Say bye bye to a bye week. After a stirring performance in their win over the Houston Texans, the Pats laid a stink bomb of such epic proportions that it would have even chased Barack O'Bama away from his politically timed, unprecedented speech in the middle of a prime-time football time. It was 31-3, 49ers, mid-way into the third quarter, before the Patriots woke up. Though the Pats roared back to tie the game at 31, it was a microcosm of their season. The Pats had left themselves no margin for error...and went down to a stinging 41-34 defeat. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: Four turnovers and dropped passes doomed this unit's effort. The 49er defense rendered the Patriots one dimensional in shutting down the Pats ground game, and after the 49ers forced the Pats to play catch-up all night long.
1.) QB: There are those of you who will point out that Tom led the Patriots on a furious comeback, erasing a 31-3 SF lead, by tying the game at 31. There are those who will point to the fact that Tom passed for 443 yards. Yet, I'll point to the fact that Tom threw the ball sixty-five (65) times to get those yards, completing just 36 of his throws, and had two costly interceptions. Tom looked jittery throughout the first half, before settling down in the second stanza. In many ways, this game was reminiscent of his performance in that awful 2010 playoff loss to the Jersey Jets. Other than developing some chemistry with Brandon Lloyd, there was nothing here for Tom to write home about. Say bye to bye, and the MVP: GRADE: C;
2.) RBs: A RB can rush for 100 yards in nearly every game, and 1200 plus yards for a season. But, if he fumbles, he's a liability to his team. This description is beginning to fit Stevan Ridley like a glove. Other than catastrophic blocked kicks or pick sixes, nothing is more harmful to a teams' chances to win than a fumble. So, BB went to Plan B, Shane Vereen. The result, a catch of a short pass, and a fumble. So finally, BB went with Plan C, Danny Woodhead. Woody was solid, with 12 rushes for 61 yards, and 5 pass receptions for 23 more, and a pair of TDs. In bad weather, a team must be able to get some mileage out of it's rushing attack. Not so tonight, with Ridley and Vereen. Interesting that after his awful performance, when being interviewed, that Ridley was so upbeat, as if his team had won: GRADE: D;
3.) OL: Where was the crew that dominated last Monday night? The Big Uglies had loads of trouble with the talented 49ers front seven from the get-go. When this unit finally decided to start blocking people, it was 31-3, San Francisco. It's tough to get up for back to back big games. But, that's precisely what the Patriots will have to do in the play-offs...only now, they'll have to do it on the road. This unit must be more consistent in the upcoming playoffs: GRADE: C;
4.) WRs & TEs: Aaron Hernandez was targeted by Tom 19 times, yet had only 9 receptions, for 92 yards, and a TD. Not bad looking stats on paper, but there were a couple of costly drops. TE Hoomanawanui had one catch on a 41 yard play. Clearly, the 49ers focused on stopping Wes Welker. They held the Pats' well covered mighty-mite to just 5 catches for 56 yards. For the second game in a row, Brandon Lloyd came up big, finishing with 10 catches for 190 yards...with a highlight 53 yard pass play. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late: GRADE: B-;
II. DEFENSE: Turnovers by the offense and uncharacteristic poor play by Special Teams put the "D" behing the eight ball most of the night. But, poor secondary play reared it's ugly head again, as the Pats gave up several big pass plays.
1.) DL: This group did a fair job of containing Frank Gore and the 489ers' running game, as Gore finished with 83 yards on 21 carries. But, they were able to apply no pressure on young QB Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick had plenty of time to connect on several long pass plays. Other than Rob Ninkovich (fumble recovery, sack, and 7 tackles (2 solos), no one really stood out. Having to play from behind throughout the game prevented this group from being more aggressive. Just one of the by-products of this frustrating, aggravating evening. The Pats' badly need an eventual shot in the arm from DE Chandler Jones: GRADE: C;
2.) LBs: As was the case with the DL, did a decent job against the run. But, with the 49ers able to jump out to such a huge lead, the aggressiveness from this crew dissipitated. You'd figure that, when an opponent fumble six (6) times, the defense would be alert enough to recover more than one of the six. But, oh well. Jerod Mayo led the team as usual with 12 tackles (5 solos), and was helped out by Dont'a Hightower (8 tackles...5 solos) and Brandon Spikes (6 tackles...3 solos). RB Frank Gore managed two catches for 34 yards, including a 26 yard play. Still, overall, this group seems to be improving with every game: GRADE: C+;
3.) SECONDARY: After several weeks of gradual improvement, this unit took a major step backwards tonight. Colin Kaepernick threw for four (4) TDs, and had several long completions. The 49ers first TD resulted when old friend Randy Moss broke free for a 24 yard reception. Their second TD came after a 35 yard PI penalty on Aqib Talib, and a deep 34 yard TD pass to TE Delanie Walker...and...before you could say Colin Kaepernick, it was 17-3, 49ers, at the half. After the Ridley fumble and a Brady pick gift-wrapped two more TDs...the Pats' roared back to tie the game...only of have CB Kyle Arrington whiff on Michael Crabtree, after Crabtree had caught a short pass....38 yards later, the had their winning score, and a 38-31 lead. Other than Devin McCourty, who intercepted Kaepernick in the endzone to kill a scoring drive, there were no highlights for this group. Lots of work ahead: GRADE: D;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: After the team had battled back from a 3-31 deficit to tie the game at 31, on the ensuing kickoff, this group allowed rookie RB LaMichael James to return the kick 62 yards. On the very next play, the 49ers scored the winning TD against a deflated defense, on the aforementioned catch and and run by Crabtree. But, that was not the only sin for the not so specials. In the forst quarter, San Francisco caught the specials napping on a fake punt, and ran for a 31 yard gain. The Pats were fortunate that this didn't lead to any points, as the 49ers missed a 39 yard FG. Finally, the specials failed to recover a muffed punt by 49ers' punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr., and failed on a last gasp on-side kick try: GRADE: D-;
IV. COACHING: I had picked the 49ers and the 5.5 points going into this game, because I thought that the Pats would have a hard time stringing together back to back "A" games. Unfortunately, I was right. For whatever reason, the Pats seemed to come out of the gate flat...stringing together more "three and outs" in the first half, than they did in seemingly their last three games combined. The 49ers' physical front seven dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the opening half, and shut down the Pats' ground game. The suddenly one-dimemsional Pats had no answers until the second half. On the defensive side of the ball, falling behind as they did put the "D" back on it's heels. Credit the coaching staff for making TE Vernoin Davis a non-factor. But, some poor secondary play hurt, but the turnovers and poor special teams play killed. With so much riding on this game in terms of playoff positioning, and after such a great performance against Houston, this game was a huge disappointment: GRADE: C-;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: It's a toss-up between the 66 yard return buy Dashon Goldson of that Ridley fumble, and the 62 yard kickoff return by James. But, I'll give the nod the the 66 yard fumble return. At the time, the Patriots were down, 17-3, early in the 3rd quarter, and on a drive. Ridley fumbled at the 49er 31 yard line...and Goldson returned it to the New England 6 yard line. Had that fumble not occurred, and the Pats had scored a TD, you're looking at a 17-10 game, with the Pats having the momentum. But, instead, the fumble lead to an easy San Francisco TD, and a commanding 24-3 lead. Why were you so upbeat in your post-game interview, Mr. Ridley?
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who completed 14 of 25 passes for 216 yards, four TDs, and a pick.
Here is the box score: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=321216017
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome.