49ers' defense gets better of Brady, Patriots

49ers' defense gets better of Brady, Patriots
December 17, 2012, 12:30 pm
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The 49ers forced four turnovers against an offense that had committed just 10 giveaways in 13 games. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Despite allowing 443 yards passing on Sunday night, it was a very good night for the 49ers' defense.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady entered the game completing 64.4 percent of his passes. The 49ers held him to just 55.4 percent. In the first 13 games, Brady averaged 7.74 yards per pass attempt. On Sunday, his average was just 6.3 yards.

Brady came into the game with a 104.2 passer rating. Against the 49ers, he completed 36 of 65 passes for 443 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 68.9.

The Patriots led the NFL with a third-down conversion rate of 52.5. The 49ers held them to 2 of 15 -- 13.3-percent success rate -- on third downs. (The Patriots, however, did convert 5 of 6 tries on fourth down.

The 49ers forced four turnovers against an offense that had committed just 10 giveaways in 13 games.

Yet, in leading consecutive touchdown drives of 73, 86, 66 and 92 yards, Brady's Patriots scored 28 consecutive points in the third and fourth quarters to erase a 31-3 deficit.

"It was really good -- Tom Brady-like," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of the Patriots' offense during that 19-minute stretch. "Nobody else to really compare it to."

Did the 49ers get too passive during that time?

"I don't think so," Harbaugh said. "They did a great job of hitting the intermediate routes."

Cornerback Carlos Rogers intercepted a Brady pass in the first half when he had perfect coverage on Patriots leading receiver Wes Welker on a deep route. Brady was 10 of 19 for 76 yards in the first half before lighting it up for a while in the second half.

"They kept moving the ball and we knew they were going to make their plays," Rogers said. "That is the leading offense in the league and to shut them down in the first half like we did, we knew they were going to come out in the second half and make some plays."

The 49ers played most of the game with their nickel package with five defensive backs. Inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis played the entire game, and both were credited with 11 tackles.

"They just started doing something that they're good at, like throwing the ball out quick, slowing it down and recognizing what we were trying to do," Bowman said. "I mean, Tom is a good quarterback and we knew some adversity was going to come and they were gong to make plays sooner than later. We just had to answer the bell, and I think we did that."

The 49ers' defense started fast. Rogers got things started with his interception. Bowman forced a fumble on Shane Vereen that Chris Culliver recovered. Donte Whitner forced a fumble of Stevan Ridley that Dashon Goldson returned 66 yards to set up a third-quarter touchdown. And Aldon Smith intercepted a deflected pass to set up another 49ers touchdown, which gave the 49ers a 31-3 lead with 10:21 remaining in the third quarter.

While the 49ers' offense bogged down with a 28-point lead, the Patriots came storming back.

"That was unbelievable," 49ers tackle Joe Staley said, "but that's what you get when you play Tom Brady. That offense can score points in bunches. They can score points quick. Give them credit because they played hard the whole game and didn't give up."

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick responded after LaMichael James' 62-yard kickoff return with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree to exploit the Patriots' seven-man blitz.

"We knew we were going to have to put up points," Kaepernick said. "Tom Brady and that offense are very potent. They can put up a lot of points, so we knew we were going to have to match that."

And the 49ers exceeded it. The 49ers' 41 points were the most the franchise has scored on the road since a 45-17 victory at the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 3, 2000.

The 49ers' offense finished strong. And, more important, so did their defense.

After the Patriots tied the score, the 49ers forced a punt and the Patriots turned the ball over on downs on back-to-back possessions with Ray McDonald and Ricky Jean Francois providing back-to-back sacks. The 49ers held the Patriots to just 22 yards on those nine offensive plays.

Rogers said the 49ers' played a soft defense with a 10-point lead when New England took over with 1:56 remaining. The 49ers were determined to keep the ball in front of them and force New England to use up clock to move the ball.

It took the Patriots 10 plays to gain 57 yards to get into range for Stephen Gostowski's 41-yard field goal with :38 remaining in the game. That cut the 49ers' lead to seven points, and set up Delanie Walker's game-clinching onside kick recovery.

"That was a baby floater," Walker said of the easy hop he got to handle on Gostowski's kickoff.

As it turned out, that was the only easy thing about the 49ers' victory.

Said Rogers, "We wanted to make one more play than them, and that is what we did."