Reviewing Slow Starts: Exhibit A, Week 15 at NE

In week 15 of 2012, the San Francisco 49ers ventured into the 35° sleet of Gillette Stadium to lock championship-caliber horns with the New England Patriots for a primetime national TV Sunday Night Football broadcast many called a Super Bowl preview. The 49ers were prepared to be the first team in a decade to beat the New England Patriots at Foxboro in December. The result was a fantastic demonstration of offense and a warming 49ers victory, 41-34. Colin Kaepernick lit that bastard up. At least, that’s how I remembered it. Upon review, however, despite the 17-3 halftime lead, the 49ers offense did not start so sharply.

The 49ers also did not start sharply week 16 in Seattle, in the conference championship in Atlanta, or in the Super Bowl. Why? I don’t know why, but it seems to be a pattern. I chose to break this particular game down first. Mainly because I have the tape handy. Secondly, as we wax poetic about Kaepernick it serves us if we are reminded that this journey is just getting started, an idea this particular game epitomizes. The idea is, there’s a lot of football left to be played.

To jog your memory, remember this was near the time of Newtown. There was a moment of silence to begin the game for the 20 children lost. Let’s further orientate ourselves by taking a closer look at some stats and figures deftly cherry-picked from the broadcast and PFR.


  • New England had won 21 consecutive games in the second half of season since losing at the Houston Texans in 2009. For the games during that span, the back of Brady’s players’ card read: 54 TD, 3 INTs, 117 rating. Yipes!
  • It was a battle of #1 Offense (36ppg) vs. #1 defense (14ppg).
  • New England’s no huddle attack came in truly smoking, running 1 play per 25.3 seconds, the fastest in NFL. The 49ers were the slowest (figure unnecessary).
  • Again, New England hadn't lost at home in December for a decade. Plus, I heard Foxboro was as cold as a witchs' turnbuckle.
  • Enter CK7…

For San Francisco

  • CK (I call him Kaep, but that’s a pain to type 100 times in a fanpost, so I’m temporarily submitting to CK) came in completing 67% of his passes for +1100 yds.
  • In this victory, CK threw 4 beautiful touchdowns to Micheal Crabtree (2), Randy Moss and Delanie Walker.
  • CK's first TD to Crabtree was particularly impressive. Somehow, the television gnomes clocked that pass at 61mph, which, according to Chris Collinsworth, was "tremendous, considering most top QBs throw in the range of 55mph". Collinsworth can also be noted for calling CK "Kampernik" (From which we can derive some of my favorite CK nicknames: Krampernitz, Kaempertits, and Kreaxtertits). Dead sexy.
  • But CK only threw for 221 yards on just 14/25 passing. He also threw an interception and fumbled the ball 6 times, losing 1. That big number 6, is pretty much the genesis of this post.
  • The 49ers rushing offense came in averaging 161 yards/game and 5.3 ypc, both good for 2nd in NFL. To pile on: the 49ers had the best scoring defense in the NFL, the 2nd best rushing offense in the NFL, and a QB throwing 61mph laserbeams attached to his head – let him fumble. So they say. Let them have cake. So they say. Or do they? (FPS secret: if you want to change your life forever, put your cake in a bowl, pour milk over it and eat it with a spoon. Family tradition. You may credit FPS throughout the rest of your days. You're welcome.) Again, fumbles, explosiveness, etc, these are the genesis of this post.
  • Gore ran for one touchdown; 83 yards on 21 attempts and caught 2 passes as well.
  • As kickers are usually highlighted when offenses stumble out of the gate, let’s point out that Akers went 2/3 (20, 28), missing his first attempt wide left. Finkle is Einhorn.
  • Dashon Goldson also ran a fake punt! Remember that?
  • The 49ers also had a 31-3 lead at one point! Remember that?
  • NE’s then 28 point deficit was it’s largest since 1991 (that could be a home record, fact check me).

As I’ll demonstrate via amateur film review, the 49ers didn't start wonderfully, and to further illustrate either why, or why not, this is important, I’ll list some NE tidbits from early in the game:

  • Pats first 5 possessions netted 3 first downs, 2 turnovers and a FG.
  • Their 17 first half points were their lowest 1st half scoring of the season.
  • Their season 3rd down conversion rate was 52%. Up until the moment their comeback sparked, they were 0/7 in this game.
  • Pats had 10 turnovers on the season coming in, fewest in NFL. At some point during the 28 point deficit, they had 3.
  • Brady's 1st half: 10/19, 75, 0/1. His 2nd half: 20/33, 301, 1/1.

Point being, get him against the ropes if you can. And if you get him against the ropes, you must finish him.

Get the lead. Keep the lead.

- Jack Harbaugh

From here, let’s run through the snaps chronologically as they are germane to a slow start. It will be a cursory surface examination. I have only broadcast footage, not the All-22. Nor have I terribly fact-checked broadcast information as reported here from graphics or quotes. I’ll try to outline down and distance, playcall, play outcome, what went wrong or right or whatever else catches my eye.

Editors note: The next trillion words could be grueling if you are not particularly enchanted with reliving each and every snap through the 3rd quarter. Ctrl+F summary if you'd like to skip ahead to the cliff notes. It's the same info, just with improved readability. The play by play is there for you to reference, regardless.

To orientate you to my shorthand, here’s a clumsy key:

1/10 (first down and ten yards to go).

SF 37 (from the SF 37 yard line).

11:30 (at the 11:30 minute mark of whatever quarter).

PA (play action)

R/O (read option)

(1/0); (1 fumble/0 lost). Hmm. This one might come up.

I’ll try to take few liberties as I break down the play-by-play. Let’s get started.

Chronological Play-by-play

NE started with the ball after we deferred. They opened up in no-huddle, quickly getting stuffed by Bowman on a 3rd and 1 rush attempt. Then most of us were flipped to the Presidents speech on Newtown. If you went that way, here’s what you missed after the NE 3 and out.

1/10, SF 37; Crabtree 1st down right side, then Crabtree again for a bubble screen on the left side, for consecutive first downs. Then Moss makes his first catch and gets sandwiched, hard. 3 plays, 3 first downs.

1/10, NE 27; Gore, toss left.

2/6, NE 25; Swing pass to right flat, LMJ. Swallowed up whole. LMJ fumbled it, pass ruled incomplete, non-challengeable.

3/6; TD Moss. Pretty floater down the left hash.

Recap of first drives:

NE 3 and out.

SF 2:40 TD drive, 3 first downs on first 3 plays, then sick TD to Moss.

7-0 10:55 1st.

NE next possession: 10:50 of 1st.

1/10, NE 25; Back-shoulder left sideline to Lloyd, 23 yards on TBrown. Aldon with a bit of pressure.

1/10, NE 48; Aldon crushes Brady, ball flies, pass ruled incomplete.

2/10, Ridley up the gut. NE working the no huddle.

3/8; Shotgun, Aldon blew it up with an inside stunt, Brady reacts with a panic throw into the dirt. Punt 9:54.

Fair catch, Ginn, at SF 9.

SF next possession: 9:50 1st.

1/10, SF 9; 49ers go consecutive Diamond, Gore over left tackle, then a pretty counter where LMJ and CK fake sweeping left while Gore takes the handoff underneath going the other way for a solid gain to set up 3rd and 1.

3/1, SF 17; Fumbled snap from under center (1/0). Drive killed. Punt. 8:20.


1/10, NE 20; P/A deep to Welker. Rogers INT, Brady tackles him at 5. 70 yard return.


1/G, NE 5; Fade to Crab, left side. Pass is flat, overthrown. Incomplete, out of bounds.

2/G; Pistol. Flat pass, right side to DWalker. Hit and clearly fumbles. Turnover. 7:31.


1/10, NE 10; Ridley up right-gut.

2/4, Ridley left tackle. NE Running right at the Smith’s.

3/3; Aldon comes free, Brady wings it past his ear. Incomplete slant. Punt. 6:25

Ginn return to SF 42.

Broadcast came back. Hope you enjoyed the President’s speech.


At this point, both offenses with 11 plays each.

1/10, SF 42; LMJ, sweep around left edge, shows small size running into butt of own OLman almost falling before hustling forward for 4 yards. You know it when you see it. His extra 10 pounds will help big time.

Kaep presently 5/7, 61, TD.

2/6; CK from under center. Fumbled snap (2/0). CK pulled out early. Was going to be pass. Loss of 4, 3rd down and 10 now.

3/10; Pistol, high back-shoulder to Crab on left sideline. Incomplete. A penalty for illegal touching would have negated catch anyway.

4/10; Line up to punt. FAKE. 31 yard gain by Goldson. First down!

1/10, NE 28; 3 straight runs out of Pistol, 2 to Gore, 1 to LMJ. Isaac S. in on 2 plays lined up in the Diamond. Do not achieve a first down. Opt for 39 yard FG, with 7-0 lead.

Akers, wide left. Missed opportunity for points, drive stalled at NE 22 after wonderful fake punt then 3 straight gut runs.

NE takes over

1/10, NE 30; Brady is pissed. Goalposts are dripping with the iciest most miserable sleet imaginable. Woodhead, 7 yards up the gut. NE is running right at the Smith’s. Smartly.

2/8; Willis explodes an intended screen on left side to Woodhead. Made the tackle with a tackle on his back. Tackles tackling tacklers.

3/11; Brady pump fakes left then hits Vereen on a delayed screen to the right for a good gain but Bowman punches out the fumble! Cully recovers. 1:00 in 1st quarter. 1/10, NE 34. Once again, great position for points.


1/10, NE 34. Pistol. VDavis from the left slot runs a fly straight up the hash and is WIDE open on a blitz by NE. Dropped/overthrown, you be the judge. -6 points.

49ers meet a 4th and inches after a 9 yard Gore run off left tackle from the NE 25 at the beginning of the 2nd quarter.

2nd Quarter

4/inches; Unique Jumbo Victory-formation. I’ve never seen this formation in the NFL before or since. It was a Mega-goaline/Victory formation that’s otherwise inexplicable. The 49ers clearly put much time into this play. It was supposed to be a QB sneak. CK fumbled snap (3/0). Turnover on downs from NE 25 yard line. Missed points again. 3rd fumble total, and 3rd fumble for no good goddamn reason and costing points. 7-0 13:00 2nd qtr.

NE takes over on downs.

1/10; NE 25; NE drives for a 32 yard FG on an 80 yard, 15 play, 6:00 drive to make it 7-3 with 8:30 left in the 2nd. Not physically dominant, but quite a flurry of plays. Quick no-huddle action the whole way. Runs to Woodhead and passes to Hernandez with Willis in coverage.

During the drive, on 2/7 from the 50, Brown made a terrific play to break up a would-be TD to Branch in the endzone. Brown came up bracing his shoulder so Cox came in, uneventfully. Then, after some more solid running by Danny Woodhead, NE gets a 1st and goal from the 10 yard line. Then, on a slot blitz, Rogers hits Brady forcing an incomplete quacker. Then, on 3rd and goal, McDonald scores a wonderful sack on a 4 man pressure while Brown was covering Lloyd 1:1 on the outside, before NE finally kicks it through the uprights. 7-3 8:30 2nd qtr. Defense is holding.


LMJ takes the kick-off.

After a few plays CK hits DWalker on a beautiful 35 yard TD pass up the right sideline. CK looked off the safety to the left then caught Dennard between VDavis and DWalker, fielder's choice TD. Explosive Kraextertits with the heater.

3 plays 80 yards. 14-3 6:59.


3 and out. Lloyd dropped 2 first down passes. Pats now 0/7 on 3rd down. Punt to Ginn, Oh man. Did he touch it!? HUGE delay. No worries. SF ball.

SF next possession

1/10, SF 22; CK throws while running left, intended for Crab. Broken up. Ill-advised. Near INT.

2/10; Gore R side, 7 yards. Iupati hurt his knee.

3/3; Pistol. Middle blitz comes. CK evades it, rolls right, targets Crab on sideline. CK shows ccuracy on the run, 1st down. CK now 7/12, 108 and a TD. Gore 12 rushes for 60 yards.

After a nice pass to VDavis it is 1st down at the NE 35. CK attempts a deep pass to VDavis, running a post for a sure TD. CB and S in bracket high/low coverage, but he’s open despite the double team. The ball is over thrown by a foot. Too flat of a pass. Easy 6 points left writhing on the grass.

3/8 NE 35; CK pulls it down to scramble up the middle for big gain. The DLine Stunted leaving a gaping hole, CK for 19 yards. Kampernik strikes again.

2:00 Warning

1/10, NE 15; CK throws an ill-advised pass at Moss in the left deep corner of the endzone right into the CB's hands. Dennard drops the INT even though he had 2 hands on the ball. Moss ran a fade/sideline jumper, CK threw a laser inside. Bullet dodged.

OK, time to close out the half. 1:15 left in the half, a first down achievable at the 5, and all 3 timeouts in the pocket.

2/10, NE 15; Gore up the gut, 4 yards.

1:10, clock running, 3/6 from NE 11. 49ers inexplicably let the game clock dwindle from 1:10 to :25 before calling a timeout (1/3). Wut?

3/6, NE 11; Gore up the gut for a 7 yards. 1st down. Timeout (2/3). :18.

1/G, NE 4; Fade to Moss, right endzone. He managed to get 1 hand on it after pushing off. Incomplete. OPI. Back it up 10 yards.

1/G, NE 14, :14; CK keeper around the left, out of bounds at NE 4. First down. Collinsmith calling him Kampernick again.

Right now it could be 1/G from the 4 with ~:40 remaining, instead there's only time for 1 play. Then the 9ers settle for a Gore up gut for 2 yards, call another timeout, and on 2/G kick a 20 yard FG.

Drive recap: 15 plays, 76 yards, 6:00, FG. Had the clock been managed better a few chances for a TD to close the half were there for the taking.

Halftime 17-3

SF: 142 rushing, 107 passing.

NE: 43 rushing, 70 passing.

Turnovers; SF:NE; 1:2.

2nd half; SF receives

49ers open up the half with 2 poor plays but then a Crab fake bubble right into delayed left screen to Gore for 26 yards.

After a few successful plays, CK runs P/A to LMJ, with time, he forces a 40 yard bomb to Moss in the endzone. CK never saw the backside safety McCourty, he just throws it right at Moss like a jump ball, interception. Another 7 left writhing on the grass. NE takes over from the 20.


NE starts with the tempo no-huddle. Their play calls are working until Ridley breaks a 20 yard run up the middle - before being hit hard by Whitner. FUMBLE! At the 30 yard line. Goldson recovers and returns it all the way to the NE 5 yard line. 1st and goal.


1/G; CK fumbles trying to hand it right to Gore who miraculously picks it up and scores TD. Wow. Harbaugh talking to CK now. (4/0). Luckiest of all lucky breaks. 10:38. 24-3.


1/10, NE 20; Hernandez on a seam route is BLOWN UP by Goldson. Good a time as any, I guess. Crown to chin. 15 yards.

1/10, NE 35; Bubble screen to the left, Hernandez flinches and Aldon INT. I guess hitting people in the chin works sometimes. Aldon returns it to the NE 27.


1/10, NE 27; Boom! TD Crabtree. Great pass. CK stuck it. Kaempertits in full effect.

31-3, 10:21.


49ers playing man coverage across the board until Willis gives up a 1st down to Hernandez on 3rd and 10.

2/5, 9:00 in 3rd; Welker open for 1st down. First catch of night. 6 yards.

1/10; 9ers playing soft. Switch to zone. NE running no huddle. NE is driving.

Pass to Woody. Hitting us over the middle. Branch for 7 yards. We are wearing out already. Beautiful pass to Lloyd for TD. Called back cuz he moved before the snap, and he was out of bounds. But still, Cully got beat.

6:55, 3rd qtr; 1/5, SF 27; Rogers blitz off slot. Brady confused. Aldon unabated forces Brady to spike it. Note, ASmith is not hurting, he's still dominating, and JSmith is still in.

Many runs to Woodhead result in a NE TD, 5:59. 31-10


LMJ receives.

1/10, SF 20; Michelle reports on the letter from Colin to himself from childhood. LMJ handoff left edge, 17 yards. Beauty.

1/10 SF 37; Gore stuffed -1. CK juggled another snap. He’s pulling out early. TWSS.

Dixon run on 2nd down then major overthrow to Crab on out route from right slot. Punt 3:40. 31-10.


1/10, NE 34; Whitner dropped INT.

2/10, NE 34; Lloyd on Brown, 13 yards. 5th catch. JSmith in. Last play he’s seen. 2:50 left in the 3rd. And it begins.

Whitner gives up a huge catch to Mahawholonue (sp?) at goal line. 1st and goal eventually becomes 4th and goal. Justin Smith is out this entire stand.

End of 3rd quarter.

The first play of the 4th quarter is 4th down. NE goes empty set, motions Welker from flanker to RB, then Brady dives a sneak over the goal line. Touchdown. 9 play 86 yard 3:41 drive. WOW. 31-17

We know how it ends, the point here was to gain perspective on how it started.

SUMMARY of Play-by-play

NE 3 and out then SF 2:40 TD drive, 3 first downs on first 3 plays, then sick TD to Moss.

7-0 10:55 1st.

Then Aldon took over and forced a punt.

Then CK’s first fumble, coming on 3rd and 1, stalling that drive.

But Rogers quickly intercepts a pass and takes it back to the 5 - net gain in field position.

But then, DWalker fumbled the ball away in the flat for a turnover.

Aldon again forced a punt.

On a 2/10 pass play, CK clearly fumbles another snap. (2/0). CK pulled out early. Loss of 4. Then on 3rd down and 10 now CK throws incomplete to Crab. On subsequent 4/10, the 49ers lined up to punt. FAKE. 31 yard gain by Goldson. First down!

Then, from the 30 yard line we ran 3 straight runs out of Pistol, resulting in an Akers wide left attempt.

Subsequently, Vereen caught delayed screen to the right and Bowman punches out the fumble! Cully recovers with 1:00 in 1st quarter. Giving the 49ers 1/10 at the NE 34. Once again, great position for points.

SF, 1/10, NE 34. VDavis is WIDE open on a blitz by NE. A TD Dropped/overthrown, you be the judge.

49ers met a 4th and inches and CK fumbles the snap, again. (3/0). Turnover on downs from NE 25 yard line. Missed points again. 3rd fumble total, and 3rd fumble for no good goddamn reason and costing points. 7-0 13:00 2nd qtr.

NE drives for a 32 yard FG on an 80 yard, 15 play, 6:00 drive to make it 7-3 with 8:30 left in the 2nd.

LMJ takes the kick and after a few plays DWalker scores on a beautiful 35 yard TD pass. Explosive. 3 plays 80 yards. 14-3 6:59.

49ers force another 3 and out.

CK attempts a deep pass to VDavis running a post for a sure TD. Missed again.

Continuing to drive, CK tries Moss where Dennard drops a clear INT in the endzone. This is the first of 3 times CK forced it to Moss in the endzone to no avail. The second time results in an OPI and the third finally results in an interception.

The 49ers ended the half with the ball in a crucial sequence. It was 1/10 from the NE 15 with 1:10 on the clock. With all 3 timeouts and the ability to gain another 1st down at the 5, the 49ers inexplicably run the clock down 45 seconds to :25 and call their first timeout.

A few plays later, CK scrambles for a 1/G at the 4 yard line, but at that point only :05 remains in the half. It could have been 1st and goal from the 4 with ~40 seconds remaining and 2 timeouts. But, there was time for 1 play, a run to Gore, then a 20 yard FG is kicked. 17-3. Half. Poor clock management might have left a touchdown on the grass.


49ers get the kick. After a few successful plays, CK runs P/A with LMJ and has an eternity to throw. He forces a ball to Moss in the endzone. CK never saw the backside safety McCourty. Interception, loss of another points chance.

NE starts with the tempo no-huddle. Their play calls are working until Ridley breaks a 20 yard run up the middle - before being hit hard by Whitner. FUMBLE! at the 30 yard line. Goldson recovers and returns it all the way to the 5 yard line. 1st and goal.

1/10, CK fumbles it again, yet somehow Gore picks it up and scores TD. Wow. Harbaugh talking to CK now. 4/0. Luckiest of all lucky breaks. 10:38. 24-3.

DGold decks Hernandez and on the next play Aldon gets an interception of a Hernandez flinch-bobble. I guess hitting people in the chin works sometimes. Aldon returns it to the NE 27.

SF, 1/10, NE 27, Boom! TD Crabtree. Great pass. CK stuck it. Kaempertits in full effect.

31-3, 10:21.

NE, Woodhead makes it 31-10.

Aldon keeps getting pressure.

CK bobbles another snap.

Then CK overthrows Crabtree, forcing a punt.

Whitner then drops an INT.

JSmith is seen in on his last play with 3:00 left in the 3rd.

Uh, things changed when JSmith went out... but we'll leave the summary at this point here.

Summary of Game

49ers drive chart to open the game: Touchdown, punt, fumble, missed FG, turnover on downs, Touchdown, FG, interception. That interception came with 11:36 in the 3rd, the score was still 17-3. The 49ers went on to score touchdowns on consecutive possessions to make it 31-3 at 10:30 of the 3rd.

However, for frame of reference, this is how NE started the game: punt, punt, interception, punt, fumble, field goal, punt, fumble, interception. The 49ers converted that final inerception into the touchdown that made it 31-3.

NE then scored 4 consecutive touchdowns between 10:00 of the 3rd and 11:00 of the 4th. 14 minutes of game time, 28 unanswered points. Game tied 31-31.

Fnally, CK responded with a wonderful TD to Crab to make it 38-31.

For perspective, the following week’s game at Seattle had already been flexed to primetime. The Chickens were coming off of consecutive 50+ point games. The 49ers were this close to playing for 1st place in Seattle that next weekend. /raised eyebrow

Going back to the beginning, the score was 31-3 but the game wasn't that close. This is why it's filed under slow-start.

CK's first fumble came on a 3rd and 1 in his own territory, the 49ers punted that, then Rogers intercepted it right back. Then Delanie fumbled. 49ers forced a punt, then Akers missed a FG, then another CK fumble that killed a drive at the NE 25 that NE turned into 3 points (7-3). Missed opportunities on both sides, yes, but we are not counting both sides here.

Having the ball to close out the half and then receiving the 2nd half kick is at best a quick 14 points. In this case, it was 3 points and an interception in the endzone. Duly note the clock mismanagement to close the half.

Vernon Davis was also missed for 2 TDs. DWalker had a TD but he also fumbled the ball over to NE on the 5 yard line going in. In another close call, the 49ers turned an interception into a 1/G from the 5. CK fumbled the snap yet miraculously Gore saved the day by picking it up and scampering for 6.

Moss was being force-fed the football in the end zone to the detriment of the team. 3 times this occurred, to the tune of a near miss interception quickly followed by an OPI in waning moments of the first half, and then the interception to start the 2nd half. The aggression also netted the first TD of the day to Moss, but this aggression cannot stand, man.

Crabtree is disgusting. Aldon basically took this game over up until JSmith went out.

Despite the glowing victory and CK's overall spectacular accomplishments, this game was definitely slow-start worthy. The "wintry mix" definitely effected ball handling across the board. Don't take this as anybody putting it all on CK. The game plan was sound and the team came out of the gates with intensity. Bu there was sloppiness. And if the defense wasn't putting in one of the most utterly dominant first half performances Foxboro has ever seen, the offense would not have been able to afford the sloppiness.

Next we'll do Seattle week 16, I think. What do you say about that? If you have links to game tape, suggestions, or ideas on formatting, please share. I sort of just did this on a whim.

Please leave rec's, comments and beer coupons.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.