Looking back at the Patriots’ 41-34 loss to the 49ers Sunday night, you’re left with a bit of an odd feeling.
On the whole, outside of a dismal special teams performance, the Patriots didn’t play poorly, even when falling behind, 31-3. They certainly weren’t dominated, though superb 49ers end Justin Smith was tough to handle before suffering an injury.
And outside of Danny Woodhead and Brandon Lloyd, the Patriots didn’t play great as they staged a nearly historic comeback — even Tom Brady, who missed a fair share of throws.
Also didn’t get the sense that the Patriots failed to show up. Yes, certainly the 49ers landed the first punch — which is extremely important when you’re dealing with a couple of heavyweights — but the Patriots were more unsettled than overwhelmed.
What we were left with was this feeling: bet the Patriots hope to get another shot at the 49ers because now they know what to expect. Of course, that neglects the countermoves that the impressive 49ers coaching staff, led by Jim Harbaugh, would also concoct in a rematch. But that’s, hopefully, a discussion for a fine Sunday in February.
Guessing that when Bill Belichick and his coaches viewed the film, they came away with the feeling that they didn’t prepare the players as well as they could have. Not to excuse it, but that’s going to happen on a short week and when you’re a game-plan team on offense and defense facing a totally unfamiliar opponent.
The 49ers are completely different than any team in the league, from the schematics on offense to the array of talent on defense.
And all of it threw the Patriots for a loop for which they nearly weren’t able to recover from. New England, from the coaches to the players, couldn’t get a handle on the 49ers and how best to play them for a good portion of the game.
On offense, the Patriots couldn’t decide whether they wanted to run the ball, use one, two, or three tight ends, spread out the 49ers with three receivers, go hurry up in spurts or the entire game.
Once the scoreboard dictated that the Patriots had to go spread with the hurry up, things slowed down for them and they were able to gain some traction.
On defense, the Patriots started in their 4-3, then switched back and forth with a 3-4 while going through constant changes in the front seven, especially on the line, that kept the unit from getting in a flow.
That led to the most problematic factor, and most concerning if there is a rematch, for the Patriots: a distinct lack of pressure from the defense. Despite blitzing the 49ers on 40 percent of the dropbacks, the Patriots only came up with pressure on 16.7 percent of the dropbacks. The latter figure is what the Patriots do against Mark Sanchez of the Jets (16.7 in first matchup, 15.4 in the second). It’s OK against a quarterback who has accuracy problems, but Colin Kaepernick is far from that — and he wasn’t flawless against the Patriots.
It was a little easier for the 49ers heading into this game because they had the extra day and their offense is a lot to prepare for with the playbook expanded under the athletic Kaepernick. The 49ers, with limited game film available on Kaepernick, are able to dictate the game offensively right now — but that won’t last.
And defensively, the 49ers do what they do. It’s certainly not exotic — it’s beautiful in its simplicity — but the unit from top to bottom is the most impressive collection of talent in the league. Combine that with that fact everyone is almost always on the same page and well coached, and you almost have to face them once to get a true appreciation for what they are. That’s why, when the 49ers struggle, it’s usually with divisional foes most familiar with them. They know what to expect.
Will the Patriots get another chance at the 49ers? That’s for fate and the playoff matches to decide. But we’re going to go out on a limb and say the Patriots would very much like that to happen. That was not even close to their best on Sunday night. Now all they can do is fight and hope for another chance.
Here are the positional ratings against the 49ers:
Quarterback (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)
On the whole, Brady was solid against a very good defense. Even during the comeback, Brady didn’t stand out with his physical play, though you can’t place a proper value on his will and ability to manipulate the defense at the line. The interception intended for Wes Welker was a bad decision combined with a poor throw. Shane Vereen in the flat against NaVorro Bowman, who had slipped, was the only other viable option. Yes, there could have been an illegal contact call against cornerback Carlos Rogers, but the throw still had a chance to be completed if Brady led Welker more since the safety had taken a bad angle and was out of the play. Perfect throw, great catch on Brady to Lloyd for 53 yards midway through the fourth quarter. Brady’s mind was the difference because he read single-high safety, looked left for a while after the snap to hold Donte Whitner, and then came back to Lloyd, who had 22 yards after the catch. Been waiting for that play all season. The Patriots are going to need it to go where they want to go, because good teams will clamp down on Welker and the tight ends, even when Rob Gronkowski returns.Continued...