SAN FRANCISCO – For the first time this season, the Patriots scored more than 20 points in a game.
Kevin Faulkscored two rushing touchdowns for the first time in his career.
Deltha O'Neal registered his first INT as a Patriot.
And New England won its first game ever in San Francisco.
They did so by moving the ball at will on offense, dominating on special teams, and making the right adjustments on defense.
QB Matt Casselmade progress. He was very efficient leading the Patriots offense, and looked as comfortable in the role as he ever has. Cassel led New England on several long drives, helping the Pats win the time of possession battle by a 2-to-1 margin (nearly 40 minutes to San Fran's 20).
But perhaps his most important drive was one of the shortest.
After the 49ers opened the scoring with a J.T. O'Sullivantouchdown pass to Frank Gore, Cassel heaved a 66-yard TD strike of his own to Randy Mosson 3rd and 8.
"I think, for the most part, that's what we've been waiting on – to really open the bag, open the offense a little bit more," Moss told a group of reporters after the game.
"It's a good thing that it happened, that we connected. From an offensive standpoint, it was just something that was missing from our repertoire the last couple of weeks."
That play no doubt gave Cassel and his teammates a dose of much-needed confidence, particularly after the offense looked inept against the Dolphins two weeks ago.
"It was definitely better this week," the QB noted. "We were putting the ball into the end zone like we needed to. It helped us in the end result."
Cassel's rare miscues weren't particularly costly, either. His first interception, which really wasn't his fault (he was hit as he threw, affecting the trajectory of his pass attempt to Wes Welker), was effectively negated when safety Brandon Meriweatherintercepted O'Sullivan on the very next play. And after underthrowing Moss on another deep pass attempt, his pass was picked, but the Niners went 3-and-out on their ensuing drive.
What's more, the Patriots were able to hold on to the ball for so long because they converted nearly half of their third-down attempts (they were also successful on their lone fourth-down try). That kept the Niners defense on the field longer than they'd have liked, which tired them out and kept them on their heels.
That, in turn, gave New England an added punch in the running game, which provided Cassel with the type of balance he needed to feel more comfortable in the pocket when he threw the ball.
The Patriots rushing tandem of Faulk, Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney, and LaMont Jordan(who left the game with a leg injury in the second quarter) averaged 3.3 yards per carry and racked up 144 total yards on the ground.
"Kevin came through. He had two rushing touchdowns. He probably hadn't had that since the fourth grade," head coach Bill Belichickjoked in his post-game press conference.
After giving up a pair of first-quarter TDs, the Pats defense settled down and adjusted to San Francisco's pass attack. It also helped that they intercepted O'Sullivan three times and limited the 49er offense to just one successful third-down attempt (San Francisco was 0-for-2 on fourth downs as well).
Winning the time of possession battle was key, according to Belichick, but so was the D's ability to adjust – something they didn't do so well in their last game against Miami two weeks ago.
"Time of possession was good for us and defensively it's always good when you don't have to play, and we were able to make some adjustments which is always tough with [Niners offensive coordinator Mike] Martz's offense. He gave us some formations, some shifting, some looks that were a little difficult to deal with, so that really helped us defensively, because our offense was able to stay out on the field. It gave us time to talk over stuff and also give our pass-rushers a little bit of a breather."
"We had too many three and outs," O'Sullivan lamented. "Three and outs just aren't good enough for any offense."
New England also mixed up their formations defensively in an attempt to confuse O'Sullivan. The Pats started out with a four-defensive-linemen front (Jarvis Greenwas the extra man) and outside linebacker Adalius Thomasmoving to the inside next to rookie Jerod Mayo. They eventually shifted away from that look, but kept changing their personnel groups frequently throughout the game. For instance, the defense received significant contributions from rookies Gary Guyton, Terrence Wheatley, and Jonathan Wilhite.
Stephen Gostkowskiis in the kind of groove kickers dream about. He continues to boom kickoffs deep into the end zone for touchbacks and is perfect so far this season on field goal attempts. On Sunday at Candlestick Park, he nailed three-pointers from 35, 40, and 49 yards.
"Anytime you kick your kicks, you feel like you had a good day. The kickoff team did a good job of covering the kickoffs. We won, so overall – I always feel like I have a good game when we win."
Punter Chris Hansonstruggled with his consistency again, but in spite of that, the Patriots were able to surpass the Niners in another important category: starting field position (their own 35, versus San Fran at their own 28). That can be attributed, in part, to Ellis Hobbs, who always seems to be just one last-second tackle away from taking his returns for scores.
NEXT STOP, SAN DIEGO
The Pats will remain in California for the week as they prepare for next Sunday's primetime contest against the Chargers. By choosing not to return to New England, the Pats will have a little extra time to rest before they get back to business.
"Well, it's like always, a win only lasts a couple hours," said Faulk. "It's time to go on to the next team. We are going to enjoy it right now before we go on to San Diego."
"We know what we're capable of as a football team," Moss added. "We still got a lot of things to work on, but it was a good victory, man, coming out to the West Coast, so, it's something we can hang our hat on."