanor at the most tense of times.
"Poise," Camarillo said of Brady's kind of QB magic. "When the game is on the line, he makes plays. To beat him, you have to keep him off the field. When he's on the field he's a weapon."
It will be up to the Vikings front four to create the pressure needed to keep Brady from picking them apart. Ray Edwards said that the best of quarterbacks can be flustered when pressured, but said that against a quarterback like Brady, big plays can haunt a defense at any given moment.
When asked how good is Brady, Edwards turned the question back around.
"How many rings has he got?" Edwards asked rhetorically. "That shows that he has the capability to make things happen the way they run the offense they have."
His ability to pick up disguises in defenses and exploit them is a gift even some of the league's top quarterbacks don't have and linebacker Chad Greenway said he expects to have receivers running in and out of his zone in the defense all afternoon long on Sunday. To some, it may seem confusing, but he said when he watches Brady on film, it looks as though the game is going in slow motion for him.
"He's so aware," Greenway said. "He's a very experienced guy. Obviously he's been in every situation and been very successful. It's going to be a huge challenge for us."
The Patriots have been known to switch things up wholesale on both offense and defense from one game to the next, but the Vikings are confident that, given the long-term success Brady and the Patriots have enjoyed over the years, they aren't going to stray too far from what they do best – especially at crunch time.
"For the most part, if a team has something that works, they're going to do it," Walker said. "They might throw a wrinkle in or two in there, but, for the most part, they're not going to get away from their bread and butter – what works for you."
Barring a date in the Super Bowl, it will be another four years before the Vikings play Brady and the Patriots again. They have one shot at him and believe that, in order to beat him, they will have to play as mistake-free as Brady tends to.
"We're definitely going to have to bring our ‘A' game," Greenway said. "He is going to be about as big a challenge as we're going to face this year at quarterback. We know that and we're going to bring everything we have at him. But, to make it work, we're definitely going to have to hit on all cylinders. If we give him any opening, he will take advantage, so we're going to have our hands full."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings bragging up Brady
Viking Update Top Stories
Hard-core stats: Vikings at EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings will look to exploit some of the weaknesses the Eagles have shown lately, including one strength for the Vikings and one weakness. We go deep into where the…
Viking Update5:04 AM
Born to run … with backups?Perhaps no other division came into 2016 more dependent on strong running games to succeed as much as the NFC North. But, in just the seventh week of the season, all four teams…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 10:23 PM
LockedownThe Minnesota Vikings have been doing a lot well in their 5-0 start to the season. While punter Jeff Locke doesn't get his name mentioned often among those game-changers, he is…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 4:35 PM
A 315-pound Peter Pan? For SirlesMinnesota Vikings offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles is quite certain him in his emergency Halloween costume of Peter Pan will make it out on social media. We look forward with…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 1:57 PM