49ers blow big lead, rally for win over Patriots

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49ers blow big lead, rally for win over Patriots

BOX SCORE

FOXBORO, Mass. -- The 49ers were well on their way to a rout of the favored New England Patriots on Sunday night.

And, then, their world quickly came apart at the seams.

But a 28-point cushion was all the 49ers lost. After seeing their four-touchdown lead vanish into the freezing drizzle at Gillette Stadium, the 49ers did not completely fall apart.

"We're a fighting team and we'll play for 60 minutes," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said.

The 49ers clinched a spot in the NFC playoffs with an improbable 41-34 victory over the Patriots that had a little bit of everything.

And just when it looked its most bleak for the 49ers, second-round draft pick LaMichael James provided his first big moment with the team.

With the 49ers' 31-3 lead suddenly gone, James, who was inactive for the 49ers' first 12 games of the season, went back deep to receive the kickoff with 6:43 remaining with the score tied.

Did any of his teammates say anything before the kickoff return?

"Everyone said something," James said.

The 49ers needed a boost. Everybody knew the 49ers were in danger of one of the great collapses in NFL history. And James supplied a huge momentum swing with a 62-yard kickoff return. Delanie Walker told James to follow him, and that's exactly what James did, as he tip-toed the left sideline.

"One play doesn't win a game, but I think it put us in good position to get the score," James said. "It was a game-changing play, and it helped us win."

The go-ahead touchdown came on the next play, as quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree improvised on a 38-yard touchdown, which came on a long run after a 5-yard hitch.

"(It) was a nice job by Colin," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "(It's) not where he was supposed to go with the ball. It wasn't the intent of the play. But he saw what he saw, kicked it out to Michael and then Michael made a huge play."

Why did Kaepernick make that throw?

"I liked the matchup," Kaepernick said.

The Patriots came with an all-out blitz, and Kaepernick got the ball out quickly to Crabtree, who broke the tackle attempt of cornerback Kyle Arrington and then beat safety Devin McCourty into the end zone.

Kaepernick, making his fifth NFL start, completed 14 of 25 passes for 216 yards with four touchdown passes and one interception. His passer rating was 107.7. Crabtree caught seven passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns. It was the most points the 49ers have scored in a road game since a 45-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 3, 2000.

The 49ers overcame four Kaepernick fumbled snaps (none of which was lost), a missed field goal and two turnovers to foil prime scoring chances. The 49ers generated four turnovers against the Patriots, who turned the ball over just 10 times in their first 13 games.

The 49ers (10-3-1) wrapped up a spot in the NFC playoffs with the victory. They can clinch their second straight NFC West title with one win in their final two games -- at the Seattle Seahawks or against the Arizona Cardinals.

New England entered the game with a seven-game win streak and a string of 20 consecutive home victories in December.

"Great victory," Harbaugh said. "I really liked how our team sucked it up so many times. We didn't make all the plays, buy we made a lot of plays. It will be a happy flight home."

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had just 76 yards passing at halftime, spearheaded a rally that saw New England score touchdowns of consecutive drives of 73, 86, 66 and 92 yards.

Brady finished with 36 completions in 65 attempts for 443 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Kaepernick managed to hold it all together after the Patriots rallied to tie the score. Kaepernick fumbled four exchanges from center Jonathan Goodwin, including one on a failed fourth-down quarterback sneak attempt, prompting him to wear a glove on his non-throwing hand to get a better grip, he said.

Kaepernick threw an interception on a deep pass in the end zone to end the 49ers' first drive of the third quarter. But the 49ers got the ball back on Dashon Goldson's 66-yard fumble return. On the next play, Kaepernick fumbled the snap, but running back Frank Gore picked it up and scored on a 9-yard fumble recovery.

After 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith intercepted Brady on the next drive, Kaepernick hit Crabtree on a 27-yard touchdown for a 31-3 lead.

"I just feel this in my bones, after you throw an interception, it's very hard to lead a touchdown drive the next possession," Harbaugh said. "Basically, step back in there, throw the ball right down the middle, which he had done in a previous possession, and had it intercepted. It takes some gravel in your guts to do that. I think it says a lot."

Said Kaepernick, "We were just trying to stay calm about it. I kept talking to our offense, saying we have to keep putting up points. We're going to have to score at some point, especially the way they were putting up points."

In a game of wild and prolonged momentum swings, the 49ers could never feel completely secure with the victory until Walker recovered Stephen Gostowski's onside kick with :38 seconds remaining. Walker himself had a fumble deep in Patriots territory in the first half and caught a 34-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

"If we had any doubters before this," Walker said, "I don't think we have doubters now."

Shanahan delegates offensive duties to 49ers staff

Shanahan delegates offensive duties to 49ers staff

SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan will retain the role he held the past nine seasons in his first year as head coach of the 49ers.

Shanahan eschewed the formality of naming an offensive coordinator because he will keep those duties for himself. Still, Shanahan made it clear that he alone will not be able to fix the 49ers’ offense.

Shanahan has assembled a supporting cast that he said makes him comfortable to delegate responsibilities whenever his attention has to be focused on something other than the team’s offense.

“I mix it up,” said Shanahan, who previously held offensive coordinator roles with Houston, Washington, Cleveland and Atlanta. “Different guys have different attributes.”

Mike McDaniel and Mike LaFleur joined Shanahan after time together on the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive staff. McDaniel is the run-game specialist, while LaFleur, the wide receivers coach, is the pass-game specialist.

Tight ends coach Jon Embree, formerly the head coach at Colorado, is Shanahan’s assistant head coach. Shanahan said Embree has a vocal role on his staff.

Moreover, long-time NFL running backs coach Bobby Turner is a trusted assistant after spending 14 seasons in Denver and four more in Washington with Mike Shanahan, Kyle’s father. Turner coached under Kyle Shanahan the past two seasons with the Falcons.

”Bobby Turner’s been an assistant head coach for our teams we’ve had in the past and anytime that I need him to take over, he does,” Shanahan said. “So it depends what period it is, depends what we’re talking about.”

The 49ers opened organized team activities last week. It was the first time the 49ers’ rookies and veterans were together on the field for offense vs. defense practices. Shanahan said it takes some adjustment for him to figure out how to best budget his time during the workouts.

“I’m used to knowing exactly where to go and what to do and I always did that from an offensive coordinator standpoint which I still do a lot of those responsibilities,” Shanahan said. “So, at times, I feel most comfortable when I go to do that because that’s something to do. But, when I pass it over to some other guys and let them do it, I find myself walking around a lot and I’m not used to that.

“It feels awkward, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think I should walk around and watch everyone and see it. I always see it on the tape, but that’s later at night. You want players to know you’re there and paying attention to everything and I usually try to cover that in meetings the next day also.”

Harbaugh goes Biblical, responds to Jacobs' criticisms of his coaching

Harbaugh goes Biblical, responds to Jacobs' criticisms of his coaching

Former NFL running back Brandon Jacobs spent one season with the San Francisco 49ers in 2012 under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Jacobs only played in two games and gained seven yards on five carries. The results were nothing like his 5,087 yards and 60 touchdowns over eight years with the Giants. 

Apparently being pushed to the bench as a 31-year-old veteran running back didn't sit well with Jacobs. 

“Going somewhere where they don’t have route conversions into certain coverages was just absurd,” Jacobs said Thursday on the Tiki and Tierney Show. “They’re just running routes in the defense, getting people killed. Size and strength is what they had, and that’s why they won.

"Let’s be real. They had great assistant coaches, but Jim didn’t know what he was doing. Jim had no idea. Jim is throwing slants into Cover-2 safeties, getting people hurt. That guy knew nothing, man."

On Saturday morning, Harbaugh responded to Jacobs with a tweet to him. 

Harbaugh went 44-19-1 in four seasons as the 49ers' head coach. He also added five playoff wins and a trip to the Super Bowl in the 2012-13 season, the one that Jacobs played for him.