SANTA CLARA – Every member of the 49ers’ defense will be tested and taxed on Sunday when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots come to town.
But safeties Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid figure to have the biggest challenges awaiting them at Levi’s Stadium.
Bethea, an 11-year veteran, knows what to expect. Reid can only guess, as he prepares to face the Patriots for the first time in his four-year career.
As a member of the Indianapolis Colts, Bethea faced Brady eight times, including two playoff games. Bethea has intercepted Brady three times, including his first career interception in 2006. But the Patriots won five of those games.
“They’re technicians with what they do, with the coaching staff they have and from relaying that message from the coaches to the players, they hone in on what that particular scheme is for that week,” Bethea said.
“Tom Brady is going to be Tom Brady. He’s been in that offense for a while. He likes to get the ball out quick. He’ll take shots if you give it to him. They like to control the clock and whatever’s working for them on that day, they’re going to continue to do that.”
Brady sat out the first four games of the season after serving an NFL suspension resulting from the alleged deflation of footballs in the AFC Championship game in January 2015. He has come back better than ever in his five starts, completing 72.9 percent of his attempts, averaging 9.8 yards per attempt, with 12 touchdowns and one interception, and a passer rating of 125.5.
“Decision-making, his quick release, his accuracy, those are all components that make him a special player, a future Hall of Famer,” Reid said.
The 49ers enter Sunday’s game on an eight-game losing streak. The team is just one loss shy of matching the franchise-worst streak that was set in 1978. Yet, Reid said he is looking forward to the challenge of facing one of the all-time greats.
“It’s exciting,” Reid said. “It’s something I have to focus on as a safety is not giving away the coverage to him before the snap. If he knows that, it’s going to be a tough down for the entire defense. I think disguising what we’re doing is going to be important for us. After that, when the ball is snapped, we just got to make plays.”
Bethea made it to the Super Bowl as a rookie, getting past the Patriots in the AFC playoffs. In 2013, the Patriots defeated the Colts in the playoffs. No player on the 49ers has the perspective of Bethea when it comes to the Patriots.
“As a competitor, you can hate them as much as you want. But at the end of the day, you have to respect them,” Bethea said. “Year-in and year-out, they’re one of the best teams in the league, regardless of who’s out there at receiver or the defensive side of the ball. You could even see it earlier this year. When Tom wasn’t even playing quarterback, that team was still winning games. So you got to have a lot of respect for that organization.”