Dec 17, 2012, 4:36 PM EDT
49ers 41, Patriots 34
Friday morning in a meeting room at Foxboro Stadium, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told our Sunday Night Football production team, “We expect to win. I’m sure (the Forty-Niners) expect to win, too.
Saturday evening in a meeting room at the Niners’ team hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh told us, “This is a big game. It’s a big task. We’re up for it.”
On Sunday Night, the Forty-Niners proved they were up for it, winning in a hostile environment, in the rain, on the road. They withstood a second half 28-point run by Tom Brady and the Pats.
What could have been a major collapse turned into a franchise-altering win.
And after the game, Niners safety Donte Whitner told me, “If we can come in here and win, then we can win anywhere.”
NUGGETS FROM THE NOTEBOOK
MOSS FOR MANNINGHAM
San Francisco WR Mario Manningham missed his second straight game Sunday night, but Randy Moss filled in and scored the game’s first touchdown against his former team.
Manningham suffered a shoulder injury in Week 6 against his former team, the New York Giants, and sat out the following week against Seattle. He’s been on the Niners injury report ever since.
Manningham’s status for next Sunday night at Seattle is not yet known.
Moss also played a role for the San Francisco defense. According to Niners’ safety Donte Whitner, Moss dispensed a good amount of advice about what to expect from his former teammate, Tom Brady.
Whitner told me that on the team flight from San Francisco to Boston Friday night, he and CB Carlos Rodgers sat with Moss and watched tape of two Patriots games. Whitner said Moss was able to point out things, like where Brady likes to go with the football in certain situations. And they spent a good amount of time looking at the Patriots empty formations.
Whitner told me “we picked up some tips. So when we step out there hopefully it helps us.”
Interestingly, it was Rodgers who came up with the first of two interceptions Brady threw in the game.
Very few players in the NFL are 100-percent healthy heading into Week 16, but nowhere are injuries more noticed than on the offensive line.
Brady needed all the protection he could get against San Francisco’s front seven Sunday night. And even though he had his entire starting offensive line in front if him, the two-time Super Bowl MVP was sacked three times and pressured throughout the first half.
So how concerned should the Patriots be heading into the season’s final stretch?
LT Nate Solder injured his abdomen in the second quarter of Monday night’s win over Houston and was added to the team’s injury report Friday after being escorted off the practice field by athletic trainers.
His partner on the left side of the line, LG Logan Mankins, has missed six games so far this season with ankle, calf and hip issues.
And RG Dan Connolley — who suffered a concussion early in the season — has been dealing with a back injury since leaving the Buffalo game in week 10. His backup, Nick McDonald, has had a lingering shoulder injury all season.
It was hard to ignore the fact that the San Francisco defense looked quite different after DT Justin Smith suffered an elbow injury.
Smith left the field in the third quarter to get x-rays on his left elbow. He returned to the sidelines, had the elbow wrapped up and returned to the field for one play.
After that, Smith was back on the sideline having the wrapping removed from that elbow. He did not return to the field Sunday Night.
GRONK RETURNS TO PRACTICE
While Rob Gronkowski did not play Sunday night, there were promising signs for the Pats TE last week.
On Friday, Gronkowski practiced for the first time since fracturing his forearm in the win over Indianapolis the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
The third-year vet took snaps with the first-team offense for a portion of practice. Gronk also participated in 7-on-7′s wearing a red jersey signaling no contact. But he ran and caught balls without issue.
NINERS’ RISING STAR
San Francisco RB LeMichael James, who didn’t see playing time from scrimmage until Week 14, told me that he was never disgruntled while waiting for his chance to play. He said, “We have a great team. This is a remarkable team. That’s why I was never upset about not playing.”
And the former Oregon Duck thinks the timing was for the best. He told me, “The Coaches made the right decision. I’m more prepared now. I just go with the flow. Whenever they need me. I like my role. I just want to help the team win, and I’m not just saying that.”
James told me one of the things that kept him going as he waited for his opportunity was the support of the offensive line. “It’s the best O-line out there,” he said. “I love those guys. They really do believe in me, and that builds my confidence.”
The offensive linemen have nicknamed James “Little Body,” and they like to remind him that no one can see him when he’s behind the line.
HIGH ON HIGHTOWER
Speaking of relevant rookies, I asked Bill Belichick about how Dant’a Hightower is living up to expectations. Belichick emphasized how versatile Hightower is. He said, “The game comes easy to him. You tell him one time and he understands. He has a passion for football.”
When I told Hightower about Belichick’s comments he said, “I feel like I’m adaptable. I can learn pretty fast. Obviously I’m pretty big and pretty strong. That being said, I have a great teacher In Pepper Johnson. And all those guys in the linebacker room.”
The Patriots’ defensive veterans are clearly influential. Hightower told me one of the reasons the Patriot defense is giving up fewer big plays lately is the leadership of the veterans, who were emphatic that things needed to change.
The rookie told me there was one team meeting where Vince Wilfork stood up and said, “We’re not going to have a big run again.” And, Hightower added, when you have Vince Wilfork telling you that, it’s hard to argue.
Hightower, and Alabama product, is especially enjoying the camaraderie he has with the other starting linebackers, who also came from SEC teams: Jerod Mayo from Tennessee, Brandon Spikes from Florida. Hightower told me that even though there is good-natured ribbing about conference rivalries, all three of the linebackers feel a bond.
“To us it’s SEC against the world,” he said. “It’s a real honor and a real pleasure to have those guys in the locker room for me to learn from.”
Sunday Night Football TwitterView all »
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Browns waive QB Thaddeus Lewis, per league source.
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Rokevious Watkins suspended one game http://t.co/Qra88bL7UY
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George McCaskey: Brian Urlacher a part of Bears' "pantheon" of franchise legends http://t.co/6RKCxZfXzZ
Michael Crabtree has Achilles surgery, out six months http://t.co/Wbzc2UumdT
The Jaguars sign their third former Patriots player in the last eight days http://t.co/ANgeAG0AhO
Broncos add Tom Nalen to Ring of Fame http://t.co/9BvZsyklcR
In landing Geno Smith as a client without NFLPA certification, Jay-Z may have acquired his 100th problem http://t.co/vUTMsyqPua
Bengals sign second-round pick Margus Hunt http://t.co/v9eDoHuGr5
Arthur Brown had sports hernia surgery http://t.co/cpMJA24Jer
Peyton Manning "flattered" Cowboys want Romo to emulate him http://t.co/ssQskbFh9d
Report: Michael Crabtree suffers torn Achilles during team workout http://t.co/dc78c1ScuE
Jaguars sign seventh-round pick Demetrius McCray http://t.co/6B9dWvR79s
Report: Michael Crabtree suffers torn Achilles during team workout http://t.co/S5syt52fsa
Hakeem Nicks absent from Giants OTAs http://t.co/GXa0278RoZ
Geno Smith signs with Jay Z's firm, surprising no one http://t.co/pzMNJocLyC
49ers sign fourth-round pick Quinton Patton http://t.co/iSzLqZDoDV
Chiefs sign S Quintin Demps http://t.co/KKj2yBqwnD
Brian Urlacher has a surprising choice for his all-time favorite play http://t.co/Qbgeq6fkuI
Glimpse of four-wide offense could be a good sign for Tannehill http://t.co/CgCOFPF18u
PFT Live at noon ET: Vikings president Mark Wilf, Raiders talk with Paul Gutierrez http://t.co/724qfuXP5K
First-time HOF candidates in 2018: Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Ronde Barber, maybe Randy Moss.
Brian Urlacher announces his retirement http://t.co/JHb8HTdkzo
Bears pulled off with Urlacher what Packers, Colts weren't able to pull off with Favre, Manning; he plays neither for us, nor anyone else.
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Panthers sign second-rounder Kawann Short http://t.co/6zhgeNfCvs
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Sunday Night Football Headlines
- Browns waive QB Thaddeus Lewis
- Eight NFL coaches earn salaries topping $6 million
- Rex calls Sanchez’s OTA interceptions “unacceptable”
- Rokevious Watkins suspended one game
- Crabtree injury could open door for Moss, others
- The Rutgers-to-Foxboro pipeline continues to flow
- Giants sign rookie guard Eric Herman
- Dennis Allen: Charles Woodson brings swagger to Oakland
- Panthers and first-rounder Lotulelei finish deal
- PFT on NBCSN: Demaryius Thomas, AFC North burning questions
- Pro Bowl
- Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
- Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
- Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
- San Fransisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
- San Fransisco 49ers at New England Patriots
- Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
- Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
- Green Bay Packers at New York Giants
- New England Patriots at New York Jets
- Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
- Houston Texans at Chicago Bears
- Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons
- New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
- Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans
- San Diego Chargers as New Orleans Saints
- New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
- New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens
- Detroit Lions at San Fransisco 49ers
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
- Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
- Super Bowl