This post might be a little briefer than most after San Francisco 49ers’ victories, because once this scintillating game finished my body relaxed and the flu symptoms became that much more noticeable. Then again, I may start rambling due to my fever. You’ve been warned.
This contest went into the historical realm in the second half, when the 49ers’ 28-point lead evaporated in what seemed like five minutes. Losing Justin Smith to an elbow injury was a culprit, but Tom Brady is, well, Tom Brady. The 49ers’ defense came out with extreme confidence and undeniable motivation to prove they are the league’s best, but you simply don’t shut down the Patriots at Foxboro in December.
This game went a lot like I predicted with Joey in our latest BASGcast, when I said the 49ers would jump out to an early lead and shock the fans at Foxboro (and a certain color commentator with a grudge against the 49ers in NBC’s broadcast booth). Then, the Pats would score points in bunches and make it a ballgame.
However, I was expecting maybe a quick 17-0 lead in the second quarter, not a 31-3 lead in the third. But this game featured a lot of the unexpected.
— There were eight fumbles (six by the 49ers, including several mishandled snaps by Colin Kaepernick), and the 49ers recovered seven of them.
— Maybe this isn’t an example of the many unexpected moments in this game, but Michael Crabtree has 23 catches, 300 yards and two touchdowns over his past three games. Like Crabtree himself mentioned when I interviewed him on Monday, he and Kaepernick are “Really getting into a rhythm.”
— Then again, who was expecting Crabtree to run a hook and shake Kyle Arrington one play after…
— How about James, who started his career with 12 inactives, suddenly becoming the team’s best kick returner (he might get a look as the punt returner if Ted Ginn keeps playing like he has of late).
— Even crazier: James started his career with 12 straight inactives, and in his second NFL game was trusted to carry four times in the fourth quarter.
— The 49ers’ defense focused on Wes Welker above all else, and he didn’t do much damage in the passing game (5 catches for 56 yards on 9 targets).
— And even though I thought Carlos Rogers might not be up to the challenge, it was the 49ers’ oldest cornerback who mostly handled Welker and had a tremendous game — better than Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown (although to be fair, Culliver and Brown were both on their own personal islands).
— Welker was also a non-factor as a punt returner, thanks to Andy Lee. Lee was UN…BEE…LIEVABLE, as Tim Roye might way: Five punts, 56.6 yards (net 54.0), three punts inside the 20.
— David Akers even made the 28-yarder to ice the game, in a sense. Hey, those aren’t gimmes anymore.
— Ray McDonald had two sacks, Ricky Jean Francois had one, and Aldon Smith had none.
— Delanie Walker caught a TD and secured the onside kick in the final seconds as a member of the “hands” team.
— Aaron Hernandez had the worst 10-catch, 92 yards and a TD game I can remember. To say the Patriots (and Welker) missed Rob Gronkowski is a massive understatement (Brady targeted Danny Woodhead 10 times). But injuries are a part of the game, especially at this point of the year. The 49ers will hope like crazy that Justin Smith returns for the game in Seattle, which if the 49ers win sets them up for a regular season finale against the Arizona Cardinals at home that could give them the No. 2 seed.
But as the Patriots showed during the second half, counting wins before time expires doesn’t do anyone any good. But the 49ers won this one, and in the process won their most exciting and important contest since they beat the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick in the playoffs. Those games shared an awful lot of similarities, with one noteworthy difference.
Whether it’s Kaepernick or Alex Smith under center, these 49ers always surprise. Their tough schedule was expected by some to bury them … that hasn’t happened. They won impressively over Green Bay and Detroit (who at the time was considered a very good team), then came out flat against Minnesota, the New York Giants and St. Louis (twice). They also effectively ended Chicago’s season, and they were thought to be a major threat in the NFC when they came to town.
One last note on the QBS — besides the yardage and play totals, Kaepernick was more efficient than Brady, albeit much luckier with the turnovers. Kaepernick had more yards per pass attempt (8.6 to 6.8), more touchdowns (four to two, with one of Brady’s TDs coming on the ground), fewer sacks taken (one to three). And with this win, it’s time to put Kaepernick vs. Alex to bed. And with my fever getting worse as I close out this post, bed sounds pretty good right now.