By JANIE McCAULEY
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco cornerback Tarell Brown turned off the Monday Night Football game as soon as Tom Brady and the Patriots jumped out to a big lead.
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois tuned out around then, too. Same with defensive mate Ray McDonald, who was hungry and ready for some dinner.
“He’s a big guy so you know he’s going to eat,” Francois said with a chuckle.
The 49ers defenders still saw plenty of Brady in that brief time they spent watching his team’s 42-14 rout of fellow AFC power Houston to know exactly what they’re up against Sunday night in New England.
Safety Donte Whitner can’t wait.
“We’re going to be able to see where we are as a defense,” Whitner said. “We understand who’s going to have to win that football game, and we think it’s going to be the defense. And we understand that their offense is going to try to control the football and get some big plays and put points on the board. And we can’t allow that. So, we’ll be ready.”
Former Patriots wideout Randy Moss didn’t watch Monday’s game at all. Didn’t need to. He knows what Brady brings to the Patriots (10-3), who already have clinched their playoff spot and will try to stop San Francisco from securing a berth of its own Sunday in Foxborough, Mass.
A few preliminary observations of Brady from the Niners’ locker room Tuesday:
Brown: “He can make all the throws.”
McDonald: “He’s slingin’ it.”
Francois: “You’ve got a Hall of Famer playing in the league right now.”
Cornerback Perrish Cox: “He’s one of those confident quarterbacks that basically calls his own offense. “
San Francisco (9-3-1) already has impressive wins against teams with big-time playmaking quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
Still, no question that slowing down Brady on the prime-time stage is the biggest test yet for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s group.
“Probably so,” Moss said. “It’ll be a good one.”
The Patriots have won 20 straight home games in December. Brady has been instrumental in that.
The 35-year-old Brady went 21 of 35 and passed for 296 yards and four touchdowns against a typically stingy Texans defense Monday night. He has thrown a touchdown pass in 45 consecutive games, the third-longest such stretch in NFL history. He has 3,833 yards passing and 29 touchdowns this season with only four interceptions and a 104.2 passer rating.
“We’ve got to hang in there,” McDonald said. “We’ve got to gut it out.”
Only once before have the 49ers faced Brady, a 13th-year pro born and raised in the Bay Area town of San Mateo, some 15 minutes south of the Niners’ home at Candlestick Park. Brady went 22 of 30 for 226 yards and two touchdowns with an interception in New England’s 21-7 home win on Jan. 2, 2005.
That loss by San Francisco sent the Niners to a 2-14 record and earned them the No. 1 pick in the draft that spring. Their selection? Alex Smith, quarterback out of Utah. After leading San Francisco so close to the Super Bowl last season, he’s now the backup to Colin Kaepernick.
The Niners are concerning themselves with only one quarterback at the moment — the other guy.
“He’s more one of those laid-back, confident quarterbacks that basically you can tell his demeanor and know exactly what he’s doing,” Cox said.
Or so San Francisco hopes, to know what Brady is doing.
49ers linebacker Aldon Smith leads the NFL with 19 sacks and needs only three to match Michael Strahan’s single-season record set in 2001 with the New York Giants — not that he is counting on anything coming easily against Brady and his outstanding offensive line.
“We’ve played elite quarterbacks the whole season, so it’s just another one on the list,” Smith said.
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh needs no introduction to Brady, a fellow Michigan man whose career the former NFL quarterback has followed.
“I have great respect for him,” Harbaugh said, “his career, his ability, his competiveness, all of his unique attributes that make him the great football player that he is.”