Most knew this game would play out much differently than last week’s blow out of the Houston Texans. The Patriots, touted recently as the odds-on-favorites to win the Superbowl, failed to complete their inspiring comeback and fell to the league’s new number one team, the 49ers.
Some may dismiss their loss as an anomaly. However, many of the team’s early season woes reappeared and have caused some to wonder whether the same type of mistakes could derail the Patriots in the post season.
The short answer is, yes, the same mistakes could. However, the real question is, do their AFC opponents have similar tools as the 49ers?
It was night and day and then night again for the Patriot’s offense throughout the game. They turned the ball over multiple times, stalled on their first six drives and only scored 3 points until their offensive barrage mid-way through the third quarter.
Yet, when the offense found its rhythm at the 10:21 mark in the third, they put on a blitzkrieg like no one has seen all season. And then, again out of steam, the Patriot’s offense failed to make a crucial first down with minutes left in the 4th quarter—an incomplete pass on 4th and 1 from Brady to running back Danny Woodhead who had run a much deeper route than necessary.
New England had likely prepared for the following: A 49ers’ defense that hardly substituted and used multiple formations. When the third quarter began, New England’s mistakes finally dried up and Brady took advantage of the one thing San Francisco had struggled to stop: their spread, no-huddle attack.
Brady, the lone player in the backfield for 26 plays Sunday, found success out of the spread attack and completed 15-24 passes from the formation late in the game (ESPN Stats & Information). He finished with 443 passing yards, the second most passing yards in a game by a Patriot's player.
Give some credit to the Patriot’s defense in this sense: To begin the game, four of the 49ers’ five offensive drives started from no less than their 37-yard line. They snapped the ball from their 37, 8 and 41-yard line and also began from the Patriot’s 5 and 34-yard lines. Although they owned great field position, they scored only 7 points.
New England’s offensive miscues often set their defense up in extremely vulnerable situations. And although this is no excuse to surrender 4 consecutive scoring drives mid-way through the game, it is food for thought.
Much of what haunted the Patriot’s defense this season reemerged Sunday. The Patriot’s secondary was burned several times by the 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick who both protected the football and marched his team on lengthy scoring drives—the longest being a 15 play, 75 yard drive to close out the half. The 49ers then started the 3rd quarter on offense and were a throw away from another touchdown before safety Devin McCourty intercepted Kaepernick’s pass.
The 49ers were aggressive on all sides of the football.
Special Teams Snapshot
The hard-to swallow moment on special teams was 49ers LaMichael James’ 62-yard kick return immediately after the Patriots tied the game at 31 apiece. One play later, Kaepernick hit receiver Michael Crabtree for a 38-yard touchdown.
The Patriot’s special teams defense had been solid all season, but it goes to show that a single play can turn the game’s momentum. That 62-yard return would have meant little in any of the Patriot's victories over the past couple of weeks.