SANTA CLARA -- Tom Brady knows a thing or two about controversial quarterback switches.
In 2001, Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe and proceeded to embark on an astounding career for the New England Patriots. Five Super Bowl appearances and a Patriots dynasty later, the San Mateo native is still in MVP form as the Patriots prepare for a high-profile tussle against his hometown 49ers on Sunday night in Foxborough, Mass.
On Wednesday, Brady offered sage advice for new 49ers starter Colin Kaepernick.
"You just try to focus on your job," Brady told New England-area reporters. "There are a lot of players that you count on and depend on you, and you depend on them. That's what makes it a team game."
Kaepernick will make his fifth consecutive start for the NFC West-leading 49ers (9-3-1) when they visit Brady's AFC East-champion Patriots (10-3) on Sunday night.
Like Brady, Kaepernick has seized the starting job in his second season and replaced a former No. 1 overall draft pick, Alex Smith. Kaepernick already has won on the prime-time stage (see: Nov. 19 starting debut vs. the Chicago Bears) and in a hostile road stadium (see: Nov. 25 at New Orleans).
Brady, meanwhile, is turning in typical Brady performances and stands poised for a third NFL MVP award and another Super Bowl run. Yes, coach Bill Belichick's decision to stick with Brady over Bledsoe has paid off handsomely.
"It was a long time ago for me, but there was nothing (negative) on our team," Brady recalled. "I had great support from all of the quarterbacks, especially Drew."
Bledsoe, in a 2011 radio interview, remembered how "hard" his benching was to digest. "I didn't like it, I didn't think it was fair at the time," Bledsoe told Boston's 98.5 The Sports Hub. "That made the relationship between me and Tom difficult at that point.
"Looking back," Bledsoe added, "do I believe we would have had the same or similar success had I not got hurt? Of course I do."
Alex Smith knows the feeling, having lost his job after a Nov. 11 concussion. But Kaepernick testified Wednesday that Smith has been a helpful resource.
"He's been great. He's helped me with everything I've asked," Kaepernick said. "Even on the sideline, he's going over a list of looks with me to make sure I'm seeing everything."
Rather than compare the 49ers' switch to his 2001 call, Belichick voiced his support of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh's quarterback pedigree.
"Certainly (Harbaugh) has the experience and track record to go with it," Belichick said in a conference call. "He played the position. He knows the position as much as anybody does. I'm sure he's doing what's best for his team. That's what any coach would do."
Belichick and Brady boast the NFL's best winning percentage for a coach and starting quarterback since the 1970 merger. Their 134-38 record (.779) trumps that of John Madden and Ken Stabler's 60-19-1 mark with the Raiders. It also tops the budding Harbaugh-Kaepernick record (3-1).
On Monday night, the Patriots won their 20th consecutive December home game, and Brady led the way with 296 yards and four touchdowns. He's thrown a touchdown pass in 45 consecutive games and has 29 touchdown passes against four interceptions this season.
"He's real confident in the pocket and looks comfortable," said 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, who is three sacks shy of the NFL's single-season record. "He's got that 'chill' factor."
Safety Donte Whitner faced Brady twice a year while with the Buffalo Bills from 2006-10. "He's seen everything," Whitner said. "We'll have to mix some things up and affect him with the rush, affect him with our looks."
Playing the role of Brady in this week's 49ers practices is their other second-year quarterback: Scott Tolzien.
"He's the general out there," Tolzien said. "He's extremely intelligent, knows where all the guys are and runs the show. His accuracy is off the charts, and everyone knows how clutch he is.
"When he needs to make a play, he'll make it."
The 49ers are hoping the same holds true in Kaepernick's future.
"He's playing really with a lot of poise and is beyond his years," Harbaugh told New England writers about Kaepernick. "He's produced. He's made big plays with his arm and his feet and with his mind."
That mind game is what Kaepernick said he admires most in Brady: "He knows exactly what he wants to do versus any look a defense is going to give him."
In Brady-speak, that's merely a quarterback doing "your job."
49ers (9-3-1) at New England (10-3), 5:20 p.m. NBC
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