Report card: Patriots-Niners
It's hard to blame Bill Belichick for challenging the mess of a play that was the Patriots' second-quarter punt that initially appeared to have been muffed by 49ers returner Ted Ginn. But ultimately, the Patriots lost the challenge, so that knocks them down in this category. Game management as a whole from Belichick was acceptable. Having his team come back from a 28-point deficit early in the second half to tie the game is a mark of mental toughness successfully being instilled in his team, and that could pay off next month.
Despite the weather conditions, Tom Brady's arm got a workout, as he attempted a career-high 65 passes, second-most in franchise history. He had the production to show for it too, with his 443 passing yards also second-most in team history. Yet his two interceptions -- the first on a poor decision -- cost the team in a close, hard-fought game. Pass protection was generally a plus, with Brady sacked just three times despite his record number of passes.
This was a Danny Woodhead game, with the veteran of this group carrying the load when the team needed him most. After a strong start to the season, Stevan Ridley's production has dipped in recent weeks, and he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry on Sunday night. More importantly, his fumble was a critical mistake and led to Woodhead receiving the bulk of the work from that point. One lingering observation: Brandon Bolden is back from his suspension, but he wasn't used on offense.
As expected, the 49ers offense was driven by its 39 rushing attempts, so the passing attack was more of a complementary part of their offense. But first-year starter Colin Kaepernick was effective, throwing four touchdown passes, even without one of his top targets in Mario Manningham. His one mistake -- an interception to safety Devin McCourty -- was costly, but he came into a tough road environment and didn't look like a quarterback starting just his fifth career game. A step backward for this group.
Not factoring in the 31-yard scamper by Dashon Goldson on a fake punt, the 49ers rushed for 149 yards on 38 carries, holding Frank Gore to 83 yards on 21 attempts. Considering the 49ers and Gore will bring a heavyweight fight to an opposing defense, this part of the Patriots defense held up fairly well. It wasn't the reason why New England lost this game.
This game had shades of the Patriots' Week 2 loss to the Cardinals, in terms of special teams mistakes coming at critical times. In this case, allowing a 62-yard kick return to LaMichael James just moments after completing a 28-point comeback was a demoralizing blow. Moreover, penalties on back-to-back punt returns in the fourth quarter were miscues unbecoming of a championship team. Not the complementary football "in all three phases" that Belichick is looking for.