The play of the 49ers' offensive line will be a key to springing running back Frank Gore and controlling the clock on the Patriots Sunday. (Photo by David Welker/Getty Images)
While much of the focus on Sunday night’s 49ers-Patriots game has been on the New England offense, it might actually be the Niners’ offense that is the game’s key.
San Francisco, after all, might have to score early and often to win the nationally televised matchup of NFL powerhouses.
“To me, if you’re going to beat the Patriots in New England, you’re going to be in the 30s (points),” former 49ers quarterback Steve Young told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat this week. “You just figure by the time it’s all over, if you don’t score 30, you’re probably not going to get there. They score a touchdown a quarter and they don’t turn the football over. That’s why it’s going to be a fun test.
“It’s going to tell everyone a lot about this Colin Kaepernick-going-the-distance-winning-the-Super Bowl thing.”
Oddsmakers have made 10-3 New England a 5 to 5½-point favorite over the 9-3-1 49ers.
The Patriots offense leads the NFL in scoring and has been red hot lately, scoring 42 or more points in four of its past six games. While the 49ers’ second-ranked defense will try to keep Tom Brady and Co. in check, the offense will have to do its part, too.
“You have to rise to the occasion and play your ‘A game,’ ” 49ers left guard Mike Iupati told reporters this week. “They have a great offense so they’re going to score points. What we need is to match their points. Our offense has to go out there and execute our plays and do what we do best.”
The Niners defense has allowed just 14.2 points per game, but cornerback Carlos Rogers knows it will be almost impossible to keep the Patriots from scoring Sunday. They average more than 36 points a game.
His teammates on offense are going to have to have a good game.
“That’s what it’s going to take,” Rogers said. “It’s going to take our offense moving the ball on them, running the ball, keeping Brady off the field. However it turns out, as long as we keep Brady on that sideline and not on the field, it’s going to help us out a lot.”
It’s possible San Francisco can do that with its running game, ranked No. 2 in the league. If Frank Gore and LaMichael James can get good yards on first down, and Kaepernick can keep drives alive with his feet and arm, the 49ers may be able to limit the Patriots’ possessions.
Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork has watched the 49ers on film and has seen what they can do. He says they have an offense unlike any other in the NFL.
The 49ers constantly shift formations and packages and run a sophisticated running attack.
“I’ve never seen an offense like this,” Wilfork told Field Yates of ESPN Boston this week. “They can do so many different things. It’s not an offense where you can say, ‘Hey, when they line up like this, they’re going to do this, or this guy is only going to do this.’ Because it seems like everybody touches the ball and is very dangerous, from the receivers to the backs to the quarterbacks.”
Two other factors that could loom large in the game are the travel and weather. The 49ers will have to travel across country for the nationally televised game, and the temperatures could be in the 30s, with either rain or snow.
The Patriots’ Brady historically has played very well in bad weather. But the 49ers’ Kaepernick also played in some bad-weather games at Nevada, and can change the complexion of a game with his running ability.
Sunday’s matchup will be a great measuring stick for the 49ers.
“It’s definitely a big challenge and a big task,” said 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.