It was a wild and surreal night at Gillette Stadium. As a cold and blustery wintry mix descended on Foxborough, Patriots fans stood dazed and confused as the San Francisco 49ers dropped 31 points on their team in the first half. The same team that walked into the stadium full of swagger after utterly destroying the highly regarded Houston Texans.
In the first two quarters, all the Patriots could muster was a field goal. With a score of 31-3 at the half, this game looked like a done deal.
Sure, we could blame the weather; a cold slippery ball in a game that saw mistakes, fumbles and turnovers on both sides, but let's be honest. Only one team in the first half capitalized on miscues - the 49ers. But wait, haven't we all been taught for years now that this is the type of weather that our home team relishes?
Just when many Pats fans probably shut their TVs off and went to bed, something magical happened. Whatever halftime speech or whatever adjustments were made, another Patriots team walked on that field, then the focus and accuracy was back, and it looked like a huge comeback victory for the history books was taking place.
Tom Brady (36/65, 443 YDS, 1 TD, 2 INT), Brandon Loyd, Danny Woodhead, et. al. led the offense to 4 touchdowns to tie the game up in stunning fashion, while the defense forced 3 and out after 3 and out. The 49ers defense looked gassed, as if they had punched themselves out. The Patriots executed an unintentional Ali rope-a-dope; Clubber Lang's punches didn't hurt anymore and he was sucking wind, and Rocky was about to end the movie.
This was our game, our signature 2012 moment that would put the entire league on notice that while the Patriots can be overwhelmingly down, don't ever count them out. Victory was only a matter of time.
Then we all saw it snatched away in a matter of seconds. With the game all knotted up and the Pats about to cap off an unbelievable comeback, they were absolutely killed on the ensuing kickoff return. Backup returner LaMichael James received the kickoff deep, got behind big TE Delanie Walker, and ripped off a huge 62-yard return to new England 38. It only took one play, a Colin Kaepernick pass to Michael Crabtree, who somehow got past Kyle Arrington to find the end zone untouched. Deflating.
On the next Patriots drive that we all thought would tie it up once again, an ominous sign flashed on the screen: "4th and 2" (ok, it ended up being more like 4th and 1.5, but we'll say 2 for dramatic effect). An ill-advised play to force a ball high to Danny Woodhead well past the 1st down marker was incomplete, and that was pretty much the nail in the coffin.
49ers kicker David Akers sealed the game with a insurance field goal that ended a great Patriots second half rally.
Instead of celebration, we lament, but all is not lost.
The Patriots arguably are still the team to beat in the AFC. They showed fight when they could've laid down, and a tough game like this may very well help them in the playoffs. And who knows, we may be seeing San Francisco again come February.