SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -Frank Gore has spent every NFL postseason of his career at home, so the 49ers running back has logged ample time in front of the television appreciating what Bill Belichick can do with a defense.
Gore has long admired the New England Patriots and Belichick, the architect of the decade's dominant franchise. He'll finally get his first chance to go against a Belichick defense Sunday, yet the man Gore calls ``a coaching genius'' doesn't scare him the way he might have done last year.
``We've got a genius, too: coach Martz, man,'' said Gore, the NFL's leader with 525 yards from scrimmage in just four games under Mike Martz's tutelage. ``I love him. I like this offense a whole lot. It's all about taking care of the small things. (Martz and Belichick) went at it before. They'll go at it again.''
have been on divergent coaching roads since Feb. 3, 2002, when the Patriots stunned Martz's heavily favored St. Louis Rams for their first Super Bowl victory.
But Martz, who was fired twice in two calendar years by St. Louis and Detroit, seems to be in the early stages of creating another powerful offense in San Francisco as head coach Mike Nolan's coordinator. If he's successful, another head coaching job surely will follow - and a win over the suddenly vulnerable Patriots (2-1) would be a seminal achievement in that process.
That won't be easy against Belichick, who hasn't lost in his last five games following bye weeks. The Patriots haven't lost back-to-back games since early November 2006, and they haven't lost any game in October since 2005, winning 10 straight.
``There's no way to tell, with two weeks to prepare, what they might do,'' Nolan said. ``The base stuff will be the same, but there will be some wrinkles in there, so you try to anticipate where he might go. ... Both he and Mike, when they go against each other, will try to figure out some little wrinkles to show one another.''
Given their mutual admiration, Martz and Belichick realize they can't do much to fool each other at this point. The Patriots will even be waiting for direct snaps to Gore after the Miami Dolphins' success with that gambit two weeks ago in their stunning win over New England.
ndamentally in his system,'' Belichick said of Martz. ``It's well-coordinated, and everything meshes together. He knows who his playmakers are and he tries to utilize them, whether it was in Detroit, St. Louis or now in San Francisco. Frank Gore is a different runner than Marshall Faulk was, so the emphasis is a little different.
``Who to get the ball to, and the frequency of calling certain plays based on their personnel, I think that's what he does well. But it's still his offense.''
The Patriots' first trip to San Francisco since 1995 should have been the long-awaited hometown debut of Tom Brady, who grew up maybe 20 minutes from Candlestick Park in San Mateo, just down the peninsula. Brady was sitting in the stands with a 49ers foam finger on his 4-year-old hand at the January 1982 NFC championship game, when Dwight Clark made the catch that propelled the Niners' nascent dynasty into its first Super Bowl.
With Brady out for the season with a knee injury, girlfriend Gisele Bundchen canceled her order for a luxury suite at Candlestick. Matt Cassel probably won't need nearly as many seats for friends and supermodels at his first start in his native California, but Brady's backup believes the bye week came at a perfect time to shake the Pats' hangover from their humiliating home loss to the Dolphins.
or how you throw a certain route,'' Cassel said. ``The bye week was a good week to go in and re-evaluate where we were as a team.''
The Patriots will stay in California after the game, bunking in the South Bay and practicing at San Jose State before next week's game at San Diego.
It'll be a long week if New England can't finish off the 49ers (2-2), whose struggling defense will be tested by Cassel and Randy Moss, who has few fans left in the Bay Area after his atrocious two-year stint with the Oakland Raiders.
San Francisco's revival stalled last week in a 31-17 loss at New Orleans. Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan, who became friends with Cassel during a four-week stint on Belichick's practice squad in 2006, was sacked six times to bring his season total to 19, a weakness sure to be exploited by the Pats' defense.
With Martz in charge and Gore putting together his finest season, the 49ers are no longer pushovers - and the Patriots don't strike fear in unfamiliar opponents the way they did recently.
``We're looking forward to the challenge and seeing where we stand,'' 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. ``It's great to test yourself against the best.''

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