What Happened Last Night: The 49ers Breathed A Huge, Huge Sigh Of Relief
Welcome to another edition of "What Happened Last Night?" As usual on Monday, No. 1 on the agenda: Sunday Night Football. Not too many weeks left where we can say that, though. Cherish them, people. Getting on with it...
The Niners' Great Escape.
It was a recurring theme on Sunday: lopsided games between teams who, on paper, should have produced a much closer affair. The Falcons blew out the Giants, 34-0. The Broncos beat the Ravens 34-17 in Baltimore, and the game wasn't even that close.
Then, in the marquee Sunday night game, there were the 49ers running the Patriots out of Gillette Stadium, building a stunning 31-3 lead by the middle of the third quarter. The Pats couldn't do anything right. They were turning the ball over constantly, and the Niners were making them pay (though the lead could have been even bigger; San Francisco was also a bit mistake-prone). Jim Harbaugh's squad looked like the class of the NFL. The Pats looked like an entirely different team from the one that demolished the Texans the previous Monday. It was as unmistakable a statement as any delivered in any so-called statement game this NFL season.
And what felt like about five seconds later, the game was tied. Suddenly, the Pats were exactly the team they were against the Texans, racking up touchdown after touchdown while the defense prevented the Kaepernick-led Niners from getting almost any yards at all. It took a little over a quarter's worth of football for the Pats to completely erase the deficit and knot things at 31. It had all the makings of a classic "Never count out Brady and Belichick because they are the best humans who ever existed!!!!!!!!" game - maybe, in fact, the most perfect possible example of such a game.
Of course, it's a bad idea to count out a Jim Harbaugh team, too. The Niners had looked helpless since the middle of the third quarter. They got the ball with 6:43 left in the game, a four-touchdown-lead erased. At 6:25, they had the lead back. LaMichael James took the kick back 62 yards, and Kaepernick immediately followed with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. While the Pats made it interesting to the end, this time the Niners didn't relinquish their lead.
The near-collapse prevents us from calling San Francisco's win the most impressive of the 2012 season, there's no questioning how big it was for the Niners to go on the road and beat the Pats, no matter how it happened. They spent much of the game overwhelming the Pats at their worst, then took the best shot of one of the NFL's best teams... and still escaped with a road win. The Niners are infinitely more battle-tested now, which might come in handy when they face the suddenly-red-hot Seahawks next Sunday night. We already can't wait.
Around the Association...
Damian Lillard knows when to break out of slumps. He'd missed all four fourth-quarter shots he'd taken, as the Hornets mounted a furious rally to tie the Blazers in the closing seconds of regulation. Fortunately for both himself and the Blazers, Lillard still trusted himself and when he sank a last-second three for the win, he showed that trust was not misplaced. According to Lillard, he was simply "due for" a game-winning shot to go his way. As coolly as he sank this one, there will be more. Again: the Blazers have a gem.
And in earlier but still evening-ish action, the Lakers took another step toward getting on track, beating the Sixers 111-98 in Philly. Kobe had an (efficient!) 34, so the Lakers aren't doomed if he has a big game. Speaking of big games: 19 points, 16 rebounds, four steals, and two blocks for Metta World Peace. In between his side careers as Lifetime movie actor and meteorologist it can be easy to forget he even plays basketball anymore, but last night he proved he still has it in him to produce. Many more games like that from him, and the Lakers could even break .500. Then they'd prove all those doubters wrong.
Happy week-until-Christmas-Eve Monday.
In the interim, enjoy your annual holiday freakout.
Getty photo, by Jared Wickerham