FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The San Francisco 49ers earned a playoff berth by withstanding New England’s stunning comeback from a 28-point deficit to beat the Patriots 41-34 on Sunday night in the rain at Gillette Stadium.
Michael Crabtree took a short pass from Colin Kaepernick and sped around cornerback Kyle Arrington for a 38-yard touchdown with 6:25 to go, then David Akers made a 28-yard field goal to clinch it.
San Francisco (10-3-1) owns at least a wild-card spot and plays at Seattle next week with a chance to win the NFC West. A loss would bring the division race down to the final weekend.
Kaepernick threw for four touchdowns, two to Crabtree, who had 107 yards receiving. The defense rattled Tom Brady at times, but also yielded 443 yards passing.
AFC East champion New England (10-4), which had won seven in a row, trailed 31-3 at one point and lost for the first time at home in December in 21 games. The Patriots also had won 21 in a row in the second half of the schedule before San Francisco somehow regrouped late in a game it seemingly had clinched long before.
The 49ers appeared headed for an easy win in a sloppy game. They forced four turnovers, matching the number of giveaways New England had at home all season.
But then the Niners began sleepwalking, and back came Brady and the Patriots. A 6-yard touchdown run by Danny Woodhead started the comeback midway through the third quarter. A 1-yard dive by Brady, a 5-yard pass to Aaron Hernandez and Woodhead’s 1-yard run with 6:43 remaining tied it.
San Francisco mounted a quick response. Rookie LaMichael James broke free for a 62-yard kickoff return. On the next snap – the third time the Niners would have a one-play TD drive – Crabtree took a pass on the left side, spun and headed into the end zone.
New England turned over the ball on downs and Akers made his kick. Stephen Gostkowski made a 41-yarder for the Patriots with 38 seconds left, but they couldn’t recover the onside kick.