Foxboro, MA - The second season of having Tom Brady and Bill Belichick on board was the beginning of a dynasty for the New England Patriots.
The Baltimore Ravens could be starting one in year two for Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh.
As Brady continues to shake off the rust after missing most of the 2008 season, Flacco looks to keep his hot start going Sunday as a pair of Super Bowl contenders square off in Foxborough, Mass.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Patriots -3 point spread favorites (View NFL odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 64% of bets for this game have been placed on the Ravens +3 (View NFL bet percentages).
Brady hardly played as a rookie during Belichick's first season as Patriots coach in 2000, but he took over the starting job early in 2001 and led New England (2-1) to the first of three championships in four years.
Flacco had the starting job from the beginning of his 2008 rookie season and helped Baltimore (3-0) to the AFC title game, and he appears to be getting better.
The Delaware product is the NFL's fifth-highest rated passer while Brady is 22nd. Besides throwing twice as many touchdown passes as Brady, Flacco has a better completion percentage than the 2007 NFL MVP and a big edge in yards per attempt.
"I think he sees things better," Harbaugh said of Flacco, who has six TD passes. "He's quicker with the ball versus pressure. He's got a better understanding of how it all ties together with the protection and the routes. He knows how to get guys lined up. I mean, there are a thousand things that Joe does better than he did a year ago."
Brady wasn't playing this time last year, having suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1, and he still has a long way to go to come close to his 2007 form when he set an NFL record with 50 touchdown passes.
He's 3 of 10 for 10 yards in the red zone, where the Patriots have scored two TDs in 10 trips.
"It's just execution," Brady said. "It's everybody being on the same page and making the reads and throws and something we'll evaluate and look at. We can't keep kicking field goals, I know that. We've got to be better than that."
Missing Wes Welker (knee) the last two games surely hasn't helped, but New England hopes he can return Sunday. Welker had 12 receptions in a Week 1 win over Buffalo after leading the team in receptions the past two seasons.
Brady has been sacked only once this season but now faces the vaunted Baltimore defense, which has seven sacks through three games and had four interceptions last Sunday in a 34-3 win over Cleveland.
The last time Brady or the Patriots faced Baltimore was Dec. 3, 2007, and it was one of the closest calls they had during a 16-0 regular season. Brady's touchdown pass with 44 seconds left gave New England a 27-24 win, but the Ravens sacked him three times - equaling the most by any opponent since the start of 2007 - and his 47.4 completion percentage (18 of 38) remains his lowest in that span.
"You have to at least frustrate Tom Brady," Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "You're not going to sack him, because he's going to get rid of the ball. But you have to at least do your best to kind of get in his face, make some of his throws go off target. But if you don't do that, you don't stand a chance."
A win Sunday would be a big statement by Harbaugh and the Ravens, particularly considering New England has won 16 in a row at home - including playoffs - when Brady has played.
Harbaugh and Belichick are friends who both got their NFL coaching careers going as longtime assistants on special teams.
"He and I talk fairly frequently, and I think he's done a terrific job with that team," Belichick said of Harbaugh. "They're good in every phase of the game."
While Baltimore has scored the most points (103) and totaled the most yardage (1,291) in the AFC, the Patriots are third in the conference in total offense (395.0 ypg) and total defense (262.3).
However, New England is trying to avoid its worst start since 2005, the year after its most recent Super Bowl victory.
"You've got to admire everything about what the Patriots have done and what Bill Belichick has done there, and really, the whole organization," Harbaugh said. "They've been able to have success and sustain it for a long number of years, and we'll keep trying to make that not happen for them, at least when we play them."
Baltimore has never beaten New England in four tries, including two losses at Foxborough by a combined 44-6 score.
Posted: 9/30/09 10:06PM ET