Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Sunday, December 16, 2012
Sharing some halftime thoughts

By Mike Reiss

Tom Brady
The stout Niners defense kept Tom Brady and the Patriots out of the end zone in the first half.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Sharing some thoughts at halftime as the Patriots trail the 49ers by a 17-3 score:

What a wild first half.

This was 30 minutes played at a fast pace, with quick shifts of momentum, a successful 49ers fake punt, turnovers on both sides, and long delays in which referee Ed Hochuli had trouble sorting out the situation.

A heavy rain contributed to a high-intensity atmosphere that has this feeling like a playoff game.

Few teams, if any, have come into Gillette Stadium and taken it to the Patriots like the 49ers have. Let’s start by giving them some credit.

They hurt the Patriots on some passing plays down the field, with Randy Moss’ early touchdown catch helping them avoid the early hole that has had some opponents crumble against the Patriots in these situations. On defense, the 49ers are dictating the terms in which the game is being played by putting consistent pressure on quarterback Tom Brady while also mixing up their calls (on one play, they rushed just 2).

After tipping the cap to the 49ers, which is well deserved, now let’s look at some of the Patriots’ shortcomings.

A team that entered the game with a league-low 10 turnovers had two in the first half (Shane Vereen fumble, Tom Brady interception). Also, the Patriots are 0 for 7 on third down, a key stat in the game. Some of that is a lack of execution, while some of that is because of the 49ers' No. 1-ranked D.

Defensively, the Patriots have been hurt by the big play down the field, as the stability that has helped settle things on the back end in recent weeks has had some mix-ups (a more consistent pass rush could have helped, too). Rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has been closest in coverage on both touchdown catches.

And on special teams, a lack of awareness on fourth-and-10 from the 49ers’ 41 contributed to a 31-yard rush that extended a first-quarter drive. That bold call reflected how the 49ers have come into Gillette Stadium and are letting it rip.

The 49ers are playing smart (good clock management at the end of the half). They could be leading by more if not for some of their own mistakes, such as a 39-yard missed field goal and a lost fumble at the Patriots’ 4.

They have dominated for most of the night. In that sense, the Patriots are fortunate to just be down by 14 points.

The 49ers get the ball to start the second half.