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Patriots QB Tom Brady heaps praise on Ray Lewis

FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady met with the media Thursday, taking time during the Patriots’ bye week to reflect on the retirement of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, the induction of former New England offensive lineman Stephen Neal into his alma mater’s Hall of Fame, and the recent death of longtime equipment manager Don Brocher.

Brady lived to tell the tale of a head-to-head collision with Lewis during a victory over the Ravens three years ago.

“It was a quarterback sneak for a first-down conversion,’’ Brady recalled. “He was and is still an incredible player and competitor. There are so many people who have said so many things about him, in terms of guys who have played with him, and guys speak to him being the best about his approach.

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“But it was a privilege to play against him.’’

Asked if his conversion against Lewis was a personal highlight, Brady replied, “I always enjoy beating the Ravens. So, yeah, any time I can beat those guys. They got us once this year.

“There’s nobody who’s played the position any better than him.’’

Brady may have to face Lewis one last time, as the Patriots could host the Ravens at Gillette Jan. 13.

Neal, a former teammate of Brady’s, was recently elected to the Cal State-Bakersfield Hall of Fame.

“Steve was a great player for us, a great teammate, and a great friend,” said Brady. “It was pretty impressive to do what he accomplished in terms of becoming a great wrestler and then becoming a great NFL football player.

“He left everything on the field. I’m sure he did the same as a wrestler, too, and left everything on the mat. But he was just a great friend and someone I enjoyed being with, such a positive attitude about everything.”

Brady expressed a similar sentiment about Brocher, an employee with the Patriots since 1972, who died New Year’s Day at age 60 after a bout with leukemia.

“It was a very sad day and sad week for all of us,’’ Brady said. “He lost a very tough battle, and I’ve known him since the day I got here. He was a great man, a special man, who cared very much about our team, the players and the organization, and always represented us in the best way he possibly could.”

He snapped to it

While he may have entered the season as an unheralded piece of the offensive line, there was no questioning Ryan Wendell’s resilience. And the fourth-year center logged 1,379 snaps this season, the most of any player in the league.

“It was cool. I was happy to find that out,’’ said Wendell, who credited trainers Jim Whalen and Joe Van Allen along with strength and conditioning coaches Harold Nash and Moses Cabrera. “They spend a lot of time and effort trying to make sure that we’re healthy and out on the field as much as we can.’’

Wendell, who started all 16 games at center in his first season replacing veteran Dan Koppen, played all but six of the Patriots’ 1,237 offensive snaps, and his total includes 148 snaps on special teams.

“He’s really done a great job since he got here,’’ said Brady. “He fought for his opportunity, and once he got it this year, he really took advantage. He’s been healthy and durable, consistent.

“Playing center on our team is not easy. There are a lot of adjustments and calls that we have, both the communications I have with him and what he relays to the rest of the offensive linemen.”

For the record

There could be some historical importance attached to the next playoff game for New England, regardless of the opponent.

Coach Bill Belichick needs one more postseason victory to break a third-place tie with Joe Gibbs at 17. A win would leave Belichick one shy of tying Don Shula (19) and two behind leader Tom Landry (20).

Brady’s next postseason win will break a tie with Joe Montana (16) for most by a quarterback.

“All that stuff, historically, I think you look back on some of the great seasons we’ve had and we’ll enjoy those at some point,’’ Brady said. “I don’t think now is really the time. I think so much of our energy is focused on the short-term goals, which it should be and which it needs to be — certainly not much beyond that.’’

No no-shows

Brady returned to practice Thursday, as did defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who injured his left hip in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Dolphins, and rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who has been battling hamstring and shoulder injuries. But there was no indication of the extent of their participation, since the team was not required to release an injury report. Despite frigid conditions, the Patriots conducted the final practice of their bye week outdoors on the lower grass field behind Gillette Stadium in sweats and shells. The team, which had perfect attendance for practice, will take the next three days off.

Place your orders

A limited number of tickets for the Jan. 13 playoff game will go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. Sales will be conducted only by phone (800-745-3000) or online at ticketmaster.com with a limit of four per person. No tickets will be sold at the Gillette Stadium ticket office . . . The Patriots set a franchise record for average household television ratings (36.36) this season. The Patriots’ highest rating was 43.08 in a 59-24 victory over Andrew Luck and the Colts.

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