SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — One of the biggest thrills of Eric Reid's rookie season followed a loss.
The 49ers' second-year safety, born and raised in Baton Rouge, grew up a Saints fan. Following San Francisco's loss last November in New Orleans, Reid introduced himself to Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Reid was shocked when Brees called him by name.
"That was a great moment for me," Reid said Friday just before the 49ers boarded a bus to begin their trip to New Orleans for Sunday's game. "I told him I watched him when I was in high school."
Brees later said Reid was built like a prototypical safety, which was another surprise to the LSU grad.
"That's a heck of a compliment, especially coming from him," Reid said. "I hope I can live up to it."
Some might say he already has, becoming the first rookie in 49ers' history to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl after starting all 16 regular-season games and three postseason games.
Reid was one of three players with at least four interceptions and two fumble recoveries last year.
"Stats don't tell the whole story," Reid said. "I go into every week confident. It comes down to execution."
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He understands the challenge Brees presents this week.
"He may not be tall but he plays as if he's 6-foot-6 in the pocket," Reid said. "He has great pocket awareness and distributes the ball so well. There are not too many things he does wrong."
The longest he has been away from Louisiana is the time he's spent with the 49ers. He'll be making his second trip into the Superdome and it's still a thrill for him.
"I'm looking forward to playing there again," said Reid, who will turn 23 next month. "I've always been a fan of the Saints."
The 49ers will be looking to end a two-game losing streak in New Orleans, and they will be without a full complement of linebackers. All-Pro Patrick Willis (toe) is questionable but has not practiced all week. Ditto for Dan Skula (ankle). All-Pro linebackers Aldon Smith (serving the last of his nine-game suspension) and NaVarro Bowman have yet to play a down. Despite that, the defense ranks as one of the best in the league.
"Defense is about going out and having fun," rookie linebacker Aaron Lynch said. "It's all about knowing what you have to do and playing together. It doesn't matter if we have 10-year veterans or rookies out there, it all works the same."