As 2019 draws to a close, we’re counting down the 15 greatest New England Patriots games of the past decade.
At No. 11: Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers, Week 15, 2012.
After reaching the Super Bowl the previous season, Patriots lost three of their first six games in 2012, then rattled off seven consecutive wins. Their offense was borderline unstoppable during that stretch — which included the Butt Fumble Game and the Letterman Jacket Game — scoring 29, 45, 37, 59, 49, 23 and 42 points.
The Niners, who lost the 2011 NFC Championship Game in overtime, were putting together a similarly impressive campaign in Year 2 of the Jim Harbaugh era. A few weeks earlier, Harbaugh had made a drastic and controversial change, installing dynamic second-year pro Colin Kaepernick as his new starting quarterback. Alex Smith was relegated to backup duty.
San Francisco won three of Kaepernick’s first four starts and lost the other in overtime to head into New England with a 9-3-1 record.
HOW IT HAPPENED
What a wacky game this was.
Amid heavy rains at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots and 49ers combined for 75 points and 908 total yards, with nearly all of New England’s offensive production coming in the final 21 minutes.
San Francisco struck first on a touchdown pass to Randy Moss — then two years removed from his final game as a Patriot — and built a 31-3 lead five minutes into the second half. But the Patriots responded with a relentless rally, scoring touchdowns on four consecutive possessions to draw even with 6:43 remaining. The Patriots outgained the Niners 280-58 in the fourth quarter, but Kaepernick’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree just 18 seconds after Danny Woodhead’s game-tying score proved to be the difference.
Four of Kaepernick’s 14 completions in the game resulted in touchdowns. He also fumbled four times, but San Francisco recovered all four, with Frank Gore corraling one and running it in for a score.
Tom Brady attempted a career-high 65 passes for New England — completing 36 for 446 and a touchdown with two interceptions — and the Patriots ran a whopping 94 offensive plays, their most in a non-overtime game since Pro Football Reference began tracking such data in 2012.
Final score: 49ers 41, Patriots 34
Give LaMichael James an assist on Crabtree’s deciding touchdown. The 49ers return man took a Patriots kickoff back 62 yards, and Kapernick hit Crabtree for six one play later. It was a much-needed spark for San Francisco’s offense, which gained fewer than 10 yards on four of its five legitimate fourth-quarter possessions.
Patriots receiver Brandon Lloyd finished with a career-high 190 receiving yards on 10 catches. … All three of the Niners’ second-half touchdown drives lasted just one play, and all three began in Patriots territory. … San Francisco had a 63-yard interception return (by Carlos Rogers) and a 66-yard fumble return (by Dashon Goldson). … The Patriots somehow ran 11 plays in 78 seconds on their final possession. … Kyle Arrington, who missed an open-field tackle on the game-winning touchdown, only was covering Crabtree because cornerback Alfonzo Dennard had exited the game with an injury.