49ers vs. Patriots: San Francisco's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 15
The 49ers vs. Patriots was the showcase game of the NFL slate, heading into Week 15. The game delivered on its promise. These two teams are in the upper echelon of their respective conferences and this could be a precursor to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers defeated the Patriots by a score of 41-34. New England rallied from a 28-point deficit to tie it at 31. The Patriots had all the momentum, but the 49ers were able to rally and score the next 10 points to give them a 41-31 lead.
A late field goal by the Patriots accounted for the final score, as the 49ers head home with a 10-3-1 record. They lead their NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks by a game-and-a-half, with two regular-season games remaining.
There were several 49ers who can be classified as winners or losers based on Sunday night's game. Let's take a closer look at who stood out, both positively and negatively.
Loser No. 5: Mario Manningham
Mario Manningham tried to practice this week, but was unable to complete a full practice. He was declared inactive for the game due to a shoulder injury.
Coming into the game, Manningham had 41 catches, which ranked second on the team. With Kyle Williams already out for the season, Manningham's absence was a concern for the 49ers.
Winner No. 5: Andy Lee
Andy Lee had a great game punting in some terrible conditions. Lee punted five times for a 56.6-yard average. Three of Lee's punts were inside the New England 20-yard line.
Lee's punting helped the 49ers win the field-position battle, which was an important factor in the game.
Loser No. 4: Justin Smith
Justin Smith has started 185 consecutive games, but that streak may be in jeopardy this week when the 49ers face the Seattle Seahawks.
Smith injured his elbow and went to the locker room. He later returned for one play, but immediately came out and was unable to continue. Smith is such a tough warrior that if he is unable to play, it has to be a serious issue.
Time will tell if Smith will be able to play Sunday night against Seattle.
Winner No. 4: Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick had some great moments in Sunday night's game, but he also had some poor plays mixed in. Kaepernick completed 14 of his 25 pass attempts for 216 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 28 yards on seven carries.
The four touchdown plays stand out for Kaepernick. In the first quarter, he found Randy Moss for a 26-yard touchdown pass. He then made an excellent throw to Delanie Walker to help give the 49ers a 14-3 lead.
Kaepernick threw two touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree. On the first, he drilled the ball for a 27-yard touchdown. Then, with the game tied in the fourth quarter, he found Crabtree on a short pass. Crabtree did the rest himself, as he scored on a 38-yard pass-and-run.
As good as Kaepernick was, at times he also had his struggles. Had the 49ers lost, he could easily have been considered a goat. Kaepernick fumbled the ball four times, as he had trouble with the exchange from center Jonathan Goodwin.
The wet weather may have played a role in the fumbles, but Kaepernick must be more diligent with this phase of the game.
Kaepernick made another mistake when the 49ers were in field-goal range. He tried to hit Moss in the end zone, but was intercepted by Devin McCourty. The ball was underthrown into double coverage, which led to the interception.
Nevertheless, Kaepernick came through when it mattered and led the 49ers to a go-ahead touchdown after the Patriots had tied it at 31.
The weather and the hostile environment in New England were big hurdles to overcome. Although Kaepernick was far from perfect, he leaped those hurdles and led the 49ers to the win.
Loser No. 3: David Akers
David Akers converted on two field goals, but missed from 39 yards out late in the first quarter. Akers has now missed 10 of his 35 attempts this season.
In 2011, Akers set records by converting 44 of 52 attempts. He has been far less reliable this year and must get back in the groove, or it could prove costly to the 49ers.
Winner No. 3: NaVorro Bowman
NaVorro Bowman was all over the field defensively against the Patriots. He had nine tackles, three assists and a forced fumble. Bowman also did a good job in pass coverage.
Bowman leads the 49ers in tackles and has shown tremendous consistency this year. He is playing at an All-Pro level.
Loser No. 2: The Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks were hoping for a 49er loss, which would have made Sunday's game for the division lead.
Seattle must have been drooling with anticipation as New England rallied from a 28-point deficit to tie the game at 31. The Seahawks' joy was short-lived, however, as the 49ers steadied the ship and rallied for the victory.
The Seahawks are still in the hunt for a playoff berth, but their chances of winning the NFC West have decreased substantially. The Seahawks would need to beat the 49ers next Sunday night. In addition, the 49ers would need to lose their final regular-season game against the Arizona Cardinals.
It's unlikely the 49ers will lose to the Cardinals at home, so realistically the Seahawks are now relegated to competing for the wild-card berth.
Winner No. 2: Michael Crabtree
Michael Crabtree had another solid game for the 49ers. He caught seven passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
The play of the game was a short pass from Kaepernick to Crabtree. He eluded the defensive back and sprinted into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown. Crabtree has matured into a reliable and productive receiver.
For the season, Crabtree has 73 receptions for 868 yards. He has a very legitimate chance to catch for over 1,000 yards this year.
Loser No. 1: Ted Ginn
Ted Ginn had a tough day. He seems to have lost confidence fielding punts, and disaster is right around the corner.
Ginn almost committed two very costly turnovers against New England. On one play, he attempted to field a bouncing punt and nearly let it hit him as the ball bounced past him. He missed touching the ball, which would have resulted in a live ball and ultimately a New England recovery.
The ball barely missed Ginn and could have been called either way. This play evoked memories of Kyle Williams in the 2011 NFC title game.
In the fourth quarter, Ginn also mishandled another punt. He dropped the ball but was able to fall on it before the Patriots recovered. Again, disaster was narrowly averted.
Ginn has looked increasingly unsteady on punt returns. The top priority is ball security and Ginn has not provided that. The 49ers should be looking for alternative solutions to this problem.
Winner No. 1: LaMichael James
The 49ers were in deep trouble at the midway point of the fourth quarter. New England had just scored 28 straight points and tied the game at 31.
The momentum was in the Patriots' corner as the 49ers were preparing to receive the kickoff. LaMichael James made a huge play, as he returned the ball down the left sideline for 62 yards to the New England 38.
This return changed the momentum of the game and gave the 49ers excellent field position. On the very next play, Michael Crabtree caught a short pass from Kaepernick, eluded one tackler and raced in for the go-ahead touchdown.
James also ran the ball effectively from scrimmage. He had eight carries for 31 yards. More importantly, he was able to spell Frank Gore and give him some rest. With the injury to Kendall Hunter, James now becomes integral to the 49ers' success this season.
The 49ers and Patriots Could Meet Again in the Super Bowl
There is a real chance that the 49ers and Patriots could meet again in the Super Bowl. Both teams look like the best in their respective conferences, and this game could have been a precursor to the world championship.
The 49ers will have even more to contend with if these two teams play in the Super Bowl. Injured tight end Rob Gronkowski did not play in this game and would likely be available by then.
New England rolled up 520 yards of total offense on the 49ers' defense. It also committed four turnovers, which is very unlikely to happen again.
If these two teams do meet again, the 49ers will need to play even better to win.