Posted December 17, 2012

Colin Kaepernick helps 49ers withstand frantic Patriots rally on Sunday night

New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers
colin-kaepernick-376

Colin Kaepernick’s four TD passes helped the 49ers get a road win and secure a playoff berth. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Only one team in NFL history — ironically, the 1980 San Francisco 49ers — has ever come back from a 28-point deficit to win a regular-season game. Sunday night, the 2012 version of the 49ers nearly found themselves on the other side of the ledger.

San Francisco exploded to a 31-3 lead on the road, seemingly headed for an easy and impressive victory over New England. Then, like a bolt of lightning on a cold, rainy night, the Patriots shot to life.

Danny Woodhead plunged into the end zone, then Tom Brady did the same. Shortly thereafter, Brady connected with Aaron Hernandez for another score and, finally, Woodhead crossed the goal line again.

Suddenly, 31-3 had turned into 31-31 and the 49ers found themselves on the verge of a calamitous, unexplainable defeat.

But those Saints that coughed away a four-touchdown edge 32 years ago finished the season 1-15. This 49ers team, on the other hand, is one of the best in the league, maybe even the favorite to come out of the NFC and head to the Super Bowl.

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So, where New Orleans failed, San Francisco thrived. Exactly one snap after Woodhead erased the 49ers’ lead, Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree grabbed it back on a 38-yard touchdown pass.

The defense took it from there. Staggered by New England throughout the second half, the 49ers barricaded the gate with two key stops in the final six minutes to secure a 41-34 win.

“You expect a good team and a great quarterback like that to make some adjustments,” San Francisco DB Donte Whitner told NBC’s Michelle Tafoya. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game, even going to halftime up.”

The Kaepernick-to-Crabtree TD stood as the game-winner, and 49ers’ defensive linemen Ray McDonald and Rickey Jean-Francois followed it up with a crucial sack apiece to end New England’s next drive.

The play of the game, though, the one that truly may have saved San Francisco from joining the hapless ’80 Saints in the record books, came courtesy of LaMichael James. Active for just the second time all season, James took the ensuing kickoff following Woodhead’s tying touchdown run and burst back 62 yards to the New England 38.

Crabtree found the end zone eight seconds later.

“LaMichael had a great return,” Kaepernick said, “and (the) next play Crab beat his guy one-on-one and took it to the end zone. …

“Brady’s a great QB, that’s a great offense, we knew they had the ability to (rally like) that. We just wanted to keep scoring.”

In a lot of ways, winning in this fashion could prove even more valuable for the 49ers in the weeks ahead. They no doubt would have welcomed a laugher of a victory. Instead, they’ll walk away from this one knowing that they went through the ringer, in the elements against a terrific team on the road, and had what it took to get the job done.

“We like playing national-televised games, we like playing big teams,” Whitner said. “Nobody really gave us a chance; hopefully, we earned some respect.”

Kaepernick certainly did, especially if there were any critics left doubting him heading into this one. He struggled getting the grip on a few snaps (and San Francisco fumbled six times in all, though just one resulted in a turnover), but the second-year QB also fired four touchdown passes and kept the 49ers surging in the first half.

This very nearly turned into another defining moment in Brady’s illustrious career. It wound up being a colossal step forward for Kaepernick.

“He’s got all the tools that you need,” said Crabtree of his quarterback. “We really just go out there and play ball — that’s our attitude.”

Crabtree also caught an earlier touchdown pass from Kaepernick, and Randy Moss, Delanie Walker and Frank Gore also put up scores for San Francisco. With the win the 49ers inched closer to a division title, and they can clinch next Sunday night in Seattle, in what figures to be another hard-fought contest.

The Patriots, conversely, will not find much satisfaction in turning a complete dud of a night into a mere missed opportunity. Now 10-4, they slipped from the No. 2 slot in the AFC’s playoff picture to No. 3 — the cutoff point for a first-round bye.

The comeback was thrilling for the Patriots, but their first 40 minutes or so of this game were a mess.

“We didn’t do anything well enough to win,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “It starts with me — we weren’t good enough on offense, weren’t good enough on defense, weren’t good on special teams. We’ve just got to perform better than that and we didn’t.”

There is a lot of ground to cover before we learn if this Sunday night instant classic proves to be a Super Bowl preview. Certainly, both the 49ers and Patriots are teams to be reckoned with come the playoffs.

And San Francisco may have secured, with this win, important reassurance that, no matter how big the stage or how talented the opponent, there is enough talent around to weather the storm.

“This is something that we practice,” Kaepernick said. “You have to be ready to take the lead, and you have to be ready for teams to come back.”

The 1980 Saints may not have been ready for such a dramatic turn of events. Kaepernick and the 49ers were, and as a result, they managed to stave off an historic collapse.

45 comments
rriding
rriding

9ners are heading into a meat grinder much worse than Foxboro this Sunday.  Go Seahawks!

EnderLyon
EnderLyon

Smith was the person most likely to be hung in San Francisco before Harbaugh got there. Harbaugh turned him from a Goat into a Hero in 1 season......

I feel bad for Smith, but what can he do? Kap is going to be a superstar in this league if he remains healthy. Harbaugh wants to win now, they came so close last year.

Nopers
Nopers

Smith has tried for years to become elite. kap has done as well if not better in just 5 games. Imagine if he had the years smith does, he would blow smith away and he is already shining in his 5th start. Smith can't get them past the playoffs and to the Super Bowl. Kaepernick can.

lisamonroe
lisamonroe

Can't believe I'm talking 'bout irony on a football article, but I gotta agree with dennisakerson over thisguy. It's just a coincidence that the 49ers happened to be the last team to come back from 28 down.

Webster's defines situational irony as: (1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2) : an event or result marked by such incongruity

There is no reason NOT to expect that the 1980 49ers WOULDN'T have been the last team to come back from 28 down. Just a coincidental.

 

I think this loss by the Patriots will help them in the playoffs BTW. They needed a shot in the arm.

Rickery
Rickery

Not pleased with Mr. Know-It-All's (Harbaugh) personnel moves this season. First of all he has totally shafted Alex Smith, who seems to be the forgotten man but should be the starter if his coach had any class. Also, nice to see Lamichael James finally getting to play after genius Harbaugh kept him inactive for THE FIRST 14 GAMES OF THE SEASON!

sysint
sysint

What happened here is SF let off on the gas.

They should have just annihilated Brady instead of letting him go in the second half.

And, this is just what a guy like Brady needs - a little actual adversity. He is used to years of sitting back in the pocket where nobody touches the guy because of his O-line.

kenny6
kenny6

the pats defense really did a big flub when it was really needed. hats off to the offense and brady. next time defense stay awake till the game is over

dennisakerson
dennisakerson

Mr. Burke,

I like your columns. I wanted to make a minor point in the interest of vocabulary. You wrote: "Only one team in NFL history — ironically, the 1980 San Francisco 49ers — has ever come back from a 28-point deficit to win a regular-season game."

This is not proper use of the word "ironic." The proper word in this case would be "coincidentally."

A.F.Davis
A.F.Davis

I don't buy the notion that the Pats "were sleeping/came out flat" for 40 minutes crap.  What really happened was the 9ers defense came out and did what they do so well, which is making impact defensive plays and get takeaways!  

 

The first few drives for the Pats were either 3 and outs or outright turnovers, and the momentum was surging for the 9ers!  The 9ers offense came out with a vertical passing game and that worked very well, probably because Belicheck didn't expect the passing game to go deep as frequently as they did.  

 

The 9ers, in all phases of the game, played with more energy and urgency from the first snap.

 

While I disagree with the thought that the Pats were "sleeping", I do however feel the team came into the game overconfident after dismantling the Texans last week.  Thinking they would do the same to the 9ers, but they found out early, as did the rest of the nation, the 9ers defense is in a class by itself

 

Brady and Co. did get traction later in the game, and when there offense gets going they are a scary ball club!  If they can do that to the #1 defense in the NFL, it can happen to anyone.

 

But the 9ers offense, led by Kaepernick, answered in bold fashion after the Pats tied the game 31-31 and they closed the door with another drive ending in an Akers FG.

 

Good showing for the 9ers, and the Pats for that matter, and I am of the opinion that we will see them play again this season, in the Super Bowl.  This game was amazing and entertaining, and it was just a preview, imagine what the game will be like when the stakes are raised!  I can't wait to see SF vs. NE part II!

Ken14
Ken14

Official Errors: Two critical plays that were both terrible calls by the officials----the pass interference call, (Brady to Brandon Lloyd), where it was obvious that Lloyd tripped over Terrell Brown’s feet in the end zone---should have been a “no-call”. And the “Unnecessary Roughness” call against Deshon Goldson on a deep pass by Brady at 10:38 in the third quarter.  Goldson’s perfectly clean hit on Hernandez resulted in the ball getting jarred loose and a Forty Niner picking the ball up in what should have been a catch, fumble, and Niner recovery.  Replays show this play was a gross error on the official’s part.

 

That said, Harbaugh and the Niners went into a “prevent defense” way too early, (basically the whole second half), against the best QB in the game.  The “come-back”---LaMichael James 62 yard kickoff return and the 38 yard TD pass to Crabtree, showed how much poise Kaepernick has in his arsenal when a game’s on the line.  The Forty Niners could have easily lost their composure and folded at the end of the game when it appeared that New England could not be stopped.  The back to back sacks by Ray McDonald and Justin Smith replacement Ricky Francois were huge as the Niner defense FINALLY put the brakes on what might have been a disastrous meltdown/loss.

MarkMcClure
MarkMcClure

As a Pats a fan I take my hat off. That was a comeuppance to us. In the Super Bowl we will get our revenge, but damn they played well and DAMN what a game

 

mc501
mc501

Amazing Game.

 

Despite the loss, the Patriots are the scariest team playing.  I was rooting for SF the whole game.  Thank goodness I started the game with an entire (full) bottle of wine at my disposal.  I had so much fun watching this game.

 

Sadly, what the Patriots (again despite the loss) proved, is that when cornered, they can essentially score-at-will against any defense.  My hats off to the whole Patriots team.  Having clinched the Division Title and down 31-3 it would've been easy to close up shop, and put in your second-string.  Rest up.  They showed great resiliance.  Tom Brady is poised in the face of adversity and can perform.

 

The Niner's demonstrated their mettle as well.  However, they also showed some weaknesses.  In my opinion they should've been able to better 'close-out' the game.  But they did cause turnovers and make plays.  Kapernick was solid with few mistakes in his game.

 

I think if the Patriots had started to rally sooner, the end result would've been different.

 

This is a plus for Denver fans (like MC501).

RS1022
RS1022

Pats gave Denver a huge gift! Looks like the Pats-Den playoff game will be played at 5280 feet above sea level.

Billy5
Billy5

 @rriding

 ha the patriots have not lost at their house in december since 98 or something like that. All you stupid seahawks fans are funny. You guys have not lost a game at home all year o except that one to the packers that single handedly ended the lock out. You fans my not think so but everyone in the nfl and all the fans of every team knows that should have been a loss. Also not so fast the seahawks have not beat the niners since 2009 0r 2010 thats two years of the niners kicking your ass. So come sunday we will see. The seahawks cry on the side line.

JohnAlport1
JohnAlport1

 @lisamonroeYou think the Pats have been helped!!! I don't agree.   I think the Pats have been severely wounded by this game.  Now they have to go through Denver --- thin air that the Broncs are accustomed to.  Take a look at the NFL/NFC championship winning teams in relationship to where the NFL/NFC championship games were played.  Pre-Superbowl, where they now pick neutral, warm or enclosed stadiums, the years from 1933 to 1968 were dominated by home games in Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit;  And whether the visitor  was the Giants or the Rams or whoever, Green Bay or Chicago or Detroit almost always won.

 

The Pats needed to win this game badly --- not to prove anything --- but to play Denver in Foxboro.

footballdude72
footballdude72

 @lisamonroe help them in the playoffs?  you just lost home field advantage and playing up in Denver, how does that help you?  Does Brady really need a shot in the arm?

Dave19
Dave19

Completely absurd.  You want loyalty to the guy who is infamous for throwing 2 yard passes on 3rd and 9?  He did this under Nolan, the nightmare which was Singletary, and now Harbaugh.  Kaepernick makes the 49ers a better team, period.  Loyalty is a "feel good" thing that means nothing when looking at the future of a team.  The reality is we all knew the ceiling that was Alex, the tiny window of error they had.  With Alex, the Chicago game would have closer, the Saints probably would have beaten him, and the Patriots would have done the same.  The only problem with Harbaugh is he loves to be conservative, which is Alex through and through.  By the way, the contract never left the table last summer when Alex headed to Miami.  Manning talk aside, Alex still could have signed that whenever he wanted to.

BigBears
BigBears

 @Rickery Mr. Know it all was not hired because he had class, he was hired because he could win football games, and that's exactly what he's doing. 

JamieBreslow
JamieBreslow

 @Rickery Not sure if you're angered because you play fantasy, or that you're really pissed off at Harbaugh's choices because you love the Niners, in which case you're definitely living in some strange fantasy world of logic. Sitting Alex didn't come easy to anyone in the organization, but it's not like Harbaugh decided immediately that Kap was gonna start the rest of the season. The problem for Alex was that Kap played well, winning 4 of 5 and more importantly bringing a few new dimensions to the team. You can never have too many ways to score, and Kap just brings more ways. Loyalty isn't an issue. As a coach you have to make choices that are better for the team overall, without worrying about hurting feelings. If me or anyone actually though Alex has a better chnce of winning a Super Bowl than Kap, we would have heard about it by now. So far, you're the 1st I've seen complain about a team that's winning and getting better every game.

ThisGuy
ThisGuy

 @dennisakerson No, it would be coincidental if the 1980 49ers had been team to lose the lead.  It is ironic because the 49ers were on the other side of the coin this time around.

BigBears
BigBears

 @mc501 So you don't think that the Pats try to start the rally earlier?. Of course they did, but maybe the Niners didn't let them. Not to mention there was still plenty of time left once they tied the game.

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

 @mc501

 The only thing that can stop NE is NE. They seriously zoned out for 40 min before turning on the jets and almost pulling a rabbit out of the hat. You're right, that's scary. But I'll give credit to SF for taking advantage of a flat team. Both teams made for some good entertainment over a long weekend.

 

Broncos looked good my man. All my gripes against the hapless Raiders got resolved. I didn't like how our D took a little 4th quarter nap with Pitta, but overall a statement win. I would like to see Manning get a bit more time to pass. Decker and Thomas are not immediate separation guys but more dudes who can develop a pattern.  The run game looked incredible against a stacked run-D! I was actually more encouraged about our 2 red zone rush TDs than anything else in the gameplan. That's been our achilles for almost a decade now.

 

BTW most of the comments in the comments section are absolute garbage, but every now and then I come upon a few gems. Kudos for having something insightful to say and making it worth my time to scroll down.

JamieBreslow
JamieBreslow

 @mc501 Harbaugh is all about the clock, which means for better or worse when the Niners have a big lead they play safe and slow. That works against 90% of the teams they would face doing this, but against a team like the Pats it allows a window for comebacks. I love the way Harbaugh calls the game, but I do get scared in situations like they had tonight. Nonetheless, it worked well enough again tonight. 

Nick5
Nick5

 @RS1022 More like the 49ers gave Denver a huge favor.

Rickery
Rickery

 @JamieBreslow

 All that tells me is that most football "fans" have no class or sense of loyalty. All you are saying is that winnning is the only thing that matters. And by the way, the 49ers were winning big-time with Smith . No change needed. we'll see how happy you are with Copernicus when someone cleans his clock on one of his running escapades.

Rickery
Rickery

 @footballdude72

 It's a chicken$hit way to treat a player who has PROVEN his worth to the team and sacrificed his a$$ for the team. Smith had a higher qbr, more tds and yards passing than Dinglebert Humperdink.

mc501
mc501

 @BigBears  Well.... I'll respond to your query with this....

 

If these two teams reach the Super Bowl this season, I'll take the Patriots not to be a doormat for the first 50% of the game.  If they both reach the Super Bowl, the Patriots will be the favorite.  The Niners will be more concerned about their chances than the Pats.

 

They may have tried earlier, but fundamentally in the span of about 13 minutes of playing time, the Pats scored 28 unanswered points (none coming from turnovers). 

 

So in the final analysis from my perspective, the Niners played spectacular and capitalized on turnovers (tipped passes).  It's unlikely they'll be the beneficiary of similar good fortune two times in a row.  Meanwhile, the Pats were able to overcome their mistakes and draw even in a relatively short period of time.  Sure they came up short in the end.... but if I were the Niners, I'm PRAYING someone in the AFC knocks them out before the Super Bowl.

 

Don't you agree?  Or are you so delusional to think, "Oh, the Niner's are sayin' bring me Bellechick and Brady again!" 

Steven30
Steven30

 @M as in Mancy  @mc501 

Don't forget the phantom PI call in the end zone when the DB and WR legs got tangled up.  Another crucial feature of the Pats comeback:  Brady drops back 65 times and the OL doesn't get called for a single holding penalty?  Watch the line play and you'll see lots of holding.

 

You don't come out 'flat' in a game like this.  It gets taken to you by the other team.  Pats are truly scary -- no other team in the league could've come back like that.  But you always have to factor in the zebras helping Brady when you play them.

smoothmartiniup
smoothmartiniup

 @JamieBreslow  @mc501 

I agree with statements. I felt the Niners went to playing conservative football in the 3rd quarter. They should have kept on passing the ball rather that running it. Which resulted in consecutive 3 and out's.

Rickery
Rickery

 @JeffShields  @Rickery  @footballdude72

 Historically qbs who are injured are returned to their starting role when they recover, especially starters who are completing 70% of their passes and are 19-5-1 in their last 25 starts. In other words, you don't replace a guy who is producing at an incredibly high level. If he starts scewing up sure, try someone else. Smith recovered from his concussion after 2 weeks and should have been reinstated into the starting lineup.

Rickery
Rickery

 @LouPants  @Rickery  @footballdude72

Wisely stuck by him? Gee the fing guy was 13-3 as the starting qb last season. What a sacrifice for the coach. To use your own words, Alex Smith is also a proven winner, I believe 19-5-1 since last season.Yes it took him several years to hone his craft but many of the years the 9ers were a crummy team were due to reasons other than Smith's play. I think even a casual observer could see that Smith is a far superior passer. Kaepernick is a far better runner but that will get you maimed in this league. I doubt that you look through NFL stats and find a qb with a better winning %. Brady is 23-7 (76%) while Smith is 19-5-1 (79%). I believe only Rodgers has a better record.

LouPants
LouPants

@Rickery @footballdude72 Play to win, not to make friends. Smith was not Harbaugh's guy, but wisely stuck by him while developing his own draft pick in Kaepernick. Do you work for the organization and saw what Harbaugh saw everyday behind the scenes? He's a proven winner as a coach. We had to trust him as fans. Alex is a great guy, just not what this organization needed to take that extra step. Go buy him him a beer and relax.

BigBears
BigBears

 @John Johns Sorry to wake you up, but the comment was in reply to Dertybear, sorry I forgot to erase your name, but as you noticed everyone else understood that. So wtf is wrong with you?

John Johns
John Johns

 @BigBears      wtf are you talking to me about ? I did not even mention the 49'ers   

John Johns
John Johns

 @Derbybear    You must be on some meds and missed your time. There is not now or in the past five years been anything close to respectable about the Pats, they hold incessantly and are NOT called. Most feel as if they buy their way, it is not only myself saying this. Teams like this are why the league has become more like pro wrestling than the old NFL. 

BigBears
BigBears

 @Derbybear  @John Johns  @Steven30  @M as in Mancy  @mc501 What?. The refs made the magical openings on the 49ers kick returns?. Will you please tell us How they did that?.

If you think the refs were bias in the Niners favor you must have been watching a different game.

Derbybear
Derbybear

 @John Johns  @Steven30  @M as in Mancy  @mc501

 And the phantom holding calls against the Pats? And the magical openings on the 49ers kick returns? Refs are human, the miss some, they make up some to save face. But all in all it seemed a fairly officiated game, wuith perhaps a bias to the 49ers. In every sport, you need to play well enough to beat both the opposing team and the imperfect refs. And most of the time the Pats do. This was a respectable loss. A loss that shouldn't have happened, but... Any given Sunday...

John Johns
John Johns

 @Steven30  @M as in Mancy  @mc501 The Zebras keep the "pats" looking great, period. At times I wonder if they are not on the payroll. I counted 23 non called holding penalties and three face masks in the third quarter, maybe the rain blinded them?