FOXBORO Angry. More than anything else, the Patriots were angry that they didnt show up for the first 35 minutes of Sunday nights game and spotted the 49ers a four-touchdown lead.
They were willing to give the 49ers credit for what they did in building that lead. And the Patriots were cognizant of the fact the Niners should have been even further ahead than 17-3 at halftime.
But the fact that they turned the ball over four times, drew key special teams penalties and had breakdowns on the back end that Colin Kaepernick and the Niners exploited simply ticked them off.
The guys in here, were hot, said special teams captain Matt Slater. We know were a better football team than we showed out there tonight. Hopefully this serves as a wakeup call. Any team can beat any other team on any day and if we dont come out and play up to our standards, something like this can happen. We cant afford to have games like this going forward.
We just blew the game, lamented Deion Branch. We blew the game. Straight up. We straight blew the game. With all the stuff that was going on in the first half, they gave us so many opportunities. And our defense played great. They gave us so many chances on offense and we didnt cash in. We spot them all those points, but we just couldnt finish it off again.
The 49ers figured to bring the fight to the Patriots in a way the Houston Texans failed to last Monday night. San Francisco is built differently with a tougher, more physical defense and a more aggressive team mindset.
The Patriots may have been willing to match intensity. But they werent able to match execution.
It was just one of those nights where we didnt come out as sharp as we needed to early and we put ourselves in too big of a hole, said Slater. I think we showed a lot of character tonight in coming back, but they outplayed us. They out-executed us.
The credit goes to them first,he added. But I dont know what it was. I felt like we had a good week of preparation. I felt like everybody was in tune for the game, but they just had our number.
The first touchdown the Patriots allowed appeared to be a coverage breakdown by Alfonzo Dennard as he lost Randy Moss on the first two steps of Moss route. Bam, 24-yard touchdown.
The Patriots postponed some adversity later in the quarter when a Tom Brady interception was handed right back to them on a Delaney Walker fumble at the Patriots 5. And New England was still afloat after its ensuing three-and-out was followed by a missed 39-yard field goal. Another miscue this one a fumble by Shane Vereen at the Patriots 34 wasnt taken advantage of by the Niners who failed to pick up a first down on fourth-and-1 at the Patriots 25 (Kaepernick fumble).
But Dennard was on the scene again after a Patriots field goal as Walker went uncovered on a 34-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-3. The Patriots again failed to get out of their end and the Niners poked through a field goal to make it 17-3.
Two Patriots turnovers in a 26-second span allowed the Niners to take a 31-3 lead with less than five minutes gone by in the third quarter.
Then the Patriots finally stopped dozing.
Over the next 21 minutes, they scored 31 points. But the stagger and the effort to climb back in the game proved too much of a burden.
You cant make those kind of mistakes. Not against a good team. Maybe against an average team but not against a good team like that, said linebacker Rob Ninkovich.
The Patriots comeback relieves some of the panic, one would assume. Not all of it. Nobody Chicken Littles like the football watching-public in the great Northeeast.
The Patriots werent overmatched. They underperformed. The comeback stirring though it may have been and a referendum on how Brady remains the best in the business was ultimately empty.
But it did show two important things. The mental toughness of this team and the fact that they can deal with the 49ers defense. Even though the Patriots rolled up yards and points after San Fran sunk into a more cautious defense, you cant explain away 407 yards in the second half as being simply the result of the 49ers going soft.
The Patriots took control of the game. They werent handed it.
We showed what we already knew we had, said Branch. We already knew we were a mentally tough team. I just think you cant get down in the first half 17-3, I dont care who youre playing. Were playing against a great team. We had a lot of adversity stacked up against it and we fought back but in the end, they made more plays than we did. We spotted them the whole first half. You cant do that. You just cant do that.
The Patriots are again back to No. 3 in the conference, trailing the Broncos and Texans, two teams they beat. A playoff game on Wild Card weekend looms again.
This season could be one of laments. A talented, hard-working, conscientious team now has four losses by a total of 11 points and their most lopsided loss only came after they stormed back from 28 points down. No team is closer to being undefeated than the Patriots. But two teams in the AFC are ahead of them in the standings and the road just got rockier.
Theres no doubt in this locker room, said Branch. I think the thing is we can look at this game as a true test of something we really needed. We got it. Now we know, OK, were not the team to be spotting people points.