FOXBOROUGH — There’s the good, the bad, and the unacceptable from Sunday night’s 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Patriots’ comeback attempt would have been a fantastic story had they completed the job. But they didn’t. And it will certainly hurt the team going ahead because of the playoff implications.
The Patriots went down 31-3 in the third quarter before reeling off four straight scoring drives to tie the game. Too bad we’re not writing about a sweet Tom Brady comeback.
Here’s some takeaways from the game:
1) The Patriots no longer control their destiny — The immediate aftermath of losing Sunday’s game is the unlikely chance for the Patriots to claim the No. 2 seed in the AFC and earn a playoff bye. The Denver Broncos (11-3) beat the Baltimore Ravens Sunday and are now positioned to finish the season behind the Houston Texans atop the conference. The Broncos have the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs left on the schedule. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Patriots would hold the No. 3 seed and face the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) before moving on to either playing Houston or Denver, both of which they’ve beaten. We’re sure both teams would love to see the Patriots again. Meanwhile, the 49ers clinched a playoff berth.
2) The turnovers are nothing to laugh about — Coming into Sunday’s game, the Patriots owned a league best +24 takeaways. They had four giveaways on Sunday and managed to come up with a fumble recovery. It was by far the worst day the Patriots had endured in the turnover department this season. They previously had two two-turnover games, against the Seattle Seahawks and the Buffalo Bills. There was no answer or excuses given for the way the ball was handled Sunday night and it’s not acceptable, especially given the fact that those four turnovers led to a 28-point deficit over the second and third quarters and what appeared to be an insurmountable lead. Lucky for the Patriots, they have Brady. Lucky indeed.
3) When it’s crunch time, the Patriots can depend on Danny Woodhead — Woodhead may be the smallest member of the team, but his stature has no bearing on production. Both in the passing game and running game, Woodhead shows why he’s so valuable. He picked up a season-high 61 yards rushing and caught five passes for 23 yards. His two rushing touchdowns were crucial to the team’s comeback hopes. He made plays in the open field no one else could, and when Brady needed to check down, Woodhead was open and ready to make the first guy miss. He’s like a slot machine with only one number. Of course, Woodhead would not have gotten the 17 touches he received Sunday night had Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen not fumbled in their limited time on field. Bill Belichick is tough on his backs. There were only occasional sighting of either after their turnovers. It’s no wonder that Woodhead has stuck around despite the talent in the Patriots’ backfield. After Sunday night, you know he is the most consistent among them.
4) The pass interference calls are both a blessing and a curse — In the second quarter, Aqib Talib was flagged for a questionable pass interference call that gave the 49ers 35 yards and a trip to the Patriots’ red zone. Three plays later, Colin Kaepernick threw a touchdown pass to Delanie Walker. In the fourth quarter, Brady targeted Wes Welker for a pass but he was hounded by an aggressive Donte Whitner. There was no flag although he deserved one. One play later, the 49ers’ Tarell Brown was flagged for pass interference on Brandon Lloyd in the end zone after Lloyd appeared to trip up over his own feet and fall down. The Patriots were awarded 38 yards on that one. Brady hit Aaron Hernandez for a 5-yard touchdown on the next play. The inconsistency with which this particular penalty has been called has both helped and hurt the Patriots all year long. Sunday sort of put it all in perspective for me. Pass interference should be a 15-yard penalty. It’s simply too punitive given the stakes and the officials’ habit for making errors on the call.
5) Statistically speaking — Despite the loss, two Patriots hit some significant milestones against the 49ers. Wes Welker caught five passes for 56 yards, giving him 100 receptions for the season. He now has five straight years with 100 receptions or more, an NFL record. He had been tied with Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison. And then Brady, with his 443 yards passing, passed the 4,000 mark for the season. He has 4,276. It marks the fifth time in his career he’s crossed the 4,000-yard threshold. Only Peyton Manning (12), Drew Brees (7), Brett Favre (6) and Dan Marino (6) have done so.