The Patriots and 49ers put on a game for the ages last Sunday night with both sides alternating brilliant play with utter ineptitude. The contest featured six actual turnovers but several other miscues that meant just as much as any fumble or interception.
Through it all San Francisco built a seemingly insurmountable 31-3 lead midway through the third quarter, then watched helplessly as Tom Brady went into beast mode and led a furious comeback to tie the game at 31. Then the Niners showed remarkable resilience in grabbing the lead back immediately courtesy of a 62-yard kickoff return followed by a 38-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree.
At that point there was still plenty of time left with 6:20 showing on the clock and the Patriots in possession at their own 25. Things started well enough as Brady hit Wes Welker for gains of 13 and 12 yards, moving quickly to midfield in what appeared would be the Patriots fifth straight touchdown drive.
That's where our key took juncture began. After failing to connect with Brandon Lloyd deep down the right side on first down, Brady faced second-and-10 with 5:29 left. As he dropped back, Aldon Smith pushed left tackle Nate Solder back toward the pocket while Ahmad Brooks was working on right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
Vollmer switches with right guard Dan Connolly, who takes Brooks while Vollmer tries to keep Ray McDonald away from Brady. But Vollmer lost McDonald inside, despite being flagged for illegal use of the hands (which was declined) and the defensive tackle swarms Brady at the Patriots 45 to set up third-and-15.
On the next snap, backup defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois flat out beats Solder wide as McDonald is once again coming from the inside, taking away any chance of Brady stepping up into the pocket. Francois buried Brady back at the 38 and the Patriots were forced to punt and the Niners got the ball back with less than five minutes left.
The consecutive sacks not only stopped the drive but they turned momentum back to the Niners. The Patriots pretty much had to be perfect down the stretch to win due to the limited time, and even though the defense responded with a stop, the desperation mode created forced the Patriots to go for it on fourth-and-one from their own 12, and ultimately they fell short.
In a game in which 75 points were scored, it was a pair of defensive plays that led San Francisco to victory.