FOXBORO -- Colin Kaepernick found Michael Crabtree on a 38-yard touchdown pass with 6:33 left in the fourth quarter to lead the 49ers past the Patriots, 41-34, Sunday night, spoiling what would have been the greatest comeback in team history. The Patriots scored 28 straight points to wipe out a 31-3 deficit with over 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
However, San Francisco responded with 10 straight points, and after a late Patriots field goal, the Niners recovered an onsides kick to seal the game.
As a result, the Patriots saw their winning streak snapped at seven games and fell to 10-4 on the season. They dropped into the No. 3 spot in the AFC playoff picture behind No. 1 Houston and No. 2 Denver.
The Patriots lost for the first time in the second half of the season since losing at Houston on Jan. 3, 2010. The Patriots also lost the turnover battle for the first time this season and for the first time in 22 games, as Tom Brady was intercepted twice while the running backs lost two fumbles. Brady finished 36-of-65 for 443 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 68.9.
The Patriots started the game with the ball but were forced to punt, one of three three-and-outs for New England in the first half. The Niners drove 63 yards in six plays, capped off by a 24-yard TD pass from Kaepernick to Randy Moss down the left seam, in which the former Patriots receiver beat Alfonzo Dennard. The Patriots were 0-for-7 on third down in the first half and were held without a touchdown in the first half for the first time since Week 2 against the Cardinals.
Brady had one of the roughest halves of his season, completing 10-of-19 passes for 76 yards and an interception. His quarterback rating at the half was 40.7.
Up 7-0, the Niners had several chances to put the game out of reach in a 10-minute span in the first half but failed to put any points as the Patriots forced a turnover, the Niners missed a 39-yard field goal, and fumbled away another possession.
The Patriots could only muster a Stephen Gostkowski field goal in the first half. The Niners made it 14-3 when Kaepernick found a wide open Delanie Walker from 34 yards out down the right sideline. San Francisco drove to the Patriots' 4-yard-line before settling for a David Akers 20-yard field goal at the halftime gun, giving the Niners a 17-3 lead.
The Patriots got the ball to open the second half and couldn't move it, forced again to punt. The Niners drove the ball to the Patriots 33 when Devin McCourty intercepted Kaepernick in the end zone. The Patriots responded with a drive deep into San Francisco territory. But Stevan Ridley -- who had a fumble nullified in the first quarter when he was down by contact -- fumbled as Donte Whitner forced the ball loose and Dashon Goldson returned it 66 yards to the Patriots' 4-yard-line. Frank Gore ran it in on the next play for a touchdown.
On the next series, Brady's pass intended for Aaron Hernandez was picked off by Aldon Smith. On the next play, Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree over the middle from 27 yards to put the Niners up, 31-3, with 10:21 left in the third quarter.
The Patriots then began their furious comeback. The Patriots drove 73 yards in 13 plays, capped off by a Danny Woodhead 6-yard run to make it 31-10 with 5:59 left in the third. Brady's 1-yard run on 4th and goal made it 31-17 on the first play of the fourth quarter. After a 38-yard pass interference call on Tarell Brown set up the Patriots at the Niners' 5-yard line, Brady hit Hernandez on an out pattern to bring the Patriots within one score. The Patriots finished their comeback with Woodhead's second TD run, a one-yard run with 6:45 left.
But San Francisco answered immediately with a LaMichael James kickoff return of 62 yards to the New England 38. On the next play, Kaepernick found a wide open Crabtree for a touchdown down the left sideline that gave the Niners the lead after 28 straight points by New England. Instead of punting, the Patriots failed on fourth-and-1 at their 12 with just over two minutes left as Brady's pass to Woodhead fell incomplete. Akers hit a 28-yard field goal with 1:56 left to give San Francisco a 10-point lead.
The Patriots hit the road next Sunday for a game against the 2-12 Jaguars before finishing the regular season on Dec. 30 at Gillette against the Dolphins. For more coverage from Chris Price and Mike Petraglia, visit the Patriots team page at weei.com/patriots and the blog It Is What It Is.
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Jackie MacMullan of ESPN Boston to talk about the Lebron James Saga, the possibility of Rajon Rondo being traded, and the future of Marcus Smart.
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