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Week 15 Game Recap: San Francisco 49ers 41, New England Patriots 34

San Francisco 49ers

QB Colin Kaepernick, Pass: 14 - 25 - 216 - 4 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 7 - 28 - 0

Playing in Foxboro against one of top teams in the league added a great deal of pressure to the second year quarterback. Coupled with the cold weather and constant falling sleet, Kaepernick's game was all the more impressive. His throws were accurate and hard, arriving on time and located where his receivers could best make the catch and make the play. He did make a few overthrows, particularly on a deep throw to Vernon Davis deep down the middle. Davis had three steps on the coverage and Kaepernick put the ball just a yard too far. Kaepernick also threw a terrible pass on his interception. With time on a play action pass, Kaepernick was late and under threw his pass to a double covered Randy Moss in the end zone. The safety was able to undercut the throw easily for an interception. But on his four touchdown throws, Kaepernick showed spectacular mental and physical abilities. On the first touchdown throw, Moss ran past his man and found space running towards the end zone. Kaepernick threw a deep ball with perfect touch, right in to Moss' arms and the receiver didn't have to break stride crossing the goal line. On the second touchdown, Kaepernick looked to his first option on the left, but the receiver was tightly covered. Vernon Davis ran a post route inside, and Kaepernick locked on to the tight end as the safety cheated inside, opening space for Delanie Walker down the sideline. Kaepernick's hard throw arrived as Walker crossed the goal line, right in to the tight end's gut. New England often struggled to generate a lot of pressure, and on the third touchdown pass Kaepernick was unhurried as he stood in the pocket and threw accurately down the middle, in to Crabtree's hand as the receiver caught the ball in stride and dove between two defenders for a score. The fourth touchdown was the result of great defensive recognition, as Kaepernick identified the Cover 0 and threw left to Crabtree. The receiver had enough cushion to spin away from his tackler and take advantage of the lack of safety help overhead to run down the field for a score. There were some troubling aspects of Kaepernick's game however, as the quarterback repeatedly fumbled the snap when under center. With no trouble receiving the snap in the shotgun formation, the constant miscues from under center seemed to be more a result of some technical problem with the center-quarterback exchange than a result of weather. The 49ers were lucky to recover each fumbled snap, and Kaepernick's great performance could have gone sour had the Patriots been able to capitalize on these mistakes.

RB Frank Gore, Rush: 21 - 83 - 0, Rec: 2 - 34 - 0 (2 targets)

Gore ran with a blunt fashion all game, running hard and determined in to and through contact. The Patriots were often able to anchor the line, disrupting where the 49ers wanted the hole to open. When the Patriots were able to get a body on Gore, he attacked the tackler but often was wrestled to the ground. It was when the Patriots attempted to arm tackle Gore that the running back was able to lower his pads and run through the contact. Though the 49ers weren't always able to block open a clean hole, Gore ran patiently behind them, waiting for a gap and then attacking whether there was something there or he was forced to hit the plugged gap to get what he could. Gore also showed a great capacity for situational awareness, falling on a fumbled snap in the 1st quarter and then picking up another fumbled snap in the 3rd quarter. The 3rd quarter fumble recovery was a designed run up the middle, and Gore picked up the ball as the defense broke down in to fumble recovery mode, accelerated through the original blocked hole and ran through arm tackles for a touchdown. When the blocking was there, Gore was able to make fast cuts and navigate traffic to pick up chunks of yardage, and on a draw play Gore was able to blow by the flat-footed defenders for a good gain. However, more often than not the Patriots were able to get penetration or close gaps and Gore was forced to ram his way to a limited gain. A screen pass to Gore in the 3rd quarter showed just how fast Gore could run when given space, and the running back outran three tacklers to get far downfield for a 26 yard gain.

RB LaMichael James, Rush: 8 - 31 - 0 (2 targets)

James' best play came on a kick return in the 3rd quarter after the Patriots had scored 28 unanswered points. Showing incredible speed and vision, James cut and sprinted his way to a 62 yard kick return to set up the touchdown that proved the difference for the 49ers. James also ran well on designed run plays, but his plays were often limited to outside runs and pitches. With the Patriots showing good gap discipline, these plays often resulted in a minimal gain as James had no corner to turn. His best run came on an off-tackle run to the left. The San Francisco blockers were able to open a large tunnel and James sprinted through the space and contact, going down at the second level.

RB Anthony Dixon, Rush: 2 - 7 - 0

With the success of both James and Gore, Dixon's touches were limited to two carries. On his long carry of 5 yards, Dixon put his hand on his lead blocker and followed, then hit the blocked hole.

WR Michael Crabtree, Rec: 7 - 107 - 2 (12 targets)

Crabtree had a fantastic performance, recording his 2nd two touchdown game of the season. Kaepernick targeted Crabtree in every situation, and on short throws Crabtree showed great hands securing the ball and turning up field. When Kaepernick was flushed from the pocket, it was Crabtree that was able to improvise along with his quarterback, such as a 2nd quarter throw where Crabtree was able to separate and catch on the sideline for a 3rd down conversion. Crabtree was also used on a wide receiver screen in the 1st quarter, following good blocking and sprinting for a 13 yard gain. Crabtree had some trouble on a fade route to the left corner of the end zone, unable to catch up to the ball, as well as stepping out on bounds on a long sideline route that resulted in an illegal touching penalty. But Crabtree made his best plays soon after, running a post route down the middle, catching an accurate ball, absorbing blows from the two safeties and running through for a touchdown. In the 4th quarter Crabtree caught a quick slant and blew by a poor tackle from the corner, sprinting through the open field for a 38 yard touchdown that would eventually win the game for the 49ers.

WR Randy Moss, Rec: 2 - 36 - 1 (4 targets)

The first catch of Randy Moss' day was more impressive than the second, as the wide receiver showed an incredible amount of toughness catching a hard throw 12 yards downfield while being hit from the front and behind simultaneously. The hits cracked Moss in two but the receiver held on and was visibly unscathed. His touchdown catch came on a good run, blowing past the coverage and streaking towards the end zone. Kaepernick delivered a perfect ball that hit Moss in stride, landing in Moss' hands as the receiver crossed the goal line. Moss could have had a second touchdown, but Kaepernick overthrew a fade route while Moss committed offensive pass interference, arm barring the corner. Moss' two catches came in the 1st quarter, and the receiver was only targeted in the 2nd half on a play where Moss couldn't escape double coverage. Kaepernick forced it to him anyways, and the ball was under thrown, allowing the safety to undercut and intercept the pass.

TE Delanie Walker, Rec: 2 - 29 - 1 (2 targets)

Walker's long touchdown catch was a great play, as Walker flew off the line and beat his coverage to the corner of the end zone. With the safety cheating inside, Walker was wide open in the corner as Kaepernick delivered a hard throw to the tight end's chest, and Walker was able to catch the touchdown easily. Though Walker made a great play on the touchdown, he also surrendered a costly fumble in the red zone when he caught the ball, took two steps and absorbed a blow to the chest, knocking the ball clean out.

TE Vernon Davis, Rec: 1 - 10 - 0 (3 targets)

Though Davis had one good catch on an out route, his most significant plays were two catches he didn't make. On a potential touchdown, Davis did a great job of sprinting past his coverage and found himself wide open before the end zone. Kaepernick's ball was a shade too far, but Davis made no effort to lay out for the catch either, satisfied to let the ball drop ahead of him. His second missed catch came on a crossing route where Davis was double covered and the ball arrived ahead of him, but Davis seemed to pull up instead of reaching for the pass, resulting in another play that could have been completed had Davis done more than the minimum.

New England Patriots

QB Tom Brady, Pass: 36 - 65 - 443 - 1 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 3 - 11 - 1

Tom Brady had two separate games, as he was unable to generate any offense in the first 35 minutes of the game. With his receivers unable to gain separation, pressure collapsing the pocket and numerous fumbles by his running backs, Brady's offensive output was severely limited. He showed great accuracy even when his receivers were tightly covered, as a hard throw to a tightly covered Brandon Lloyd hit the receiver right in the pocket, threading an impossibly small needle. But when the pressure tightened Brady's pocket, the quarterback was unable to deliver balls with the same accuracy. On his first interception, Brady ran a play action and locked on to Wes Welker streaking down the middle. Welker was double covered and pulled up, gesturing for pass interference while Carlos Rogers ran past and caught the deep throw. With some drops by Lloyd and Hernandez while the 49ers collapsed the pocket, Brady was completely frustrated. But when the 49ers took a 31-3 lead, Brady seemed to have a complete competitive melt down on the field, spiking the ball while screaming at the referee over a disagreement on whether or not the 49ers got a timeout off in time. After the lead got so wide, the 49ers seemed to relax a bit while Brady became enraged, and the quarterback threw hard quick throws again and again, hitting his receivers and tight ends immediately. The 49ers gave a cushion and Brady was able to exploit the space, running timing routes to perfection and leading the Patriots up and down the field, scoring 28 points in 14 minutes. The second touchdown of this scoring run was a quarterback dive at the 1 yard line, as Brady leapt over his linemen. The third score was a quick out route to Hernandez, delivered perfectly to his tight end's shoulder and Hernandez was able to turn in to the end zone. The Patriots were able to tie the score behind Brady's pinpoint accuracy on quick slants and hooks, but on the final drives the 49ers were able to tighten the coverage and once again generated the pressure that had so disrupted Brady in the first half. With the pocket collapsing and his receivers unable to separate quickly enough, Brady was unable to sustain the offensive explosion. In his frantic attempts to bring New England back and win the game, Brady's 65 attempts were the highest of his season. Brady also threw a second interception when running a screen to Hernandez. The tight end had taken a big hit the play before and flinched, pulling back as the ball arrived at the same time as a defender. With Hernandez recoiled, the ball bounced off a 49er defender and in to the hands of Aldon Smith.

RB Danny Woodhead, Rush: 12 - 61 - 2, Rec: 5 - 23 - 0 (10 targets)

With the fumbling problems of his backfield compatriots, Woodhead received the most carries of the three. He also had much more success than the other two, as his size and quickness gave the 49ers' defense fits. Add in the additional space afforded by the injury to Justin Smith, the anchor of the 49ers' defensive line, and Woodhead was able to sprint through small holes and make cuts to space. When a small gap opened, Woodhead had the vision to make the cut and he was quick enough to elude the defenders' arms as they grasped for him. On his long run of 15 yards, Woodhead was able to sprint through a large tunnel and the cut past the safety to run through the second level. Even with his size, Woodhead showed a great amount of strength on his touchdown run, taking the carry left and then cutting back inside. The tackler met him at the goal line and Woodhead spun around, churning his legs to push his way in to the end zone. Woodhead's second touchdown came on a quick snap at the goal line, and with San Francisco backed on to their own heels, Woodhead was able to sprint through a hole in to the end zone. Woodhead also contributed a good amount in the passing game, running short routes out of the backfield and catching the ball when he had enough separation, but when tightly covered Woodhead was unable to make the catch.

RB Stevan Ridley, Rush: 9 - 23 - 0 (2 targets)

Ridley was largely ineffective all game, and his fumbling problems led to his eventual benching. His first carry of the game almost resulted in a fumble, as Ridley cut right and spun as the defender hit him in the back. As Ridley went to the ground the ball came out, but Ridley was ruled down. The rest of his carries resulted in minimal gains, as Ridley didn't possess the same quickness that would eventually lead to Woodhead's success. Instead, Ridley ran hard and made one cut, but his power couldn't match that of the collapsing 49ers' defense. The fumble that resulted in Ridley's benching came when Ridley ran straight up the middle and Donte Whitner dove, landing his helmet against the point of the ball and forcing it out. The ball security wasn't sloppy, but the hit by Whitner was in the perfect position to force the fumble.

RB Shane Vereen, Rec: 1 - 4 - 0 (1 targets)

With the fumbling issues of Ridley, Vereen may have been able to carve a nice role for himself if he had not fumbled as well. Catching a screen and running up field, Vereen held the ball loosely at his side and Navorro Bowman was able to punch it out from behind. That was the end of Vereen's day.

WR Brandon Lloyd, Rec: 10 - 190 - 0 (16 targets)

In what has been a vastly inconsistent season for Lloyd, the wide receiver recorded a season high in catches, targets, and yardage. Brady threw to Lloyd from the beginning of the game to the end, never wavering. His first catch of the game was a quick slant for 7 yards. Then Brady threw a medium pass to Lloyd's back shoulder, and even with tight coverage Lloyd was able to turn and catch and the exact right moment. On a short throw to the left, Lloyd was able to catch the ball and keep his feet as the corner undercut him, stumbling forward for the 1st. Lloyd made another great timing catch with Brady on a deep route down the right sideline. Brady had enough time to throw a perfect ball to Lloyd's stomach as the corner lost position. Lloyd turned and caught the ball 29 yards down the field. With the Patriots in a frantic catch up mode, Brady routinely threw to Lloyd on quick slants and hooks, with hit or miss consequences. On some plays, Lloyd made the catch in stride and held on, but there were a number of plays where the ball was located a little off and Lloyd was wholly unable to adjust. Lloyd seemed to have more success catching long balls then short, such as when Lloyd beat his man in a sprint down the sideline and Brady threw an accurate ball to lead his wide receiver. Lloyd was able to catch the ball in stride and run for 53 yards. But there were also plays where Brady hit Lloyd right on the hands, and a lack of concentration lead to inexcusable drops. The same lack of concentration seemed to lead Lloyd to commit an illegal shifty penalty on a play that would have resulted in a touchdown reception for the wide receiver, nullifying a great catch in the corner of the end zone. Lloyd was able to pick up a 38 yard pass interference call in the 4th quarter to set up Hernandez's touchdown. But all in all, Lloyd could have had a much bigger game had he held on to more of the passes that hit his hands, as well as eliminating some of the more inexcusable mental errors.

WR Wes Welker, Rec: 5 - 56 - 0 (9 targets)

Welker was held without a catch in the 1st half, thanks mostly to excellent defense by Carlos Rogers. The wide receiver was unable to separate from the corner, and the one time Brady forced the ball to Welker, the play resulted in an interception as Welker ran a seam route and was double covered. Welker pulled up, gesturing that he had been interfered with and Rogers ran past him to eventually catch the deep ball. Welker became more involved in the 2nd half, as Brady began to throw non-stop and targeted the receiver on various slants. Welker did a great job of catching and running when hit in stride by his quarterback, often beating coverage off the line of scrimmage with a quick move inside. That was what the receiver was limited to however, as he was unable to get behind the coverage for any long gains.

WR Deion Branch, Rec: 4 - 37 - 0 (5 targets)

Though rarely seen this year, Branch continued to have success with Brady on short timing routes. On a 4th and 4, Branch cut inside on a slant and Brady him in stride for a 1st down. The rest of his catches were quick hooks on the both the left and the right side. Branch was also thrown to in the end zone in the 1st half, but Tarell Brown made a nice play swatting the ball out of the receiver's hands.

TE Aaron Hernandez, Rec: 10 - 92 - 1 (19 targets)

The team leader in targets, Hernandez was thrown to over and over again, but the tight end only caught half of the balls directed his way. Hernandez was most successful on short passes, and when the tight end was able to hold on to the ball he showed great ability to run after the catch. Hernandez was an instinctive runner, turning up field quickly and running fast for nice gains. But Hernandez had issues adjusting to balls that were behind or short, and with Brady pressured, the ball was often unable to be perfectly located. Hernandez's long catch of the game came on a comeback route down the right side of the field, and the tight end was able to catch the ball in space. Hernandez had another chance to make a long catch, but Dashon Goldson struck him so hard that Hernandez was unable to hang on. The hit resulted in a defenseless receiver penalty, but the play seemed to rattle Hernandez. On the next play, a screen was called for Hernandez and with the ball arriving at the same time as the defender. Hernandez flinched and pulled back. The ball deflected off the tackler and Aldon Smith was able to pluck it out of the air. The tight end had more success afterwards, and his huge target number was the result of Brady relying on quick throws to negate San Francisco's pressure. Hernandez ran slant after slant, and when the Patriots were near the goal line, Hernandez ran an out route across the face of the end zone. With the ball delivered perfectly to his side, Hernandez was able to catch and turn in to the end zone.

TE Michael Hoomanawanui, Rec: 1 - 41 - 0 (1 targets)

Hoomanawanui had one catch, but it was a great one. Brady had gone through every progression available and finally threw to the lesser thrown-to tight end of the Patriots offense. The tight end was open on the right side, and though very slow, was able to catch the perfectly located pass 41 yards downfield.

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