49ers

Instant Replay: 49ers 41, Patriots 34

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Instant Replay: 49ers 41, Patriots 34

BOX SCORE

FOXBORO, Mass. -- The 49ers' defense made the best offense in the NFL look inept for most of Sunday night before the more familiar version of the New England Patriots showed up.

And when quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots appeared, they sent the 49ers reeling with an offensive explosion that rocked the 49ers and put a repeat of their NFC West title in serious jeopardy.

The Patriots scrambled back from a 28-point third-quarter deficit only to have the 49ers respond in lightning-quick fashion.

After LaMichael James' 62-yard kickoff return, quarterback Colin Kaepernick teamed up with Michael Crabtree on their second touchdown of the game for a 38-31 lead with 6:25 remaining.

It was a wild 41-34 victory over the Patriots on a cold and drizzly Sunday night at Gillette Stadium in front of a national-television audience.

The 49ers set the tone early on defense, and Kaepernick threw two touchdown passes to enable the 49ers to build a two-touchdown lead at halftime.

The 49ers extended their lead by another two touchdowns early in the third quarter before the Patriots rallied.

As the 49ers built a 28-point lead in the third quarter, the 49ers looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The 49ers (10-3-1) clinched a spot in the NFC playoffs with the victory and needs just one victory in their final two games of the season to wrap up the NFC West title for the second time in Jim Harbaugh's two seasons as head coach.

The 49ers return to action next week at second-place Seattle before closing out the regular season against the Arizona Cardinals.

Kaepernick had a difficult time getting a handle of the ball on snap exchanges with center Jonathan Goodwin, but even that really did not matter. Running back Frank Gore picked up one of those loose balls and scored on a 9-yard fumble recovery.

Gore's scoring play came one play after safety Dashon Goldson returned a Stevan Ridley fumble 66 yards early in the third quarter. Donte Whitner forced the fumble when he stuck his helmet on the football.

A short time after Gore's touchdown, 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith intercepted a Tom Brady pass off the hands of tight end Aaron Hernandez, who moments earlier was leveled by Goldson on a deep pass play. Goldson was called for unnecessary roughness for a helmet-to-helmet hit.

On the next play after Smith's interception, Kaepernick drilled a beautiful throw to Michael Crabtree for a 27-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 31-3 lead.

The Patriots, who fall to 10-4, entered the game as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. New England had won seven consecutive games, including a 42-14 thumping of the Houston Texans on Monday night.

But the 49ers set the tone for the game earlier after winning the toss and electing to defer. The team's defense went onto the field and immediately forced a three-and-out.

The 49ers took over and drove 63 yards on six plays. Kaepernick hit Crabtree on passes of 11 and 13 yards. Randy Moss had a 12-yard reception. Then, Kaepernick and Moss hooked up for a 24-yard touchdown pass just 3 minutes, 55 seconds into the game for a 7-0 lead.

Kaepernick had a lot more difficult handling snaps from Goodwin than he had problems with the Patriots' defense in the first half. Kaepernick fumbled three exchanges, one of which came on a fourth-and-1 situation deep in New England territory early in the second quarter.

The 49ers squandered some scoring chances in the first half, but still built a 17-3 lead after the first 30 minutes of play.

Cornerback Carlos Rogers intercepted a deep Brady pass intended for Wes Welker. Rogers returned it 53 yards before Brady tackled him at the Patriots' 5.

But two plays later, tight end Delanie Walker fumbled after catching a short swing pass from Kaepernick. Safety Steve Gregory forced the fumble and cornerback Aqib Talib recovered.

The 49ers let another scoring chance get away when David Akers missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt to the left. The 49ers got into field-goal range when Goldson, lined up as a fullback on the punt team, took a direct snap and gained 31 yards on a fourth-and-10 situation to the New England 28-yard line.

Akers later hit a 20-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to give the 49ers a 17-3 lead.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman forced a fumble of former Cal star Shane Vereen late in the first quarter. Cornerback Chris Culliver recovered at the Patriots' 34. But the drive stalled when Kaepernick fell on the ball after mishandling the snap on a fourth-and-1 play.

After the Patriots cut the 49ers' lead to 7-3 early in the second quarter after a 16-play drive, the 49ers struck back quickly.

Talib was called for a 35-yard pass-interference penalty on a deep throw to Crabtree. And Kaepernick hit Walker on a 24-yard touchdown pass against defensive back Alfonzo Dennard.

New England finally got into the end zone after 39 minutes when Danny Woodhead scored on a 6-yard run with 5:59 remaining in the third quarter. Brady drew the Patriots to within two touchdowns on a 1-yard touchdown plunge on a fourth-and-goal play on the first play of the fourth quarter.

The Patriots cut the 49ers' lead to just seven points, 31-24, on Brady's 5-yard touchdown pass to Hernandez with 12:13 remaining in regulation. They came all the way back to tie the game on Woodhead's 1-yard touchdown run in the middle of the fourth quarter.

The Patriots did much of their damage with 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith on the sideline with a left elbow injury. In his place, Ricky Jean Francois forced a Patriots punt with five minutes remaining after a third-down sack.

GORE SURPASSES 'THE JET': Gore needed 30 yards to become the all-time undisputed 49ers rushing leader. And he got it easily in the first half when he gained 73 yards on his first 15 rushing attempts.

Perry totaled 8,689 yards rushing while playing for the 49ers franchise. However, two seasons while the 49ers were members of the All-America Football Conference do not count in the 49ers' official all-time totals.

Last year, Gore was recognized as the 49ers' all-time rushing leader, surpassing Perry's NFL-only total of 7,344 yards with the 49ers. Perry gained 1,345 yards in the AAFC (1948 and '49).

THIS 'N' THAT: Moss moved into third on the all-time NFL receiving yards list with an impressive opening drive. Moss caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead. Moss ranks behind former 49ers Jerry Rice (22,895) and Terrell Owens (15,934). . . Left guard Mike Iupati (right shoulder) missed the final 12 plays of the first half. He went to the locker room early for observations. He came back out and started the second half. Leonard Davis entered the game in Iupati's place. . . . Outside linebacker Aldon Smith made his presence felt early in the game when the forced Brady into two incompletions with his pressure... The win broke New England's 20-game home win streak in the month of December.

Mailbag: Are 49ers trying to win or develop players?

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AP

Mailbag: Are 49ers trying to win or develop players?

After five consecutive close losses and some reason for optimism, it all came crashing down for the 49ers on Sunday.

Rookie Trent Taylor fumbled a punt just one minute into the game. Ninety seconds later, the Dallas Cowboys scored.

And it was over.

The Cowboys steamrolled the 49ers, 40-10, providing a slap across the face to anyone who believed this rebuild of the franchise was trending consistently upward without any complications.

The team appeared to be moving along harmoniously. But on Sunday, there was an incident in which Jaquiski Tartt, Ahkello Witherspoon and Ray-Ray Armstrong were seen jawing at each other. Things got heated. The optics in a home blowout loss were not good.

There are plenty of questions, and here are some of the questions from The Day After that were submitted on our Facebook page:

What is the philosophy? Are we trying to win or develop players? Cause it seems you can't do both? (Frank Vega)
The 49ers are definitely trying to develop players. They are also trying to evaluate players. They are looking to the future, and they are not deploying a win-at-all-cost approach this season. They do not want to win an extra game or two this season at the expense of possibly making the team worse for the future.

That is why the 49ers, almost invariably, went with younger players at any position in which there was competition . . . Eli Harold over Ahmad Brooks; Trent Taylor over Jeremy Kerley; Raheem Mostert over Tim Hightower; etc.

It’s why the 49ers made the decision two weeks ago to part ways with NaVorro Bowman, who had expressed dissatisfaction over his reduced role. Bowman was still the 49ers’ best linebacker at the time. But he would not have been on the team next year, so the decision was made to release Bowman now and go with the other less-accomplished players. (The Raiders, by the way, say 'Thank you.')

Rookie C.J. Beathard is now the starting quarterback. Cole Hikutini has moved into the No. 2 role at tight end behind fellow rookie George Kittle. Ahkello Witherspoon is being weaved into the action at cornerback, splitting time with Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson.

The 49ers did not want to create a mirage. They did not want to win any games this season that would be the result of a veteran rent-a-player approach. In that respect, the 49ers have succeeded. The 49ers will be picking near the top of every round in the 2018 draft.

The risk, of course, is that the young players get beaten down so badly that they lose their confidence and their edge.

What do you make of Eric Reid’s move to LB? Is his time with Niners nearing the end? (Peter Chan)
The 49ers no longer use a “nickel” defense. They go straight from their base defense to six defensive backs whenever the opposition puts more than two wide receivers on the field. It’s not a true linebacker position Reid is playing. It’s considered more of a “big nickel," designed to give the 49ers more speed on third downs to cover and run to the ball.

Reid is no longer a starter. What it shows is that the 49ers are sold on Jaquiski Tartt being a long-term answer for the 49ers secondary. The 49ers view Tartt and Jimmie Ward as the starters for 2018. All things being equal, Reid will have a chance to go somewhere else next season and be a starter.

The 49ers are not committed to re-signing him on a deal that extends beyond this season.

Is it a coincidence that the two worst teams in the NFL have the most cap space? (Gary Staebler)
That is no coincidence at all. It is the very reason the Cleveland Browns and 49ers are the only two winless teams in the NFL.

The Browns have $61.6 million in cap space. The 49ers are currently $61 million under the cap. Next year, with carryovers of unused space, the 49ers and Browns are projected to both have more than $117 million in cap room, according to Overthecap.com.

Bad teams do not draft well.

Teams that do not draft well, do not sign their draft picks to lucrative second contracts.

Therefore, teams that do not draft well cannot spend a large portion of their cap space to retain their own players because they have no good players worth retaining.

49ers snap count: Reid no longer starter; rookies see more time on offense

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USATI

49ers snap count: Reid no longer starter; rookies see more time on offense

Veteran safety Eric Reid returned from a knee injury that kept him out three games to discover he lost his starting job.

Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt has continued to serve as an every-down player for the 49ers’ defense. On Sunday, Reid played 48 snaps (64 percent) as the 49ers employed six defensive backs against the Dallas Cowboys three-receiver sets.

The 49ers had to adjust their sub package after nickel back K’Waun Williams sustained a hip injury. Rookie Adrian Colbert entered the game at safety with Jimmie Ward taking over Williams’ role. Colbert played 29 snaps.

Newly signed defensive linemen Leger Douzable and Tony McDaniel saw a lot of action in their 49ers debuts. Douzable played the third-most of any defensive lineman (behind Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner), seeing action on 47 of the team’s 75 snaps. McDaniel played 25 snaps.

On offense, the 49ers appear to be making a point to go with younger players. Rookie Cole Hikutini played 21 snaps, taking over as the No. 2 tight end over Garrett Celek and Logan Paulsen.

Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, another undrafted rookie, played a season-high 23 snaps. On fourth-and-4 from the Dallas 28 early in the third quarter, coach Kyle Shanahan decided to go for it instead of kicking a 46-yard field goal. Bourne was the intended target. But he stumbled after a spin move from the slot, and C.J. Beathard’s pass was incomplete.

“As I was throwing the ball he tripped,” Beathard said. “If he hadn’t tripped on a DB’s feet or whatever happened there, it would’ve been a big play.”

Here is a look at the 49ers’ playing time on offense, defense and special teams:

OFFENSE
(66 plays)
Quarterback – C.J. Beathard 66
Running back – Carlos Hyde 51, Matt Breida 15
Wide receiver – Pierre Garçon 46, Trent Taylor 46, Marquise Goodwin 39, Aldrick Robinson 30, Kendrick Bourne 23
Tight end – George Kittle 31, Cole Hikutini 21, Garrett Celek 18, Logan Paulsen 11
Offensive line – Joe Staley 66, Daniel Kilgore 66, Laken Tomlinson 66, Brandon Fusco 52, Trent Brown 45, Garry Gilliam 20, Zane Beadles 14

DEFENSE
(75 plays)
Defensive line – Solomon Thomas 61, DeForest Buckner 50, Leger Douzable 47, Earl Mitchell 38, Xavier Cooper 26, D.J. Jones 25, Tony McDaniel 25, Elvis Dumervil 15
Linebacker – Reuben Foster 53, Eli Harold 31, Ray-Ray Armstrong 27, Brock Coyle 22, Dekoda Watson 9
Cornerback – Dontae Johnson 63, Rashard Robinson 51, Ahkello Witherspoon 35, K’Waun Williams 20
Safety – Jaquiski Tartt 75, Jimmie Ward 75, Eric Reid 48, Adrian Colbert 29

SPECIAL TEAMS
(24 plays)
Elijah Lee 21, Coyle 21, Raheem Mostert 16, Celek 15, Colbert 16, Witherspoon 15, Breida 14, Harold 12, Hikutini 12, Armstrong 10, Tartt 10, Bradley Pinion 9, Jones 8, R.Robinson 8, Ward 8, Johnson 7, Kyle Nelson 6, Buckner 6, Thomas 6, Paulsen 6, Reid 5, Mitchell 5, Douzable 4, A.Robinson 3, Taylor 3, Robbie Gould 2, Foster 2, Staley 2, Kilgore 2, Gilliam 2, Beadles 2, Tomlinson 1, Fusco 1, Brown 1, Dumervil 1, Watson 1, Williams 1

DID NOT PLAY
QB Brian Hoyer

INACTIVE
WR Victor Bolden
DB Dexter McCoil
FB Kyle Juszczyk (back)
LB Mark Nzeocha
LB Pita Taumoepenu
DL Aaron Lynch (calf)
OL Erik Magnuson