ALAMEDA – Raiders free safety Reggie Nelson was asked a question so obvious to him he assumed there was a catch: Is Tom Brady the NFL's best quarterback?
Well, duh. It still took a moment to muster a reply.
"He's the best at what he does," Nelson said. "Who's going to argue that?"
It's tough to find a compelling retort these days. New England's signal caller is on pace to exceed 5,000 yards at age 40. He's working downfield with cruel efficiency, putting pressure on defenses in new and frustrating ways.
Brady's the best this year. He's also arguably the best ever.
The Raiders can't think about him in those terms. Respect is there. Reverence stops before Sunday's clash between the Raiders and Patriots at Mexico City's Estadio Azteca.
"If you put someone on a bigger pedestal, then you're already losing the battle," cornerback TJ Carrie said. "Of course we respect the Patriots, but they suit up the same way we do. This is an opportunity to prepare well and execute."
The Raiders must make the Patriots earn every inch. Brady has been taking yards in massive chunks, connecting deep with shocking efficiency. He puts significant pressure on defenses with speedster Brandin Cooks, tight end Rob Gronkowski and possession receiver Danny Amendola.
"Our tackling has been a strength," Carrie said. "We didn't do as well in Miami, but we're pretty good at that. That's an important thing. So much offense in this league is about dinking and dunking with 5-yard plays that turn into big plays due to the lack of tackling. That's something we have to continue to harp on, and make teams beat us with small plays because, eventually they'll make mistakes."
The Patriots don't make many. They sport the NFL's best offense and air attack. They convert 45 percent of their third down attempts and always seem to have defenses on their heels.
"You have Brady, who's going to get this in the right position and play call," Nelson said. "It's about taking care of the little things we need to do to win this game."