49ers vs. Patriots: Thumbs up and thumbs down

Which way does the thumb turn for certain 49er after their 30-21 loss to New England, including receiver Isaac Bruce, linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes, quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan, the time of possession battle, third-down conversion rates, Andy Lee's career-best punt, San Francisco's run defense, cornerback Nate Clements, linebacker Tully Banta-Cain and much, much more? Check inside.

Thumbs down: Well, it probably had to happen sometime. But Sunday's victory was New England's first win ever in San Francisco. The Patriots had lost their previous four visits to the City by the Bay. The Patriots have now beaten the 49ers three consecutive times after losing seven of their first eight matchups with San Francisco.

Thumbs down: It's pretty easy to guess what is going to happen to the 49ers when their opponent dominates the time of possession, which also happened in their opener against Arizona. This time, the Patriots had a ridiculous edge of 39:52-20:08 in the TOP battle, which really is the most vivid of several one-sided numbers to illustrate New England's domination.

Thumbs down: Of course, the 49ers weren't helping themselves out at all in controlling the football by converting on just 1 of 9 third-down opportunities. One third-down conversion the entire game? Come on. That's no way to run an offense, and that's certainly no way to keep one moving.

Thumbs up: Sure, they got a lot of opportunities with the New England offense on the field all day, but 49ers' inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes combined for 32 tackles. That's a lot of tackles, and a lot of persevering hard work by two never-quit linebackers. Willis had 18 of those tackles and Spikes had 14, both season highs.

Thumbs up: For the second week in a row, Spikes showed his ability to make plays in coverage with his second interception of the season. This one abruptly ended New England's first possession of the game after the Patriots had recorded a quick first down.

Thumbs down: To the dejected blank stare on Willis' face as he sat afterwards at his stall in the team locker room. Once again, the All-Pro linebacker had left everything out on the field, and I can't remember him ever looking this disconsolate after a loss.

Thumbs up: To a packed house again at Candlestick Park, where unlike the first two home games there were very few empty seats. There were even a few chants of "Let's Go Niners" rolling through the sellout crowd of 67,650 when things were going good early in the first half. Now, that's a flashback to better times.

Thumbs down: The stadium went silent and that crowd was taken out of the game once the Pats took control, just when the 49ers needed those fans most.

Thumbs up: To Steve Young getting his No. 8 retired at halftime, which turned out to be one of the primary highlights of the day for the 49ers Faithful.

Thumbs down: None of them came in the end zone this time, but quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan threw three more interceptions, one of them coming at the New England 4-yard line. You aren't going to see the 49ers win many – or any, for that matter – games when O'Sullivan is picked three times.

Thumbs up: Wily veteran Isaac Bruce has still got the juice, working free in the back of the end zone to reel in two short red-zone touchdown passes from O'Sullivan. Bruce also had a 38-yard reception, the biggest offensive play of the day for the 49ers.

Thumbs up: It was the 13th career two-touchdown game for Bruce. It also gave Bruce 88 career touchdown receptions, moving him past Andre Reed and tying him with Don Maynard for ninth on the NFL's all-time list.

Thumbs down: The 49ers continue to allow opponents to run right at them. Maybe its scheme (five defensive backs to start the game again) or maybe its just simply losing man-to-man battles, but the Patriots were able to take command by controlling the ball on the ground. They had 97 yards rushing by halftime – averaging 4.2 yards a pop – and finished with 144 on the ground.

Thumbs down: After rattling him early with two interceptions in the first 17 minutes, the 49ers allowed a backup quarterback to make plays on them through the air most of the day. After those two early picks, the rest the afternoon belonged to Matt Cassel, who finished a strong 22 of 32 for 259 yards through the air.

Thumbs down: Once again, San Francisco's supposedly strong veteran secondary allowed an opposing receiver a home-run touchdown reception. This time, it was Randy Moss getting behind the entire defensive backfield for a 66-yard touchdown reception that gave the momentum back to New England after the 49ers had scored first in the opening quarter.

Thumbs up: He kept working hard despite being inactive the first four weeks, and veteran linebacker Tully Banta-Cain responded in his first appearance of the season with three tackles, half a sack and a quarterback hit against his former team. Banta-Cain was up for the game instead of Roderick Green, and showed enough to maybe work his way back into the team's defensive plans.

Thumbs up: Cornerback Nate Clements might get burned once, but he's not going to let it happen twice. Clements, along with Walt Harris, was one of the culprits when Moss got deep in the first quarter, but the next time Cassel tried to go deep to his favorite target, Clements was there to make an interception at the San Francisco 6. Moss did not come close to getting behind Clements again the rest of the afternoon.

Thumbs down: We have to keep mentioning this, because it happens every game. The 49ers burned another timeout as a result of defensive confusion. This one came with New England coming to the line of scrimmage after the Patriots had recorded a first down at the San Francisco 16 with 6:51 remaining in the second quarter. Maybe the 49ers should just have a base defensive call for such situations.

Thumbs down: The 49ers got flagged for another crucial defensive penalty, and you kind of have to wonder about this one. Leading 14-10 late in the second quarter, defensive end Justin Smith had Cassel sacked in the backfield on third-and-6 from the 10, and it looked like the Patriots would be held to a field-goal attempt with 20 seconds remaining in the first half, which would preserve a halftime lead for the 49ers. Instead, Smith was flagged for a personal foul for tackling Cassel high near his head. Huh? "They (officials) said that he put his hand on the back of (Cassel's) helmet as he was pulling him backwards, and said that you can't do that," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "They said that's a personal foul. I've never heard that before. It's not as if it assisted in tackling, nor did it hinder the player's safety. But he called it a foul." And the Patriots scored a touchdown two plays later – with nine second remaining in the first half – to take a lead at intermission that they never would relinquish.

Thumbs down: The 49ers had a few cases of some flat-out dropped passes the most conspicuous coming when Arnaz Battle dropped a pass that could have doomed San Francisco's final touchdown drive. Battle made up for it by drawing a pass interference penalty on third-and-long on the very next play.

Thumbs down: The 49ers are simply wasting the talent of tight end Vernon Davis, who once again was a nonfactor in the offense and did not record a reception. Mike Martz has never made tight ends an integral part of his offensive system, and though he said he would give Davis a prominent role in his attack this year to take advantage of Davis' talent, it's not happening. Davis has five receptions for 87 yards through five games.

Thumbs up: Like always, Frank Gore makes things happen with the football in his hands. Gore averaged 4.5 yards every time he rushed the ball, and he also caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from O'Sullivan – his first receiving touchdown of the season and fourth overall.

Thumbs down: Gore only got 12 carries and 16 touches – just three carries and four touches after halftime. He needs to have the football more, which is no secret to anyone. Sure, the 49ers had to go to the air after falling behind, but if Gore's touching the ball only four times in the second half, the 49ers are not going to win.

Thumbs up: It didn't play as big a factor as it could have, but the 49ers did record a season-high five quarterback sacks. It was their most in a game since recording six against St. Louis last November. That game was a loss, also.

Thumbs up: Punter Andy Lee unloaded a career-best 82-yard punt in the second quarter. It tied Lee for the second-longest punt in franchise history.

Thumbs down: The 49ers' pathetic 11 percent conversion rate on third down went a long way toward explaining their season-low 199 yards of total offense, a figure the team never thought it would sink to this year after the way it played offensively during the first quarter of the season. You can be pretty sure Mike Martz never would have thought his offense would be held below 200 yards this season, either.

Thumbs down: For the first time in three weeks, the 49ers are no longer a first-place team. Arizona took care of that by throttling the previously undefeated Buffalo Bills 41-17 at home, moving the Cardinals into sole possesion of first in the NFC West at 3-2 with the division's only winning record. The 49ers, now mired in a two-game losing streak, drop a game behind at 2-3.


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