They scored early. They scored often.
They built a big lead. They squandered it.
They made the late plays to regain the lead and held on to win. Heck, even recovering the onside kick brought to mind WR Brandon Lloyd doing the same for New England as they held off the Miami Dolphins earlier this season.
For once, the Patriots felt what their victims felt after being dominated for four quarters.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s teams always say the right things when the cameras are rolling and microphones are shoved a few inches from their faces. But no one is immune to letting compliments get to one’s head.
After winning seven straight, including overwhelming the then 10-1 Houston Texans 42-14, talk of the Patriots being the best team in the NFL basically went viral. They were first in power rankings. All of a sudden they had a defense that could take them to New Orleans, host city for Super Bowl XLVII. Their home winning streak in December (20 straight) made New England sound invincible at Gillette Stadium.
Sure, the players say they don’t pay attention to sports talk radio, watch television reports or read the newspapers about themselves. But they hear it. Some praise eventually penetrates the locker room. It’s unavoidable.
And if they hear enough of it, it may inflate a few egos.
Why else were a few 49ers players referencing the media in their postgame comments? They claim they heard people say they couldn’t beat the Patriots. Hearing those statements helped inspire San Francisco to beat the Patriots.
Whether the disrespect card (virtually manufactured and mass produced by the Patriots) played by some 49ers was real or a figment, claims that the Patriots were best in the league and guarantees they will be in the Super Bowl were public for about six days.
Now they have 14 days and two games for self-reflection: How good are we really? What do we have to improve on? Can we get to where we want to be?
A humiliating loss serves humility like nothing else. Beating on a bunch of bad teams and the flawed AFC leaders doesn’t say much about the Patriots.
Falling behind 31-3, a deficit that could have been worse, says a lot, but not everything. Truth is, New England should recognize they lost to the 49ers this time, but San Francisco isn’t the better team. They are evenly matched.
The loss has several reminders of what the Patriots have to do to play at their best: don’t give up big plays (all four touchdown passes were at least 24 yards), and stop the run (180 yards allowed, 4.6 yards per attempt).
Capitalize on opportunities and make the play (CB Alfonzo Dennard had an interception go through his hands late in the second quarter; the 49ers kicked a field goal four plays later).
Win the turnover battle (49ers forced four turnovers to the Patriots' two; San Francisco fumbled six times, but lost only one).
Protect the quarterback (Tom Brady was sacked three times and was under heavy pressure throughout the night).
Eliminate mental errors (eight penalties for 73 yards: OG Logan Mankins’ false start turned a 2nd-and-3 into 2nd-and-8, which led to a punt two plays later; CB Aqib Talib’s 35-yard pass interference helped set up a 49ers touchdown).
New England did a lot wrong on Sunday. The 49ers made the Patriots pay and convincingly beat New England. The Patriots have two weeks to clean up their play and make those wrongs right in time for the playoffs.
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