|Snap Judgments: Patriots lose a thriller to the Niners, 41-34||12.17.12 at 12:10 am ET|
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.
Meanwhile, the Niners got a very good performance from Colin Kaepernick, who finished the game 14-for-25 for 216 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception. He got great support from running back Frank Gore (21 carries for 83 yards) and Michael Crabtree (seven passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns).
Here are a few quick notes:
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE PATRIOTS
•The Patriots’ defense, which had looked so good over the last month, had no answer for the San Francisco offense for the first three quarters, as the Niners dominated on the ground (159 rushing yards through three, including 66 yards from Gore) and in the air (166 from Kaepernick). The Niners rolled to a 31-3 lead after two-plus quarters — the biggest home deficit for a Patriots team since 1998.
•Running back Stevan Ridley lost the handle twice (one fumble was overturned, while one stood up), and while it was a tough night for everyone when it came to ball security, Ridley’s struggles will likely come under particular scrutiny because of his history when it comes to holding on to the ball.
•Both cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and safety Steve Gregory were injured. Dennard did not return, while Gregory was replaced briefly by Patrick Chung before returning later in the game. (Dennard struggled for much of the game — there were several times where it appeared the Niners were targeting him.) In addition, linebacker Mike Rivera went down with an ankle injury.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE PATRIOTS
•After a sluggish first three quarters, the New England offense came alive down the stretch and after falling into a 31-3 hole, ended up tying the game at 31 midway through the fourth quarter. Brady and the Patriots erased a four-touchdown deficit with a flurry of third- and fourth-quarter scores — two Danny Woodhead runs, as well as a Brady one-yard plunge and a five-yard pass from Brady to Aaron Hernandez. New England was able to show some serious mental toughness with the comeback.
•One of the reasons the Patriots offense got a jump start was the work of Wes Welker and Lloyd. Welker had two catches for 16 yards through the first three quarters, while Lloyd had three catches for 40 yards at halftime. Both were key in the New England comeback, with Lloyd doing an excellent job moving the chains, while a fourth-quarter reception from Welker allowed the slot machine to become the first player in NFL history with at least five seasons of at least 100 receptions.
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