EAGAN, Minn. — Sunday will mark Tom Brady's 339th career NFL game (including the postseason), a Hall of Fame run that includes nine Super Bowl appearances and six titles.
The quarterback, who is in his first season in Tampa Bay after two decades in New England, has crafted one of the most impressive football résumés of all time.
Included on that list of accomplishments? A perfect 5-0 record against the Vikings, who will look to end that streak Sunday at Tampa Bay. Minnesota is part of a quartet of teams, along with Atlanta, Dallas and Tampa Bay, that has never defeated Brady. (New England is also on the list, but he has obviously never faced the Patriots).
And even though Brady is nearing the end of season No. 21 in the NFL, the Vikings know the stature of the player they'll go up against in Week 14.
"He's prepared. He knows what your looks are, he knows how to set his protections, how to get them in the right place, he's very quick with his reads and his decision making," said Vikings safety Harrison Smith. "But he's always – he just knows everything that's going on, on the field.
"He knows everything his line is doing, everything his receivers need to do, where his backs need to go, whether they need to block, what the defense is doing, what the coverage is doing and I think that I don't need to say any of that," Smith added. "I think everyone knows who Tom Brady is, and why he is who he is."
Added Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer: "He looks good to me. Moves well in the pocket when he's avoiding [pressure]. Very accurate, really good arm strength, good velocity, sees things really well. Obviously, he's been doing this forever, so, yeah, he looks like the same guy to me."
The Vikings last saw Brady in 2018, when Minnesota lost 24-10 in New England in early December. The quarterback threw for 311 yards with a touchdown and was also picked off by Eric Kendricks.
The All-Pro linebacker is one of just three defensive starters from that game who could play on Sunday, along with Smith and fellow safety Anthony Harris. The other eight defensive starters are either injured or no longer on the roster.
Zimmer said he doesn't believe his 2020 defense — which features a bevy of rookies and young players — will be fazed by seeing No. 12 across the line of scrimmage.
"Players don't look at it like that, really. They just go out and play," Zimmer said. "These guys are just so focused on trying to do their job … they can't worry too much about the aura of the great players that they have.
"I think all of our guys, whether it be young guys or old guys, they like to compete," Zimmer added. "They like to play, and I think that's what we're going to have to focus on. Not how many Super Bowls Brady and [tight end Rob] Gronkowski have won."
Brady was efficient against the Vikings in 2018 with a passer rating of 102.5, and recorded five completions that gained at least 20 yards.
And while some of those were short passes that turned into long gains, the Vikings are ready for Brady to go deep this coming weekend.
The quarterback has a seemingly unrivaled arsenal of playmakers at his disposal including four players — Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Gronkowski and Scotty Miller — who have 400-plus receiving yards thus far. Tampa Bay is one of four teams — along with Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Dallas — to have four such players.
And the Buccaneers added former All-Pro Antonio Brown midway through the season. The wide receiver has 22 career touchdown catches of at least 30 yards.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Buccaneers.
"They've had some flux with some of their receivers a little bit," Zimmer said. "They've got Antonio Brown in there now, and I think they're just getting more comfortable with each other.
"Gronkowski always looks like he's real comfortable with him anyway, but Mike Evans is a terrific receiver and Godwin and [tight end Cameron] Brate, they've got terrific players," Zimmer added. "You know, each game's different. I think he's just getting more familiar with guys."
Brady has hit on 42 completions that have gone for at least 20 yards, but stats provided by the NFL show he has struggled a bit with the deep ball.
According to Next Gen Stats, Brady has career lows (since 2016) in completion percentage (27.7), touchdown-to-interception ratio (3-4) and passer rating (58.9) on passes of 20-plus air yards this season.
The Vikings aren't buying his decline. Especially since the Vikings have allowed a completion percentage of 50 percent (second-worst in the NFL) and have allowed a passer rating of 118.3 passer rating (fifth-worst in NFL) on deep passes this season, according to Next Gen Stats.
"I don't think those are high-percentage throws," Zimmer said. "Obviously he's got great receivers.
"I think they're [seventh] in the league in passes over 20 yards, aren't they? So I don't know if that's struggling," Zimmer added. "I saw [Brady] make a great throw against [the Raiders] for about a 60-yard touchdown pass. I guess struggling is a different word for everybody."
Added Vikings cornerback Kris Boyd: "The deep ball is kind of what he's leaning toward now. But he still will get the ball out fast, check-downs. He's going to find a way to make a play. This week, I've got to make sure I'm on top of my game and everything. [We're] going against the best."
Boyd said it best at the end of his final quote. The opposing quarterback Sunday is the NFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns (569) and is second in passing yards (77,781).
Oh yes, he's also the only quarterback in league history with six Super Bowl titles, and he's been named the Super Bowl MVP four times.
The key on Sunday, according to Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson, is to try and rattle Brady as much as possible. Even if it's easier said than done.
"He gets the ball out fast, and that's who he's been his whole career," Patterson said. "I've gone against him a lot in my career … he has a great feel for knowing danger is happening and getting rid of the ball.
"With our guys, we can't get frustrated if we don't sack him. But we've got to make him feel us, and that's the most important thing," Patterson added. "If we let him sit back there in a rocking chair, he's going to eat us alive."