FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is expecting some surprises from the Houston Texans' defense, but he already knows one thing for sure. They're coming after him with their trademark aggressiveness, like they have every other opposing quarterback this season.
"They certainly get after the football," Brady said Wednesday before the Patriots' first practice of the week, a walk-through, leading into the "Monday Night Football" matchup (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET).
"They can rush the quarterback, they do a great job stopping the run. They're taking the ball away; they get a lot of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage -- interceptions, fumbles. They've won a lot of close games, overtime games. They've come from behind; they've won on the road. I think our guys understand the challenge and we have to play our best game."
The combined 20-4 record between the Texans (11-1) and Patriots (9-3) ties the "Monday Night Football" record for the best mark of teams that have played at least 12 games, according to Elias Sports Bureau, which only heightens the anticipation for a game between two of the AFC's heavyweights.
At 35, Brady said he appreciates big games like these more than ever because he knows his opportunities are limited by being closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Plus, "there's a little bit of a different feeling just because of how special it is to play on 'Monday Night Football,'" he said.
"They're a great football team, so any time you play the best you want to see how you match up," said Brady, who has a 12-4 career record in Monday night games. "I think that our guys are excited. They're an excellent team in all three phases. It will be fun."
This marks only the fourth time in his 13-year career that Brady has faced the Texans, which includes the 2009 season finale in which he didn't play the full game because the team's playoff positioning was solidified. Yet Brady is familiar with the schemes of Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, going back to Phillips' time as San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator (2004-06).
Phillips has helped oversee an impressive turnaround for the Texans on defense despite losing defensive end Mario Williams in free agency after the 2011 season.
The Texans rank second in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (87.6 avg), fourth in fewest points allowed per game (18.4 avg), and are the league's best third-down defense (opponents converting 28.4 percent of the time). If there is an area in which the Texans look vulnerable, it's in the secondary as they rank 19th in passing yards allowed per game (235 avg), although a potent pass rush has helped cover up some of those struggles at times.
"I think he allows his players to go out there and play aggressively and make plays," Brady said of Phillips, whose defense has blitzed a league-high 43.7 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information tracking. "It's not like there are 120 calls that they have on their call sheet for this game, but there are always wrinkles that you'll see and new things you haven't prepared for."
With defensive lineman J.J. Watt leading the way with 16.5 sacks, 32 quarterback hits and 15 passes defended, Brady expected Patriots coach Bill Belichick to bring back his coaching tactic of having scout-team linemen use tennis or racquetball rackets at practice to simulate the long reach of Watt and the Texans' other linemen.
Belichick took it one step further, joking on Wednesday that a racket might not be long enough; he might have to switch to brooms. Belichick called Watt the most disruptive player that the Patriots have seen in 2012.
"He's an incredible player," added Brady, who compared Watt's reach at the line of scrimmage to the Giants' defenses that have created havoc for him in recent years, and at one point in last season's Super Bowl had him remarking it was like trying to throw the football through a forest.
"His agility, quickness, length, his instinctiveness in getting his hands up in the air and getting ready to jump and bat balls down -- he's a great player for that defense. They really rely on him."
Likewise, the Patriots rely on Brady, who owns the NFL's longest current streak of games with at least one touchdown pass (44), a mark that could be challenged the next two games -- at home against the Texans and then the San Francisco 49ers (the NFL's No. 1-ranked scoring D).
Brady discussed on Wednesday how the anticipation builds daily in weeks like these, and that he relishes "the opportunity to go out there with teammates and accomplish something." To keep up their hopes of being a No. 1 seed, the Patriots need a victory, even if Brady said that's not the team's focus.
"Coach always tells us, 'Don't even think about the playoffs; they're so far away,'" Brady relayed. "That's the truth. This game is hugely important to our season. It's an AFC opponent that's 11-1. They lost one game to an NFC team in Green Bay who played great that night.
"This team doesn't give you anything. You really have to go out there and earn it. I think for us as a team, there's not really much more you could ask for than that -- to play 'Monday Night Football' in December against one of the best teams in the NFL and see what we're capable of."