Tom Brady has lost four of his last five starts, but the Ravens aren't letting their guard down. They know who Brady is. On Thursday night when they face the Buccaneers, the Ravens expect to see Brady at his best.
"It's Tom Brady," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It's the same style, the same basic kind of an offense that he's run over the years. It will be a big challenge for us."
Brady's 23rd NFL season isn't going very smoothly. The Bucs are 3-4 and never reached the end zone during Sunday's stunning 21-3 loss to the Panthers (2-5). The Bucs have scored one touchdowns in their past 25 drives.
This is the latest a Brady-led team has been under .500 since 2002, and on Monday's SiriusXM podcast “Let’s Go! With Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald and Jim Gray”, the seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback said the Buccaneers have reason to be concerned.
"I don't think you're flying high after four out of five losses," Brady said. "It would be, I would say, very naive to think, man, we're ridiculously confident and we haven't done things at a high level. … I have a belief that our guys have the mental toughness to overcome the adversities we've faced. And we understand we have a long season to go and we've got to start playing better football."
Brady has an 8-4 career record against Baltimore – 6-2 during the regular season and 2-2 during the playoffs. This will be Brady's first game against the Ravens since his 20-year run with the Patriots, and after watching the Ravens on film he expects a formidable test especially on a short week.
"It's a tough team to prepare for because they do a lot defensively and they have a very difficult offense to defend," Brady said. "So we got our work cut out for us. Baltimore's 4-3, they have a good team, they play very physical. It's a very tough, hard-nosed team. All those years in the AFC I feel like they're still the same team, just tough hard-nosed guys that are very fundamentally sound."
The Ravens have some young defenders like Odafe Oweh, Patrick Queen and Kyle Hamilton who have never faced Brady. Hamilton wasn't even born yet when Brady was drafted into the NFL in 2000. When Brady announced that he was retiring during the offseason, Oweh was disappointed. When Brady changed his mind a short time later, Oweh circled his calendar for this matchup.
"I was like, 'Thank God he's coming back,' because last year he retired, and I was like, 'Oh, I just missed him,'" Oweh said. "He came back, so I guess it's fate. It's going to be good; I'm playing against the GOAT [greatest of all time], and that brings me jitters, so I hope I'll have the opportunity to get after him."
The Ravens feel their defense is heading in the right direction after some early-season struggles. Baltimore is feeling particularly good about its pass rush coming off a five-sack performance in Sunday's 23-20 victory over the Browns. Justin Houston had two sacks, while Queen, Calais Campbell and Hamilton each had a sack.
"It's cranking up," Oweh said. "A lot of guys are starting to get healthy, and we're getting the amount of reps that we need to really get after guys, so it should be good."
However, at age 45, Brady still gets rid of the football quickly and is superb at identifying mismatches. The Ravens have two excellent corners in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters to defend Brady's two favorite targets – Mike Evans (33 catches, 454 yards, three touchdowns) and Chris Godwin (29 catches, 292 yards). However, Brady may choose to chose to avoid Humphrey and Peters as much as possible and attack other areas of Baltimore's secondary. Tampa Bay has two pass-catching tight ends in Cade Otten (16 catches) and Cameron Brate (13 catches) and running back Leonard Fournette leads the team in receptions with 34.
The Buccaneers have not run the ball well, and have squandered some of Brady's best throws. Early in Sunday's loss, Evans dropped a wide-open potential touchdown pass that set the tone for the game.
It's been that kind of year for the Buccaneers, but they have plenty of proven and prideful players and Brady isn't giving in. He's still sixth in the league in passing yards (1,980) with eight touchdown passes and just one interception. He has the 9th-best quarterback rating in the NFL.
A win over the Ravens could get the Buccaneers pointed back in the right direction, and that's what Brady is focusing on this week.
"I said last week that there's no immediate retirement in my future," Brady said. "There was a retirement in the past, but I moved on from that.
"I just, I want to keep fighting as hard as I can and I'm always trying to do better. I'm always trying to work hard and I'm always trying to commit more to the things that are important to me. And this team is very important to me and I certainly want to be the best I can be for them."