The New England Patriots fell short of what would have been an epic comeback against the San Francisco 49ers, and the final score ended up at 41-34. There are several things we can take out of this victory, but let’s start off on a positive note.
1. A different feeling
If you told me that a team could come back from a 31-3 deficit against the San Francisco 49ers and their vaunted defense, then I would have lost an obscene amount of money after placing a wager with you. The resiliency that this team showed in coming back from that 28-point deficit is just incredible, because the game looked well in hand until a six-yard touchdown run from Danny Woodhead in the third quarter.
The Patriots showed us all something different in this game, and most fans I’ve talked to are more impressed with the fact that the Patriots came back than they are disappointed with the loss. But make no mistake, the negatives outweighed the positives in this game. I mean, it’s rare that one of the NFL’s elite teams falls behind 31-3 in front of their own fans. It’s just that the major emotional positive that we can take from this game as fans is such a strong feeling that it mitigates the concerns with the team.
2. Lack of a pass rush
You know, like the pass rush, Jermaine Cunningham’s suspension is drawing to a close, but the Patriots will still have to play another game without their situational rusher. Chandler Jones doesn’t look like the same player he was earlier this season after the injury, and it feels like he hit the proverbial rookie wall since the bye week. Jones has totaled five sacks and no other counting statistics since putting down Sam Bradford against the St. Louis Rams.
If Jones isn’t effective in the pass rush, then the Patriots have to start manufacturing pressure. The Pats were able to record one sack (Rob Ninkovich), but that was the only time Colin Kaepernick was hit in this game. If the Patriots want to play better pass defense, then the pass rush needs to do a better job of alleviating the pressure on the secondary while increasing the literal pressure on the quarterback. Against a young QB like Kaepernick, that’s something the Pats should have taken better advantage of.
3. Stevan Ridley needs to be more consistent
Putting the ball on the ground at the worst possible moment is one thing, but averaging 2.6 yards per carry as a whole just puts a whole new level to the word “dreadful”. Stevan Ridley is going to be a great running back in this league and is already a solid starter, but he needs to be more consistent. Either that, or I just need to come to grips with the fact that Ridley is just in his second year in the league and is still growing as a player. Things will become better with experience, but that doesn’t hide the fact that he is averaging just three yards per carry in losses.
The Patriots have to play with the cards they are dealt with, and that card is a talented but young and still developing running back as the starter. I’ll get to Danny Woodhead shortly, but I just wanted to hit on the fact that the Patriots need Ridley to be more consistent so that their offense as a whole is in turn more consistent and effective. I love Ridley, but I just hope he takes care of the fumbles soon and matures a little more as a player as the season goes forward.
4. Danny Woodhead was in beast mode
I apologize if that tag is reserved solely for Marshawn Lynch, but Danny Woodhead was absolutely amazing against a San Francisco 49ers defense that usually shuts down running backs. They managed to shut down Ridley and force a fumble on Shane Vereen, but Woodhead was immune to NaVorro Bowman and the Niners front seven.
He finished the day averaging over five yards per carry, and he also added five receptions. More importantly, he continues to put the ball in the end zone (instead of on the turf) with two rushing touchdowns. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Woodhead consistently get the rock, and it’s funny because earlier this season (the game against the Baltimore Ravens) I criticized the Patriots for giving Woodhead too many carries. Ever since then, he’s been incredible when given the chances. As for complaining about Woodhead’s role I must quote the Raven himself, “Nevermore.”
There isn’t a more clutch back in the NFL than Woodhead, and it is a sentiment I will echo. He, Tom Brady, and Brandon Lloyd were the trio that spearheaded this comeback.
5. Devin McCourty the exception
With the exception of Devin McCourty, the New England Patriots secondary really laid an egg against the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick is a good quarterback, but there is no defense for allowing a 107.7 QB Rating. Kyle Arrington’s inability to tackle Michael Crabtree on the 38-yard touchdown was the moment that sums up the Patriots performance in pass defense all-around; poor. McCourty continues to play great football at the back end after recording a touchdown-saving pick that resulted from great coverage.
The secondary is still susceptible to the big play, and Crabtree had a field day on the Pats DBs.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.