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.

Jim Harbaugh: I deserve a medal for lasting so long under 49ers ownership

Jim Harbaugh: I deserve a medal for lasting so long under 49ers ownership

In Kyle Shanahan’s first breath after being introduced as 49ers head coach on Feb. 9, he mentioned Jim Harbaugh, along with Bill Walsh, George Seifert and Steve Mariucci.

The head coach of Michigan was listening, and he appreciated the gesture.

“It was very flattering that he said nice things about us at his news conference, and I appreciated that,” Harbaugh said on "The TK Show," a podcast from Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group.

“Now, I don’t think I was there long enough to be compared with Bill Walsh or Coach Seifert, etc. But I think did – and correct me if I’m wrong – I think we did set a record for coaching there the longest under the present ownership, if I’m not wrong.”

That is correct.

Since John and Denise York took over control of the 49ers in 2000 from Denise’s brother, Eddie DeBartolo, the 49ers have employed eight head coaches. Mike Nolan was fired after seven games of his fourth season. The two coaches who followed Harbaugh -- Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly -- were fired after 5-11 and 2-14 seasons, respectively.

Harbaugh’s teams advanced to the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance. He and the 49ers “mutually parted ways,” the club announced, immediately after the team finished with an 8-8 record in 2014.

“I take pride in that,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe there should be an endurance medal, a courage medal, for that.”

Shanahan mentioned Harbaugh during his opening remarks at the introductory press conference earlier this month:

“I’ve got to start out thanking Jed and the whole York family. Giving me this opportunity is, it’s a dream come true and it’s not just an opportunity to be a head coach, but to be a head coach at a place like this where you talk about Bill Walsh, you talk about George Seifert, Steve Mariucci, Jim Harbaugh and you can go down the line with the coaches.”

Said Harbaugh, “Just appreciated it. Appreciated it, and not just for me personally, but appreciated that for all the wonderful players we had and the wonderful coaches and the effort that was put in. People poured their hearts and souls into those years. It’s just appreciated that Kyle would make that comment.”

Harbaugh said he has deep respect for Shanahan and new 49ers general manager John Lynch, whom Harbaugh asked to speak to his Stanford teams during his four-year tenure as head coach.

“Yeah, I would’ve loved to have worked for John Lynch,” Harbaugh said. “He reminds me a lot of the athletic director we have here Warde Manuel, who’s also a former player and a teammate of mine. Common sense guys who are team guys, just the way they go about their business always speaks volumes.

“I thought John took note when they were going through the process. e didn’t want his name mentioned and I think that’s . . . I don’t know if a lot of people noticed that, but I think that’s a profound thing. I think that speaks volumes for who he is as a person. He wants to do a good job and it’s for the right reasons. He’s a competitor at the highest level, so I have great respect for that.”

Kawakami also asked Harbaugh about whether he believes quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still capable of being an NFL starter.

“There’s no doubt he can be an NFL starting quarterback,” Harbaugh said.

“I’m sure Kyle, the coaching staff there and John will meet on it, they’ll think about it, they’ll watch, much like we did when we got in there in 2011. And they’ll make the best decision they can for the team and the organization and it’ll play out the way it’s going to play out.”

Lynch's hirings of Peters, Mayhew left no room for Gamble

Lynch's hirings of Peters, Mayhew left no room for Gamble

During the month the 49ers had no general manager or head coach, Tom Gamble was the next-highest-ranking football official and was charge of the personnel department on an interim basis.

But CEO Jed York made it clear from the beginning Gamble, whom Trent Baalke promoted to assistant general manager just prior to the start of training camp last summer, would not be considered for a promotion to general manager.

John Lynch, with no front-office experience, was hired over Arizona’s Terry McDonough and Minnesota’s George Paton. Before Lynch’s introductory press conference, he hired two top lieutenants in the personnel department to usurp Gamble on the organization's power structure.

On Wednesday, the 49ers announced what had become inevitable: Gamble was leaving the organization.

“I must thank Jed, the York family and the entire 49ers organization for the wonderful memories they provided me and my family, but it is time I move on,” Gamble said in a statement. “This past month, I have had the pleasure of working alongside John Lynch and the talented staff he has assembled. The team is in capable hands and I wish them nothing but the best.”

Lynch’s first move as general manager was to hire Adam Peters away from the Denver Broncos to serve as 49ers vice president of player personnel.

Lynch worked alongside Peters when Lynch took part in Broncos meetings and prospect evaluations, which included a trip to the NFL scouting combine, prior to the 2013 draft.

“That month, month-and-a-half, I actually sat next to Adam every day,” Lynch told CSNBayArea.com. “Those are long meetings. I’d listen to him and we’d talk in between about players. I just saw way back then, he’s a guy who’s highly respected in the league. I firmly believe in two, three years, he would’ve been a GM. He was on that track, at least.”

During Lynch’s introductory press conference a week later, he announced the hiring of Martin Mayhew as senior personnel executive. Lynch and Mayhew were teammates in the secondary for Lynch’s first four NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Mayhew spent seven seasons as Detroit Lions general manager. Mayhew should be able to provide Lynch with valuable counsel as learns on the job after spending the past eight seasons as a TV analyst on FOX.

“Martin has sat in the seat as a general manager and his experience will play an integral role in helping us locate the type of football player we want representing this organization both on the field and in the community,” Lynch said.

Gamble recently completed his 29th NFL season and his 10th with the 49ers in two stints. After he was fired as Philadelphia Eagles vice president of personnel late in the 2014 season, and came back to the 49ers in the 2015 offseason.

While with the Eagles, Gamble was one of the few individuals in the front office who worked well with Chip Kelly. Gamble played an important role in speaking up for Kelly and bringing him to the 49ers last offseason.

Kelly and Baalke were fired after the 49ers' 2-14 season, and the 49ers promoted the ability to create a fresh start when a new coach and general manager. While the 49ers were expecting Gamble to remain with the organization through the draft, his spot with the organization was going to be tenuous with a new regime.

“He is a class act who has helped a great deal in this transition, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him,” Lynch said in a statement. “After working together over the last month, Tom and I agreed that it would be in both of our best interests for him to pursue other opportunities.”