But after a lockdown start to the 2019 season, the "12" that has everyone buzzing is something altogether different: The Patriots haven't allowed a touchdown in 12 straight quarters, dating back to Super Bowl LIII, which is the longest streak in team history.
As No. 12 said himself in a social media post, the Patriots' defense is "balling." Brady also noted how that takes pressure off the offense.
Yes, it's still early. And yes, the first two wins came against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins, two teams that aren't currently in the NFL's upper echelon. But it's also not completely outside the hashmarks to wonder if this might be the best defense of coach Bill Belichick's 20-year tenure, with the units in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2006 part of that conversation.
Now, the defense has a chance to rewrite history as it sets its sights on third-string-quarterback-turned-starter Luke Falk and the visiting New York Jets on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS). According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last team to not allow a touchdown in each of its first three games of a regular season was the 1937 Chicago Bears.
This is exactly the type of goal that Patriots safety Devin McCourty, now in his ninth year as a captain, might have been referencing when talking about raising the bar from where it has been in the past.
"Through the years, we've always put up good games, but we've been challenging each other to make it a weekly thing," he said. "I think everyone's playing very selfless."
Because so many players return from last season, McCourty said the secondary has started this year further ahead. The only newcomer is free-agent signing Terrence Brooks, a safety whose primary contributions have come on special teams. There are a lot of interchangeable parts, and the coverage has mostly been tight.
Meanwhile, the versatility and depth of the front seven has been showcased through the first two weeks with two distinct game plans -- a sub-package plan that focused more against the pass versus Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, and then more of a sturdy base 3-4 package early to take away the Dolphins' running game.
The free-agent loss of Trey Flowers (Detroit Lions) has been offset by the addition of veteran Michael Bennett as the front has been swarming. Linebacker Jamie Collins, in particular, has made his presence felt (team-high 11 tackles, a half-sack, two interceptions).
"That's the good thing about having veteran guys who have been in the system for a long time," noted seventh-year safety Duron Harmon, who credited inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo and safeties coach Steve Belichick for handling the coaching calls.
"We got guys who can play corner, nickel, safety. We have safeties who can play a little corner, some in-box safety. [Patrick] Chung can play a little linebacker. We have versatile guys, and when you have that type of versatility in the secondary and you also have it in the front seven, it's a good recipe for having a pretty good defense."
It might be even better than that.
Consider that the Patriots' three points allowed is their fewest in franchise history through two games and the fewest by any team since the 1981 Buffalo Bills, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. Also, the Patriots' record for fewest points allowed through three games is 33, in 1979.
The Patriots have a plus-73 point differential, the highest ever by a defending Super Bowl champion through two games and the highest for any team since the 1975 Washington Redskins (plus-74).
As Belichick noted after Sunday's 43-0 walloping of the Dolphins, "If you don't let them score, you can't lose."
It's been a long time, especially this early in the season, when that has even been part of the conversation.