Both Tom Brady and Phil Dawson reached milestones in their careers, but the 49ers managed to outshine both by tying history of their own - the longest losing streak in franchise history.
As rain drenched sparse fans, Brady finally saw action in his hometown against the team he cheered on as a boy. The 49ers were generous hosts - the game had the makings of a typical 2016 embarrassment from the start, and after a brief moment of competitive play it lived up to what everyone expected.
A highly successful rushing attack and touchdowns surrendered by Jim O’Neil’s defense on the Patriots’ first two drives set the stage for the loss. LeGarette Blount showcased his talents against his former college coach, including a 44 yard run to set up New England’s second touchdown. Brady, who finished 24-for-40 for 280 yards and 4 touchdowns, schooled the youthful 49ers secondary, even with Rob Gronkowski sidelined by injury.
This isn’t to say the game lacked production from the 49ers. Despite New England's strong start, San Francisco plugged the leaks in the first half and the offense kept the game close. Carlos Hyde somewhat returned to form with an ever-physical 86 yard performance - a step up from the stagnant rushing we saw in Arizona. Chip Kelly’s plan for the passing game centered on exploiting New England’s defensive weakness against tight ends, and Kap continually capitalized. Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek combined for 87 yards and a touchdown, accounting for a large portion of Kaepernick’s 206 yards for the day.
The brightest moment in the first half came off the foot of the ever-reliable Phil Dawson. On the 49ers’ second possession, Dawson kicked his 400th field goal through the uprights - perhaps the only time settling for a field goal at the end of a promising drive made me smile. It was a feather in the cap of a deserving player, someone who has suffered through far too many lean years for a player of his caliber. San Francisco remained within leg’s reach heading into halftime, trailing 13-10.
However, that glimmer of hope turned dark as another page was added to the textbook of second half collapses by the 49ers. After forcing two punts, the floodgates opened, with missed tackles and penalties allowing New England to add 17 points to their score. After averaging 112.4 rushing yards per game this season, the Patriots ended the day with 171 yards, including 124 from Blount.
The second half troubles weren’t limited to the defense. After starting 7-for-8, Kap finished the game 16-for-30 including a stretch of 9 straight incompletions. Plagued by inaccuracy and sacked five times, the 49ers were unable to sustain drives until garbage time, when a touchdown pass to Shaun Draughn brought them within 13 as the two-minute warning approached. Lining up in victory formation, Tom Brady gracefully took a knee 3 yards from the end zone, allowing his childhood team to walk away with a final score hiding the truth of a one-sided game.
The 49ers head to Miami for an early game against the Dolphins next week and fans will be eager to see a break from the losing tradition that has defined the 2016 season.