NEPD Editor: James Christensen
On a bizarre night that featured a ten minute Ed Hochuli-induced delay, multiple turnovers, a 28 point deficit and some brutal conditions, the Patriots ultimately couldn’t get it done.
Read about the instant classic 41-34 loss here.
The Patriots escaped some early turnovers by playing very well on the defensive side of the football, creating a turnover and making two stops on fourth down.
Dont’a Hightower was especially active, imposing his will multiple times on would be San Francisco blockers.
They couldn’t keep it up for the entire first half, however, as Alfonzo Dennard was the unlucky recipient of some poor coverage / route mis-matches that led to two touchdowns. On the second touchdown of the game especially, Dennard’s “deep third” responsibility was no match for the two vertical routes in his zone.
The defense came to play in the second half, save for a poor tackling attempt by Kyle Arrington that spoiled 28 un-answered points. Justin Francis, Aqib Talib, Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich all made some impact plays.
Brandon Spikes was impressive again playing on one leg, ultimately heading to the sidelines late in the fourth quarter. Alfonzo Dennard’s leg injury also hampered the defense, kicking Arrington to the outside where he is far less effective than the “star” position he has been playing as of late.
Pat Chung also saw his first bit of extended time on defense, regaining his spot over Steve Gregory. Devin McCourty had a nice interception in the end zone, but was a little late getting over the top of a few vertical routes.
With the Patriots offense held in check by the incredibly physical 49ers defense, Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels only were able to muster three first half points on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal after having first and goal inside the ten yard line.
The New England offense tried to get the screen game going to help neutralize the pass rush of Aldon Smith, but speedy linebacker Patrick Willis routinely blew up the play. The physical play of the 49ers defensive backs was also a big factor, helping cause an interception after Aaron Hernandez short armed a screen pass after getting blown up by Dashon Goldson.
Danny Woodhead was one of the lone bright spot for the Patriots offense in the first half, seeing extensive time after a fumbles by Shanve Vereen and Stevan Ridley.
Tom Brady and the offense came alive in the second half, taking advantage of an injury to Justin Smith and some passive play-calling by Jim Harbaugh’s defense.
Two late sacks forced a punt late in the fourth quarter and nobody got open on a 4th and 2 play (I know) that essentially sealed the Patriots fate.
Tom Brady led a fifth masterful drive to get the Patriots into field goal range, but an onside kick attempt skidded on the wet turf rather than bouncing up for the home team. The special teams failure was a consistent theme for the Patriots, as multiple drives were handicapped by holding calls on punt returns as well as a long kickoff return setting up San Francisco’s final touchdown.
The Patriots and the 49ers are the two best teams in the NFL. San Francisco’s defense, despite their performance in the second half is the real deal, while Colin Kaepernick has all the tools and weapons he needs to become a productive NFL quarterback. I ultimately see these two teams meeting again in February – with a Super Bowl on the line.
The 4th and 2 call, version 2.0, will get a lot of debate going, but I ultimately think it was the right call. I like the Patriots chances of going 80 yards in 2:30 with two timeouts much better than (potentially) going 90+ yards in less than 2:00 without a single timeout.
Rob Gronkowski makes this Patriots team so much more difficult to contain. Tom Brady certainly misses his presence in pressure moments.