On a rainy and blustery Sunday night, the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots treated fans to an epic test of wills, punctuated by moments of classic football drama. While the 49ers came out victorious, just edging the Patriots 41-34, the contest undoubtedly lived up to the billing surrounding the game. The leagues best defense versus the leagues best offense, a showdown that leads to historic conversation. The contest was really a tale of two different halves, with the 49ers defense dominating the first and the Patriots offense exploding in the second. It was arguably the best and most dramatic game of the 2012 regular season.
For the 49ers part, they went back to hard nosed, power running football. They presented no illusion to what they were going to do offensively, they rode atop the rugged shoulders of running back Frank Gore once again, and again came away with a big win. Gore finished the night with 21 carries for 83 yards, and though he did not score a touchdown, he was the engine that drove the offense all night. They even got rookie running back LaMichael James more involved; he finished with eight rushes for 31 yards. More importantly he returned a kick off 62 yards to put the 49ers in scoring position late in the fourth quarter.
As for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, he displayed a great deal of poise in making up for a handful of mistakes that included four fumbles and an interception. In the end, he finished the game 14 for 25 on pass attempts for 216 yards and four touchdowns. He also had seven rushes for 28 yards. The game was a big leap in his maturation as an NFL quarterback, he stuck to the game plan, made critical throws when he needed to, and overcame his miscues that so often lead to loses in this league.
And though Kaepernick did not complete a lot of passes on the night, he did spread the ball around pretty efficiently. Michael Crabtree lead all 49ers receivers with seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Legendary Randy Moss recorded two receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown. And tight end Delanie Walker also found the end zone on one of his two receptions. Unfortunately, tight end Vernon Davis was again left out of the offensive game plan, only recording one catch for ten yards.
The big credit goes to the 49ers defense, especially during the first three quarters of the game. At one point the 49ers defense had them out in front 31-3. They intercepted quarterback Tom Brady twice, an amazing feat all in of itself, since Brady had only thrown four interceptions the entire year prior to the contest. They also harassed Brady all night with constant pressure, sacking him three times by games end. The defense also forced two fumbles, to which they recovered. The 49ers held the leagues fifth leading rusher coming into the game Stevan Ridley to just 23 yards on nine carriers. As a matter of fact, the entire Patriots offense was held to just 95 rushing yards, the 49ers defense was clearly winning the battle for three quarters.
Then Superman decided to show up for the Patriots offense. Tom Brady had one of the most amazing fourth quarter performances in the history of the NFL, and almost led the Patriots to a victory. Down by 28 with just over six minutes to go in the third quarter, Brady willed his team to a barrage of touchdowns. In just over 13 minutes Brady led the Patriots to four touchdowns, including one classic one-yard touchdown dive of his own that that he is becoming known for. With over six minutes left to go in the game Brady led the team back to a tie 31-31, and was carrying a ton of momentum with him in the process. Only to have his comeback thwarted by the clutch return on the ensuing kick off by LaMichael James. Brady finished the game 36 out of 65 for 443 passing yards with one touchdown pass and touchdown run to go with his two interceptions. And he once again proved why he is at the top of the totem pole amongst his peers, had his comeback in this game been completed, it’s very possible that it would have gone down in history as the greatest comeback of all time.
Even though the running game for the Patriots was somewhat ineffective, the play of running back Danny Woodhead was stoic in defeat. He played as hard as anyone on the field, rushing 12 times for 61 yards and two touchdowns after starting running back Ridley was pulled due to fumbling the ball twice. And of course, the wide receivers and tight ends also played a big role as Brady continued to find them in critical situations. Brandon Lloyd finished the game with ten receptions for 190 yards. Tight end Aaron Hernandez recorded ten receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. And the always-dangerous Wes Welker caught five passes for 56 yards. Unfortunately, superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski did not suit up for the contest due to a broken arm.
With the win, the 49ers accomplished a couple of different things. One, they accomplished their goal of clinching a spot in the playoffs. Two, they became the first team to beat the Patriots in New England since 2002. And three, they have set the stage for a discussion regarding a rematch with the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Though there is still a lot of work to be done. They have clinched a playoff birth, but they have yet to clinch their division. And the Seattle Seahawks are hot on their heels, playing as good as anyone in the league and scoring points at a rate higher than any team over the last two games. The 49ers will find out who is the leader of the NFC west this coming Sunday when they square off against those hard hitting Seahawks. One more major test for the 49ers and you just might see them take a much needed rest before going into the playoffs.
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