It would have been one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, but after a one play defensive collapse, it fell short.
Trailing 31-3 midway through the third quarter, it appeared the Patriots were done. They couldn't convert a third down, they couldn't get open on 49ers defensive backs, they couldn't maintain their blocks, they couldn't make a stop defensively, they couldn't win the turnover battle.
Then, something changed. The 49ers changed to a zone and Tom Brady picked it apart. They got the no huddle going - finally established some rhythm. They outpaced the 49ers pass rushers. They put points on the board. 28 of them to be exact. 28 in a row.
Unfortunately, after evening things up at 31, things unraveled. In two plays to be exact. The first: a LaMichael James kick return that set the 49ers up deep in Patriots territory. The second, a hitch to Michael Crabtree, followed by a futile attempt at tackling by Kyle Arrington that went for a long touchdown.
Trailing 38-31, facing a fourth and two with just over two minutes to go, the Patriots failed to convert and the 49ers sealed the game with a field goal on the ensuing possession.
While the loss essentially eliminates any chance the Patriots had at the first seed, you can't help but be happy with the resilience the team showed. Instead of rolling over, they fought, and fought hard against the NFL's best defense. They proved they are capable of beating any team, no matter the situation. Sure, it would have been nice to complete the greatest comeback in regular season history, but there are certainly positives to take out of this... although no one in the Patriots organization would acknowledge any moral victories.
And on another note, I think the loss will be a reminder to this team of just how bad losing sucks. The last few postseasons, the Patriots have come in so distanced from losses, that losing almost wasn't a concept of reality. Now, that feeling will be fresh on their minds heading into the postseason.
Final quick observation from the game: How amazing was the Tom Brady to Brandon Lloyd connection tonight? Lloyd finished with 10 catches for 190 yards, and had amazing chemistry with Brady. Patriots fans had been waiting all year for what they saw from Lloyd tonight, and lets just hope they can keep it going down the line.