December 17, 2012

Kevin Thomas: Comeback kids cut own throats

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Rainy and cold. A miserable evening at Gillette Stadium was only getting worse.

No matter how many times the stadium video board exhorted the 68,000 drenched fans to "stand up and cheer" and to "get loud," the home team would not respond.

Make some noise?

How about making some plays?

Well eventually the Patriots did.

Just enough to tease those poor drenched souls in Gillette.

The New England Patriots erased a 28-point deficit in the second half -- and then lost it again.

What might have been a historic comeback -- which would have done wonders to forget about a terrible first-half-plus -- ended in a 41-34 loss.

Defense and special teams failed the Patriots. Right after New England tied the game 31-31, the Patriots gave up a 62-yard kickoff return and a 38-yard touchdown pass.

But the Patriots lost this game with a lethargic beginning.

You know it's bad when the home team drags itself off the field at halftime, down 17-3, and you're thinking that it could have been worse.

In time, it did (get worse, that is).

San Francisco quickly made the lead 31-3 early in the second half.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is not bad when he has time to throw. And that New England secondary is suddenly looking vulnerable again.

The New England Patriots, fresh from their 42-14 humbling of the Houston Texans the week before, were looking anything but Super Bowl worthy on Sunday.

After last week's rousing victory, the Patriots were hitting their groove, bolstered by a seven-game winning streak and a likely bye in the playoffs.

Now New England has lost its inside track to a bye.

New England is still a hearty 10-4, already with the AFC East title in its back pocket.

But gone is the swag.

The Patriots have to figure out what happened Sunday night. Was it a fluke -- "just one of those nights" -- or an uncovering of New England's flaws?

The focus, as usual, is on quarterback Tom Brady. If you're opposing the Great One and you give him time to pass, he will carve you up.

But put pressure on Brady well, ask the New York Giants about their Super Bowl strategy.

The statistic of the season had been that Brady was sacked seven times in New England's first three losses, and only 13 times in the 10 wins.

Getting sacked was not the big problem Sunday. But Brady felt plenty of pressure, especially from NFL sack leader Aldon Smith, a menacing outside linebacker.

On New England's second series, Brady took a shotgun hike on first down, set to throw and was smacked by Smith, jarring the ball loose for an incomplete pass.

Then on third down, Smith stunted, rushing up the middle, grabbing Brady's jersey and spinning the quarterback as he threw another incompletion.

In the first half, the Patriots not only managed a paltry 43 yards (to the 49ers' 142), but they were 0-for-7 on third-down.

The 17-3 first-half lead had to be frustrating for the 49ers. They fumbled at the New England 5, missed a field goal and overthrew a wide-open receiver that would been a sure touchdown.

Eventually, Brady got on track. He rallied the Patriots to four straight touchdowns. It looked like the 49ers were indeed letting New England back into this game.

But then the magic was gone.

New England is still a good team, obviously. The Patriots showed just how explosive they can be.

But they also showed weakness. Where there was bravado last week. Now there is doubt.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH

 

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