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49ers Beat Patriots, Clinch Playoff Berth

Posted Dec 16, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It was a tale of two halves. First, the San Francisco 49ers dominated. Second, the New England Patriots responded.

In the end, the 49ers made enough plays from start to end to win a memorable game Sunday night over the Patriots, a 41-34 regular-season classic that’ll put the 49ers in the postseason for a second consecutive season.

The 49ers will face the Seahawks next week with heavy NFC West implications for both teams, but first, the team can exhale after beating Tom Brady and the Patriots in their house.

“Great victory, really loved the way our team sucked it up so many times,” Jim Harbaugh said after his team clinched a second consecutive postseason berth to start his coaching career. “We didn't make all the plays, but we made a lot of plays. They made plays, too, but we made more. It'll be a happy flight home.”

The first memorable play of many saw future Hall of Famer and former Patriots wideout, Randy Moss, put the 49ers on the scoreboard first with a 24-yard touchdown catch.

“It was a great touchdown,” said teammate Delanie Walker, who caught one of Colin Kaepernick’s career-high four touchdown passes in just his fourth-career start. “I saw Moss make a nasty grab. It shows he’s still got a lot left.”

Even with big plays in the passing game and several takeaways (two interceptions and two fumble recoveries) which led to a 17-3 halftime score in favor of the 49ers, San Francisco saw its opponent get back in the game with 28-unanswered points in the second half.

The 49ers had a 31-3 lead at one point of the game, but it quickly was trimmed to a one-touchdown advantage with 12:13 to play after Tom Brady’s 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez.

The Patriots scored 21 unanswered after Brady’s only touchdown pass, making it a 7-point game with 12 minutes and change left in the game.

“They came back, there was some adversity,” Harbaugh noted. “Our guys dealt with it, they handled it.”

Brady threw for 443 yards on the day, leading the Patriots to 26 first-downs in the second half alone. But the Patriots struggled in key situations, converting 2-of-15 third-down attempts (13 percent) against the NFL’s top-scoring defense.

San Francisco, on the other hand, remained consistent and more importantly, balanced on offense. The 49ers rushed for 180 yards and added 203 yards through the air.

Kaepernick completed 14-of-25 passes for 216 yards with four touchdowns in the air and a 107.7 quarterback rating.

“It is a little bit crazy, a little bit surreal,” Kaepernick said after beating Brady in his house. “I'm just trying to keep my head down and try to keep it going as long as I can.”

New England kept its head down and continued working in the second half, despite trailing for most of the game. The Patriots continued their comeback march, this time going 92 yards on seven plays to score a second Danny Woodhead rushing touchdown.

San Francisco’s 28-point lead was gone, just like that.

With 6:43 to play, the game was tied, but the 49ers were not out.

Rookie running back LaMichael James’ 62-yard kick-off return was one of the most critical moments of the game, so was Michael Crabtree’s 38-yard touchdown catch on the following play. It gave Crabtree his second touchdown of the game and seventh of the season, a career-high for the fourth-year wideout.

“It’s a fight, we won the fight,” Crabtree said after his seven-catch, 107-yard performance. “Kap put the ball up and I took off running.”

Even after the big scoring response, Brady and the Patriots had another chance, with the ball down 7 with less than three minutes to play. It didn’t matter – the 49ers turned the Patriots over on downs from New England’s 12-yard line late in the game.

After the four-and-out, David Akers connected on a 28-yard field goal, his second of the game to give the 49ers a 10-point lead. New England responded with a 41-yard Stephen Gostowski field goal, but could not recover the ensuing onside kick.

As a result, San Francisco handed New England its first loss in Decemeber in their last 13 outings, dating back to Dec. 13, 2009. It was also the Patriots first home loss in Decemeber dating back to Dec. 22, 2002.

"It's a huge task, it's a huge challenge,” Harbaugh said after the 49ers reached 10 wins for in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-02. “This environment in December, not a lot of teams have been successful. Really, in the last -- what, 11, 12 years -- only one team has been successful. Immensely proud of our team for that.”

The 49ers appeared to be successful from the start of a nationally televised game.

When Kaepernick found Moss again on the game’s first of many scoring plays, it gave Moss the third-most receiving yards in NFL history, passing Isaac Bruce on the all-time receiving yardage list. The six-play, 63-yard drive gave the 49ers an early 7-0 lead.

The 49ers got the ball right back when Carlos Rogers intercepted a deep Brady pass and returned down the visitor sideline all the way down to New England’s 5-yard line.

Two plays later however, the Patriots recorded their first takeaway of the game. Safety Steve Gregory placed a well-timed hit on Walker just as he caught a short pass from Kaepernick. The ball popped out immediately and cornerback Aqib Talib recovered at New England’s 10-yard line.

The 49ers continued the early momentum with a fake-punt. Safety Dashon Goldson took a direct snap from Brian Jennings and rushed around the left edge for a 31-yard gain. No points on the drive, Akers pushed a 39-yard attempt wide left.

San Francisco forced a second, first-quarter fumble. This time, NaVorro Bowman forced a fumble on a screen pass to Patriots running back Shane Vereen, which was quickly pounced on by Chris Culliver for his first career fumble recovery. It was also Bowman’s first career forced fumble.

The 49ers, however, were stopped short on 4th-and-1. For two, first-quarter turnovers, San Francisco produced zero points.

A 16-play drive put New England’s first points on the board midway through the second quarter. Gostowksi connected on a 32-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 game. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald’s sack, the first of the game for either team, turned the Patriots away at a crucial juncture of the game. McDonald added a key sack late in the game along with Ricky Jean Francois, who filled in for an injured Justin Smith.

In response to New England's first points, the 49ers picked up 35 yards on a pass interference call on Talib, who grabbed Crabtree downfield. Two plays later, Kaepernick had both tight ends, Walker and Vernon Davis, running free down the right side of the field. Kaepernick chose Walker and found him open for a 34-yard touchdown to put San Francisco up 14-3.

"That's Kap," Walker said of the lasered throw. "He's a big-time player."

The three-play scoring drive was about as big of a statement as any of the early haymakers by the visiting club.

The 49ers continued to march down the field late in the first half. Kaepernick picked up 19 yards on 3rd-and-8 behind two solid downfield blocks from Davis.

San Francisco finished the 15-play scoring drive with a 20-yard Akers made field goal, giving him 30 makes in all 30 regular season games in his 49ers career, most in team history.

At the half, the 49ers had more first downs, yards, takeaways and led in time of possession.

Kaepernick was 8 of 15 for 107 yards, while Brady was 10 of 19 for 76 yards and one interception.

New England only managed thre points in the first half, but bounced-back with 31 in the final 30 minutes of play.

It didn’t seem like there would be a comeback bid, not when the 49ers continued moving the football to start the second half. Kaepernick, however, was intercepted by Patriots safety Devin McCourty in the end zone.

San Francisco got the ball back when Donte Whitner forced a fumble which was recovered by fellow starting safety Dashon Goldson. With the ball at the 3-yard line, Gore scooped up a fumbled snap and bounced way through interior blockers for a touchdown. It was ruled a fumble return for Gore and not a rushing touchdown.

The score was 24-3 at that point.

Aldon Smith recorded his first career interception, on Brady no less, leading to a one-play scoring drive. Crabtree hauled in a 27-yard pass to put the 49ers up by four touchdowns.

The Patriots got in the end zone on a 6-yard Danny Woodhead touchdown; their first score of the game came with 5:59 left in the third quarter.

Brady scored New England’s second touchdown, a 1-yard sneak on 4th-and-goal to start the fourth quarter.

San Francisco’s lead was trimmed to 14 points, 31-17, with 14:58 to play.

Hernandez caught a 5-yard touchdown pass, followed by Woodhead’s second rushing score.

Crabtree’s second touchdown and the two field-goals from Akers and Gostowski were the final points.

The 49ers had enough big plays in the end to outlast a Super Bowl contender on the road.

“We knew we were going to have to put up points,” Kaepernick said. “Tom Brady and that offense are very potent. They can put up a lot of points so we knew we were going to match that today.”

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