It’s Not So Sunny For the Pats Against the 49ers

If these two teams were to play each other in 2023, it would be a lopsided matchup. There’s no need to explain how because just looking at the names alone would make anyone believe that the 49ers would win convincingly. Fortunately for the NFL public, they get to play each other in Levi’s Stadium in October, just so it can be over early. While New England has had a good amount of success against this team in the last twenty-five years, it has not always been entirely convincing. Let’s take a look at the last five matchups and understand just how competitive both teams were, who shined bright, and why one came out on top over the other.

The Last Five Patriots vs. 49ers Matchups

#1: Brady Returns Home

It’s crazy to believe that Tom Brady only played in his hometown of San Francisco once during his time with the New England Patriots, but that will be explained later. Heading into this matchup in 2016, it was pretty much decided before it began. The 49ers, coached by Chip Kelly, were on an eight-game losing streak and were not even thinking about making the playoffs, while the Patriots were riding high at 7-2, and showed no signs of regressing whatsoever. Fortunately for New England, they did what was expected.

Even though San Francisco made it a 13-10 contest at halftime, the Patriots offense got into a rhythm in the fourth quarter and did not skip a beat. Brady threw four touchdowns with no interceptions, LeGarrette Blount had a couple of huge runs that allowed him to rush for 124 yards on nineteen carries, and even Julian Edelman got to catch a touchdown pass in his hometown as well. However, the biggest play of that game will always be near the ten-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

As Brady stepped back in his pocket, he skipped to his right and flung the ball into a tight space while getting hit by an incoming pass rusher, and Malcolm Mitchell snagged it to break free for a 56-yard touchdown catch-and-run that essentially put the game on ice for the Patriots. Colin Kaepernick, on the other hand, did not perform as well. He got sacked five times on that Sunday afternoon, and even though Carlos Hyde had a pretty solid day running the ball, the 49ers could only score seventeen points. While New England won its fifth Super Bowl that season, San Francisco finished the season 2-14, which ultimately led to the introduction of the Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch regime that has stayed intact to this day.

#2: The One Time They Were Both Super Bowl Contenders

There was a lot to be excited about when the Patriots hosted the 49ers in 2012. Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers were coming off their first NFC Championship appearance in over two decades, Colin Kaepernick was doing a tremendous job filling in for Alex Smith at quarterback, and the New England Patriots were still controlling things in the AFC like they always did in the past. It was even better that this game was in Week 15 because both were playing for high playoff spots at the time.

San Francisco was 9-3-1, while New England was 10-3, so it was the perfect game to broadcast on Sunday night. Through the first 45 minutes, it was a complete blowout the 49ers were on the right side of that night. Kaepernick didn’t have too many yards, but he threw four touchdown passes, and one of them was to the former Patriot, Randy Moss. It was also a huge performance for Michael Crabtree, who caught seven passes for 107 yards, along with two touchdown receptions that included a very critical one late in the fourth quarter. By the start of that period, San Francisco was up 31-10, until Tom Brady nearly pulled off…well, a Tom Brady.

Somehow someway, the Patriots scored 24 unanswered points and tied the game with 6:25 remaining, which was plenty of time for both sides to still make this a fight. Thankfully for the 49ers, a huge 62-yard punt return from LaMichael James set up the go-ahead touchdown pass to Crabtree, and they ended up pulling away from there. Even though the Patriots nearly came back, they made too many mistakes to win. Brady threw two interceptions, they were two-for-fifteen on third down, and two lost fumbles will kill any momentum in a football game. It was everything fans wanted out of a highly anticipated primetime matchup, especially since the Patriots were on the losing side of it for once. New England advanced to the AFC Championship game after this performance, but fell flat to the Baltimore Ravens, who ended up getting their second-ever Lombardi trophy against who? The San Francisco 49ers.

#3: Matt Cassel vs. JT O’Sullivan

Tom Brady missed the entire 2008 season with a torn ACL, while former first overall pick Alex Smith did not play that year due to a shoulder injury, so the Patriots got to start Matt Cassel and the 49ers rolled with J.T. O’Sullivan! Just the quarterback matchup that had everybody hanging on to the edge of their seats. But even though the quarterbacks were different, it was pretty clear that both teams were heading in completely opposite directions.

Even though the 49ers started off by throwing a couple of punches, the Patriots were never knocked out. After trailing 14-7 in the first quarter, New England went on a 23-7 run and made sure that they did not give up any momentum whatsoever. Cassel was okay and threw for 259 yards, but he got sacked five times and threw two interceptions against a defense that was coordinated by the legendary Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, which was also led by future Hall of Famer Patrick Willis at middle linebacker.

Fortunately for the Patriots, there is a reason why J.T. O’Sullivan never made it out as a starter. Sure, he threw three touchdown passes, but he also threw three interceptions and just 130 yards. The 49ers offense went one for nine on third down, couldn’t even crack 200 total yards of offense, and Bill Belichick just made it clear that this was not going to be a trap game. Two weeks later, head coach Mike Nolan was fired and Singletary took over in the interim title, which allowed the 49ers to go 5-4 to finish the rest of the season 7-9. The Patriots had a pretty normal 11-5 season given the circumstances, but were surprisingly eliminated from the playoffs via tiebreaker.

#4: When Ken Dorsey Was a Quarterback

Not too many people remember that former Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was a quarterback in the NFL, and if you didn’t know before, then you didn’t miss much. Heading into the 2004 regular season, neither the Patriots nor the 49ers were playing for anything. The Patriots already clinched the AFC East and were living for another day in January, while the 49ers just had a miserable season. Entering this game, they were 2-13 and easily the worst team in the league. It was going to take a miracle for San Francisco to pull off an unimaginable upset, and early on in the first quarter, it looked like they were going to do just that.

Tom Brady threw an interception in his own territory, which set up a short touchdown pass to Steve Bush that gave the 49ers an early 7-0 lead! Unfortunately, that was the only good thing that happened. Tom Brady made up for that faux pas by throwing two touchdown passes, Corey Dillon took over the offense with 116 rushing yards, and all they needed was a 60+ yard performance from Jed Weaver to pull off an expected victory. For the 49ers, even though Kevan Barlow ran for 100 yards, their quarterback could not live up to the challenge. He did not have a terrible performance, but he clearly did not do enough, as the 49ers did not score a point whenever they had to drive the ball down the field that didn’t start with a turnover from the opposition. With little to nothing to play for, it was not that crazy of a game, but the silver lining for San Francisco was that they clinched the number one overall pick in that draft and selected Alex Smith.

#5: Jimmy G Gets Revenge

The anticipation factor was not as big as when Tom Brady returned to Gillette Stadium as an opposing player, but it was pretty cool that Jimmy Garoppolo got to start against his former team. The year before, he had just helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl but got their hearts crushed by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Most of the loss came onto Garoppolo for how he couldn’t close the deal in the fourth quarter, so 2020 was a revenge mission not just for him, but for the rest of the team as well. Unfortunately, that season was not one that fans want to remember due to the plethora of injuries that they suffered week after week. But against the New England Patriots, they looked like the dominant team that we expected in the offseason.

Tom Brady might no longer have been in Foxboro, but Cam Newton was still a decent quarterback at the time until he went up against this team. What makes this game interesting is that neither quarterback did enough to win the game. Garoppolo had his moments, but no touchdown passes and two interceptions are not exactly mind-blowing numbers when a quarterback is on the right side of a football game, yet he was ten times better than Cam. The Patriots quarterback didn’t even throw 100 yards and threw three picks of his own, and their offense was so bad that he got benched for backup Jarrett Stidham, who also gave the ball to the other team. Besides Brandon Aiyuk catching six passes for 115 yards, the real star of the show for the San Francisco offense was Jeff Wilson, who scored three touchdowns and ran for well over 110 yards on seventeen carries.

It was not exactly the most convincing blowout, but it was well more than enough for the 49ers to get a much-needed victory. Unfortunately, both teams ended heading up in the same direction. The ironic part was that New England finished with a better record at 7-9, but neither made the playoffs and were eager to start over in 2021.

Main Image: KRIS CRAIG/The Providence Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

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