OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Terrell Suggs needed some sort of confirmation.
Word was going around Tuesday that Tom Brady, the player Suggs had no problem loudly defining as the universal symbol for coddled quarterbacks in the NFL, actually had something nice to say about Suggs. The Ravens’ brashest pass-rusher wanted proof.
Brady said Suggs looked “phenomenal” this season.
Suggs did a double take.
The praise didn’t stop there.
“He’s in his 12th year and looks like it’s his third year out there,” Brady said. “He’s the leader of that defense.”
Suggs still smelled something funny. As if it were some sort of Bugs Bunny-Elmer Fudd reverse psychology.
“Did they record him?” Suggs asked? “I’d love to see his face.”
It was a praise overload from Brady to Suggs.
“He makes great plays,” Brady said.
Even Ravens coach John Harbaugh had a hard time believing it at first.
“That is shocking,” Harbaugh said.
Suggs and Brady have spent so many seasons trading trash talk that the niceties seemed out of place, especially with the Ravens and Patriots set to face each other in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
Part of it is simply the nature of their jobs, Suggs said. They’re on opposite sides of the ball and their teams have almost annually been in each other’s way in the postseason.
“It’s the same that all defensive players have with quarterbacks,” Suggs said. “He’s a quarterback, I’m a defender. He’s got a job to do, and so do I. So naturally, there’s going to be some disagreements there.”
But their beef goes back at least seven years, when Suggs called out the NFL for creating rules that kept defenders from hitting quarterbacks below the knees, calling it the “Brady Rule.”
When the Patriots walked off with an overtime win in the regular season in 2010, Suggs said, “He better hope he don’t see us again.”
Brady snipped back, “He had his chance. Maybe if he gets another chance, he can try to back those words up. But he had a chance yesterday.
“You know, we’ve played those guys a lot, and they’ve beat us one time in all the times that I’ve played them. They talk a lot for beating us once in nine years.”
Suggs returned fire, “For a guy that whines a lot, at least I didn’t have any rules put in for me.”
Then he threw out some on-field smack talk that he claimed Brady had dished his way.
“He was trying to tell me how to bag a Hollywood actress,” Suggs said. “He was like, ‘Sizzle, if you want to get a Hollywood actress, take my seminar on Saturday.’ ”
And so it went for the next few years.
Just last season, in an interview with ESPN, Suggs made his feelings about Brady as clear as possible.
“I don’t like him,” said Suggs. “He don’t like me. I don’t like his hair. I don’t know. I don’t like his smug attitude. But then again, he probably doesn’t like my [expletive] attitude.
“Everybody just seems to worship the guy. Not me, though.”
With the Ravens missing the playoffs last season, Brady and Suggs never got a chance to face each other.
Now, though, the two again are mutual roadblocks, and what may seem like sudden civility may actually be genuine respect forged from years of battling.
“I think there’s a lot of respect,” Harbaugh said. “It’s probably an interesting thing to take a look at. It probably does speak to the past and all that kind of stuff. It’s a new team, it’s a new time.
“But our focus is on the game. We have enough to worry about with the opponent that we’re going to play. How well-coached they are, how good their players are. It’s a big challenge to go in there and play.”
With 12 sacks, Suggs had his best season in three years for a Ravens team that finished tied for second in the league in sacks. Since a torn Achilles’ tendon cost him eight games in 2012, Suggs hasn’t missed a game. In the past two seasons, he’s recorded 22 sacks.
Brady knows he’s the next target.
“I think that there is a play that’s called and then what he actually does,” Brady said. “Even though he has a certain responsibility, if he sniffs it out, he takes a shot and goes for it.
“You may have contain, but he may rip it inside and try to make a play in the backfield. He’s just a smart player. We’ve played against him a bunch of times. He takes away a lot of stuff. I have a lot of respect for his ability to play the game at a high level.”
“Respect” generally hasn’t been one of the words that gets thrown back and forth between Brady and Suggs.
But Suggs seemed willing to play nice. At least until Saturday.
“They said it best,” he said. “Ain’t nobody really worried about what happened in the past.
“The only thing we’re worrying about is this game. You really can’t care what’s going on. You’ve got to play football. At the end of the day, it’s all football and it’s all about execution.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.