Sunday Night Football usually produces some of the best games seen from season to season in the National Football League, and this week, the stakes couldn't be any higher -- or the game any better. Outside of the playoffs, this may have been the best game of the regular season.
The San Francisco 49ers earned a playoff berth by outlasting a stunning comeback effort from New England from a 28-point deficit to beat the Patriots 41-34 on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium in terrible conditions.
The Patriots trailed 31-3 at one point in the contest before rallying back to within a touchdown before falling late in the fourth quarter to a Michael Crabtree touchdown reception and David Akers clinching field-goal. This marks the first time the Patriots have lost at home in December in the last 21 games over the franchise's history.
After a few disappointing quarters, the Pats finally found their way back into the game after scoring 28 unanswered points before falling to San Francisco. Albeit the 49ers ran away with the game early due to their first half scoring efforts, but it was really the last ten minutes of the drama that set the stage for fourth quarter greatness.
In the last 15 minutes of the contest, the Patriots scored four different times (two passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, and a field goal) totaling 24 points. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw 65 times in the game (career-high) piling up 36 completions for 443 yards and one touchdown.
Colin Kaepernick threw for 14-for-25 for 216 yards and four touchdowns, two going to Crabtree, who had 107 yards on seven receptions for the day. Due to very good defense from both teams, it turned into a sloppy contest between two of the league's more precise and efficient teams. There were six turnovers altogether between the 49ers and the Patriots by the end of the game, half of the miscues on New England's side coming from Brady-thrown interceptions.
The problems coming from the Brady run offense was that the Patriots tallied more first downs, total yards and did it all more efficiently and in less time of possession but couldn't seal the deal, something uncommon to see from Brady in the fourth quarter. It seemed as though the Patriots did all the right things but in the wrong quarter. It was almost as if both teams had an "on switch" that they alternated for when they decided to turn up the game play, but maybe the Patriots just got the electricity turned on too late for the offense.
For a 49ers offense that succeeds on the ground with the help of Frank Gore at running back, they didn't fully utilize the Pro-Bowl tailback. Even though the 49ers finished with 180 rushing yards on the day, Gore only rushed for 21 attempts and rallied 83 yards, not the most impressive performance from the 29-year-old superstar.
Whether it was the scoring onslaught that came from a balanced Jim Harbaugh playbook or the lack of skill necessary in the secondary of the Patriots to withstand a passing attack from the 49ers, the game for the first three quarters were less entertaining than "Bingo Night" at the local Senior Citizen home if you happen to be a Patriots supporter. This snaps a seven-game winning streak for the Patriots who are a top 10 team in passing yards, rushing yards, and rush defense, all of which were put to the test Sunday night.
Since both teams are playoff contenders the match-up could be seen again before the postseason is over but only time can tell. With only a few games left in the 2012-2013 regular season, for the Patriots to continue to be successful and make a long playoff run there's only one way that can happen in Foxboro.
Brady just has to be Brady.