It shouldn’t have been easy. And it wasn’t.
The 49ers knew they were in for a battle when they entered Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. They had to fight the league’s highest-scoring offense in the rain and near-freezing temperatures.
In just Colin Kaepernick’s fifth career start, he threw for 216 yards and four touchdowns to lead the 49ers past the Patriots, 41-34.
Despite issues gripping the slick ball, Kaepernick dominated the first half, throwing two touchdowns as the 49ers took a 17-3 lead into the locker room at halftime.
But they still had to close the deal. They had to stop the Patriots for another 30 minutes.
After two more touchdowns in the opening five minutes of the second half, the 49ers built an unthinkable 31-3 lead. It felt like the game was over.
But Tom Brady stood on the other sideline. He’s pretty accomplished. He’s not going to go down without a fight.
Brady picked apart the 49ers defense to lead the Patriots on four straight touchdown drives to tie the game at 31.
The 49ers could have folded it in after that. But they got a boost from a new weapon: LaMichael James.
James took the ensuing kickoff back all the way to the Patriots’ 38-yard line. On the very first play of the drive, Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree for a go-ahead, and ultimately game-winning touchdown pass.
This is unreal. LaMichael James with a 66-yard KO return, followed by Crabtree's 38-yard TD catch-and-run from Kaepernick. It's SF, 38-31.
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoNBCS) December 17, 2012
Harbaugh: "They made a lot of plays, but we made more."
— Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) December 17, 2012
It was Kaepernick’s fourth touchdown pass of the game, something Alex Smith has never accomplished in 75 career starts.
After the game Kaepernick spoke with NBC’s Michele Tafoya.
On his mindset watching Patriots come back:
“We just have to put points on the board. Tom Brady is a great quarterback, they have a great offense. We knew they had the ability to do that. We just wanted to keep scoring.”
On his composure at the end of the game:
“This is something that we practice. You have to be ready to take the lead at the end of the game. You have to be ready for teams to come back.”
On his performance and winning such a big game:
“It’s just a great opportunity to be out here with these players, my teammates. I have great players around that me that are doing an amazing job.”
Kaepernick is ending the Alex Smith-Colin Kaepernick debate tonight.
— Kevin Lynch (@klynch49) December 17, 2012
Tafoya also spoke with Crabtree after the game.
On what unfolded on the game-winning touchdown:
“I just told Kaep throw the ball up and let me make a play. And he had faith in me.”
On what impresses him about Kaepernick:
“He’s got all the tools you need. He really just goes out there and plays ball.”
The shaky David Akers added a late field goal to seal the win. It was a hard-fought, impressive 41-34 win, which clinches a playoff spot for the 49ers.
Impressive response by the 49ers. And, in the end, a momentous victory, no matter how stressful. Fired up for next Sunday night's game…
— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) December 17, 2012