FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 16: Danny Woodhead #39 of the New England Patriots runs in for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter during the game at Gillette Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The Patriots seven-game winning streak thudded to an end Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. The 49ers led 31-3 lead with 10 minutes to go in the third quarter before the Pats showed up; New England scored 28 unanswered points to tie things midway through the final quarter before San Francisco put things away for good with a 10-0 run. The final: 41-34.
"We just didn't play well," coach Bill Belichick said after the game. "We didn't coach well, we didn't play well. We just got to perform better than that. We didn't so that's the result. … We did some things that were alright. But we made too many mistakes. We just did too many things that weren't good."
The mistakes included two more Stevan Ridley fumbles, the last coming early in the third quarter with the Pats driving. The second-year back was visibly upset as he headed to the bench, and slammed his helmet to the ground in frustration.
"We played a good football team and you can’t beat a good football team playing like we did today, all the way around starting with myself," Ridley said via the Boston Globe.
"You can’t have balls on the ground. You can’t have turnovers. You can’t give them opportunities to go down there and capitalize and that is exactly what they did. We just can’t hang our heads. We just have to get back to work." Then there was Tom Brady, who threw two interceptions, although the last one came after tight end Aaron Hernandez couldn't handle a quick screen pass, batted the ball in the air, and watched helplessly as linebacker Aldon Smith grabbed it.
On an evening that including temperatures in the 30s and non-stop rain, Brady was 36-for-65 for 443 yards with 1 TD and the aforementioned 2 INTs.
"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 can't miss plays that we have opportunities with.
"We made some mistakes early in the game and they capitalized," he continued. "We couldn't stay on the field on third down. [We] turned the ball over. I don't know what our time of possession was, but I'm sure it wasn't good. The first half was a terrible first half. We got down - fortunately we were in it after the first half, but we didn't play well to start the second half. And then we went on a little run, but you can't play 30 minutes against a good team."
The implications: much larger than a single loss, however. Now, a week after controlling their own destiny, the Pats are no longer the AFC's No. 2 seed. They're now third behind the Texans (12-2) and Broncos (11-3), which means that New England won't get a first-round bye and will have to play during wild-card weekend. Barring the improbable (namely: the Broncos dropping one of their final two games against teams with a combined winning percentage of .250), the Patriots' future likely includes hosting the conference's sixth seed, which will be either the Bengals or the Steelers.