FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- No reasonable defensive game plan could have accommodated for the wild swings in the 49ers' dramatic 41-34 victory at New England on Sunday night.
And the 49ers exhibited just about every approach on the spectrum by the end of this game.
Key turnovers and resolute stands in the first half yielded to a rather more permissive method of defense as the potent Patriots turned a 31-3 deficit into a 31-31 tie between the middle of the third quarter and the middle of the fourth.
But the 49ers entered the final six minutes of this game with a lead after Michael Crabtree's 38-yard game-winning catch. They weren't about to allow the Patriots to somehow respond yet again.
"We knew that some adversity would come," 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. "We knew they'd make some plays sooner or later. We just had to answer the bell. We did that tonight."
When the time came, the 49ers focused on their fundamentals rather than the decisive plays that tilted the game their way in the first half and the early stages of the third quarter.
The situation didn't call for a repeat of the fumble recoveries by Chris Culliver and Dashon Goldson or the interceptions by Carlos Rogers and Aldon Smith. It required the type of composure and discipline displayed by the 49ers for most of this season to date.
"We still ran our plays," Rogers said. "We just manned up. We knew they had to be in a rush to get some scores. Bottom
Not just once, but twice.
The first attempted Patriots response after the Crabtree score started with a pair of Brady to Wes Welker combinations for first downs, but the 49ers stopped the progress there. Ray McDonald and Ricky Jean-Francois sacked Brady on second and third down to force the Patriots to punt the ball away.
On the decisive possession with three minutes to play, the 49ers defense watched Andy Lee pin New England back on its 3-yard line with a 59-yard punt and used the field position to their advantage. Brady connected with Brandon Lloyd for 9 yards to set up third-and-1 at the New England 12, but the 49ers forced two straight incompletions to force a turnover on downs and permit David Akers to seal the victory with a field goal from 20 yards.
The decisive two series may have lacked the panache of those turnover-laden efforts in the first half, but they ensured this tumultuous night ended with the desired victory.
"We were strong," Bowman said. "We were really strong. We overcame a lot of adversity, especially on the defensive side. We stayed together. We never get out of our box, out of our character. I think that's really what carries us as a team."