At last in 17th season, Pats Tom Brady faces 49ers on road
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Not even in grade school, Tom Brady cried from his seat at The Stick when Dwight Clark made “The Catch.”
The New England quarterback had so counted on playing at Candlestick Park in 2008, his first NFL game back home in the Bay Area against the 49ers team he watched Joe Montana lead when Brady was a boy.
Then, a season-ending knee injury spoiled his plans. He can’t quite believe it took until age 39 and his 17th NFL season to finally get a shot on San Francisco’s home field.
“I had everything arranged and set up before the season for my family and friends, and then I got hurt,” Brady said. “So it is (shocking), it is. It will be a lot of fun. I’ve got a lot of people coming to the game and it will just be a great environment.”
This could perhaps be the only time Brady gets the opportunity, and he should feel pretty confident about his chances of winning with the AFC East-leading Patriots (7-2). The New England quarterback might have to change teams to visit Levi’s Stadium again after Sunday’s matchup with the Niners (1-8), losers of eight straight since a season-opening win against the Rams.
He was there when Clark leaped high and pulled down the Montana touchdown pass that helped send San Francisco to its first Super Bowl after the 1981 season.
“I was, I think 4 years old and my parents brought me. I cried - I wanted one of those foam fingers and I cried the entire first half,” Brady recalled. “Finally, my dad bought me one to shut me up for the second half. I think I have a picture of it.
“It was just a great. I remember we were on the opposite side of the stadium, and I started crying when everyone jumped up and screamed at the end when Dwight made the catch. I still have those memories.”
San Francisco went to New England in 2004 and again in 2012 to win 41-34 during the 49ers’ Super Bowl season.
“It was a great feeling to go up there, get that victory, especially against a team like that,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “It was huge and it was another confidence builder for our team.”
Here are some things to watch for Sunday:
BETHEA’S FIRST PICK: San Francisco safety Antoine Bethea’s first career interception is still plenty fresh 10 years later. He has the ball at home in a case.
It came with the Colts against Brady, in Foxborough, on Nov. 5, 2006, the first of three career picks he has of Brady passes.
“It’s definitely something I remember, out there in Foxborough,” Bethea said. “Of course I’m always going to remember that, especially because it comes on a top-caliber quarterback.”
HOT TICKET: Brady, who grew up in nearby San Mateo, has arranged countless tickets for Sunday — “more than ever.”
“I may never get the opportunity again, so it’s nice to have all the support, and I’ve had a lot from the Bay Area over the years,” Brady said. “My high school, my elementary school, and I still have so many friends from growing up, and coaches, my family, my aunts and uncles, cousins. It will just be a lot of fun to be out there.”
KAEPERNICK IMPROVES: After failing to complete even half of his passes in each of his first two starts, Kaepernick has been much sharper the past two weeks after the bye.
Healthy again after three surgeries, and promoted in favor of Blaine Gabbert last month, he is completing 59 percent of his passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 96.8 passer rating.
ROOKIE WOES: Patriots rookie defensive back Cyrus Jones returned last week against Seattle after being a healthy scratch for three straight games following his ejection during New England’s win at Cleveland on Oct. 9. During an up-and-down first year, he also has struggled to find consistency as a kick returner.
Jones’ performance will determine how much he is on the field.
“It doesn’t necessarily stay the same,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It hopefully gets better, but we just have to evaluate those performing opportunities.”
LEWIS RETURNS?: Pats running back Dion Lewis was taken off injured reserve last week, but was inactive against Seattle. He has made progress since returning to practice, but the Patriots are unlikely to rush him.
New England is getting great production out of LeGarrette Blount, who leads the league with 12 touchdowns rushing. James White has also been a solid pass catching option out of the backfield, hauling 33 receptions for 290 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think any time a player is coming back from missing a significant amount of time, there’s a certain buildup process,” Belichick said of Lewis. “It’s hard to predict how that’s going to go.”
AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower in Boston contributed to this report.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL