It's been two months since Tom Brady returned to the field after serving a four-game suspension. In his eight games back, Brady has played at an MVP level in leading his team to the cusp of yet another AFC East title.
But as New England prepares to host the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night, the ghost of "Deflategate" has emerged this week — even as Brady insists it's the furthest thing from his mind.
What does matter is that the outcome of Monday's game will have playoff implications for both teams.
New England can clinch the AFC East for what would be an NFL-record eighth consecutive season with a victory and Miami loss or tie. The Patriots would also earn a first-round bye with a win and losses by Miami and Pittsburgh.
Baltimore has won four of its past five games, but entered the week tied with the Steelers for first place in the AFC North.
Under coach John Harbaugh the Ravens have been one of the few teams that have consistently played the Patriots close. In six games at Gillette Stadium under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 2-4, but their four defeats have come by an average of four points. That includes the 35-31 loss in the 2015 playoff loss.
"We do appreciate it," Harbaugh said of the rivalry with New England. "We're glad to be in this game. We're glad we've earned the right to play a meaningful game in December, most especially against the team we're about to play, because they're always in that position."