49ers

Instant Replay: 49ers 41, Patriots 34

moss_randy_49ers_white_pointing_back_jersey.jpg

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.

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

blaine-ap.jpg
AP

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

kyle-us.jpg
USATSI

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

Believe it or not, the 49ers’ offense is improved from last season.

The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in 2016, averaging 308.1 yards per game. Although the offense is producing just a little better (325.9 yards per game), their ranking this season has shot up to 21st in the league.

The 49ers have had a different head coach and different person running the offense in each of the past four seasons, so their continuity has been severely lacking.

Next season, the 49ers should finally have carryover from one season to the next.

The direction of the offense is one of the topics addressed on this edition of 49ers Mailbag (questions were submitted via Facebook):

Now that we have Jimmy G do you see 49ers getting an offensive coordinator or will it still be Kyle calling the plays? (Julio Orozco)
I'm not sure why the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo would have any impact on the 49ers’ offensive structure, but in any event, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Kyle Shanahan has been hailed as one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The reason he was hired as 49ers head coach was, in large part, because of the success he achieved while designing offenses and calling plays.

Why would he give that up? It makes no sense.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN this week identified the 32 primary play-callers. There are 18 NFL head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Twelve of those coaches call their own plays.

Shanahan has a staff of assistant coaches on whom he leans. Passing game specialist Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are closely involved in working with Shanahan on the passing game, while running game specialist Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner spearhead the involvement in the ground game.

But, make no mistake, it is Shanahan who calls the shots. And that's the way it should be. If Shanahan stepped aside as his own offensive coordinator, he would be diminishing his biggest strength as a coach.

What do you see happing with the Hyde situation? We drafted Joe Williams and Breida seems to be a bright spot. There’s a lot of talk about Barkley from Penn State with that high 1st rounder. (Manny Hinojos)
There does not seem to be any movement toward a long-term extension for Hyde. It is getting to the point in the season where it makes a lot more sense for Hyde to play out his contract and hit the open market.

There is no question in my mind the 49ers like Hyde a lot. He has scored some major points with the organization for his performance on the field and how he has responded off the field.

GM John Lynch loved it when Hyde came to the defense of quarterback C.J. Beathard, tussled with Arizona lineman Frostee Rucker and got ejected from the game.

That said, the 49ers are not going to break the bank for Hyde. A multi-year agreement has to come at the right price. My personal feeling is that running backs are luxury pieces when the remainder of a team’s roster -- especially the offensive line -- is set.

Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, and Turner (the assistant coach who served on both of their staffs) have achieved a lot of success without investing heavily in running backs. That’s why I think the 49ers would be best-served by investing elsewhere and using another mid-round draft pick on a running back.

With Joshua Garnett coming back next season how aggressive will Lynch and Shanahan be in trying to get guards this offseason? (David Hartless)
Garnett is not a particularly good fit for this offensive scheme. The presence of Garnett can help increase the competition next offseason, but I do not believe he is being penciled in as a starter.

The 49ers will certainly be aggressive in an attempt to upgrade the guard positions. Currently, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco are the starters. Neither will be assured a starting job when the offseason begins.

The 49ers did not see enough from Garnett to determine he has a future with the organization, but he will be given the opportunity to come back healthy and prove himself.

Is Eric Reid in long-term plans? (Grant Rasmussen)
I do not believe so. I think the 49ers would like their starting safeties next season to be Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – with Adrian Colbert as the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

The 49ers can also be expected to add a player or two in free agency, as well as the draft, to provide a competitive environment in the offseason. The 49ers seemed to telegraph their intention with Reid when they moved him to linebacker with Ward and Tartt remaining as the starting safeties.

That position change lasted about a week, as Ward’s injury prompted the team to move Reid back to safety. Reid is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It's entirely possible there will not be a big market for him, but I do not believe the 49ers are going to be ultra-competitive in retaining him on the open market.