New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Monday morning the team has already moved on from its playoff victory over the Denver Broncos and started preparation for the Baltimore Ravens, whom he called "the best team we've faced all year."
"There's no one that's going to overlook a team like that. It would be impossible to do," Brady said in his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "They present a ton of challenges in all three phases of the game. You watch them yesterday, they're physical, they're tough, they can cover. They've got some of the best players in the history of the NFL at their position, in (Terrell) Suggs and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata. You've got phenomenal players there.
"We've really got our work cut out for us. We'll be excited about the challenge. We'll use the week to prepare like we always do, and really try to be at our best -- hopefully be better than we were this past Saturday night."
It'll be tough for Brady and the Patriots to top their effort on Saturday night, when they thrashed the Broncos 45-10, dominating in every phase of the game. Of course, they need only to look back to the 2009 season to remember what can happen when a team comes out flat. The Ravens came into Gillette Stadium in the wild card round of the playoffs and embarrassed the Patriots, 33-14.
That game was over shortly after it began as the Ravens jumped to a 24-0 lead in the first quarter. This time around, the message from Patriots players is clear: the battle will need to be won before it is fought.
"We control how we play and how we prepare. You're going against a great football team. You have playmakers all across the board over there, some of the best guys to play their position are on that team," safety James Ihedigbo said on Monday. "We have to out-prepare them and get ready to play a physical football game."
Receiver Wes Welker didn't play in the wild-card loss to Baltimore. He watched from the owners' booth, one week after tearing his ACL in Houston.
"It's always tough when your team is out there playing and you're not able to, especially in the playoffs," he recalled. "I had such a good year that year, and wanting to be out there to help my team, I'm just glad it's behind me. I'm glad it's over and I'm glad I'm in the position I'm in to be able to play in this game and hopefully make the most of my opportunity."
Brady said avenging that wild card loss wasn't what would be driving him this week. Getting back to the Super Bowl for the fifth time in his career is motivation enough.
"This is nothing about '09 or '10. This is nothing about last week or last season or last month or 10 years ago. It's about this week," Brady said. "The clock's ticking. And every second that goes by, we're one second closer to getting to that game. We've got to use our time wisely, to repair, get our rest, and be ready to go out and face our biggest challenge of the season."
Players returned to work on Monday for meetings, turning the page from their rout over the Broncos.
"We're moving on. That was the message," rookie offensive tackle Nate Solder said. "I got a lot of studying to do."
"It's got to be a one-day-at-a-time thing," special teams captain Matthew Slater said. "You don't win a game on Sunday, you win it throughout the course of the week. Giving ourselves a chance to have success, it starts today."
One of the themes of last week was that the Patriots were treating their tilt with the Broncos as any other game. Players on Monday stressed how they are staying in their same routine this week for Sunday's AFC Championship matchup.
"During the season, the way that they do it here is you're getting into a system, a routine all season so you just continue to win," Solder said. "It's a routine machine, almost. I like going about it that way. That's how we're doing it."
Yet, players also sent the message that their efforts will have to be ramped-up another notch this week.
"Definitely increases, because you're that much closer to your ultimate goal," Ihedigbo said. "Your preparation has to increase, your level of intensity has to increase. You're playing for something huge here. An opportunity to go to the Super Bowl and be Super Bowl champs."
Welker described the Ravens' style of defense as attacking and physical, a unit filled with "a lot of great players and playmakers."
"They're a great team, they wouldn't be in this spot if they weren't," he said. "They do some great things out there. Their defense causes a lot of turnovers. They run to the football, they tackle well, they cover well, they rush well. We definitely have our hands full with these guys."
One of the biggest storylines of the week will be whether Ravens safety Reed will be able to suit up Sunday. Reed is one of the best defensive backs in the NFL and someone Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick have expressed their respect for time and again. Reed, whose interception in the end zone Sunday sealed the Baltimore victory over the Houston Texans, sprained his ankle on the play. After the game, Reed said he'll be OK for Sunday's matchup at Gillette Stadium.
"I'll get treatment and I'll be ready to go," Reed said. Brady would expect nothing less.
"I love Ed Reed. If I could be a defensive player, I'd be Ed Reed -- or Ray Lewis -- between those two guys," Brady told WEEI. "We've got guys that are getting banged up, too. I'm sure Ed will be there. This game means everything to our season. If he has any chance of playing, which I'm sure he's got a chance of playing, he's going to be there. And he'll be playing good. I can promise you that."
The possibility of the Patriots' season ending Sunday makes every minute of preparation that much more important, and mistakes on game day are equally heightened.
"The focus obviously heightens (in the playoffs), the awareness heightens," Brady said "It's playoff football. Because you realize that if you throw an interception, if you fumble the ball, if you misread a coverage, that could be your season. It's not like in the regular season where you go, 'Oh, that's OK, we'll get them next week.' No, there's no next week. So, everything has to be right. And you try to make everything right. And when you make mistakes, you've got to say, 'OK, I made a mistake, I'm not going to make another one.' I thought our team really did a good job of that the other night.
"It's just really that time of year. You don't make any excuses for your mistakes. You just try to play as best as you can. And you try to prepare yourself as well as you can, and you go out there and you see what it looks like."
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss and Mike Rodak contributed to this report.