The dichotomy at Levi’s Stadium was striking.
The hometown hero, Tom Brady, battled against the childhood team he loved. And in Santa Clara, on the San Francisco 49ers’ home field, it was the New England fans who roared the loudest.
As franchise greats Eddie DeBartolo and Jerry Rice watched, the New England Patriots (8-2) dispatched San Francisco 30-17, cementing the current 49ers as one of the worst squads in team history with a historic nine-game losing streak.
It’s not like the 49ers played a particularly terrible game by their standards.
After allowing two early scores, the San Francisco defense bottled up the high-powered New England offense to force four straight punts. The Patriots clung to just a field goal lead heading into the half, giving the 49ers an unlikely chance midway through the game.
But the 49ers bet on an unsustainable strategy. Trying to contain Brady is like capping a water bottle after dropping in dry ice. Eventually, the lid is gonna blow.
The fourth quarter was that breaking point, as Brady tossed two of his four total touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to drop the 49ers to 1-9.
Brady’s play late in the game was indicative of why he’s so renowned. On multiple occasions, the 49ers’ pass rush missed sacking Brady by a finger length. And every time, Brady made them pay.
Even after placing Chip Kelly on the wrong side of 49ers’ history, the head coach had nothing but praise for the future Hall of Fame quarterback:
“That’s the type of quarterback he is. His ability to keep plays alive, he’s as good as anybody. I think people have misconceptions that Mike Vick keeps plays alive and scrambling, and he’s not like that. But his ability in the pocket, he’s as good as anybody whose ever played the game.”
Although the 49ers’ depleted defense kept the team in the game through three quarters, linebacker Ahmad Brooks wasn’t pleased with the way the unit faltered late:
“In the second half they just overcame our shortcomings. Whatever we lacked in they solidified what they needed to do to put points on the board. We didn’t play a complete game like we did last week. Last week played a full 60 minutes all the way down to the last second and I don’t think we did that this week.”
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick played his usual brand of football: decent, but unremarkable; sporadic moments of quality play followed by head-scratching, frustrating decisions. Kaepernick finished the game with another 200-yard effort, connecting on 16-of-30 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back Carlos Hyde was the most consistent offensive contributor, rushing for 86 yards on 19 carries for an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Tight end Vance McDonald led the 49ers receiving corps with three receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown.
San Francisco’s offensive line didn’t do Kaepernick any favors, getting bullied by the Patriots pass rush while surrendering five sacks for 29 yards throughout the day.
New England’s pressure was a key factor in stalling the 49ers drives, something that Kelly chalked up to the Patriots winning one-on-one matchups along the line.
“In individual matchups early in that first couple drives there were just guys getting beat in one-on-ones. Once we got that settled down I think we ended up moving the ball.”
Despite his winless record this season, Kelly reiterated that Kaepernick played well enough to keep his job heading into next week.
But consistency continues to plague Kaepernick and the 49ers offense, something the veteran quarterback knows the team will need to clear up as they search for their second win:
“There were some throws I wish I had back … But we have to do better as a whole, making sure we’re getting first downs and stringing plays together.”
Despite harsh conditions for most of the game, Brady still managed to complete 24-of-40 attempts for 280 yards and four touchdowns in front of friends and family.
Unsurprisingly, it was Brady and the New England Patriots who struck first on the slickened Levi’s Stadium turf.
After a quick three and out for San Francisco, Brady connected on his first touchdown pass of the day, standing unharmed in the pocket before wide receiver Edelman broke loose near the side of the end zone for a four yard score.
The 49ers looked poised to answer back with a touchdown of their own after a 13-yard run from Hyde set up a first and goal situation from the four yard line. But San Francisco would be driven back on three consecutive plays, forcing K Phil Dawson to put through his 400th career field goal from 33 yards out.
The Patriots followed up San Francisco’s missed opportunity with their easiest scoring drive of the day, as a 44-yard rush by running back LeGarrette Blount would be followed with a nine-yard screen pass to his backfield mate White for the team’s second touchdown of the day.
Despite gaffes from both the defensive and offensive lines of the 49ers, who allowed four first-half sacks, San Francisco refused to go quietly against Brady and the Patriots.
With rain pouring down, the 49ers mounted their best offensive attack late in the second quarter. With Hyde continuing to find holes in the Patriots’ defense, passing lanes opened up for Kaepernick and tight end McDonald.
McDonald would haul in two instrumental catches on the scoring run, including a 19-yard pickup that helped move the 49ers into the red zone, where Kaepernick again found his tight end to cap the drive with an 18-yard touchdown reception. The score narrowed the Patriots’ lead to an unexpectedly close 13-10 at the half.
With weather playing a factor all day, the two teams struggled to start the second half, posting a scoreless third quarter that saw the 49ers force two more punts from the normally high-powered New England offense.
But Brady and crew started to pick up steam near the end of the third. He connected with his receivers on consecutive first down passes to move the team into the red zone for the first time since the opening quarter of the game.
Brady made good use of his opportunity, connecting with Amendola in the back of the end zone for his third score of the game after masterfully slipping away from the 49ers’ ensuing pass rush.
The score marked the first points for the Patriots since the start of the second quarter, while extending the visitor’s team margin to 20-10.
Brady saved perhaps his best work for last, sealing the 49ers’ fate with his fourth touchdown of the day. As he had done in the previous scoring drive, the normally immobile Brady masterfully eluded an oncoming 49ers pass rush, stepping up under pressure to connect with receiver Mitchell for a 56-yard score.
The touchdown widened the Patriot lead to a comfortable 17 points, and an increasingly erratic Kaepernick couldn’t help the home team’s cause. Kaepernick would sort out the offense a little too late, leading his team to its second and final touchdown with just over two minutes left in the game on a 13-yard pass to running back Shaun Draughn.