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OWINGS MILLS - The players around Patriots quarterback Tom Brady have changed. The supporting cast isn't anywhere near as strong as it has been in the past. But Brady is still Brady.
The Ravens' secondary has played well of late, especially during Monday's win over the Detroit Lions, but slowing Brady down is always a challenge regardless of who he has on the field with him.
This year is no different.
"Tom Brady is having one heck of a year, I think maybe one of the best years he's ever had," Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "Even with some of the guys and the weapons in the past being gone, they're still productive, still putting up points, still putting up yards."
Losing tight end Rob Gronkowski to a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago was a big blow for New England's offense, but Brady still threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Miami Dolphins even without Gronkowski in the lineup.
The Patriots still have talent among their pass catchers even with Gronkowski out.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman is fifth in the NFL in catches with 89 and has seven catches or more each of the last four games.
New England also has wide receiver Danny Amendola, who it signed to a 5-year, $31 million contract during the spring.
Amendola has been banged up this season and missed four games earlier in the year, but he had 10 catches for 131 yards last week.
"The Patriots do as good a job as anybody in the league and have over the years of fitting players into their offense and then taking advantage of the things that they do well," coach John Harbaugh said. "Each one of those guys you're talking about, they fit a specific role. You're talking about [Edelman] and [Amendola]. They do the underneath stuff, the short passing game, the inside routes, and they do a great job of that."
Edelman and Amendola are both small. Both are 5-foot-11 or shorter. But Pees likened them to the combination of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders in Pittsburgh. Brown and Sanders are also both around 5-foot-10 or 5-foot-11.
"It's the total opposite of what we just went through in Detroit," Pees said. "I think you've got to be 6-5 to even play [wide receiver] for them. ... Now, it's quick guys who can really pivot and get out of breaks and all that kind of stuff - just like [Wes] Welker was [for them], like [Deion] Branch was."
But the Ravens have played well against Brady and the Patriots before. Brady was just 29 of 54 with two interceptions against Baltimore during last season's AFC championship game.
The Ravens' secondary has also been good coverage-wise recently regardless whether it has been matched up with big receivers like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall or A.J. Green or smaller receivers like Brown and Sanders.
Marshall was held to just 42 yards in Week 11. Brown was limited to just 59 yards in Week 13. And Johnson, likely the most dominant receiver since Randy Moss in his prime, had just six catches on 14 targets against Baltimore on Monday.
"I think the safeties are feeling more comfortable with the calls," Pees said. "I think Jimmy [Smith] is playing well, Lardarius Webb, and I think the world of Corey Graham. I think all those guys have stepped it up a little bit, and they are going to need to this week."

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