In one of the wildest, craziest games of the year the Patriots rallied from a 31-3 deficit midway through the third quarter, but eventually fell to the 49ers 41-34. The first half was by far the worst half of the year for the Patriots where nothing went right and the 49ers dominated, out gaining the Patriots 249-114. The Patriots responded scoring 28 unanswered points tying the game at 31 with 6:43 left in the game, but the 49ers made the plays at the end to walk away with the win.

Here are five observations from last night’s instant classic:


Tom Brady and the Patriots suffered their fourth loss of the year Sunday night. (FILE:USPresswire)

49ers dial up the pressure

Tom Brady had one of his worst first halves of the season going 10-19 for 76 yards and an interception while having just a 40.7 rating. The biggest reason for this was the 49ers ability to get after Brady, especially when they would rush three and four players. There is no secret, this is the key to stopping Brady and the Patriots offense — putting pressure on him and making him feel uncomfortable in the pocket. Teams have tried dropping seven and eight players in the secondary and Brady still picks them apart. With what a great front-seven the 49ers have they were able to get to Brady, which was the major difference for them in the game.

What changed from the first half and most of the second half were the 49ers didn’t get after Brady. He had all day to throw and was comfortable in the pocket and the results showed with Brady and the offense scoring 28 unanswered points. Things did eventually change after the game was tied, and San Fransciso eventually went up by seven. The 49ers once again started getting to Brady, including sacking him twice on the possession after the 49ers went up by seven with around five minutes left in the game. For the game Brady was sacked three times and hit another seven. Clearly the key to stopping Brady and the offense is disrupting the Patriots passing game, and you do that by getting after the the quarterback and make him feel as uncomfortable as you can.

Heart and desire

The difference between the Houston Texans and the Patriots was the Texans pretty much gave up when they went down big in last Monday night’s game at New England. The Patriots did anything but give up as they rallied from 28 points down to eventually tie the game at 31 with six minutes remaining. While the Patriots ultimately lost the game and coming back doesn’t undo how poorly the first half went, the heart and desire the Patriots showed is something coaches cannot teach and is something a team needs to have. You certainly hope the Patriots never get put in a position like that again, but the heart and desire they showed is something not many teams in the league have in them, especially trailing by 28 midway through the third quarter, and going against the best defense in the league.

Special teams an issue

The play of the game in a game which featured 75 points was surprisingly a special teams play. After the Patriots tied the game at 31 with 6:43 remaining LaMichael James returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards to the New England 38-yardline. Then on the following play 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick found Michael Crabtree for a 38 yard touchdown. The Patriots had all the momentum, but James’ kickoff return completely took the wind out of the Patriots sails. In a game which featured so many big plays, it should be noted possibly the most important play of the game was a special teams play. New England also had several penalties on punt and kickoff returns, which is something very uncharacteristic of Patriot teams. These penalties set them back inside their 20-yardline on several drives, which is something that cannot happen going against the best defense in the league.

The Patriots also had a few individual players who struggled. Steven Ridley had a critical fumble in the second half when the Patriots were driving and he didn’t see much playing time following the play. There is no question Ridley is fumble-prone, something the young running back will need to work on. He finished the game with nine carries for 23 yards. Despite catching 10 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, Aaron Hernandez dropped several passes. While not all the throws were on target, for Hernandez to be targeted 19 times and only have 10 catches shows he did drop his fair share as well. This is something which doesn’t get much attention, the poor hands Hernandez has.

4th and 1

Much has been made of the decision of Bill Belichick and the Patriots to go for it on 4th and 1 from their own 12-yard line trailing by seven with 2:20 left in the game with having two timeouts and the two minute warning in their pockets. Some wanted the Patriots to punt the ball away, use their timeouts and get the ball back with hopefully better field position. I didn’t have a problem with the call; this is what Belichick does when he’s been in these situations in the past. Whether he trusts his offense and Brady more than his defense remains to be seen, but regardless of the reason, this is the decision Belichick always makes.

Prior to the incompletion to Danny Woodhead on 4th and 1, the Patriots were 5-5 on 4th downs in the game. To me the Patriots had a better win probability of getting the one-yard and the first down, then having two timeouts plus the two minute warning to go 80 yards than punting the ball away and not allowing Frank Gore and the 49ers offense to get a first down and potentially getting the ball back with no timeouts and having to go at least 60 yards with just under two minutes remaining.

What this means now

While the Patriots lost their first game in their last eight, they lost to arguably the best team in the NFC and even all of football. The 49ers are a very good team, with one of the best defenses in the league. This shouldn’t be looked at as a bad loss. While there certainly were issues in the game, this is something which can ultimately benefit the team moving forward. In past years the Patriots haven’t faced many formidable opponents late in the year and really didn’t have much to go by entering the playoffs. The one common thread between teams which have given Patriots problems is they are all very physical. The Giants, Seahawks, Ravens, 49ers are all very physical. New England will never be a hard-nosed physical team, but they do need to try and figure out ways to beat physical teams.

The Patriots are now 10-4 with two games left against the Jaguars and Dolphins. They are currently third in the AFC trailing the Texans and Broncos for the top two seeds. As it stands right now the Patriots would be playing on Wild Card weekend and then if they win would have to travel to Denver and play the Broncos. With the Broncos holding a one-game lead over the Patriots and facing Cleveland and Kansas City the next two weeks, it is fairly certain they will wrap up the No. 2 seed. The Patriots will in all likelihood be the No. 3 seed and need to play two road games in order to get to the big game in New Orleans. It’s amazing how the loss to the Cardinals in Week 2 looms now.

For Patriots coverage 24/7, follow Ryan on Twitter at @Hannable84.

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