FOXBORO -- Well, that was a wild one.
I don't know about you, but New England's 41-34 loss (complete with 28-point comeback!) to the Niners raised some questions for me.
Among them: What, if anything, does this game say about the league's conferences in light of last week's dismantling of Houston, the AFC's top team? Was the steady rain a factor on both sides? Is Alex Smith the saddest man in America?
The post-game sound from both locker rooms provided a few answers.
Let's get to it.
Head coach Bill Belichick on San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's performance:
BB: "They won, give them credit. Im more worried about our team. Talk to Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh about his team. We just didnt do a good enough job."
Needless to say, Belichick was not happy. But someone should talk about Kaepernick.
The second-year quarterback completed 14 of 25 passes for 216 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed twice -- one scramble for 19 yards, the other run for 10 -- on the touchdown drive right before halftime. Though he fumbled four times (yes, four; we'll get to that in a second) he lost none of them.
Fumbling is part of why I was wondering about the rain.
At least two, if not all four, of Kaepernick's fumbles appeared to come on the snap. When it happened on San Francisco's first drive of the third quarter (which started at the New England 3 after the Patriots fumbled), it looked like Kaepernick was trying to pitch the ball right to running back Frank Gore. Whatever the design, the fumble got flipped enough in Gore's direction that he recovered and took the ball in for a touchdown.
Was the weather an issue? Ask the man, himself.
Kaepernick on fumbling a few snaps:
CK: "It was just a wet ball mishandling it. It was a hundred percent my fault."
On whether or not putting on a glove helped:
Good to know. One of his teammates didn't share the same view of the elements, however.
Niners tight end Vernon Davis on the wet conditions:
VD: I dont think the weather did anything to me. My own challenges were keeping up with Colin Kaepernick, because Alex Smith has always been around, I guess we got to get used to one another.
With the way San Francisco hung on to beat New England on the road in December (the Patriots previously held a 43-5 record in the month since 2001) all but blew up any remaining quarterback controversy for the Niners.
As a seven-year veteran of the Bay Area, Davis has dealt with Smith -- with San Fran for eight seasons -- in some capacity each year. That capacity has greatly diminished in the last six weeks.
Smith suffered a concussion against the Rams on November 11. He was medically cleared to play just 12 days later, but head coach John Harbaugh stuck with Kaepernick. San Francisco has gone 4-1 behind their new starting quarterback. In light of that record, it might be easy for some to forget the transition for the 49ers offense; Davis' quote should be a reminder that it's still a work in progress.
On feeling confident with Kaepernick as quarterback:
VD: I feel very confident with Colin being Quarterback, and Im sure everyone else is as well.
Cornerback Aqib Talib on if the Patriots made a lot of sideline adjustments:
AT: We made adjustments and we made a good job of making adjustments. We just didnt do a good job of executing. We made adjustments and we just didnt execute. We let too many balls get deep on us.
The Patriots defense has allowed the most completions of plus-20 yards, with 68. I hesitate to attempt math, but after 14 games, we're looking at 4.9 long passes surrendered per game. Sunday night's effort against San Francisco saw more of the same as Kaepernick had five big ones: 38 yards to Michael Crabtree, 34 yards to Delanie Walker, 27 more to Crabtree, 26 to Gore, and 24 and a touchdown to former Patriot Randy Moss.
Four of those were good for touchdowns.
Speak of the devil....
Moss on the game:
I include this so you know he wasn't forgotten, he just didn't speak.
After the game Moss got dressed at his locker while reporters crowded around behind him. Properly garbed, he put on his headphones, ducked past reporters, and left Gillette Stadium with his team.
His attitude was businesslike from the start.
Moss didn't come out on his own during warmups to meet any former Patriots teammates and slap backs at the 50-yard line. He came out in a big group of 49ers and immediately fell into receiving drills. The only exchanges I saw before kickoff were handshakes with Matthew Slater and Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
No; no bear hug with Tom Brady.
Now, this isn't his first time back at Gillette since trading Moss in 2010. And he might have gotten a coffee with Brady before the game for all anybody knows. But it was clear Sunday night Moss didn't want to make a big deal out of his return to Foxboro.
I think it's a show of respect to both his old team, and the new.
Niners safety Dashon Goldson on the fake punt:
DG: They showed us that side of the football field and the coach put it in my hands and made the call. I just took advantage of it. We ran it some in practice and I took a look and saw the look that I had seen in practice and took it and it worked. I was hoping they would show us that look so we could run it and they did. When we called it then it came out successful.
San Francisco ran this play in the first quarter. The score was 7-0 Niners and there was a little less than five minutes to play in the frame. Kapernick's third-and-10 attempt to Crabtree fell incomplete and the team got into its punt formation. That's when Goldson got the fourth down ball and ran for 31 yards. The Patriots were stunned.
Why bring this up?
I wrote a story Saturday about the importance of New England's scout team to its weekly preparation. You'd think I wouldn't be surprised to hear a player, regardless of who he plays for, say, 'Oh, that fake punt on fourth-and-10? We practiced it a bunch. Hoped it might come up and it did. How 'bout that!' But that's what happened.
Did San Fran know its opponent better than the Patriots? Looked like it on that play.
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich on the outcome of the game:
RN: I think this is a good lesson for us. Id rather take it now than down the road. Obviously, they are a good team. You have to give them credit. You cant take anything away from what they have done on the field. They came in, they had the turnovers, they made the plays that they needed to make. So that one is on us."
Don't think him flip for seemingly finding a silver lining. To Ninkovich's point, there isn't much road left to travel. Better to lose and learn something in Week 15 than lose in the playoffs and have a whole offseason to think about where things went wrong, right?
It depends on your point of view.
Another way to think is, maybe the Patriots aren't as good (and the Texans not as bad) as we saw last Monday night. Maybe the NFC is the stronger conference, by however much. Maybe, considering how we keep seeing teams topple just as they reach some kind of pinnacle, there just isn't one truly dominant team in the NFL this year.
All of that combined is making a large part of the playoff race stretch to the very end of the regular season.
Did the Patriots lose the No. 2 seed with the loss to San Francisco? Not necessarily. If Denver doesn't win out (by losing to the Chiefs and Browns? Ehhh.) , New England still has a chance to avoid wild-card weekend.
But it sounds like Ninkovich and his teammates don't much care. The Patriots won't stress do-or-die until they get to the postseason.
His attitude in the postgame was just slightly different from receiver Wes Welker.
Welker on if there were positives to take after facing the Niners:
WW: Not really. We still lost the game
It's nice when Patriots players wrap stories up so neatly for me.