49ers Prepare for Up-Tempo Patriots


Ray McDonald had seen enough. The Patriots had an early 21-0 lead and he was hungry, so he turned off the TV to get some dinner.

McDonald didn't stick around to see the end of New England's impressive 42-14 victory over the Houston Texans on "Monday Night Football" but the 49ers defensive tackle will be seeing plenty of film on the Patriots this week. San Francisco and New England are set for a marquee matchup Sunday night in Foxboro, Mass., in the most anticipated game of the Week 15 schedule.

"Guys are ready for the moment, guys are ready to play," McDonald said. "We thrive on games like this. When you're a little kid, you want to play in little games like this and that's what we all talk about throughout the season."

By the time Ahmad Brooks flipped on the game, the Patriots were already leading comfortably so he didn't stay tuned for long. But it doesn't take much time to see that New England employs one of the fastest offensive attacks around.

During the broadcast, ESPN said the Patriots run a play about every 25 seconds, which is the fastest pace in the NFL. Respected coach Bill Belichick has reportedly met with University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly to discuss the benefits of running a fast offense, bringing Kelly's up-tempo style of system to Tom Brady and company.

"I'm sure it'll be a little bit of a challenge," Brooks said of the pace of Patriots offense. "But this is what you play for, this is what football is all about. We'll be up for the occasion."

Even without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered an injury in Week 11, Brady still has the offense humming. The future Hall of Famer is currently tied with Robert Griffin III as the NFL's top-rated passer (104.2), with 3,833 yards, 29 touchdowns and just four interceptions on the year.

In fact, Brady's effort on Monday (21 of 35 for 296 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions) marked the 14th career contest he has thrown for at least four scores with no picks, the most in NFL history.

"You've got a Hall of Famer playing in the league right now," defensive tackle Pierre Garçon said. "Once he retires, he's going up there."

This won't be the first time for the 49ers defense playing an elite quarterback this season. They have already fared well against the top-notch players like Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning and Drew Brees, holding the quartet to an average of 248.3 yards with a 62.1 completion percentage and seven touchdowns and four interceptions combined.

Entering Week 15, the 49ers rank among the NFL's top two teams in scoring defense (first, 14.2), total defense (second, 275.5), rush defense (t-second, 90.8) and pass defense (second, 184.7). Meanwhile, the Patriots lead the NFL in scoring at 36.3 points per game, which is more than a touchdown ahead of second-place Denver, and also lead in total offense (425.7 yards per game).

"We all have to play our part," cornerback Tarell Brown said. "We all have to go out there and win our one-on-one battles. At the end of the day, they have a lot of different weapons, a lot of different guys who can make plays, but we're really fighting against Tom Brady. He has the keys to car and we definitely have to stop him."

Aside from Brady, another cog to the team's sustained success in recent years has been shifty receiver Wes Welker. Since joining the Patriots in 2007, Welker has led the NFL in receptions three times. He currently ranks third in league with 95 catches for 1,116 yards and four touchdowns.

If the Patriots spread things out and go to three four-wide receiver sets, cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Perrish Cox could be tasked with trying to slow down Welker out of the slot.

"He's quick," Cox said, while adding Welker reminds him of St. Louis wideout Danny Amendola. "His breakout speed – I don't think he's really that fast, but the quickness. … Him and the quarterback are on the same page every play."

With a victory, the 49ers will secure a playoff berth for the second straight season. With a win and a Seattle loss against Buffalo, San Francisco will also defend its crown in the NFC West.

Not that Jim Harbaugh is thinking past Sunday already.

"We don't take anything for granted," the 49ers coach said. "Nothing is secured until it's secured, in terms of being in the playoffs. We'll give this game the respect that it deserves and prepare for it like it's the most important game on the schedule."

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