A Super Preview in Foxboro?
Monday, December 17, 2012
Some times, Super Bowl previews turn out to be just that.
Other times, big match-ups can turn into big blow-ups...especially when mistakes come into play. The New England Patriots made what seemed like an entire seasons' worth of mistakes against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night, and then staged a near-comeback for the ages...only to fall short in a 41-34 defeat at Gillette Stadium.
After a New England three-and-out on the opening series, San Francisco moved the ball smartly downfield on the Patriot defense...and may have received a break from the officiating crew along the way. A screen pass to LaMichael James was ruled incomplete, when it appeared James had actually caught the ball and fumbled. Instead, on the next snap QB Colin Kaepernick found former Patriot WR Randy Moss for a 23 yard score to make it 7-0.
Two series' later, a Tom Brady pass attempt was picked off by Carlos Rogers and returned to the NE five, as Brady actually saved the touchdown with a tackle. However, SF turned the ball back over after a completion to Delanie Walker was fumbled and recovered by Aqib Talib. Still, the Patriots could not move on the Niners' defense, as LB Aldon Smith began to wreak havoc on the Pats' offensive line.
Following a successful fake punt attempt (Dashon Goldson with a 31-yard run) that resulted in a first down on the NE 28, the defense forced a 40-yard field goal attempt from David Akers that slid just to the left, and missed. But the early misfortune for New England would continue, as Shane Vereen fumbled a completed pass from Brady on the next drive, putting SF in business at the Patriot 34 with a minute left in the first quarter.
Two first quarter turnovers? Two turnovers, at all? How un-Patriot.
Opening the second quarter with another 4th down attempt at the NE 25, Kaepernick lost the ball on the snap, and the defense kept the San Francisco offense off the board...dodging another close call. The offense managed to move the ball to the SF seven, including a successful 4th down attempt of their own keeping the drive alive, before a Ray McDonald sack forced the Pats to settle for a 32 yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal to make it 7-3, with 8:30 to play in the 2nd quarter.
Mistakes continued to plague the Patriots on the following drive, as a 35 yard pass interference call came against Talib trying to defend Michael Crabtree. Three plays later, Kaepernick burned Alfonzo Dennard for a 34-yard TD to his TE Walker, and suddenly, the Niners seized control once again at 14-3. Then, to add insult to injury, SF followed up with a monster 15-play, 76 yard drive that took the final 6:04 off of the clock before Akers booted a 20 yard field goal at the end of the half.
17-3 San Francisco - and it could have been much worse. The 49ers certainly showed some big-game worthiness...and the Patriots? They didn't show much at all. Wes Welker was held without a catch, Brady threw for only 76 yards, the defense missed tackles. Yikes.
On the opening drive of the 3rd quarter, Kaepernick went for the Patriots' jugular, searching for Moss on a 33-yard play-action pass for the end zone...and was picked off by Devin McCourty for a touchback. With the Patriots moving behind the hurry-up offense, however, Ridley coughed up the ball with another fumble at the SF 31, and the ball was returned to the Patriot three by Dashon Goldson. On the first play following the miscue, Frank Gore fumbled the ball...only to pick it up and waltz into the end zone for a commanding 24-3 lead.
Stunning, to say the least. Even staggering, and unexpected as well.
The 49ers then applied the knock out blow, picking off Brady again from a pass tipped off the hands off of Aaron Hernandez. It took one play for Kaepernick to put this one away, finding Crabtree from 27 yards out for a rather remarkable 31-3 advantage. It was almost as if the Patriots stopped playing...and quite the turnaround from their beatdown of Houston one week earlier.
This time, the beatdown was applied by someone else. SF played with reckless abandon, while the Patriots dropped passes, stopped running, blocking and even tackling on some plays. A potential touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd was called back due to an illegal shift, although Danny Woodhead would later score on the same drive from six yards away to score the first NE touchdown. It was 31-10, with 5:59 to play in the 3rd quarter.
That's the way the quarter would end, but the Pats found themselves with 4th and goal at the Niners' one on the first play of the 4th quarter. An 86 yard drive was capped off with a one-yard Brady sneak, to bring the margin to 31-17.
With 12:17 remaining, a 38 yard pass interference penalty was called against SF's Tarell Brown on Lloyd, which led directly to Brady's five yard TD toss to Hernandez. All of a sudden, the game that was expected beforehand...materialized. It was 31-24 with 12:13 to play. The defense came up with a big play by sacking Kaepernick (Rob Ninkovich) and forcing a punt, putting the ball back in Brady's hands with 9:56 left...and 92 yards away.
Brady hit Lloyd for 53 yards to put the Patriots at the 49ers 29. Three plays later, Gillette Stadium erupted as Woodhead carried it in from the one to tie the score at 31, with 6:43 still to play. 92 yards in just over three minutes? No problem, apparently, if your name is Tom Brady.
But just as suddenly as the Patriots tied the score, San Francisco suddenly untied it as James returned the kickoff to the NE 38, and Kaepernick hit Crabtree for the score on the next play to make it 38-31, and 6:25 left. From there, the 49ers defense figured out a way to slow down the NE express, with McDonald and Ricky Jean Francois sacking Brady on back-to-back plays. A final Patriot effort began with 2:56 left, from their own four.
It wouldn't go much further...as a 4th down pass attempt for Woodhead failed. The Niners, working the short field, got a final 28 yard field goal from Akers...and the Pats followed quickly in the frantic final seconds with a 41 yarder from Gostkowski, but the on-side kick attempt wasn't converted. Still, it turned out to be the game most everyone expected, but perhaps with unexpected results.
It also turned out to be a game the Patriots, undoubtedly, would like play again.