49ers don’t flinch after losing lead
New England rallies from 28-point hole only to fall on TD pass with 6:25 left.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — LaMichael James awaited the kickoff, determined to regain the momentum for the 49ers after they quickly lost all of a 28point lead.
“We need a boost,” he said. “That’s what I was thinking. I was thinking I got to take it to the house.”
He didn’t get all the way there, but close enough to set up the decisive touchdown — going 62 yards before Colin Kaepernick’s 38-yard pass to Michael Crabtree with 6:25 left — that helped San Francisco reach the playoffs with a 41-34 win over the New England Patriots on Sunday night.
“We faced adversity,” James said. “Nobody flinched.”
Now the 49ers have at least a wild-card berth with a 10-3-1 record, knowing a win against division rival Seattle (9-5) on Sunday night clinches the NFC West title.
The Patriots (10-4) already had locked up first place in the AFC East with a chance to improve their chances for a firstround bye. They began the day in second place in the race for the two byes but fell behind the Broncos (11-3). The Texans (12-2) hold the top spot.
“We haven’t thought about that yet,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “What’s in our control is winning football games.”
Doing that on Sunday night seemed almost impossible after the 49ers rolled to a 31-3 lead on Kaepernick’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Crab- tree five minutes into the third quarter.
But with 25 minutes left and Brady at quarterback, the 49ers weren’t comfortable.
“Tom is a good quarterback and we knew some adversity was going to come and they were going to make plays sooner or later,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said.
They did — time after time — until they had tied the score at 31 on Danny Woodhead’s second touchdown, a 1-yard run with 6:43 remaining.
Woodhead began the comeback with a 6-yard touchdown run, Brady scored on a 1-yard sneak on the first play of the fourth quarter and then threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez less than three minutes later. And when Woodhead scored again, the Patriots had their fourth touchdown in 14 minutes, 16 seconds.
But two plays later — James’ kickoff return and Crabtree’s catch — the 49ers were back on top. And this time they stayed there.
David Akers made it 41-31 with a 28-yard field goal with 1:56 to go, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 41-yarder for New England with 38 seconds remaining and San Francisco sealed the win when Delanie Walker caught the onside kick.
“We just spotted them 28 points,” Brady said. “We fought hard, but you can’t play poorly against a good team and expect to win. We can’t miss plays that we have opportunities with.”
New England had won seven straight since losing 24-23 at Seattle on Oct. 14. The Patriots had a streak snapped of 20 consecutive home victories in December, dating to 2002.
Northampton County (Pa.) District Attorney John Morganelli said anabolic steroids were found in the room where Garrett Reid was staying when he overdosed on heroin Aug. 5 during Eagles training camp.
Reid, the oldest son of Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, was helping the team’s strength and conditioning coach at the time of his death.
Morganelli said there was no evidence that Reid was giving the steroids to any Eagles players. He said investigators could not determine if the drugs were for Reid’s own use or for distribution.
The prosecutor said his investigation was focused on the circumstances surrounding Reid’s death at age 29 and not steroids.
Bears: Injured linebacker Brian Urlacher said of fans at Soldier Field during Sunday loss to the Packers: “The only team in our division that gets booed at home is us. It’s unbelievable to me.”
Bills: Linebacker Arthur Moats will miss the final two games of the season after hurting his ankle in Sunday’s loss.
Browns: Cleveland waived defensive back Dimitri Patterson, who signed a 3-year, $16 million deal in offseason with $6 million guaranteed.
Falcons: Atlanta (122) needs one more win to secure home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs. Atlanta plays Saturday at Detroit before hosting Tampa Bay.
Giants: If New York (8-6) wins its final two games, the defending champions will make the playoffs either as the NFC East champion or a wild card. New York closes against Baltimore (9-5) and Philadelphia (4-10).
Ravens: Baltimore made the postseason late Sunday when Pittsburgh lost. But that’s no consolation for the Ravens, who have lost three in a row for the first time since 2009. “We’re going to fight like crazy to become the team we’re capable of becoming,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re not that team yet.”
Redskins: Linebacker London Fletcher is blaming security workers at Cleveland Browns Stadium for a confrontation that left four of his relatives arrested and an aunt hospitalized. Fletcher said his large family contingent in Redskins gear witnessing his first NFL game in his hometown was harassed by fans, but he said that security that was supposed to diffuse the situation instead became what he called “instigators.” Fletcher said his relatives were still in custody as of Monday afternoon. A Cleveland police spokeswoman said six people were arrested on charges including assault on a police officer and aggravated rioting.
■ Coach Mike Shanahan said he’s waiting for an OK from doctors before allowing Robert Griffin III to return to game action. The QB sprained the lateral collateral ligament his right knee last week and missed Sunday’s game.
■ Tackle Jordan Black was suspended without pay for four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances.
Steelers: Running back Rashard Mendenhall was reinstated to the team. He was suspended for one game for conduct detrimental to the team.