49ers vs. Patriots: Final Grades, Analysis for San Francisco

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49ers vs. Patriots: Final Grades, Analysis for San Francisco
My 11-year-old cousin gives Tom Brady an "A" for dreaminess.

The San Francisco 49ers won a stunning, crazy game 41-34 at New England that was a rout, then a massive gag-job, and then a solid road win all wrapped up in one to improve to 10-3-1 and clinch a playoff berth in the NFC.

It's hard to figure out what was more impressive, the events of the first 40 minutes in the game, in which the 49ers thoroughly dominated in all phases to race out to a 31-3 lead behind four turnovers from the defense and three touchdown passes from Colin Kaepernick; or how quickly Tom Brady rallied the Patriots, leading his team to four touchdowns in a 14-minute stretch overlapping the third and fourth quarters.

The unlikely X-factor was 49ers rookie back LaMichael James, whose 66-yard kickoff return following New England's game-tying touchdown set up Kaepernick connecting with Michael Crabtree for a 38-yard catch-and-run one play later to put the Niners back up, for good, 38-31. 

Bill Belichick made the curious decision to go for it deep in Patriots' territory on fourth-and-two with 2:25 to go, when the Patriots still had the option of punting and using their two time outs and the two-minute-warning to stop the clock and get the ball back. 

Brady's pass was incomplete and the 49ers didn't have to move the ball an inch for David Akers to ice it with a field goal. The Patriots chose to kick a field goal with 43 seconds to go, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by the 49ers to end the game.

The win by San Francisco takes a lot of the drama out of next week's game at Seattle, as they still retain a 1.5 game lead in the NFC West. Also, the Niners are still a half-game up on Green Bay for the second seed and a first-round bye. 

The Patriots, meanwhile, lose for the first time in eight games and now are a game behind Denver for the second seed in the AFC. The Broncos don't play anyone of note their last two games, so it doesn't appear that the Patriots will get to enjoy a break unless they choose to sit everyone in Week 17. 

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