Ryan L. Fox
They always say that traveling from coast to coast to play a football game can take a toll. However, for the New England Patriots, that was the last thing that they were concerned about.
Looking to get on the winning track after suffering a 31-24 loss on Sunday Night Football to the Seattle Seahawks at Gillette, the Pats paid a visit to the San Francisco 49ers in Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, in a Week 11 match up. Or as many in the Boston media would say, a ‘homecoming game’ for QB Tom Brady, who grew up as in the bay area and rooted for the 49ers. However they were going into the game without All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a chest injury during the loss to Seattle, and WR Chris Hogan, who was dealing with a back injury.
The Patriots won the opening toss and elected to defer to the second half. The 49ers took the opening kickoff, letting it go back for a touchback. They began on their own 25 yard line but ended up going 3-and-out, including giving up a 12-yard sack to Pats safety Patrick Chung. The 49ers punted the football to the New England 43 but PR Danny Amendola took the punt and returned it to the 49ers 27.
With the short field, Tom Brady led the Pats offense down to the 49ers 4-yard line where he hooked up with WR Julian Edelman for a 4-yard strike. During this drive as well, RB Dion Lewis made an appearance with an 9-yard catch on a 3rd-and-3 to extend the drive. This was Lewis’ first game back after missing the first half of the season while being on the PUP-list recovering from ACL surgery. However on the ensuing point after attempt, K Stephen Gostkowski hooked it wide right to make the game 6-0.
The 49ers then took the ball on the ensuing kickoff and proceeded to drive the ball, gashing the Pats defense with multiple plays of 10 yards or more (4 to be exact) and getting it down to the Pats 3 yard line. But the Pats defense stymied the 49ers, forcing them to settle for a Phil Dawson 33-yard field goal to make it 6-3. The 49ers kick coverage team on the ensuing play then pinned the Pats on their own 23 yard line. However RB LeGarrette Blount took the wind out of the 49ers sail with a 44-yard run to the 49ers 33 yard line. A couple of throws Edelman and two short runs by Blount brought an end for the first quarter. But on the opening play in the second quarter, Brady hooked up with RB James White on a 9-yard screen pass to push the lead to 13-3.
After forcing the 49ers to punt, the Pats took over. It seemed that the Pats were going to run away early with a 35-yard touchdown run by Blount. However that run was called back due to offensive holding by LT Nate Solder and then an intentional grounding penalty on Brady forced the Pats to punt. Special Teamer Matthew Slater ended up downing the ball on the 49ers 8-yard line as the home team was stuck deep in their own territory. However the 49ers just gashed the Pats defense, making them look foolish as 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick went 4-for-4 with 56 yards passing, including an 18-yard strike to TE Vance Donald to close the gap 13-10.
After an exchange of punts between both teams, Pats got the ball back on their 27 yard line with 1:48 left in the first half. However the drive ended up stalling out as Brady’s 24 yard pass to James White to the 49ers 16 was the final play of the half.
The first half numbers were quite stunning on how close they were. Brady went 12-for-17 for 108 yards & 2 TDs, was only sacked 1 time, and had a QB rating of 126.3. His counterpart, Kaepernick, went 8-for-9 for 116 yards & 1 TD, was sacked 5 times, and had a QB rating of 155.8. The Pat’s running game seemed to be okay as LeGarrette Blount had 7 carries for 61 yards while WR Julian Edelman seemed to be on Brady’s radar with 4 catches for 44 yards and one 1 TD.
The second half began with the Patriots receiving the ball and bringing it to their 22 yard line. However they were able to get it only to their 30 yard line before punting it to the 49ers 20 yard line, where the 49ers failed to do anything as well and punted the ball to the Pats 28. The Pats were able to drive to the 49ers 47 yard line but failed to move the ball even further, thus punting the ball back to the 49ers. Ironically enough the 49ers moved the ball to the Pats 47-yard line before stalling out and punting back to the Pats.
But when they got the ball back, it seemed like the Pat remembered who they were and started to play like the elite AFC team they are. Brady calmly led his team down the field, spreading the football out to the likes of WRs Malcom Mitchell, Julian Edelman, RB James White, and TE Martellus Bennett. The Pats got all the way down to the 49ers 9 yard line as the third quarter ended on a Dion Lewis run. However the Pats opened up the fourth quarter with a Brady-Amendola 9 yard hook up (Brady’s third TD pass of the day) to push the score to 20-10 in favor of the visiting team.
Then it seemed like it was a game of hot potato as both teams traded multiple punts with one another. Then with 10:16 left in the fourth quarter, facing a 3rd-and-8 on their own 44 yard line, Brady found Malcolm Mitchell down the seam for a 56-yard strike to push the score to 27-10 with a little over 10 minutes to play.
After forcing another punt by the 49ers, the Pats were on the move yet again. They were able to drive down to the 49ers 20 yard line before settling for a 38-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to make it 30-10 with 6:11 left in the fourth. After receiving the ensuing kickoff, the 49ers made one last charge. Kaepernick led the offense on a 12-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off with a 13-yard pass to RB Shaun Draughn to make it 30-17 with a little over 2 minutes left in the game.
A failed onside kick by the 49ers gave the Pats excellent field position at midfield as they simply ran out the clock (much to the idiocy of Chip Kelly calling time outs with less than 1:30 left instead of letting the clock run out) as the final score read 30-17. In his ‘homecoming,’ Brady went 24-for-40 for 279 and 4 TDs for his 21st game of his illustrious career, which is most all time among QBs in NFL history. Also LeGarrette Blount had a game high 124 yards rushing on 19 carries while Malcom Mitchell led all receivers with 98 yards receiving on 4 catches and had one touchdown. Fellow WR Julian Edelman led all receivers in catches with 8 (on a game high 17 targets) for 78 yards and one touchdown.
The next game on the schedule for the Patriots is a week from today in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to take on their divisional rivals, the New York Jets (3-7) in a 4:25 p.m. showdown.