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Top-ranked defense must outsmart Tom Brady

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SANTA CLARA — Look, it’s not like Tom Brady had a gimmie in his NFL debut, either. On September 30, 2001, Brady made his first career start against Peyton Manning.

Brady won, helped by the New England Patriots’ solid defense (three interceptions) and a running game that racked up more yards (177) than his total passes (168).

Now, in his 22nd season as an NFL starter, Brady returns home to his native Bay Area to take on a 22-year-old rookie making his first NFL start. That would be Brock Purdy, who takes over a 49ers team that lost Jimmy Garoppolo to a broken foot last Sunday and Trey Lance to a broken ankle in Week 2.

This game goes beyond quarterbacks who entered the NFL as an afterthought. (Brady became No. 199 in 2000; Purdy was the 262nd and final pick that year.)

With the playoffs a month away, the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in the NFC playoffs — as the standings now reflect — meet at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers (8-4) are on a five-game winning streak. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6) are coming across the country after a last-minute triumph on Monday night.

“I’m going to face these guys (the Bucs defense) rather than Tom himself,” Purdy said. “But, it’s always great to have Tom Brady come out and play on the same pitch and face our team.”

Purdy could certainly use the 49ers’ top-ranked defense and quick prowess, just as Brady benefited from that combination in his debut, a 44-13 home win for the New England Patriots over the Indianapolis Colts.

Brady has made 325 regular season starts, 47 in the playoffs, 10 in the Super Bowl, and yet the pride of San Mateo has only played in one previous game at a 49ers stadium. It was a 2016 win at Levi’s Stadium rather than a return visit to Candlestick Park, where he and his family used to watch the 1980s 49ers dynasty from the top deck.

“I was lucky to grow up in the Bay Area in those days. It was just a good time,” Brady recalled last week. “…When they jumped me six times (in the draft) , I started hating the 49ers.”

Here are five keys to the 49ers making Brady hate this homecoming:

5. PURDY’S WORK

With a star-studded supporting cast, everyone downplays what Purdy has to contribute other than serving as a no-turnover distributor. It won’t be that simple, but his unwavering determination in the last game still convinced the 49ers that they are capable of a smooth transition from Garoppolo.

“He’s got a similar touch to Jimmy, so it’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel,” tight end George Kittle said.

Bucs coach Todd Bowles is known for his creative and frequent pressing, so Purdy’s quick release (2.67 seconds last game) and quick thinking should keep the offense on track.

The Bucs will dare Purdy to beat them deep, when the caution would be to hit quick, hit receivers in stride between the sharps and reluctantly accept a punt rather than force a turnover.

“Obviously we have a rookie quarterback making his first official start, so (the Bucs) are going to put him in his hands and try to win him the game,” Kyle Juszczyk said. “We are ready to counter it.

Purdy could become the first quarterback to win an opener against Brady, who is 6-0 against such novices; The Brady Patriots won by an average of 32-14 on the debuts of Luke McCown, Matt Flynn, Tyler Palko, Jake Locker, EJ Manuel and Luke Falk.

4. MAKE IT WORK WELL

The surest way to protect the ball and keep it out of Brady’s clutches is to dominate the field, all due respect to Purdy who was given the go-ahead to scatter 37 passes last game.

Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Jordan Mason should rotate as running backs and try to find ways past an aggressive defense. However, this weekly plan is thwarted by stacked defensive fronts.

“The biggest thing, and you’ve seen it with almost every defense we’ve played, is we have to be ready for some kind of heavy package, some kind of six defensive linemen,” Juszczyk said.

Milpitas-born nose tackle Vita Vea is a roadblock in the middle, and it’s worth wondering if the 49ers will reinsert rookie Spencer Burford as their starting right guard. Burford missed the final game with a sprained ankle, an injury he learned to overcome as a youth, which included time as a power forward in the team’s basketball. travel and as a corner infielder in baseball.

Fellow guard Aaron Banks grew up in East Bay to follow Vea’s career, and he says the Bucs’ nose tackle moves particularly well and uses his hands better than other big bodies the 49ers have encountered.

3. COVER SKILLS

Cornerback Charvarius Ward has faced Brady five times since 2018, highlighted by a decisive interception in this season’s AFC Championship game – until an offside penalty from Dee Ford l ‘canceled. Either way, Ward is no stranger to a quarterback who he says is “still the GOAT” (greatest of all time).

Brady leads the NFL in the fastest throwing time (2.44 seconds), and that proved true with his 2.4-second average on the last two touchdowns in Monday night’s miraculous comeback against Nova Scotia. Orleans.

“He’s smart and knows where he’s going with the ball,” Ward said. “He’s good at reading the covers, we have to do a good job of disguising things, or he can separate us.”

Along with his decision-making and consistently impressive speed, Bowles pointed to another of Brady’s strengths this week: “He understands the mental weaknesses of some guys on defense when you know some areas are lacking. He can see things a game ahead and he can come back to it two games later when he sees someone missing and he can put them in place.

Ward’s response: “There is no weak link in our defense. We are not going to show fear. We are not nervous.

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