SAN FRANCISCO — Next Sunday night, the 49ers' secondary will face MVP candidate Tom Brady on the New England Patriots' chilly home field.
But first, the 49ers will host a less-decorated AFC East quarterback: Miami Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill.
It's a calm-before-the-storm scenario, and it could generate swift momentum for the 49ers' secondary, arguably the club's most stable unit.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin applauded those 49ers defensive backs this week regarding their role in Aldon Smith's league-high 17? sacks.
"The secondary helps (No.) 99's production because they do such a great job covering," Philbin said. "Sometimes the quarterback doesn't have real good places to go with the ball quickly, so he holds onto it at times and here comes the pass rush."
The 49ers (8-3-1) have allowed the second-fewest passing yards in the league (189.0 per game). That's quite a feat considering they've matched up against four of the league's 10 most proficient quarterbacks: The Packers' Aaron Rodgers, the Saints' Drew Brees, the Lions' Matthew Stafford and the Giants' Eli Manning.
While opposing quarterbacks change weekly, the 49ers have fielded virtually the same secondary since early last season: Cornerbacks Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver; safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner.
They've officially played 26 consecutive games together (including playoffs). That's produced a bond extending off the field, such as their Thanksgiving feast at Brown's house.
"A lot of guys are close," Goldson said. "We hang together outside of here and crack jokes."
But their on-field unity and maturity is what counts most.