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Patriots Live Blog: Niners Close Out 41-34 Victory After Wild Game At Gillette

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Bill Belichick (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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Final, 41-34 49ers: The onside didn’t work for New England, the Niners recovered, and Kaepernick took a knee to end this one.

What a wild one it was.

Fourth quarter, :38, 41-34 49ers: Gostkowski kicked a 41-yarder to make this a one-score game. Now the Pats will need to recover an onside kick to keep their slim hopes alive.

Fourth quarter, 1:55, 41-31 49ers: That should just about ice it, as Akers boots the field goal to stretch the lead to 10.

Fourth quarter, 2:25, 38-31 49ers: Facing a fourth-and-2 deep in their own territory, the Patriots went for it. Sound familiar?

Well, just like in Indy a few years back, this one failed, with Brady’s pass to Woodhead sailing out of bounds and the Niners taking over in field-goal range. A field goal will put this one out of reach.

Think they’ll talk about call for a while on the radio?

Fourth quarter, 2:56, 38-31 49ers: The defense comes up big, notably Brandon Spikes. The linebacker pursued Gore from behind and delivers a big hit on first down, and he then forced James into Mayo on second down. A gang tackle on third down forced a Niners punt, and after a Patriots timeout, it’s New England ball deep in their own territory.

Fourth quarter, 4:40, 38-31 49ers: Brady didn’t have much of a chance on that drive, as he was sacked on a second and third down, forcing a Mesko punt. Ted Ginn dropped the punt but fell on it. That would have been quite the game-changer.

The Niners take over with 4:40 left from their own 27-yard line.

Fourth quarter, 6:25, 38-31 49ers: That tie game lasted all of 18 seconds, as Michael Crabtree breaks free for a score after a 62-yard return by LaMichael James.

Back to work for Brady.

Fourth quarter, 6:43, 31-31: Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a tie football game.

The Patriots just marched 92 yards in just 3:13, capped off with a 1-yard Woodhead run, and the Patriots pulled off a miraculous comeback. Mind you, San Francisco has the No. 1 defense in the league in terms of scoring and No. 2 in terms of yards allowed, so this isn’t exactly like a comeback against Buffalo.

This drive was pure brilliance on display from Brady, both with his arm and his head, and it will be dissected further when there is time for it. The brief is that Brady hit Lloyd with a perfect throw along the right sideline for a big gain, and a Brady scramble set up the Pats at the 1-yard line.

Fourth quarter, 9:56, 31-24 49ers: The Niners did pass but it was a safe short pass to Gore. Justin Francis tracked him down from behind and forced the punt.

The Patriots won’t have great field position though, after a holding call on the punt.

Fourth quarter, 10:38, 31-24 49ers: Rob Ninkovich just made a huge sack on second down, bringin gup a third-and-22. Will the Niners pass here, risking an interception deep in their own territory?

Fourth quarter, 12:13, 31-24 49ers: Wow, this is a seven-point game with plenty of time left. Fifteen minutes ago, you might’ve never thought this possible, but that’s why we all keep watching.

This drive was made by a brilliant fourth-down play call, when Brady faked a stretch play to Woodhead, spun and lofted a floater to a wide open Wes Welker, who ran for a gain of 15. After a failed flea-flicker, Brady went deep to Lloyd, who looked to possibly trip over his own feet but nevertheless drew a pass interference penalty on Tarrell Brown.

That set the Patriots up on the 1-yard line, and Brady connected with Aaron Hernandez for the score.

It was Brady’s first touchdown of the night, keeping alive his consecutive games streak, but you can bet that’s the last thing on his mind right now.

Fourth quarter, 13:17, 31-17 49ers: A typically beastly play by Vince Wilfork on second down forced a third-and-4, on which Kaepernick threw to a void on the field for an incompletion.

Brady and the offense is back out there, and if they can drive for a score, the lead will be just seven.

Fourth quarter, 14:58, 31-17 49ers: It’s a football game now.

On fourth-and-1, Brady came out under center in an empty set. He motioned Woodhead to the backfield, made a call (“Gold 10!”) and then jumped over everyone to fall headfirst into the end zone and make this a two-possession game.

Again, there’s still much work to be done. But it’s not safe to go to sleep.

End of third quarter, 31-10 49ers: It’s fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line when the fourth quarter begins, thanks to a huge 41-yard catch by Michael Hoomanawanui.

Raise your hand if you knew the Patriots had that one in their playbook. Anyone?

After Woodhead was twice denied at the goal line, the Patriots went back to Ridley. He was then stopped inside the 1, leading to the upcoming fourth down attempt.

Third quarter, 3:39, 31-10 49ers: There’s still a long way to go, but the Patriots’ defense took the first step toward getting back into this game with a big stop on third down.

Brady and the offense will take over inside their own 15-yard line.

Third quarter, 5:59, 31-10 49ers: The Patriots, at least, won’t be kept out of the end zone, as Danny Woodhead finds his way across the goal line to cut the lead to three scores. You know that Brady and the offense can score three touchdowns in the blink of an eye on some nights, so don’t go to bed just yet.

(At the same time, holding your breath for the Patriots’ comeback would be inadvisable as well.)

Third quarter, 10:21, 31-3 49ers: We haven’t seen a game like this in a very long time for the Patriots, who are just getting beaten.

After a 15-yard penalty was called on Goldson for an illegal hit on Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots ran a quick pass to Hernandez. The tight end bobbled the pass and it bounced to Aldon Smith, who bobbled it as well but ultimately secured it for an interception.

On the very next play, Kaepernick went deep over the middle to Crabtree, who split two defenders (Gregory and McCourty) and caught the pass, giving the Niners a 31-3 lead.

Third quarter, 10:38, 24-3 49ers: Stevan Ridley has two fumbles tonight and three fumbles in the past two games. Welcome back to being a point of conversation, Stevan Ridley’s fumbling issues.

The ball was returned all the way back inside the Patriots’ 5-yard line by Goldson.

On the ensuing play, Kaepernick fumbled a snap for the fourth time of the night, but somehow the Niners lucked out with Gore picking the ball off the turf and running it in for a touchdown.

The Niners now lead 24-3.

Third quarter, 11:37, 17-3 49ers: After a pretty ugly effort that resulted in Frank Gore converting a third-and-15, the Patriots’ defense fights back by forcing a big turnover.

Devin McCourty jumped in front of Randy Moss on a deep ball to the end zone, making the easy interception and taking a knee in the end zone.

If the Patriots are to come back in this one, you can point to that play as the one that turned it around. Of course, that’s a long way away from being the case. Let’s see if the offense can score a touchdown before jumping to that conclusion.

Third quarter, 17-3 49ers: We’re under way, with the Niners getting the ball to start the second half.

Halftime, 17-3 49ers: Facing a third-and-8 from the Patriots’ 34, Kaepernick scrambled and ran for 15 yards, showing why he earned the job over Alex Smith. The play set the Niners up in the red zone, and a Frank Gore first-down run with 25 seconds left got San Francisco inside the 5.

After a timeout, Randy Moss was called for offensive pass interference in the end zone, and Kaepernick (on a designed run) got the ball back inside the 5-yard line. A handoff to Gore up the middle came up short of the end zone, and a David Akers chip shot stretched the San Francisco lead to 17-3.

Everyone — Ed Hochuli included — needs to take a deep breath and prepare for the second half after what was a bit of a frenzied first half.

Second quarter, 5:40, 14-3 49ers: I still don’t know what happened. I just know the 49ers took over at their own 22-yard line for some reason, and that the Patriots were charged a timeout for losing the challenge. Here’s what nobody knows:

Who is No. 57 on the Patriots?

What happened to the holding penalty?

Why was it “illegal” for the Patriots to down a punt?

Why is Ed Hochuli allowed to work in the NFL?

Bill Belichick is wondering the same thing.

As we are right now, the Niners have a third down upcoming, but this one has a weird feel after that fiasco.

Second quarter, 6:04, 14-3 49ers: As if we needed any more confusion, Hochuli’s mic was going in and out in his “explanation.”

Nobody has any idea what’s going on right now. That includes the players and coaches on the field.

Second quarter, 6:04 14-3 49ers: A Brandon Lloyd drop on second down kills this drive, and Zoltan Mesko punted the ball away for the fourth time of the first half.

However, the low kick bounced and appeared to hit Ted Ginn Jr., and the Patriots’ Marquice Cole pounced on the ball. It was unclear if the ball did in fact touch Ginn, but then Ed Hochuli called a holding penalty on No. 57 on the Patriots. You might not know this, but there is no No. 57 on the Patriots, so it’s unclear on whom that penalty was called.

We then waited several minutes for Hochuli to explain himself, and he screwed it up again, saying fourth down would be played over again.

After a minute or two of it appearing as though the call on the imaginary No. 57 on the Patriots would stand, Belichick threw his challenge flag. It’s now under review, with Hochuli looking to see if the ball touched Ginn. We really don’t know what the ref will say when he gets back on the field.

Second quarter, 6:59, 14-3 49ers: It’s going to take touchdowns to win tonight, and the 49ers are scoring them.

This one came when Delanie Walker got behind Alfonzo Dennard and hauled in a perfectly thrown pass from Kaepernick to give the Niners a 14-3 lead.

The drive was made possible on the first play, when Aqib Talib was called for pass interference. From these eyes, it looked to be a bad call, as Talib didn’t interfere with Crabtree’s ability to make the catch. Talib was likely flagged for not turning around toward the ball, but as he didn’t interfere with the receiver, it shouldn’t have been called. Alas, a late flag came in from behind the play, giving San Francisco 35 free yards.

Second quarter, 8:31, 7-3 49ers: The Patriots converted that fourth-and-4 with a quick slant to Deion Branch, who seemingly only makes catches when the Patriots really need him.

The drive stalls shortly thereafter though, when Ray McDonald sacks Brady on third down one play after Carlos Rogers rushed the QB and forced an incompletion. The 49ers’ pass rush certainly comes as advertised.

Stephen Gostkowski booted a 32-yarder though, and the Patriots are on the board after a 16-play, 62-yard drive.

Second quarter, 10:59, 7-0 49ers: The Patriots are driving, but they’re facing a fourth-and-4 from the 49ers’ 32-yard line. Brady stood in the shotgun, looking ready to run a play, but ran out of time and was forced to call a timeout. We’ll see what the Patriots have in store when play resumes.

1Second quarter, 14:55, 7-0 49ers: The Niners went for it, and they didn’t get it.

In the most ridiculous formation of all time, Kaepernick had two players attached to his hip and Frank Gore right behind his butt. Kaepernick fumbled his third snap of the night and the Patriots came up with a huge fourth-down stop.

The Patriots are wildly fortunate to only be trailing 7-0, which is the good news. The bad news is that the offense has done basically nothing thus far.

End of first, 7-0 49ers: Thanks to incredible effort by Kyle Love and Steve Gregory on third-and-1, the Patriots stop Frank Gore short of the sticks and force a fourth down when the second quarter begins. From the Patriots’ 25, will Harbaugh call for another field goal, or will he go for it?

First quarter, 1:00, 7-0 49ers: The turnover frenzy continues.

Facing a third down after Patrick Willis blew up a screen pass to Danny Woodhead, Brady tossed to Shane Vereen. The running back didn’t have enough space to pick up the first down, but he made matters worse when he let Navorro Bowman knock the ball free.

The ball was pounced on by a 49er just before sliding out of bounds, and the Niners take over on the New England 34-yard line.

First quarter, 2:14, 7-0 49ers: On fourth-and-10 form their own 46, the Niners called a fake punt run to Dashon Goldson.

The safety broke free, rushing for a huge 31-yard gain. The Niners couldn’t do much after that, but David Akers came on for a field goal. The veteran kicker missed wide left, however, so no harm, no foul for the Patriots.

That field goal miss won’t mean much, however, if the Patriots’ offensive line can’t figure out a way to keep No. 99 out of Tom Brady’s face.

First quarter, 6:13, 7-0 49ers: The Patriots don’t do anything with that red zone turnover, but they at least set the Niners back to their own 45 with Mesko’s third punt in the opening eight minutes.

First quarter, 7:30, 7-0 49ers: The Patriots’ defense has Brady’s back tonight. Steve Gregory laid a solid hit on Delanie Walker at the 4-yard line, jarring the ball loose shortly after Walker caught an out. Aqib Talib recovered the fumble with maybe an inch to spare between his foot and the boundary line, and the Patriots get it back on their own 11.

First quarter, 7:42 7-0 49ers: That’s a pretty big swing right there.

After the Patriots forced a punt, a hold on the Patriots on the ensuing return set the Patriots up on their own 20. On the first play, Brady threw deep to Welker, who was double covered. Carlos Rogers made an over-the-shoulder catch and brought it all the way back to the New England 5.

Brady made the tackle on the 5-yard line, though.

First quarter, 9:48, 7-0 49ers: A 23-yard connection from Brady to Lloyd goes for Naught, as Aldon Smith hits Brady on two of the following three plays, and the Patriots are forced to punt.

It was a close on there too, with Smith knocking the ball out of Brady’s hand as he was passing. Brady was just moving his arm forward enough for it to be an incomplete pass, but the difference between that and a fumble was probably 0.05 seconds.

First quarter, 10:55, 7-0 49ers: Welcome back to New England, Randy Moss.

The former Pats wideout started for San Francisco tonight in place of Mario Manningham, and he’s already made an impact. He caught a pass on the opening drive over the middle, getting absolutely leveled by Jerod Mayo but holding on for the first down.

Three plays later, Moss broke up the seam and Colin Kaepernick lofted a perfect pass right into the veteran receiver’s hands. It’s 7-0 Niners.

First quarter, 13:35: Navorro Bowman has already impacted this game, as he blasted his way through the Patriots’ line to tackle Ridley for a loss on third-and-1. Zoltan Mesko punted it away, and the Niners now take over.

First quarter, 14:23: Stevan Ridley fumbled on the second play of the game, and the Niners recovers, but fear not, Pats fans. Ridley’s entire back was on the ground before the ball came loose, and the automatic replay review of this one will give the ball back to the Pats.

It should be third-and-1 from the 24-yard line when this gets sorted out.

First quarter, 14:53: The 49ers won the toss and took a page out of the Patriots’ playbook by deferring. Devin McCourty returned the opening kick to the 15, and we are under way.

8:28 p.m.: An emotional scene at Gillette Stadium, as one flare was fired into the air for each of the victims from Friday’s tragic school shooting in Connecticut.

In all, 28 flares were fired as the stadium reflected in silence.

8:18 p.m.: The Randy Moss era was a complicated one, at least at its end, so there are still many leftover feelings for the wide receiver who helped change the entire dynamic of the Patriots’ offense back in 2007.

Regardless of your feelings toward Moss and his abrupt departure a couple of years ago, you’ll probably enjoy this picture tweeted by the Patriots.

8:15 p.m.: How’s this for an interesting turn of events — the Seahawks will be Patriots fans tonight.

As Lawyer Milloy noted on Twitter, “All of #Seattle will be watching @SNFonNBC rooting for the @Patriots to beat the @49ers.”

The reason, of course, is that with Seattle’s 50-17 thrashing of the Bills, the Seahawks improved to 9-5 on the season. The Niners still lead with their 9-3-1 record, but a San Francisco loss Sunday night would set the stage for a matchup next weekend between the Niners and Seahawks with first place on the line.

So you can bet that Richard Sherman (not normally a Tom Brady fan) will be rooting hard for No. 12 this evening.

8:06 p.m.: An important programming note for anyone watching the game: NBC will air President Obama’s remarks from Newtown, Conn. The president was scheduled to speak prior to the game beginning, but it’s been delayed. I imagine the network will announce to all football fans that coverage of the game will be moving to NBC Sports Network and CNBC.

Like I said, they’ll probably make it clear during the broadcast, but in the event things get wild, that’s what the Sunday Night Football official Twitter account just announced.

8 p.m.: One thing that is sure to factor in to tonight’s game is the weather. It’s cold and rainy, which will make for a slippery football and some slick turf. Foxboro is just a few miles south of the line where the rain is snow across Massachusetts, so if the temperature drops a couple of degrees, the precipitation could turn into snow. It’s hard to tell now, because the only thing more difficult than predicting football games is predicting the weather.

One way or the other, though, the weather will have a role in this one.

7 p.m.: After a few days of speculation about his status, Rob Gronkowski is officially out for this one.

It’s not entirely shocking, considering four weeks would have been a near-miraculous recovery and that the Patriots have a rather easy schedule the rest of the way, but he surely would have made an impact in this one.

Also of note for the Patriots is that Aqib Talib is active. He left Monday night’s game with a hip injury before halftime and never returned, but he’s apparently healed well enough to suit up for this one.

And we know he won’t have to deal with Mario Manningham, who was already ruled out by the Niners on Saturday.

Also inactive for the Patriots are Jake Bequette, Ron Brace, Tracy White, Derrick Martin and Markus Zusevics.

For the Niners, in addition to Manningham, the following players are inactive tonight: Tavares Gooden, Trenton Robinson, Jewel Hampton, Joe Looney and Ian Williams.

6:36 p.m.: Tonight’s game features Tom Brady, a quarterback whose name you may have heard before. But if today’s games are any indication, it’s a day dedicated to running backs.

Adrian Peterson had the best day of them all, rushing for 212 yards and a touchdown in a Vikings victory. Arian Foster also had quite the day, running for 165 yards in Houston’s win over Indy. Marshawn Lynch and Darren McFadden are currently in the process of putting together impressive afternoons, both of them over 100 yards.

Might that be a precursor to a big night for Stevan Ridley, Frank Gore or both?

6 p.m.: It seems like just yesterday that we were all waiting with great anticipation for the Patriots to kick off against one of the best teams in the NFL in a prime-time matchup on national TV, yet here we all are again for the very same reason.

Less than 150 hours after disposing of the AFC-leading Texans, the Patriots will try to do the same against the 49ers. Though the Niners are just 9-3-1, they are considered by many to be the best team in the NFC and possibly the whole league.

Of course, the Patriots have found their way to the top of several power rankings after Monday night’s victory, which was New England’s seventh consecutive win.

A lot will be on the line for both teams, too, in terms of playoff positioning. A San Francisco loss would drop the Niners out of the No. 2 seed and therefore out of a first-round bye for the time being, and if the Patriots lose, they’ll drop below the Broncos, who improved to 11-3 on Sunday with a convincing win over the Ravens.

But all that seeding will work itself out in the days and weeks to come. For tonight, we have football, and it should be football worth watching.

If you’re running out of ways to waste the time leading up to the game, here’s plenty of reading material to help get you to kickoff:

What To Watch For In Patriots-49ers Sunday Night Matchup

Welker Not Focused On History, But Physical 49ers Secondary

Patriots-49ers Predictions

TALE OF THE TAPE: San Francisco 49ers At New England Patriots

I’ll be back for all the pregame updates, including the inactive list, which may or may not include Rob Gronkowski.

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or find him on Twitter@michaelFhurley.

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