Two weeks after an embarrassing loss to Miami, the New England Patriots got back on track Sunday with a decisive 30-21 win over San Francisco in which they once again controlled all phases of the game.
Similar to their Week 2 victory over the Jets, the Patriots dominated without it showing on the scoreboard. They trailed 14-7 early in the first half and rallied for 20 unanswered points to take the lead for good, using a ball-control offense and a smothering defense to win the all-important battle for time of possession.
The numbers were staggering: The Patriots had the ball for 39 minutes, 52 seconds out of a possible 60 minutes and held San Francisco without a first down for nearly three quarters after falling behind early.
"I was really proud of the way we played," coach Bill Belichick said. "We didn't get off to a great start and fell behind a couple of times here on the road. These fans were really into it. The 49ers played hard. They're a good football team, and they do a lot of things well.
"I was proud of our guys. We fought back and just kept making a few plays and, in the end, we made enough to win the game. We made a few more than they did. The credit goes all the way around. I thought it was a good team win."
The Patriots dominated on third down, limiting San Francisco to just one conversion on nine attempts while converting on 47 percent of their own third-down opportunities. As a result, the 49ers barely had the ball, and when they did, they needed to make something happen fast.
Not surprisingly, the Patriots rendered San Francisco one-dimensional and used their pass rush to their advantage, chasing J.T. O'Sullivan out of the pocket all afternoon. With little time to maneuver, O'Sullivan failed to establish rhythm and threw three interceptions.
"I think that was us just doing what we had to do to win the game," said running back Kevin Faulk, who scored two touchdowns. "You don't realize why you plan for that in the game when you start to get the stats, but that's just trying to win the game no matter what it takes."
One of the major highlights was Matt Cassel's 66-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss, just Moss' second touchdown catch of the year. The timing couldn't have been better. The Patriots have been trying to get their passing game going since Tom Brady's injury, and perhaps that will be the play that sparks the turnaround.
"It was something that we had been practicing a lot during the week," Cassel said. "We thought that we had an opportunity to do so, and it got us back into the game after somewhat of a slow start."
The Patriots even borrowed a page from the Dolphins' playbook, scoring one of their touchdowns on a direct snap to Faulk from the 2-yard line. With two weeks to prepare, New England entered Sunday's game with the perfect blueprint and left Candlestick Park with a satisfying come-from-behind win.
"I think we played well," wide receiver Wes Welker said. "We gained some momentum and scored some points early and ran the ball well."
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