Tom Brady did his best to lead a fourth-quarter comeback, but the New England Patriots (10-4) fell short, losing to the San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1), 41-34, from Gillette Stadium on Sunday Night Football.
Entering a crucial fourth quarter, it was truly Colin Kaepernick versus Tom Brady.
For much of the night, Kaepernick had out-gunned Brady, lighting up the New England defense and leading a furious 31-3 lead. But all of a sudden it was Brady, who led two-consecutive scoring drives to cut the lead to 31-17 in the opening seconds of the fourth.
Yet another three-and-out to open the quarter for Kaepernick gave Brady and the Patriots the ball back. And Brady did what he generally does– led a remarkable comeback.
He went back to the no huddle and threw the ball all over San Francisco's vaunted defense. For the third-consecutive drive, Brady led the offense into the end zone, making it a seven-point game with 10:48 remaining in the game.
And it happened again, just like before. Brady got the ball back, pushed the ball down the field and within minutes it was a tie ballgame, with the Patriots coming back from 28 down.
Despite the remarkable comeback, though, the Niners wouldn't go away quietly. After a long return from LaMichael James, Kaepernick found Michael Crabtree for a 38-yard touchdown, capping a one-play drive for the lead.
The Patriots couldn't get anything going, punting the ball off a fourth-and-22. The 49ers couldn't kill the clock and it gave New England an opportunity to tie the game, starting from inside it's own 15-yard line. A failed fourth-and-one gave the ball, and the game, to the 49ers as the comeback was produced with no reward.
San Francisco took over in the New England red zone and nailed a field goal to put the game out of reach with 1:56 remaining in the final frame. A Stephen Gostkowski field goal put the Patriots in position, down by seven with 38 seconds remaining, but they failed to recover the onside kick and the Niners were able to run the clock out.
With New England giving up an average 100 yards per game on the ground, and holding Arian Foster to 46 yards rushing last week, San Francisco combined to run for 181 yards on the night, just over the Niners' average of 161.5 per game.
Aldon Smith, who leads the league with 19.5 sacks on the year, was held without a sack on the night. He recorded one tackle and an interception on the night.
After connecting with Hernandez early in the fourth, Brady has thrown a touchdown pass in 46-consecutive games.
New England will have a chance to get back on track as they travel to EverBank Field Sunday, when they meet up with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) at 1:00 pm ET.
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