After sprinting out to a 17-3 lead at the end of the first half, the San Francisco 49ers almost caved as Tom Brady led the charge back by putting up 24 fourth-quarter points. However, it proved to not be enough as Colin Kaepernick had an answer of his own with less than seven minutes to play.
New England had just rattled off 28 points unanswered and was looking for more as it was searching for its first lead of the night. At this point, momentum was surely in the New England Patriots' favor, yet it didn't last long as LaMichael James returned a kickoff 62 yards.
The long return set up a one-play, 38-yard touchdown drive that put the 49ers on cruise control for the rest of the game. Brady's 443-yard, one-touchdown effort proved to provide the wow factor as he single-handedly led the Patriots attack back, but Kap, with four touchdown passes, showed poise and confidence like he hadn't shown before:
Jim Harbaugh said Colin Kaepernick showed "poise beyond his years."— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) December 17, 2012
He proved that no stage was too big for him, and he delivered when his team needed him the most. His statistical line of 216 yards on 14 completions may not jump out at you, but his ability to convert 35 percent of the 49ers' third-down attempts in the rain and slop of Gillette Stadium may have been the difference.
San Francisco's 35 percent conversion rate dwarfed the Patriots' 13 percent third-down conversion percentage, so it's worth noting New England was forced into six fourth-down attempts. Even though Vic Fangio's defense only stopped one of those six fourth-down attempts—it proved to be the biggest one of the game.
Moreover, No. 12 didn't do himself any favors as his two interceptions might have been more costly than his high fourth-down incompletion to Danny Woodhead. Cornerback Carlos Rogers and outside linebacker Aldon Smith both picked the perfect time to snag their first interceptions of the season.
Smith's interception was the first of his career, and Rogers' was the 15th of his career.
Whether it was the first of the 15th, neither could have come at a better time—just like the Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley fumbles. Fortunately for the 49ers, they were able to cash in 21 points on turnovers, which helped them get out to a big, commanding lead.
A commanding lead on the road, against a team that seemingly never loses in December, was a big deal for a team out to prove its worth with three weeks left to play. Hopefully for San Francisco fans, the 49ers saved some of their road magic as they travel to CenturyLink Field next Sunday night.
Right now the Seattle Seahawks are on three-game winning streak that has seen them produce 959 yards, 13 touchdowns and 108 points over their last two games. Seattle has officially hit its stride and is considered the scariest team in football.
For the sake of the 49ers, I hope they didn't expend all of their energy in Sunday night's possible Super Bowl preview, because they will need to leave everything on the field against their biggest division rival. Pete Carroll's club will be well rested—be prepared for another dog fight.
Even though San Francisco is assured a playoff berth at this point, it is still playing for the division and a first-round bye. Every team wants that first-round bye because it means home-field advantage and one less game on the road to the Super Bowl.