LaMichael James awaited the kickoff, determined to regain the momentum for the SF 49ers after they quickly lost all of a 28-point lead.
”We need a boost,” he announced. ”That’s what I was thinking. I was thinking I got to take it to the house.”
He did not get all of the way there, but near enough to set up the decisive touchdown – going 62 yards before Colin Kaepernick’s 38-yard pass to Michael Crabtree with 6:25 left – that helped 49ers reach the playoffs with a 41-34 win over the Patriots.
”We faced adversity,” James expounded. ”Nobody flinched.”
Now the 49ers have at least a wild-card berth with a 10-3-1 record, knowing a win against division rival Seattle Seahawks (9-5) next Sunday clinches the AFC West title.
The Patriots (10-4) already had locked up 1st place in the AFC East with a chance to improve their probabilities for a 1st-round bye. They began the day in second place in the race for the 2 byes but fell behind the Broncos (11-3). The Houston Texans (12-2) hold the lead position.
”We haven’t thought about that yet,” Tom Brady related. ”What’s in our control is winning football games.”
Doing that on Sun. night seemed just about impossible after the 49ers rolled to a 31-3 lead on Kaepernick’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree 5 minutes into the 3rd quarter. Only 1 team in NFL history had won a regular-season game after trailing by 28 – a 38-35 win by the San Francisco 49ers over the Saints on December 7, 1980.
But with 25 minutes left and Brady at quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers weren’t comfortable.
”Tom is a good quarterback and we knew some adversity was going to come and they were about to make plays sooner or later,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said.
They did – time after time – until they’d tied the score at 31 on Danny Woodhead’s 2nd touchdown, a 1-yard run with 6:43 remaining.
Woodhead began the comeback with a 6-yard touchdown run; Brady scored on a 1-yard sneak on the 1st play of the 4th quarter and then threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez less than 3 minutes later on, and when Woodhead scored again, the New England Patriots had their 4th touchdown in 14 minutes, 16 seconds. Baseball scores
But 2 plays later – James’ kickoff return and Crabtree’s catch – the 49ers were back on top. And this time they stayed there.
David Akers made it 41-31 with a 28-yard field goal with 1:56 to go, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 41-yarder for New England with 38 seconds remaining and San Francisco sealed the win when Delanie Walker caught the onside kick.
”We just spotted them 28 points,” Brady said. ”We fought hard, but you can’t play poorly against a good team and expect to win. We cannot miss plays that we have opportunities with.”
For Kaepernick, a 2nd-year pro starting just his 5th game, it’s a chance to remain calm even as the significant lead disappeared. He finished with 14 completions in 25 attempts for 216 yards and a career-high 4 touchdowns.