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Sports

December 15, 2012

Patriots pose severe test for 49ers' defense

FOXBOROUGH — Running against the San Francisco 49ers is tough. Passing isn’t any easier. And scoring is a huge challenge.

Unless, perhaps, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots face them on Sunday night.

“Brady’s going to make plays. His offense is going to make plays,” 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “Our defense is going to make plays. We just want to make more than him at the end of the game.”

Brady leads the NFL’s highest-scoring offense. NFL sacks leader Aldon Smith spearheads a 49ers defense that has allowed the fewest points.

The Patriots have gained the most yards in the league and are in the top seven through the air and on the ground. The 49ers have allowed the second-fewest yards overall with a balanced defense: second against the pass and tied for second against the run.

So when two of the top Super Bowl contenders meet, with both hoping to move closer to a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout their conference playoffs, it will be strength against strength.

The Patriots (10-3) have clinched the AFC East and are tied with Denver for the second-best record in the conference, but hold the tiebreaker because they beat the Broncos. The 49ers (9-3-1) have the second-best mark in the NFC and can lock up first place in the West by beating the Patriots if Seattle loses to Buffalo. Even if the Seahawks win, the 49ers clinch a playoff spot if they beat the Patriots.

That won’t be easy.

Brady has made lots of superior defenses look soft.

Just last Monday night, he threw touchdown passes on his first three series and another in the third quarter in a 42-14 rout of Houston. Having the NFL’s best record at the time and the AFC’s leading sacker, J.J. Watt, didn’t help the Texans once Brady went to work.

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