Foxboro Frenzy—Putting the 49ers heart-stopper into context

Dec 16, 2012 at 11:11 PM

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 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.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • mikesf
    An assessment I totally agree with. When the 49ers were up 31-3, I feared that they would play conservatively and they did. They were playing to lose. Any time you are up 28 points with 25 minutes left in the game, you do not change the game plan. Unfortunately, trying to replace Akers this late in the season will be fruitless so we have to endure the heart stopping play by him. They definitely are going to have to find a replacement in the draft next year. The conservative play calling and the missed field goals are keeping the opposition in the game a lot longer than need be. The other key factor is Justin Smith. I know that JH wants to play coy with Seattle but as a fan, we have a right to know. I am surprise that the league does not mandate teams advising the public the extent of the injuries.
    Dec 21, 2012 at 1:48 PM
    Response: I still contend that Akers needs to go. His drop off has been catastrophic and this team needs a kicker they can place more trust in. As for keeping the Justin Smith injury quiet, Harbaugh looks for any competitive advantage he can and although as an avid follower of the team I'd like to know, if it gives SF even a .01% advantage, stay quiet about it.
  • LeftCoast
    Ah ... I think you're neglecting the fact that there was another team on the field, and a pretty good one at that. How many games have the Pats lost at home in December?
    Dec 20, 2012 at 5:05 PM
    Response: I acknowledged that a win is a win any way you can get it, especially against the Pats. But when you're up 28 points in the 3rd quarter, you don't allow the opposing team to tie- I don't care who the opponent is.
  • Jaclyn
    I completely agree with this article and blame Fangio for taking away the man coverage, they need to bench Akers and find a new kicker and put Lamichael back at the returns. All in all we got the "W" and that's what matters, all I know is that with the mistakes and lessons we learned in Mass. we need to use that when going into Seattle to take what's ours, "The NFC West division title" GO NINERS!
    Dec 19, 2012 at 5:12 PM
    Response: Absolutely. Fuel for Seattle, no question. I just hope they can heal up enough to take it to Seattle. Justin Smith remains questionable and he's presence is going to be needed at CenturyLink.
  • AL
    Pretty solid analysis. On the defensive let down in second half, the big issue seemed to be complete lack of pass rush (This has been a theme in every game). Why such infrequent blitz packages? 9ers don't even come close to qb way too often. Francois put some pressure at the end. Rotate him in sooner? Change looks?
    Dec 19, 2012 at 2:26 PM
  • Tok5
    100% right on with this article. Was pleasantly surprised with the way the game started out. Many missed opportunities to put a dagger in the Patriots. But as I watched Crabtree catch his first touchdown to go up by 28, I looked at my son and said "the only problem with this is that there is still 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and they have Tom Bradey". As usual they start to play prevent defense and let Bradey get into rhythm. The rest is history. If the shoe was on the other foot, does anyone think Belechik would call off the dogs? I think not. I hope this week when we play the Seahawks, we learn from this past Sunday and play all the way until the clock reads :00 in the 4th quarter.
    Dec 18, 2012 at 4:00 PM
    Response: Thanks! Agree 100%. I think all true, seasoned Niners fans got a bit worried going up 31-3 that early in the game. I know it sounds contradictory but big leads early on can fade quickly, especially against the Pats.
  • Titusks
    Great article: Ginn: "This man should not see the field anymore this season." "Stick James back on kickoffs and punt returns and leave it at that." Akers. "The 49ers seriously need to look into signing a kicker this week." Jose: "Something about Kaepernick and Davis seems off. There appears to be little to no chemistry between the two. This needs to be addressed" Championship teams address the little things. If the 49ers season ends and these seemingly small things were/are still on the table that would be a huge disappointment. While Harbaugh was bold in the Kap/Smith switch then be as bold and address the crap above. I'm sick of having to turn my head every time Akers kicks and Ginn returns a punt. Moreover the 49ers every game tends to do little stupid things. Bob Knight once said "dumb is responsible for losing more games, than talent wins games"
    Dec 18, 2012 at 9:15 AM
  • Gonzola
    God Bless this Article!!!! This is the most accurate analysis of a game I have seen on this website. "BIG TEAM, little kappy" BUT then again that is how Kappy does things anyway. The TEAM definitely won this one, despite its coaches who seemed to be playing it safe WAY too early against a team like the Pats. Hard nosed, hard hitting, power football -- that is what the niners are about. If unleashed, this team will go far...
    Dec 17, 2012 at 12:23 PM
  • Ceadderman
    Kappy did a good job last night but the man had me pulling out my hair by the handfuls last night. At a time when the Defense was getting gashed by the chunk loads he throws the INT, and has so many miscues under Center that it does not inspire confidence. I don't want to see him take a single snap under Center next week when he Starts, that's how bad last night got for me. I completely agree that the Coaching in the 2nd Half was NolaSingRayesque. I really would have liked to see the play calling take it to Bellicheat an Brady. But Kappy is the AntiSmith imho and that's not a slight against Smith more commentary on how lucky Kappy is as the Starter. If Frank isn't back there on the Fumble return for TD, it changes the whole complexity of the Game in the favor of the Pats. If Smith had this many miscues in a game and turns his back to the coverage and throws a poor timed INT, 9er fans would be having kittens for the rest of the week. I like Kappy but I don't have confidence in him. That pick was not the first where he took his eyes off the coverage this season.
    Dec 17, 2012 at 9:30 AM
  • 49er-from-Yavin-IV
    Enjoyable read. I'm happy to see the 49ers come out of this game with a win, but it was very tough to watch that lead evaporate. The coaching staff's tendency to take the foot of the gas pedal almost bit them, of the many lessons to take from the game, that one is a big one. When you have your opponent down, never take your foot off their neck, until they submit. Kaepernick still has a ways to go, but I am glad to have him as the 49ers starting Quarterback. Harbaugh made the right move regardless of what happens going forward this season. I don't fault Kap for the dropped snaps, the conditions were not ideal, and it is more adversity for him to learn from. The interception was unfortunate, but hopefully he learns from that too. I think we as fans are witnessing the beginning of something good here. The injuries to J. Smith, Iupiati, etc. concern me, hopefully they are able to get healthy and return without a drop-off in their regular production. Great to get a win in Foxboro, and another tough test awaits in Seattle, but not one in which we can't come out with another win.
    Dec 17, 2012 at 9:03 AM
  • Jose
    Something about Kaepernick and Davis seems off. There appears to be little to no chemistry between the two. This needs to be addressed as Davis was wide open on at least 3 plays (including the missed TD) and Kaep couldn't get it to him. I understand Davis could have dove for the ball in the endzone, but in reality he shouldn't have to. He was 3-5 years behind the defender, Kaep just overthrew it.
    Dec 17, 2012 at 7:47 AM
    Response: It may be just me but Davis relies far too heavily on his speed and the rest of his game suffers. Don't get me wrong, he's a very good blocker but as a receiver he doesn't lay out for catches, has a fair share of drops, and chooses to try and juke out defenders after the catch instead of lowering his head and lumbering over them.
  • Carl
    Thank god someone watched the game. I was beginning to doubt after watching ESPN this morning whether I was going crazy. These national analysts must not watch the game at all or are paid to stroke Brady's ego. The 49er coaching staff inserted a soft zone in 3rd qtr and rushed three without Justin Smith. Then played "fear based offense". This coaching staff got real lucky last night. Harbaugh looked scared on the sideline and not because he thought the 49ers would lose. It was because he instructed the defense to partically collapse and let the clock run. Tom Brady was useless in the first half. USELESS. GARBAGE. TERRIBLE. The 49ers were messy in messy conditions with a rookie qb. They could have won last night's game 55-6.
    Dec 17, 2012 at 7:33 AM
    Response: Yes. If the Niners won a hard fought tight game by ten points against NE there wouldn't be any reactions other than gushing praise. But this game should have been a slaughter and, moreover, never should have beem tied late in the game. It was all because of the coaching staff's propensity for trying to run the clock out way too early. This kind of scare should change that habit.
  • DaNiners
    100% nailed it! I've read all the quotes from pats fans saying, look we should have won. What they don't understand is a) teams move into prevent with large leads and b) teams get a little too comfortable when they have them as well. The Pats are not even second best team in the NFL. That team still remains the GIants come playoff time. They do not have a good defense and continue to be unable to stand up physically with either us or GIants, FAR MORE complete teams. If we play them again on a neutral turf, the final score will be closer to the 31-3 than 41-34. The average fan simply does not understand that moving into a zone defense with Brady too easy for him. Houston lost with the same man scheme as us...they simply do not have the horses we have. At the end of the year, with a franchise QB, the 49ers will win the SB going away. Why? Defense still wins championships and the Pats don't have one.
    Dec 17, 2012 at 7:01 AM
  • Jak
    I mostly agree. I think losing Justin Smith in the 2nd half really hurt them more than anything. I'm not sure 59er fans fully appreciate just how much pressure JS puts on the opposing line but I bet Aldon Smith does.
    Dec 17, 2012 at 6:38 AM
    Response: No question. Fingers crossed that Smith's injury is minor. Jean-Francois is a pretty darn good player but he provides a different skill set than Smith and I prefer RJF as a nose tackle.
  • Alan R
    Great article. Completely agree about Akers. Don't know if he's playing injured, but he's a liability going into the post-season. The coaching is a worry in terms of decision making. If it ain't broke don't fix it! Why change defensive & offensive schemes with 25 mins left against Brady? He sliced through the defense like butter until they went back to M2M coverage. As for Ginn. I'm not really sure what it is that kept him around. Chronic non-producer. The special teams as a whole is a weak area. Only Andy Lee escapes concern. It was good to see the contribution last night through James 62 yard KO return. One final thing...drives that last 1-5 scoring drives are exciting. However, I'd like to see Kaep learn to develop drives through run/short pass as well. Sometime you need to move the chains AND take time off the clock. This worried me after Crabtree's TD in the fourth Q. We scored...great. But now Brady was back on the field and our D looked gasses. Herculean efforts by all of them to step it up at that point in the game and suffocate the Pats offense. .
    Dec 17, 2012 at 5:53 AM
    Response: Exactly, why stop doing what provided a 28 point lead. Prevent prevents winning as they say. Agree about Lee and James. Lee continues to boom punts and James makes you wonder why he hasn't seen the field earlier than this. His return may have single-handedly allowed SF to reclaim the game.
  • Larushka
    Wow, any chance we can get Coach Harbaugh to read this? Neatly summarized all my feelings about the game, especially the playcalling. So frustrating. Even a modified prevent wears out the defense. Wearing out the defense makes it harder for them to defend and more likely to be injured. Almost as bad; it doesn't work.
    Dec 17, 2012 at 4:09 AM
    Response: Absolutely. It never works.

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