SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The previous time the 49ers squared off with Tom Brady and the Patriots, they considered themselves equals among the NFL’s elite.
They traveled to Foxborough, Mass., and on a cold, rainy December night in 2012 and escaped with a 41-34 victory.
They played in the Super Bowl seven weeks later and lost to the Ravens, who beat the Patriots in the AFC championship game.
“It was a great feeling to go up there, get that victory, especially against a team like that,” Colin Kaepernick said, who’s one of seven 49ers that remain from that team.
Kaepernick was in his second season and took over as the starting quarterback for Alex Smith at the halfway point of the regular season. He helped San Francisco beat Brady by throwing for 221 yards and four touchdowns.
“It was huge and it was another confidence-builder for our team, for myself at that point in time, that we were playing one of the best teams in the league and went there on the road,” Kaepernick said. “I think we have a similar opportunity this week to play a very good Patriots team and go out and get a victory.”
The teams are no longer considered equals ahead of the Patriots’ visit Sunday.
San Francisco (1-8) has the NFL’s second-worst record, while the Patriots are clicking at 7-2 despite missing Brady for the first four games while he was suspended because of the “Deflategate” controversy.
It’s a huge mismatch between a team that could be picking first in the next NFL draft and a favorite to play in the Super Bowl. The 49ers have fallen on hard times, while New England remains one of the league’s most successful teams.
It’s an opportunity first-year 49ers coach Chip Kelly is relishing. An unlikely victory against the Patriots would snap an eight-game losing streak and become the highlight of an otherwise lost season.
Kelly has a relationship with New England coach Bill Belichick dating back to when he was an offensive coordinator at nearby University of New Hampshire from 1999 to 2006.
Kelly used to visit and observe Belichick’s practices. The two would share ideas about improving their operations and practices. Kelly has been at the forefront of integrating sports science into football.
“Just when you get a chance to watch arguably one of the best coaches in the history of the game coach on a daily basis,” Kelly said of his meetings with Belichick, “how organized he is, how is detailed he is, how in tune he is to putting his players in position to make plays and just really how gracious and nice he is.”
Belichick said Kelly helped generate ideas that he’s incorporated into his team’s routine.
“I think Chip’s got a lot of great ideas,” Belichick said. “I think his overall organization as an offensive system, practice schedule, training. ... We talked about a lot of those things and I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Kelly also has a win over Belichick. Last season his Eagles pulled out a 35-28 victory in Foxborough, despite coming in as significant underdogs.
Kelly’s team benefited from three non-offensive touchdowns, scoring on a blocked punt, 99-yard interception return and 83-yard punt return from Darren Sproles.
NOTES: Belichick said he had “tremendous” respect for former 49ers Hall of Fame owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. in his conference call Wednesday. “(I) couldn’t really put it into words,” Belichick said. DeBartolo will be honored at halftime Sunday after getting enshrined to the Hall of Fame last summer. ... 49ers WR Torrey Smith missed a second straight practice Wednesday with a back injury.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL