SAN FRANCISCO -- Randy Moss streaked downfield with more urgency than he ever showed during two years playing on the other side of the Bay, grabbing Matt Cassel's stellar throw and speeding away for a score before the first quarter was even half over.
The New England Patriots didn't forget how to win just because their regular-season winning streak is over. From Moss' dynamic 66-yard TD catch to Kevin Faulk's gutsy fourth-down score on a direct snap, the Patriots were back in their usual October form, even in an unusual place.
Faulk rushed for two scores, Cassel had 259 yards passing and the Patriots won in San Francisco for the first time in franchise history, beating the 49ers 30-21 Sunday.
Moss, who sleepwalked through two seasons with the Raiders before regaining his stride with the Pats, had five catches for 111 yards, including that sublime catch-and-run behind Nate Clements and Walt Harris, the 49ers' top defensive backs. Though he had made just two plays longer than 10 yards since Bay Area native Tom Brady's season-ending knee injury, Moss was a key component of a vintage offensive effort by the ever-resourceful Patriots (3-1).
"Being able to connect on that deep ball, I think it was good," Moss said. "That's something that we've been missing in our repertoire the past couple of weeks."
The Patriots' repertoire was packed with big plays when they returned from their bye week. Faulk, just one part of New England's multiplayer rushing attack, got his second TD on a fourth-and-2 direct snap in the third quarter, echoing the Dolphins' unstoppable series of snaps to Ronnie Brown two weeks ago.
With an extra week off after that 38-13 debacle, coach Bill Belichick revived the direct-snap play he's used many times before -- and he even threw in a handful of unusual defenses to remain unbeaten in the Pats' past six games following byes.
"It's a play that we've been working on for I don't know how many weeks, months, but we needed it today, and we hit it," Belichick said of the direct snap.
This comprehensive effort could help erase the bad taste of the defending AFC champions' stunning blowout loss to Miami last month, which ended their 21-game regular-season winning streak. Although the first quarter was filled with impressive throws and big interceptions by both teams, New England then turned down the drama with a ball-control offense that largely kept San Francisco (2-3) off the field in the middle two quarters.
New England kept the ball for more than 32 minutes in the first three quarters, while Mike Martz's Niners offense couldn't get a first down during a 36-minute stretch spanning the middle periods.
"New England did everything they were supposed to do," 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "It was obvious we didn't do enough on third down to get off the field. When you don't do that, you don't give your offense a chance to get on the field."
New England hadn't traveled to Candlestick Park since 1995 and had never won in San Francisco in four previous tries. The Patriots, who haven't lost in October since 2005, will practice at San Jose State this week to get ready for their next game at San Diego.
Isaac Bruce caught two TD passes from J.T. O'Sullivan, while Frank Gore rushed for 54 yards and caught an early scoring pass in San Francisco's second straight loss. After a strong start, the 49ers managed just 23 yards in the middle two quarters, and O'Sullivan misfired regularly in a 14-of-29 effort for 130 yards with three interceptions.
"For a long time he was frustrating us, because he's just a jittery quarterback," Pats linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "He kind of reminds you of Brett Favre. You don't know where he's going. We chased him all day, so I know he's tired, because we're tired."
Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals, including a 49-yarder with 4:42 to play after San Francisco finally mounted a strong 80-yard scoring drive to pull within six points on Bruce's second TD catch.
"I think we lost a game that we should have won today, (and) I think everybody feels like that," defensive lineman Justin Smith said. "We have to get back and learn from it. It's not the end of the world. We're 2-3. We need to come out and get a win next week (against Philadelphia)."
The game was supposed to be Brady's first appearance in the stadium where he grew up cheering the 49ers, but his replacement had his own homecoming. Cassel, whose wife and family came up from his native San Fernando Valley, was a solid 22-of-32 despite taking five sacks.
Notes: Moss had his 57th 100-yard receiving game, the third-most in NFL history. He's within two of Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison, who hasn't had a 100-yard game this season. ... New England has won in every NFL city except Washington. ... Niners LB Patrick Willis had 18 tackles.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press