Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Big challenge for 49ers this week

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

San Francisco caught a break when the Patriots lost quarterback Tom Brady, but the schedule isn't doing the 49ers any favors. The Patriots have had two weeks to prepare for their Week 5 game at Candlestick Park.

For years we've heard about how Bill Belichick prepares his team as thoroughly as any coach in the league. An assistant for another team told me last season that he couldn't recall seeing Belichick out-coached. It might have happened when the Dolphins upset the Patriots in Week 3, but generally Belichick's teams will have all the angles covered.

Belichick's preparation comes through not just in the way his team plays, but also in the way he answers questions. Check out this answer from Belichick when a reporter asked him Wednesday about a lack of familiarity with the 49ers:

"We have seen a lot of these players -- defensively, the whole secondary. Donald Strickland was in Indianapolis. Michael Lewis was at Philadelphia and Mark Roman was in Cincinnati. Nate Clements, we saw a lot of in Buffalo. Walt Harris was at Indianapolis and Chicago. We have seen Justin Smith. We have certainly seen Takeo Spikes and [Aubrayo] Franklin. We've seen a lot of those guys, just not in that system.

"It's a pretty veteran group they have on offense and defense. Guys like [Barry] Sims, Isaac Bruce, Arnaz Battle, Bryant Johnson and DeShaun Foster. Plus all of their specialists -- those guys are an experienced group too. They have a few young players in there but it is a pretty experienced team. Some have come up in their system like Eric Heitmann and Frank Gore. So, we have seen some of those guys just not in a San Francisco uniform."

Unbelievable. Belichick mentioned 15 of the 49ers' players, starters and backups alike, in historical context off the top of his head.

Think about that for a minute. Belichick's background is on defense. We might expect a defensive head coach to know the opposing offense, but generally not to that degree or by name. We would not expect him to rattle off the employment histories of defensive players and experience levels of the specialists.

There are probably general managers in the NFL who could not speak that fluently about an opposing team's personnel. Think anything will surprise Belichick on Sunday?