49ers-Patriots Preview

December 12, 2012

In his second season, Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl victory after taking over as the starting quarterback during the year.

Colin Kaepernick is hoping to pull off the same feat with the San Francisco 49ers.

Brady leads the Patriots' top-ranked offense on Sunday night when they host Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers' No. 1 scoring defense in a battle of division leaders.

New England (10-3), which will try for its 14th straight win in December and 21st straight at home during the month, has already won the AFC East title and trails Houston by one game for the conference's top seed.


San Francisco (9-3-1) can win the NFC West on Sunday with a win and a Seattle loss to Buffalo.

"It's a great opportunity to go out and show what we're capable of," Kaepernick said. "They're going to give you a lot of different looks on defense. You just have to be ready for it."

While New England went 11-3 in 2001 after Brady replaced the injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 2, the 49ers have won three of Kaepernick's four starts since Alex Smith suffered a concussion against St. Louis on Nov. 11.

Kaepernick was 18 of 23 for 185 yards in a 27-13 win over Miami on Sunday. He's completed 67.4 percent of his passes as a starter and averaged 8.3 yards per attempt.

Kaepernick showed off his running ability with a late 50-yard touchdown to seal the victory over the Dolphins. He's already third among NFL quarterbacks with 351 yards on the ground - 7.6 per carry - and five rushing touchdowns.

"There are definitely things that we're doing that tailor the offense to his skill set,'' coach Jim Harbaugh said.

The Patriots have done plenty to tailor their prolific offense around Brady. A week after throwing just one touchdown pass as New England clinched the East in Miami, the two-time MVP threw for 296 yards and a season high-tying four TDs in a 42-14 rout of the Texans on Monday night.

Brady has thrown for 29 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season, including 19 with only one pick during the team's seven-game winning streak.

"It needs to come together now,'' Brady said. "This is the perfect time for it. We can't wait any longer.''

After holding the Texans' imposing front seven to just one sack and keeping AFC sack leader J.J. Watt off the board, the Patriots face a San Francisco defense that features linebacker Aldon Smith, who has an NFL-high 19 1/2 sacks and is three shy of tying Michael Strahan's single-season record.

The 49ers lead the NFL in scoring defense (14.2 points per game), but the Patriots have the NFL's highest-scoring offense (36.3) and have put up 42 or more points in four of their past six games.

Brady will try to make the most of a banged-up receiving corps after Donte' Stallworth (ankle) and Julian Edelman (foot) were placed on injured reserve this week.

As a result, the team re-signed Deion Branch for the second time this season.

With tight end Rob Gronkowski also out with a broken forearm, Aaron Hernandez stepped up nicely with eight catches for 58 yards and two scores against Houston.

Stevan Ridley will try to continue to give the Patriots a solid option in the running game after scoring a touchdown in six consecutive contests.

The 49ers, though, have given up just three rushing scores - tied for the league lead. They're also tied for second in rushing defense at 90.8 yards per game.

"We're going to be able to see where we are as a defense,'' safety Donte Whitner said. "We understand who's going to have to win that football game, and we think it's going to be the defense."

The Patriots' defense has improved the past two weeks, allowing an average of 300.0 yards after yielding 390.2 yards per game through their first 11 contests.

The 49ers would love to get star tight end Vernon Davis more involved after he's totaled three catches for 19 yards in the last three games.

San Francisco, though, doesn't figure to shy away from its versatile running game. Behind 1,000-yard rusher Frank Gore, the 49ers rank second in the league at 161.5 yards per game.

They'll want to wear down the Patriots, who rank eighth against the run (100.8) after holding Houston's Arian Foster to 46 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.

"We know we're a good defense here," Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said. "We know we've played really well the last couple of weeks and the biggest focus for us is just trying to build on that.''

New England looks for its fourth straight victory against San Francisco, winning the last meeting 30-21 with Matt Cassel under center on Oct. 5, 2008.