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Analysis/reaction: 49ers-Patriots

Posted Dec 17, 2012

Amid storm clouds, a silver lining in New England's 41-34 loss to San Francisco.

When it rains, it pours.

You’ve heard that before, right? Well, in Foxborough Sunday night, it was the case, quite literally. At times, the skies opened up and it was coming down in buckets. Then, just as quickly as the deluge began, it would subside, without warning or explanation.

The same could be said for the action on the field.

Admittedly, the Patriots played terribly in the first half against San Francisco. To a man, they said as much in their locker room afterward.

“We basically blew a half off and it cost us big time,” defensive tackle/co-captain Vince Wilfork stated without hyperbole.

What went wrong?

“Everything,” a clearly perturbed wide receiver Wes Welker told reporters. “We turned the ball over… a lot of bad football.”

“Well, we were turning the ball over,” quarterback/co-captain Tom Brady explained. “It’s hard if you're not making big plays and you can’t put together enough good plays to put together a scoring drive. And certainly to turn the ball over and give them a chance to score, which is pretty much what we did the entire first half. We just didn't even give ourselves a chance. I mean, they're a very good team and a very good defense and they play hard. We just spotted them 28 points.”

However, it was hard to find anyone on the team who felt like the game was over, even down 31-3. For just when it seemed like the downpour of 49er points would never end, it suddenly abated, giving New England the relief it needed to respond with a flurry of points of its own.

“Yeah, I mean, we never think we’re out of it. That’s the character of this team. We’re going to keep fighting and give ourselves a chance to win the game,” cornerback/co-captain Devin McCourty asserted.

“It’s a test of character. We knew it was going to be a physically tough game and a mentally tough game. We took one on the chin, we definitely did, but at the same time, this team showed some fight,” echoed Wilfork. “It just wasn’t enough at the end.”

“I had a feeling we’d be able to come back,” insisted Brady. “We hung in there, we battled back from a 28-point deficit, but we just made too many mistakes when we needed to make the plays.”

“Oh, I mean, I definitely felt, ‘Let’s just keep getting the offense the ball. They’ll get it clicking,’” defensive end Rob Ninkovich maintained.

“Yeah, we knew there was a lot of time left. We knew we could score when our defense would start stopping them,” contended left guard/co-captain Logan Mankins. “Even if there wasn’t any hope of winning, we were focused on playing hard still and trying our best to win. We got back in the game, we just couldn’t finish it.”

New England may have exhibited mental toughness in refusing to quit, but the loss nonetheless drops the 10-4 Patriots to the third seed in the AFC playoff standings, one game behind 11-3 Denver.

“It’s unfortunate, but it's OK. We've got two games left,” added Brady, trying to remain positive in the face of a rare December loss.

“Keep grinding,” was Ninkovich’s prescription for his team moving forward. “We’ve got two games left. That’s what we have to focus on. You always need a little gut-check every now and then. Down 31-3 against a good team, you know, it’s to come back and win from that. This is a good lesson for us. I’d rather take it now than down the road.”

Down the road – much further down the road – New England and San Francisco could meet again. If they do, it will have to be in New Orleans in Super Bowl XLVII.

Maybe then, the Patriots can apply the tough lessons they learned in this bitter defeat.

“You learn a lesson on this one,” Ninkovich mused. “Tables were turned on us. This one hurts and doesn’t leave a good taste in our mouth.”

“Well, we’re disappointed we lost,” Mankins acknowledged, “but I think there are some good signs that we fought back to tie up the game… Some teams might mail it in. You look at last week [against Houston]. They put all their subs in. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to keep fighting. No game’s ever over.”

If that’s the lasting impression left on these playoff-bound Patriots, then indeed there was a silver lining in the dark storm clouds that hovered over Gillette Stadium Sunday night.