When a team wins three Super Bowls in four years, it gains the respect and admiration of franchises around the league, and that's exactly what has happened with the New England Patriots over the course of the last five years.
While the Patriots didn't win the Super Bowl last year, they made the playoffs and are 5-1 as they get set to play in the Metrodome Monday night. And they still have that high-level credibility with players around the league, including the Vikings.
"It's going to be real fun. These guys won a couple Super Bowls in the last few years, great defense, great defensive coaches so we've got to go out there and be ready to play," said receiver Travis Taylor.
Individual talent obviously has a lot to with the way the Patriots have conducted themselves on the field since they started their Super Bowl run in 2001, but so is consistency. Seems the only streak they know how to get into is a winning one. They may lose games here and there, but they haven't lost two in row in three years, as Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson was quick to point out.
"The good thing is they won their last won. They don't lose two games in a row, so at least that gives us a chance. The resume (quarterback Tom Brady) has, the games he's won, the way that team has won so many games in the past and Super Bowls and everything else – they had a down year last year and still they were deep in the playoffs – it's a great team and Tom's a great player."
If there is a player that is the "face of the Patriots," Brady would be it, although he is never considered to have the strongest arm, fastest release or the most escapability. So what makes Brady such a consistent winner as the on-field leader of the team?
"I wish I knew," said linebacker Ben Leber. "He's just one of those guys who, you're getting to him, you're getting in his head, you're making his feet move a little bit, but he's never down and out. He never is. Some of these quarterbacks, you can just tell. They never get in a rhythm and they get flustered. But he never gets flustered. He's always cool and calm, and it's kind of frustrating as a defense."
Brady has a number of impressive statistics going for him.
Bethel Johnson, a wide receiver who was signed earlier this month after three seasons with the Patriots, who drafted him, said Brady is just one cool customer.
"I never saw him get rattled in the huddle. He always was poised and had a cool head. That is what separated him from a lot of quarterbacks," Johnson said. "He was a smart guy, so that always helps. He knows what's going on on the field at all times. He works hard at knowing the opponents defense and knowing how to beat it."
Johnson said that while most quarterbacks would rather run to beat a defense that is pressuring them, Brady would rather beat defenses with his arm, which is why the Vikings will have to be especially careful with their blitzes Monday night.
Still, the Patriots are much more than just Brady at quarterback. They are the model franchise when it comes to building championships through team play, and the Vikings seem to be more of a collective team than they have been since the 1990s.
"It's an approach I think that we're buying into," linebacker Ben Leber said. "I think everybody knew at the beginning of the season what we were. We've heard the people talking, 'You guys don't have a big-name guy' and all that. And we were OK with that. Definitely, like the Patriots, like you said, another team around the league that has a team concept and is very successful. We knew it was just a matter of time before we could be successful, too."
So far, the Vikings have been a team that appears to be experiencing a few more successes each week. But if they want instant recognition nationally, adding a win against the Patriots after knocking off Seattle at Qwest Field should do that. The Patriots are still a big deal.
"They definitely have a dynasty going with that organization," Leber said. "I think for a while they're always going to be the team that guys are gunning for. You want to take those guys out, because they're so resilient, so consistent. I think it's a good mark of your own team if you can beat a team like that."
But don't tell the Patriots they are a team without superstars. Coaches and players bristle at those comments.
"I don't really know where all of that is coming from. I never said that. We just tried to put together a good football team," said Belichick, who is the only coach to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span. "I think we've got a lot of good players, guys that work hard. Football is important to them, they've been very productive players in this league for a number of years and they've had a lot of individual and we've had a lot of team success. You can call them whatever you want to call them, but I think they're pretty good football players."
Safety Rodney Harrison seemed downright offended by that "no superstars" line of questioning.
"I don't know what's a superstar, but I know (Tedy) Bruschi, myself, you look at Richard Seymour, Tom Brady, Larry Izzo, Corey Dillon, all of those guys have been across the water to Hawaii. When you say superstars, we like when the league says that because you know what? You just keep underestimating us and it's going to keep feeding us before we get hungrier and hungrier," Harrison said. "If you want to say we're a bunch of average players or old guys that just work hard or just overachieve, then it's all good. We'll just keep going out there doing what we do and we'll see what happens on Sundays."