In what was perhaps the best NFL Sunday of 2012, we got to see the best game of 2012.
This was true as of 8:00 p.m. ET after the Steelers and Cowboys game wrapped up, but that even changed only a few hours later when the Sunday Night Football matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots game came to an end with a 41-34 49ers victory.
What made this game so great? Consider the elements.
The 49ers jumped out to a 31-3 lead halfway through the third quarter, thanks in part to four early New England turnovers.
However, if you've been watching the Patriots in the last decade, you knew that lead wouldn't be sustainable for long if Tom Brady was the quarterback.
Lo and behold, Brady led the Patriots to 28 unanswered points from the end of the third quarter through the middle of the fourth quarter, tying the game at one point at 31 apiece.
With New England at home, you would think that this would be where the tide officially turns, as the Patriots with all of the momentum on their side would take control of the game and guide themselves to a thrilling come-from-behind victory.
But then Stephen Gostkowski's kickoff would boom right into the arms of LaMichael James, who would return the kickoff 62 yards to the New England 38-yard line. A Colin Kaepernick-to-Michael Crabtree touchdown pass would follow on the next play, shifting the momentum and a 38-31 lead back into San Francisco's favor, where it would remain for the rest of the game.
If that was a preview of what we are bound to see come February 3rd, 2013 in New Orleans, then we should have a tremendous Super Bowl matchup on our hands.
Throughout the season, both the 49ers and Patriots have been the class of their conferences. While the 49ers have been more consistent, New England started off the season at 3-3 before embarking on a seven-game winning streak that would win them the AFC East and put them within an ear shot of claiming home-field advantage.
In the process, New England defeated most of the AFC's elite in the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. Their issues have been with the NFC West, as they went 1-3 against the 49ers' division.
Was Patriots vs. 49ers a Super Bowl preview?
San Francisco has only lost to one elite NFC team, the New York Giants (who might very well miss the playoffs). They can now add a win over New England to their impressive Week 1 victory over the Green Bay Packers among the elite teams that have fallen to the 49ers.
This game was a true chess match of a football game, and there's no reason to think that the Super Bowl will be any different. San Francisco boasts the second-ranked pass defense and second-ranked run defense, while the Patriots offense is ranked fifth in passing yards and seventh in rushing yards.
How intriguing is that? An offensive juggernaut versus a defensive powerhouse? We got to see that on Sunday Night, but will we see it in the Super Bowl?
Hopefully, the answer is yes. Although I'm sure that fans of the other playoff teams beg to differ.