In last year's AFC championship, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a telling message on his wristband:
"Find 20 on every play."
Brady's reminder referred to future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, the leader of the Ravens' secondary. As Brady and the Patriots prepare to face the Ravens again this weekend, he doesn't expect to need any prompting to seek out Reed.
"He's pretty much ingrained permanently in my mind," Brady said during a conference call Wednesday. "He's such a playmaker for them, and he shows up in a lot of different spots."
The feeling is mutual.
"I'm always looking at him too," Reed said. "It's a give and take, so to say."
Reed and Brady, who are both headed to Canton when their playing days are over, have a shared respect for each other. There has been no trash talking between them this week, but only praise directed at the other.
"He has such a great understanding of what offenses are doing," Brady said. "He obviously studies hard; he's a student of the game. He competes incredibly hard, and if you make a mistake, he really capitalizes."
"It's always a challenge going up against a Hall of Fame quarterback like Brady," Reed said. "Hell of a competitor."
The two have faced off five times in their careers, with each getting the best of the other. Reed has picked off Brady twice (2007 and 2009 playoffs), but the Patriots are 4-1 overall in those matchups.
Part of what makes both players so talented is that they're able to confuse opponents at the line of scrimmage.
Reed has made a career out of reading quarterbacks and capitalizing on their mistakes, while Brady is a master of dissecting defenses.
"He's always playing a game with you, so to speak," Reed said. "He's great in his checks and everything and taking his time. He's a very patient quarterback."
Knowing that Brady is going to have his eyes on Reed trying to decipher exactly what he is doing does make the safety's job a little more difficult this week.
"You know someone is watching you all the time," Reed said. "It makes it a little challenging in your disguising and stuff like that. You have to be more precise in what you're doing."
Sunday's matchup between the Ravens and Patriots will likely be one of the final showdowns between Reed and Brady. Reed is in this 11th season and Brady in this 13th, and Reed has openly discussed the thought of retirement in recent offseasons.
But as they prepare for this week's game, neither is focusing on how this could be their [add] final matchup. Instead, they're enjoying another opportunity to go against the best the game has ever seen.
"I'm trying to play, really, in the moment," Brady said. "I enjoy playing against these guys because I think they're the best, and there's nothing that challenges you like going up against the best."
"Who doesn't want to go against the best?" Reed added. "We're ready for it. I'm ready for it. It's just a matter of being prepared right now."