First things first. The 49ers notched an improbable 41-34 win in New England (something that hasn't happened in December since 2002) over the vaunted Patriots, clinching their second consecutive playoff berth in the process.

Now onto everything else and what it means.

If you didn't watch the game, you'd imply that my choice of the word "improbable" would refer to the fact that the 49ers were viewed as pretty big underdogs in this game. What transpired in Foxboro transformed that choice of word. The 49ers jumped out to an early 7-0 lead and showed the nation that they came to play. A Carlos Rogers interception returned to about the 3 yard line, proved that the Niners were intent on taking it to New England. But the end of that play would set the tone for the entire rest of the game. Instead of charging through Tom Brady into the endzone, Rogers inexplicably stops to "fake out" the 35 year-old quarterback. A couple plays later, Delanie Walker fumbles the ball—and the 49ers' opportunity to take New England and its crowd out of the game early.

This trend would continue with botched snaps, another David Akers missed field goal (are you reading this Joe Nedney?), turnovers, Vernon Davis not wanting to dive for a possible touchdown catch, a failed 4th down conversion, and, shockingly, some other gaffes we'll omit just for the sake of brevity.

But alas, the 49ers finally began to capitalize early in the 3rd quarter. Frank Gore turns a fumbled snap into a touchdown, Kaepernick-to-Crabtree tacks on another seven (thanks to an Aldon Smith interception) and the scoreboard finally reflects the Niners dominance, shining a 31-3 to a shocked Gillette Stadium.

Then the 49ers coaching brass brandished their age-old formula for squandering leads—they started playing the polar opposite of what got them the lead, in hopes that it would work in preserving it (a la George Costanza). Instead of continuing to pressure Brady, they gave him time. Instead of sticking with man-to-man coverage, they sat back in zone coverage to the delight of Brady and chagrin of Niners fans everywhere. Most importantly, they aimlessly pounded the ball in their jumbo packages with seemingly no desire to move the chains or keep the Pats down.

As we all know, the Patriots climbed right back into the contest and rallied to a 28-point comeback with ease akin to tying velcro shoes. Roman and Fangio (more so Roman) had inexplicably blown the biggest lead a team has had against the Pats since the late 90's. The strange thing is, I had a sinking suspicion it was going to happen the minute the Niners got that 28 point lead. Despite a new coaching regime, the 49ers still seem content to let quality teams hang around and, in some cases, come back to win. Thanks to a quick strike to Crabtree and a 4th down stand, they still wriggled out of Foxboro with a win. And although that's still quite an accomplishment, the way it went down takes a lot of the wind out of the victory flag.

Facepalms of the game

1. Coaching. The blown lead falls at the feet of Harbaugh, Roman, and Fangio... and no one else. Will this finally teach them a lesson to not conjure up their inner Jimmy Rayes, Mike Singletarys, and Mike Nolans? Or will we see more of the same despite incontrovertible evidence that this philosophy is flawed in every way possible?

2. Akers. The 49ers seriously need to look into signing a kicker this week. Although Cundiff and Kaeding aren't attractive options, there have to be others they can pursue. Could any option be worse than Akers right now? I don't think so. Between missed field goals and an evident lack of leg on kickoffs, he's nothing but a constant vulnerability every time he steps onto the field.

3. Ginn. Much like Akers, Ted Ginn is a shell of his 2011 self. This confounding combo makes the 49ers' special teams unit a weakness. Only a few weeks after inexcusably passing on a fair catch and fumbling in New Orleans, he tempts fate by dancing around a bouncing punt...during a huge game...in the pouring, freezing rain... when there was no reason to. That's not the kind of decision making that is going to help the 49ers and he's shown a penchant for boneheadedness (see pass that bounced off his facemask for an interception against the Giants last season). Stick James back on kickoffs and punt returns and leave it at that. This man should not see the field anymore this season.

4. Injuries. The bug is biting hard. Iupati, Justin Smith, Tarell Brown, Clark Haggans and a couple others were all banged up in this game. The severity of some of these remains to be seen but with a handful of other players being shelved in the few weeks prior, depth is being seriously contested.

Bright spots


1. Kaepernick. 4 TD's and big plays all game minus the interception in the endzone. This kid continues to impress, but he must continue to work on ball security.


2. Gore. That fumble he picked up for the TD run was a thing of beauty. Even though the coaching staff didn't always put him in the best position, he still found lanes and broke off some really nice runs.


3. Defense. Until Fangio altered his gameplan, this unit was playing as good as they ever have. Fangio and fatigue are to blame for the near total collapse, effort is not.


4. Fuel for next Sunday. Had the 49ers held on to win decisively by let's say 41-17, they would have set themselves up nicely for a letdown in Seattle (especially based on their season long win-win-loss pattern). Had they lost the game after the Pats stormed back, they would have had to turn around and play Seattle for the division lead after a demoralizing loss of biblical proportions. So although it may have been heart-wrenching for Niners fans to witness, the fashion in which they won could serve as the perfect medicine for next week. Coaches and players can feed off of their frustrations from this game and see to it that they don't make the same mistakes during a division showdown against the Seahawks.

When all was said and done the 49ers got a huge win in New England and clinched a playoff spot. That notion was easy to lose sight of as the game wore on and Brady roared back, but as the old adage goes "a win is a win". Nevertheless, if the 49ers have visions of hoisting that Lombardi trophy they have to stop sitting on leads, address special teams concerns, and stay healthy.