By: Steve Balestrieri
The San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) jumped out to a huge lead only to see it slip away but rallied at crunch time for a big win on the road 41-34 over the New England Patriots (10-4) on Sunday night in Foxboro.
QB Colin Kaepernick was outstanding for the majority of the game, displaying a cannon for an arm, Kaepernick completed 14-25 passes for 216 yards, 4 TDs and 1 INT. Kaepernick was especially impressive in the early going as the Niners jumped out to a 17-3 half time lead before pouncing on turnovers to increase it to 31-3 early in the third quarter.
But Tom Brady and the Patriots showed no quit and against the best defense in the NFL rallied for 31 second half points, 24 in the fourth quarter to actually come back and tie the game at 31 which would have been a silly thought for even the most die-hard Patriots fan seemingly just moments before.
The Patriots were plagued by sloppy play in all three phases of the game and by the turnover bug; the normally ball-hawk happy Patriots were -2 in the turnover department. While the Niners put the ball on the ground six times, the Patriots were only able to recover one. In contrast the Niners recovered both Patriots fumbles as well as two Brady interceptions.
So what do we take from this game? Here are a few observations from last night:
The 49ers are an excellent football team- Any questions that anyone had about this team in all three phases of the game were answered last night. They are by far the most physical team that the Patriots have faced all season. And they dominated the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively for almost three complete quarters last night. They were the better team for that time and deserved to win.
Two things that fans may want to file away for future reference just in case these two teams meet in February is :
- They get a tremendous amount of pressure with just four and sometimes just three pass rushers. Their coverage units were pretty solid all game who make few mistakes.
- They aren’t afraid to take risks and go against the grain. They showed a willingness to throw the ball vertically with a rookie quarterback all game and faked a punt of 4th and 5 early in the game.
If anyone watching last night, especially in the first half was reminded (painfully) of both 2011 games against the Giants, feel free to raise your hand. It wasn’t a fluke what happened to the Patriots in that first half, it was a butt-whoppin’. That being said….
Tom Brady Continues to Amaze: If you were watching that game, the odds of the Patriots coming back from a 31-3 deficit to tie the game in just 18 minutes were nothing short of amazing. Brady said after the game that they didn’t do any real adjustments that they just executed better.
Regardless, for Brady to pass against the #1 defense in the NFL and throw for 377 yards and 31 points is amazing, doing it in just the second half was ridiculous. As bad as things were Brady never panicked, and never lost hope. And he carried the team on his shoulders throwing 65 passes, which should be understandable considering what the score was.
With a deficit against the 49ers defense like that, the QBs that can lead their team back into a tie you can count on one hand, with fingers to spare. Brady remains (Manning apologists may differ) the gold standard among NFL QBs.
Going For It On 4th And 2 Was Absolutely Correct: Whenever Bill Belichick makes a decision that goes south in a game, there’s never a shortage of people that love to jump on those decisions and point a finger. This wasn’t one of them.
The Patriots were facing a 4th down on their own 12 yard line and Brady had just put 28 points on the board in slightly more than a quarter. If they had punted, the net average for the day was around 40 yards, putting SF on their own 45-48 yard line or better.
If they did stop the Niners, they’d have been right back in the same position they were in but with no timeouts and little time left. Brady only needed two yards and they had been successful on 4th down. If they execute better, there are still two minutes + to go and the team still has two timeouts and the two minute warning.
If you still have doubts….read the above paragraph.
Patriots Defense Still Has Work To Do: After an impressive run of performances, the defense laid an egg against the 49ers. Especially in the rush defense, the Patriots allowed 142 yards in the first half alone. That set up the passing game that feasted on the Pats secondary.
We said in our pregame analysis that the Patriots had to stop the Niners rushing game and force Kaepernick to stay in the pocket. Well they succeeded in the second half of that, but the rookie QB displayed a calmness that belied his lack of experience and he was able to hit secondary receivers and showed remarkable poise.
And after being gashed badly in the early going, the defense was able to respond and while Brady was working his magic, they did force three quick three and outs. But they can ill-afford any more performances like that.
The secondary took a bit of a step back on Sunday night and got gashed on some deep balls during the game. But there were also some good plays as well, like when Devin McCourty intercepted Kaepernick on a deep post to the end zone.
Brandon Lloyd Built On His Performance With His Best yet: Lloyd against the Texans had 8 catches with perhaps his best game of the season, Last night he caught 10 passes for 190 yards and just narrowly missed another long Brady pass down the right sidelines late in the game.
Lloyd made some great catches along the sidelines and shows an uncanny ability to stay inbounds. He and Danny Woodhead played pivotal roles in the Patriots comeback and were at their best when they had to step up the pace in the second half. As we wrote last week, expect bigger things from Lloyd, especially when Gronkowski returns.
Road Warriors? No Problem: With the loss, it is pretty much a given that the Patriots will host a Wild Card playoff game and find themselves on the road during the divisional game. While it certainly isn’t the best scenario for a Patriots standpoint, it is far from the death knell for the season.
This is a team that can win on the road; they beat Denver earlier this season (likely opponent) and beat them in Denver last season. In their last three games against Denver’s defense they’ve averaged nearly 40 points a game.
And just in case anyone hasn’t noticed, 5 of the last 7 Super Bowl winners weren’t the #1 seed anyway, and the Giants certainly weren’t. This is a team that can win anywhere; they’ll just need to play better, much better than they did last night.