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By Kevin KurzCSNBayArea.com
SANTA CLARA Just in case the 49ers defenders needed a reminder that their next opponent was going to provide perhaps the toughest test of the season, they got it on Monday night.
Several key defensive starters were able to catch at least a portion of New Englands 42-14 dismantling of the Houston Texans. The defending AFC champions were firing on all cylinders in front of a national audience, giving Houston just its second loss of the year.
And, the 49ers were watching. New England (10-3) has won seven straight and will host San Francisco (9-3-1) on NBCs Sunday Night Football.
They looked good. They looked real good, man, said defensive lineman Ray McDonald. Weve got to come out here really prepared for that up-tempo offense.
Cornerback Perrish Cox said: I thought it was going to be closer than what it was. Houston is a good team. You can never look past the Patriots at all. Thats one of the best teams of the past decade, and still is. Thats one of them teams you just cant look past.
Of course, the Pats offense starts with quarterback Tom Brady. The 13-year pro has thrown 29 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and is second in the league with a 104.2 passer rating, percentage points behind Robert Griffin III and a tenth of a point better than Niners backup Alex Smith.
On Monday against Houston, the 35-year-old San Mateo native was 21-for-35 for 296 yards with four touchdowns and no picks against one of the stronger defenses in the NFL.
Hes more one of those laid-back, confident quarterbacks that basically you can tell his demeanor and he knows exactly what hes doing, Cox said. Hes one of those confident quarterbacks that basically calls his own offense. Hes a vet, a very good vet thats talented.
They have a lot of different weapons, a lot of guys that can make plays, but were really fighting against Tom Brady, cornerback Tarell Brown said. He has the keys to the car, and we definitely have to stop him.
Lineman Ricky Jean Francois is hoping that pressure on Brady will lead to a more effective defense of the future Hall-of-Famer. But, thats easier said than done.
They have a great offensive line. The only way Tom Brady's going to be successful is when those guys are going to block, Francois said. For their running game to work, the O-line's got to block. You've got to take your hat off to the trenches always, first. Without the trenches, you won't have a successful offense or defense.
McDonald said: They are physical. They are a physical bunch. They work together, they're smart. Just watching them last night, they're not a finesse team. They can run the ball, too.
The 49ers corners are also likely to get a healthy dose of Wes Welker, the Pats receiver who leads the team and is ninth in the NFL with 1,116 yards.
What makes the 59, 185-pounder so effective? Cox compared him with another skilled guy that the 49ers had trouble containing earlier this year.
The breakout speed, I dont think hes really that fast, but the quickness itself, hes just like another Danny Amendola, Cox said, referring to the Rams wideout who caught 11 balls for 102 yards on Nov. 11 against San Francisco. Both of them went to Texas Tech, and I was able to play against Amendola at Tech, so theyre quite similar receivers. Like I said, I really cant answer what makes them so good, but him and quarterback is on the same page every play.
Brown said: Youve just got to make plays. I think at the end of the day, they do a lot of reads on and off the field. We have to do the same thing play with what you see, and play fast.
In what could easily be a Super Bowl preview, Brown is anxious to learn how his club stacks up against the surging Pats, who have won 20 consecutive December home games.
Yeah, its a measuring stick for all of us, Brown said. I think well all be tested and challenged throughout the game, and thats the good thing about it.