Patriots-49ers Live: Tom Brady’s Toughness Noticeable Even As Comeback Falls Short in Patriots’ 41-34 Loss

Tom BradyFinal, 49ers 41-34: If there was ever a stranger football game than tonight, I’m not aware of it.

What began as a defensive showdown between the 49ers and Patriots quickly turned into a barn-burning rout and then into a tie ball game. Ultimately, the 49ers pulled out the win with some late-game heroics from Colin Kaepernick. But Tom Brady and the Patriots’ will was the real story here.

Brady threw a career-high 65 passes for 445 yards. He scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one passing, as the Patriots came back from a 31-3 deficit to tie the game. But a LaMichael James kick return for 62 yards and Kaepernick’s ability to convert a  big pass play to Michael Crabtree all but sealed things up.

Danny Woodhead, who scored two touchdowns for the second time this season, played an incredible game out of the backfield, and Brandon Lloyd continued his recent streak of breakout games with 10 grabs for 190 yards.

In the end, the 49ers’ lead was just too much, though, and San Francisco pulled out the 41-34 win. But, wow, what a comeback.

Fourth Quarter, 0:38, 49ers 41-34:  The Patriots made quick work on that drive, and Stephen Gostkowski hit a field goal to bring this back to within a one-score game. But it appears it’s all over … finally … after that onside kick recovery.

Fourth Quarter, 1:55, 49ers 41-31: That field goal all but seals the game. It was a wild run, but there’s just too much ground to overcome and not enough time to do it at this point.

If this game has shown one thing, it’s the mental toughness of this Patriots team. Clearly, the Pats didn’t have the focus and presence coming into this one, but the way they charged back in the second half was admirable and telling. These guys aren’t messing around.

Fourth Quarter, 2:25, 49ers 38-31: The epic comeback looks like it’s going to fall just short.

The Patriots just made too many mistakes, and that failed fourth down pretty much sealed their fate in this one. It was one heck of a comeback, but in the end there was just too much ground to make up to expect to come up with the win.

Brady stood poised in the pocket under the pressure on that short drive, but again, it was just too much to overcome.

Fourth Quarter, 6:25, 49ers 38-31: And just like that….

Just when you think the Patriots can’t be stopped, the 49ers cruise past the Patriots back into the lead with a helluva kickoff return and then a pretty pitch and catch between Kaepernick and Crabtree for the touchdown.

There’s still six-plus minutes left to play, so don’t go anywhere. This one’s still got plenty of legs left.

Fourth Quarter, 7:30, 31-31: Wow. This is just unbelievable.

I had this team dead in the water midway through the third quarter, and now they’re all the way back to tie it up.

Tom Brady has absolutely unloaded on this 49ers defense, and Danny Woodhead has reemerged as something of a secret weapon. There’s really no words to properly describe this except maybe “magical.”

Honestly, this game couldn’t have been scripted any better.

Fourth Quarter, 12:08, 49ers 31-24: They’re alive!

After being down by 28 points at one point in the second half, the Patriots are now back within a touchdown, and Tom Brady isn’t playing around.

Brady just led the third straight touchdown drive to pull the Pats back within a score, but what was even more telling was his reaction and intensity toward the refs and his teammates throughout that drive. Talk about leadership. This guy is oozing with it.

Also, Brandon Lloyd must have taken some acting classes in college, because the key play on that touchdown drive was a clear flop by the talented wideout. But he got the desired result, so I suppose that’s all that matters.

Fourth Quarter, 14:58, 49ers 31-17: This is suddenly a game again.

This couldn’t get much weirder. The first half in itself was strange, but now the Patriots look primed to make a big run. Now just two scores down, it’s definitely possible.

Tom Brady has been leading the attack, even if not statistically, all the way in the second half, and he continues to show just how tough he is. That toughness is driving the Patriots tonight, and it will be key if they hope to come back in this one.

End Third Quarter, 49ers 31-10: Well, it wasn’t a pretty quarter of play, that’s for sure. But the Patriots at least got on the scoreboard.

Tom Brady seemed to figure out the kinks in his passing game, and Danny Woodhead reemerged as the Patriots’ secret offensive weapon. But let’s be real, here. If the Patriots get stopped here, this one’s over, right?

Brandon Lloyd has looked good, and the defense looks better. But the turnovers are killing this team tonight. They better figure out how to deal with physical defenses like this, because this is exactly what the playoffs are going to look like.

Third Quarter, 6:00, 49ers 31-10: That’s unusual — the Patriots scored, you say?

Danny Woodhead has suddenly taken on the role of “feature back,” carrying the ball nine times for 58 yards and scoring the only touchdown of the night.

I’m not saying this one is over just yet, but even while cutting into the deficit, this one isn’t looking too good.

At least there’s some sense of excitement in Gillette now, though, especially after the way things have just completely spiraled out of control.

Third Quarter, 10:00, 49ers 31-3: The hits just keep on coming.

The 49ers are well out in front now, and there’s nothing Tom Brady can do to stop them. Even when he is doing his job well, which he finally seems to be doing, Brady can’t catch a break.

There was a fumble by Ridley, and now an interception off Hernandez’s hands. Bad luck is just haunting the Patriots this week, the same way it did the Texans on Monday.

The Patriots may need to take a double dose of NyQuil, because they look sick out there.

Third Quarter, 10:30, 49ers 24-3: Ball security is something Bill Belichick preaches almost every time he speaks, and Stevan Ridley just put the ball on the ground again.

After what seemed to be a game-changing pick  by McCourty, the Patriots just coughed up another turnover, and the 49ers seem ready to put this one away.

Brady has far too much work to do to make up this deficit. I’m not saying it’s impossible, or unlikely given Brady’s knack for heroics. But let’s just say the fat lady should be getting her vocals ready.

Third Quarter, 11:37, 49ers 17-3: Devin McCourty does it again.

Since moving to safety, McCourty has been an absolute playmaker in the Patriots’ secondary, and that interception — his fifth of the season — further solidified that notion.

The 49ers seemed dead set on another scoring drive, which would have only further crippled the Patriots. But McCourty read Kaepernick’s tendencies perfectly and intercepted that pass to give Brady and the offense a shot.

With his leadership and playmaking back there, the Patriots’ defense may have a shot at keeping this game within reach.

10:21 p.m.: For all you fans that thought Colin Kaepernick would be the best answer for the Patriots under center, now you can see the results.

Still think he’s the easier of the two? Vote below.

Halftime, 49ers 17-3: This game is apparently being played inside the twilight zone. Because I don’t think things can normally get this weird in a football game.

The Patriots haven’t been this dominated in quite some time, and this almost looks like a reversal of last week’s beatdown of the Texans.

The 49ers’ defense has done a great job of containing Brady and the passing attack, but the most surprising, and maybe most important, aspect of this one is how they’ve been able to bottle up Wes Welker.

Welker, who is one of the league leaders in receptions and receiving yards,  hasn’t seen many opportunities in the first half. He’s been blanketed in coverage all night, as if Harbaugh knew exactly how to weaken New England’s potent attack.

Without Welker and with the slick weather making it hard for receivers to grip the ball, the Patriots’ offense actually looks the worst it has since maybe the Cardinals’ game in Week 2. Gronk could really help right now.

Second Quarter, 2:14, 49ers 14-3:And as the weirdest game rolls on, Ed Hochuli may have just given the single best referee monologue of all time.

After one of the strangest punts/punt returns I’ve seen since maybe the 49ers’ muffed punt in the 2011 playoffs, Ed Hochuli just managed to botch the call and utterly confuse football fans everywhere.

Did anyone at home even come close to understanding that? Because I gave up about halfway through.

Luckily for Hochuli, his biceps are big enough to end all troubles that it may have caused, and a right jab would help us all forget about that unbearable sequence.

Anywho, back to football!

Second Quarter, 6:54, 49ers 14-3: You remember those secondary issues that were crippling the Patriots early in the season? Well, they appear to be back.

After a tough first series that saw Randy Moss crush his former team for a touchdown, the most recent drive wasn’t much better. Aqib Talib has now been called for a suspect pass interference penalty, and Alfonzo Dennard got caught peeking at Colin Kaepernick and lost track of Delanie Walker on a big touchdown toss.

If these struggles persist, the Patriots are going to be in for one very, very long night. They can’t sustain for too long against this defense down multiple scores.

Second Quarter, 8:31, 49ers 7-3: As the first quarter came to a close, Tom Brady got in the faces of every offensive player on the sidelines and let them know just how serious he was about this game.

The fire continued on the field as Brady led the Patriots on a 16-play, 82-yard drive all the way into the red zone. But it only yielded a field goal, which means the 49ers still lead in this one.

The resolve by this offense is encouraging, though. Brady’s intensity is noticeable and will be key if the Patriots expect to get the lead back before the half.

End First Quarter, 49ers 7-0: I don’t think the start of this game could have been any stranger.

There’s already been three turnovers, a fake punt, two challenges, a couple of bad overthrows and a missed field goal. It’s like Belichick and Harbaugh are competing on an episode of Survivor, trying to see who can have the weirder play.

All we really know thus far is that Brady is struggling badly and that the football doesn’t want to stay in anyone’s hands. We’ll see if things calm down going forward, but the only real solid piece to note so far is that Randy Moss looked damn good on both of his grabs.

First Quarter, 2:03, 49ers 7-0: A weird start to the first quarter only continues to get stranger.

After another near-fumble, the 49ers ran a fake punt that put them in field goal range. But David Akers missed the kick and we’re still at 7-0.

Beyond the strange sequence that started this thing, I’ve got to note that Harbaugh has shown some serious guts in the early going. Not only has he challenged Brady with extra pass rushers, but the fake punt has to be the biggest challenge to Belichick I’ve seen.

If this continues, the Patriots may not have a prayer when all is said and done.

First Quarter, 6:13, 49ers 7-0: Things are getting weird.

After a Brady interception that nearly went back to the house — thank goodness he learned how to tackle, although I don’t know when — Steve Gregory steps up with a big hit, and the Patriots got the recovered fumble.

There’s still no consistency to this Patriots offense, though. Ridley has had a tough time against this 49ers defense, and Brady can’t seem to establish a rhythm over the middle — or anywhere, for that matter.

Kaepernick has looked good so far, and the Patriots really need to start moving the ball if they hope not to go into the half down multiple scores.

First Quarter, 10:57, 49ers 7-0: Randy Moss’ tenure in New England had an ugly ending, but his return to Gillette Stadium got off to a pretty good start.

After catching a ball on a key play to extend the 49ers’ first drive of the game, Moss just beat the Patriots’ secondary deep again and made them pay for some mediocre coverage with a 24-yard touchdown pass.

Moss knows this defense and Belichick’s schemes all too well, and he could be a big problem for the Patriots tonight. Look out.

First Quarter, 12:17: The fumble may not have done the Patriots in this time, but Stevan Ridley really needs to hold onto that ball better.

Ridley fumbled early in the game against the Texans and saw some limited action until late in the fourth quarter afterward. You have to wonder if this is going to continue to be a problem, or if Belichick just sits him down and makes him understand how important ball security is.

8:20 p.m.: It’s wet and wild on the field at Gillette here ahead of kickoff. But that shouldn’t keep Tom Brady and the Patriots from airing it out against a stingy Niners defense.

With Gronk in the lineup, for a fourth straight week mind you, the combination of Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd will once again have to step up to give the Patriots’ passing attack a chance. Last week it worked like a charm, but this 49ers secondary is completely different beast. The 49ers’ pass rush will also present quite the challenge for Brady and New England.

With those lingering questions in mind, let’s dive into the weekly Three and Out for some burning concerns heading into this Sunday night showdown.

Weathering the Storm – It’s cold and wet on the field, and we may even see snow before all is said and done. So, look out for a ground-and-pound attack to be the key to winning this one. Also, don’t be surprised if the passing attacks struggle and turnovers pop up a little more often than usual.

Containing the Kid – Colin Kaepernick is a problem. But can the Patriots’ powerful pass rush contain the kid from the Bay? Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork and the linebackers will be responsible for not only pressuring Kaepernick but also keeping him inside the pocket and not letting any of those big runs get them.

Keep Brady Vertical – Tom Brady likes to go vertical down the field with Hernandez, Welker and Lloyd as some of his favorite targets. But Brady will need to stay vertical if he wants to go vertical, and that could be a tough task for the offensive line. This 49ers pass rush is one of the best in football, and if the Patriots hope to establish any sort of passing attack, they’ll have to get an all-star day from their bruisers up front.

7:50 p.m.: With Gronk officially out, the Patriots are back in the same situation as the past few weeks offensively.

Tom Brady won’t have his favorite target over the middle to look to when under duress, but some of his other big-play receivers should be available to fill the void.

Aaron Hernandez was huge last week, catching seven passes and a pair of touchdowns. And Brandon Lloyd finally reemerged as a viable option in the passing game, catching eight balls and scoring twice in the rout.

As always, Wes Welker will be ready to contribute over the middle. But with one of the best pass rushes and secondaries in football on the other side, will the receivers find open space, and fast, for Brady to work the ball in? Getting the ball out quick and under pressure will be key. So, look for some short dumpoffs and some added touches for Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen.

7:25 p.m.: Just as we all expected, at least anyone who’s familiar with the Patriots, Rob Gronkowski is officially out against the 49ers.

Gronk leads the list of the Patriots’ inactives, joining a few other notable players on the outs tonight.

As for the 49ers, Mario Manningham leads their group of inactives. Now, let’s take a look at the full list of players ruled out for Sunday night’s showdown here at Gillette.

Patriots:
Derrick Martin, S
Tracy White, LB
Marcus Zusevics, OL
Rob Gronkowski, TE
Jake Bequette, DE
Ron Drace, DL

49ers:
Trenton Robinson, S
Jewel Hamilton, RB
Tavares Gooden, LB
Joe Looney, OL
Mario Manningham, WR
Ian Williams, DT

6:54 p.m.: The tragedy that took place in Newtown, Conn., is almost unspeakable. I, like many across the country I assume, have been left speechless and thoroughly devastated by the details of Friday’s horrific events.

But while we all mourn for the 28 lost in the tragedy, for at least one night we can take our minds away from the horror and go into something of a safe zone. Nothing is going to change the awful occurrences, but at least for a few hours we can duck away into our little slice of peace and take our minds off reality.

Football is a popular sport across America, and sports are an opportunity for us all to take our minds away from the realities that life present. Tonight is a perfect opportunity for everyone, especially us here in New England, to escape the walls of reality for at least a few hours and focus on something that brings us all together: football.

We’ll keep thinking about the victims and remembering the terrible occurrences of Friday, but at least the Patriots and 49ers can occupy our attention for a little while.

6:25 p.m.: The rain is still falling hard and fast, but the tarp is coming off the field at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots are getting set for another prime time showdown.

Less than a week after beating the AFC-leading Texans, the Patriots now welcome another Super Bowl contender to town.

The 49ers bring a young stud quarterback in Colin Kaepernick as well as the best defense in football, which should present a tough challenge even in the confines of comfort at Gillette.

Anyhow, before we get rolling, take a quick look at the field as the players make their way out to do some pregame warmups.

Gillette

2:30 p.m.: Robert Kraft’s family is connected to what happened in Connecticut on Friday. He said he’s planning on donating $25,000 to the Newtown community and also talked about how the Patriots’ players have responded over the last couple of days.

11:15 a.m.: The Patriots, Jets and Giants will all be honoring the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Sunday.

Perhaps the saddest story comes out of the Giants’ organization, where Victor Cruz  took the memories one step further by writing the name of one of the victims, 6-year-old Jack Pinto, on his gloves and cleats.

Cruz is giving Pinto the special treatment after finding out that the 6-year-old was an especially big fan of Cruz. The Giants’ wide receiver even placed a call Pinto’s parents, who are reportedly considering burying their son in a Cruz jersey.

There will be plenty of emotion before the Patriots, Jets and Giants all play their games this week, with the memories taking to the field, too, as the teams each honor the victims in their own ways. Check out a closeup of what the Patriots will be wearing tonight:

Patriots Newtown

Photo via Twitter/@NewEnglandPatriots

9:15 a.m.: It’s been a heartbreaking weekend in New England, with the shooting in Newtown, Conn., close to home for many in local states.

The Patriots have plans to honor the Newtown community and remember the victims of the shooting during tonight’s game. As well as the moment of silence that each NFL team is going to hold before its Sunday game, the Patriots will send up 26 flares and wear a helmet decal tonight.

8 a.m. ET: Less than a week after the Patriots laid the proverbial smackdown on the Houston Texans on national television, the San Francisco 49ers come to Gillette Stadium, with their focus on making their own point in front of a national audience.

Tom Brady, who won his record 23rd AFC Player of the Week award this week, will try to build on last week’s four-touchdown performance, which further solidified his place in the MVP race. But the 49ers come to Foxboro with maybe the best pass rush Brady will see all season and arguably the best defense in the NFL.

Brady knew the 49ers’ defense would provide a challenge, and he even admitted this week that he’s been preparing for San Francisco since Thanksgiving. That extra prep time alone may not be enough for Brady to overcome the 49ers, though.

Stevan Ridley — who ranks seventh among running backs with 1,082 rushing yards and leads the league in first downs with 70 — and the Patriots’ stable of running backs will need to help energize the offense Sunday.

While Brady attempts to counter the 49ers’ vaunted defense, the Patriots will also have their hands full with a very different style of quarterback. The versatility and athleticism of Colin Kaepernick should offer Vince Wilfork and the defensive line fits all night, while Kaepernick’s combination of arm strength and precision should test Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty and an improving, yet still suspect, secondary.

There’s plenty to look forward to in this potential Super Bowl preview, so keep it locked here. Kickoff is set for 8:20 p.m., but we’ve got you covered from all angles ahead of time with all the news, notes and analysis on your New England Patriots.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

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