After a particular loss, Vince Lombardi once quipped “We didn’t lose, we just ran out of time.”
This year, when the New England Patriots lost to the San Francisco 49ers in front of a national television audience they didn’t just run out of time, they ran out of gas.
Down 31-3 in the 3rd quarter, the Patriots staged an offensive display that defies words, scoring 28 straight points in 14 minutes to tie the game at 31 before, exhausted, running out of gas, losing a game that almost felt like a win against the eventual NFC Champions, 41-34.
In the first half, New England committed just about every faux pas that a team could make, fumbles, interceptions, timely penalties and dropped passes. In the third quarter and into the 4th, they were about as perfect as a team could be – but even more, they showed a hint of the juggernaut this offense could be against perhaps the best defense in the NFL.
The Patriots loss to the eventual champions Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Title game denied the world an epic rematch, but the regular season game at Foxboro with the Niners was far and away the Game of the Year, as voted on by fans in various social media outlets.
Old friend Randy Moss put San Francisco ahead early in the 1st quarter, grabbing a 24 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. A disturbing string of penalties, injuries and turnovers plus another long pass to Tight End Delanie Walker had the 49ers ahead 17-3 at the Half – and New England had to feel lucky to be down just by 14 points…
The rain at Gillette Stadium made it tough for both teams to hang onto the ball, as evidenced by 2 fumbles by the Patriots and six by the 49ers – who lost only one of those…In fact, running back Frank Gore picked up a Kaepernick fumble on the Patriots’ 9 yard line and weaved his way through the scattered New England defense to give the 49ers a 24-7 lead early in the second half.
On the next offensive play for the Patriots, Tight End Aaron Hernandez took a vicious hit from 49ers safety Dashon Goldson for a personal foul, and that impacted the next play…Brady threw a screen to Hernandez who, feeling the pressure from an oncoming 49ers defense that had sniffed out the screen, short-armed the pass and San Francisco Defensive End Aldon Smith intercepted – setting up a 27 yard strike from Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree on the very next play, and just like that the 49ers had a 4 touchdown lead…
…and that’s when the Patriots proved to the world both that no lead is safe from them, and that they can score in bunches on the best defense in the league.
In the space of 14 minutes, Woodhead ran one in from the 6, Brady kept the ball for a one yard score, Hernandez took a pass from Brady for a 5 yard score, and then Danny Woodhead punched the ball in from the one for his second score of the game and a 31-all tie.
The crowd was going nuts and the 49ers’ defense was back on their heels – until LaMichael James ran a kickoff return back 63 yards to the New England 38 yard line, and Kaepernick took advantage of the stunned Patriots to find Crabtree on a short out, and Crabtree juked Kyle Arrington out of his socks and took the ball to the house, ending the epic comeback attempt.
The Patriots may have lost the game, but if there were any doubters about how they would fare against the best defenses in the NFL, that was answered emphatically. Not only was this the Game of the Year for the Patriots, but it tops many league-wide lists as the Game of the Year.