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49ers defense able to disrupt Tom Brady enough for win

12.17.12 at 1:00 am ET
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FOXBORO — The teams that have beaten the Patriots — both this season and dating back to last year’€™s Super Bowl — have generally done so by applying one commonality: a physical defense.

We saw it in February as the Giants disrupted and collapsed the pocket, which didn’€™t allow Tom Brady to throw the football. We saw it earlier this season against a Cardinals team in Foxboro. And we saw it Sunday night.

Although Aldon Smith, who is tied for the league lead in sacks, registered just one assisted tackle on Sunday night, it was the play of the 49ers‘€™ front seven as a whole that made some attempts very uncomfortable for Brady and the Patriots offense.

With just over five minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots offense in a dominant stretch, both Ray McDonald and Ricky Jean Francois broke through the Patriots’€™ offensive line on consecutive plays and brought Brady down for a loss. The Patriots were forced to punt, and would not score again until Stephen Gostkowski‘€™s 41-yard field goal with 43 seconds remaining.

‘€œThey just started doing something that they are good at, like throwing the ball out quick, slowing it down and recognizing what we were trying to do,’€ 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. ‘€œI mean, [Brady] is a good quarterback and we knew some adversity was going to come, and they were going to make plays sooner or later. We just had to answer the bell and I think we did that.’€

The 49ers defense totaled three sacks on the night, along with five tackles for losses, seven quarterback hits, three pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. The 49ers defense also forced Brady to throw two interceptions on the night.

‘€œI wouldn’€™t say [the Niners’€™ defensive approach] was a whole lot of different things,’€ Brady said. ‘€œI think they do what they do and they do it very well. We made some mistakes early in the game and they capitalized. We couldn’€™t stay on the field on third down. [We] turned the ball over. I don’€™t know what our time of possession was, but I’€™m sure it wasn’€™t good.’€

The Patriots finished the day 2-for-15 on third-down attempts. San Francisco also held the Patriots, who average 136.7 yards per game, to 95 rushing yards on the night.

Read More: NaVorro Bowman, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Tom Brady

Poll: Should the Patriots have punted with 2:24 left?

12.17.12 at 12:38 am ET
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Ah, to punt or not on fourth down deep in your own territory …

It’s the sort of decision that carries some resonance in Patriots history, dating back to a memorable fourth-and-2 decision against the Colts in Indianapolis in 2009. On Sunday night, in the Pats‘ 41-34 loss to the 49ers, a potentially pivotal play was again listed as a fourth-and-2 on the TV broadcast, though officially it occurred on a fourth-and-1.

The Patriots, down 38-31 to the 49ers, faced a fourth-and-1 from their own 12-yard line. Tom Brady sailed a pass over the head of Danny Woodhead, giving the ball back to the Niners in tremendous field position for a game-sealing field goal.

Was it a mistake for the Patriots to go for it in that situation? Would they have been better served to punt and then try to get the ball back on downs, at a time when the Patriots had two timeouts left as well as the two-minute warning?


Should the Patriots have punted on fourth-and-1 with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter?

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Snap Judgments: Patriots lose a thriller to the Niners, 41-34

12.17.12 at 12:10 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots came close to pulling off one of the most remarkable comebacks in recent NFL history on Sunday night, lifting themselves out of a 28-point second-half deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter but ultimately falling just short to the Niners, 41-34.

New England, which trailed 31-3 late in the third quarter only to come storming back to tie the game at 31 midway through the fourth, failed to pick up a first down on a fourth-and-2 with just over two minutes to play deep in its own territory. That gave the Niners the ball back on downs and sealed the game’s fate, as San Francisco added a late touchdown and field goal to finish things off. (The Patriots got a final field goal with 38 seconds left to draw within seven, but an on-sides kick was off the mark.)

It was the Patriots’ first defeat since a 24-23 loss to Seattle on Oct. 14. New England fell to 10-4, while San Francisco moved to 10-3-1 with the win.

The Patriots were led by Tom Brady, who finished 36-for-65 for 443 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. In addition, Danny Woodhead had 12 carries for 61 yards and two touchdowns, and Brandon Lloyd had 10 catches for 190 yards. Read the rest of this entry »

Third-quarter notes: Niners 31, Patriots 10

12.16.12 at 11:07 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Three quarters are done here, and the Patriots are getting stomped by the Niners. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢The Niners did get into Patriots’ territory on their first drive of the third quarter, but a pick by Devin McCourty on a play that looked an awful lot like the one where he got a pick on Houston’s Matt Schaub the week before — a badly thrown deep ball down the middle of the field for the end zone. This time, it was a ball from Kaepernick that was intended for Moss, but McCourty appeared to bait Kaepernick into the turnover, giving New England the ball on its own 20-yard line.

‘€¢The interception was the unquestioned highlight of the quarter for the Patriots: San Francisco got the ball back soon after that when Stevan Ridley put the ball on the ground on the fourth play of the drive, and Dashon Goldson ran the ball back to the New England 6-yard line. One play later, the Niners made it 24-3 on a busted play where Kaepernick fumbled the ball, but it was scooped up by Frank Gore at the San Francisco 9-yard line, and he scooted into the end zone for a touchdown with 10:44 left in the quarter.

‘€¢On the next series, Tom Brady was picked on a ball that bounced away from Aaron Hernandez and into the hands of Aldon Smith. The Niners then took a shot right downfield, as Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree on a 27-yarder to make it 31-3 with 10:21 left in the third quarter.

‘€¢The Patriots got on the board for the first time in the second half when Danny Woodhead — the best offensive player to this point on the evening for New England — went in from six yards out to make it 31-10 with 5:59 left in the third quarter. New England added to that on its next possession with an uptempo sequence that included a 41-yard pass play to Michael Hoomanawanui that got the Patriots to the doorstep as the quarter came to a close.

Second-quarter notes: Niners 17, Patriots 3

12.16.12 at 10:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The second quarter is done here at Gillette, and the Niners hold a  17-3 lead. It is the largest deficit the Patriots have faced at halftime this year. The last time they were down by at least two touchdowns at the half was in Week 16 last year, when New England fell behind Miami 17-0 at the half zooming back to a 27-24 win.

Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢As was the case in the first quarter, ball security was an issue for both teams. The wet weather affected both the Patriots and Niners, and will make it tough going the rest of the evening. (That, combined with some interesting officiating from Ed Hochuli and his crew, has made for a crazy first half.)

‘€¢The Patriots’ best drive of the second quarter came on their first series, when New England took over on its own 25 after the Niners’ turned the ball over on downs. The Patriots maneuvered into San Francisco territory, getting all the way to the Niners’ seven-yard line, but things stalled out after a Ray McDonald sack. Following the setback, Stephen Gostkowski connected on a 32-yard field goal to make it 7-3. (The highlight of the drive came when the Patriots faced a fourth-and-4 at the San Francisco 32, when a nine-yard completion over the middle to Deion Branch in his first game back allowed New England to pick up the first down. The drive went 16 plays and 62 yards and consumed 6:24 for the Patriots.)

‘€¢The Niners answered almost immediately, scoring on a three-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 34-yard pass play from Colin Kaepernick to Delanie Walker to make it 14-3 with 6:59 left in the second quarter. The highlight of the drive for San Francisco was a 35-yard pass interference penalty on Aqib Talib on a pass play for Michael Crabtree got the Niners into New England territory.

‘€¢The Patriots were quickly forced to punt on their ensuing possession, but Ted Ginn Jr. appeared to botch the punt. After a lengthy review (compounded by a struggling Hochuli going back and forth to try and get the call correct), it was determined that he didn’t touch the ball, and possession reverted back to the Niners. San Francisco then marched back down the field, targeting Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard on a series of plays and getting good, tough inside yardage with Frank Gore on the ground. (The highlight was a 19-yard pickup by Kaepernick on a third-and-3.) The 49ers took it all the way down to the two-yard line before settling for a 20-yard field goal from David Akers to finish the second-quarter scoring.

First-quarter notes: Niners 7, Patriots 0

12.16.12 at 9:14 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The first quarter is in the books here in Foxboro, and the Niners hold a 7-0 lead. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢The Patriots lost the coin toss and received the kickoff to start the game.

‘€¢The weather is a big issue, as both teams have had problems with footing as well as hanging onto the ball throughout the first quarter. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen both lost the handle, while Tom Brady threw a bad interception for the Patriots. In addition, Delanie Walker had a fumble for the Niners and Colin Kaepernick frequently lost the handle while under center. It’s clear that both teams will struggle with the elements as the game rolls on.

‘€¢Defensively, one of the changes the New England defense featured early was Mike Rivera in place of Brandon Spikes, who had been dogged by injury over the course of the week. Spikes was on the field at his usually middle linebacker spot for the second series, a sequence that featured the first 3-and-out of the night for the Niners. The best defensive play of the quarter for New England came when the Niners — already up 7-0 — were knocking on the door of the end zone, but on a Kaepernick pass for Walker near the goal line, the ball was knocked loose by Steve Gregory on a ringing hit, and was picked up by Talib. The Patriots couldn’t cash in, and were forced to punt.

‘€¢The Patriots dodged an early bullet when a Ridley fumble was overturned on the first series, but New England couldn’t take advantage. After New England punted, the 49ers were able to pick up some good yardage on their first drive of the night, and cashed in when Colin Kaepernick found Randy Moss on a 24-yard touchdown strike down the San Francisco sidelines for the touchdown that gave the Niners a 7-0 lead with 10:55 left in the quarter — the only score of the quarter.

‘€¢The offensive struggles continued for the Patriots, as Brady was picked off by Carlos Rogers, who took it back 53 yards. On the pass play, it was a bad ball by Brady, who threw it into double coverage for Wes Welker. The ball sailed on him, and was picked off easily.

‘€¢Probably the nicest offensive play of the first quarter for the Patriots was a 23-yard completion from Brady to Brandon Lloyd that got the Patriots started on their second drive of the night, but Aldon Smith got to Brady just as he was trying to get off a pass on third down later on the same drive, and the pass attempt fell incomplete. That forced the second punt of the night for New England. Smith has been immense through the first quarter — as advertised.

‘€¢Dashon Goldson ran 31 yards around left end on a fake punt to set up a 39-yard field goal attempt, but David Akers was wide left on his field goal attempt.

Patriots-49ers Live Blog

12.16.12 at 5:32 pm ET
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Patriots vs. 49ers Live Blog

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