The momentum was nearly palpable at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night after the Patriots completed an unlikely 28-point comeback to knot their Week 15 matchup with the 49ers 31-31 in the fourth quarter. At that point, it appeared the game would finish in the Patriots' favor, but ultimately the 49ers earned a 41-34 triumph.
But quarterback Tom Brady said that not only was he confident his Patriots would win after tying the game at 31, but he thought his team would make the unexpected comeback when down by four touchdowns in the second half.
"When we were down 31-3, that was my thought," Brady said on his weekly radio appearance on Boston sports radio station WEEI (click here to listen). "I didn't think anything different. I thought we were going to come back and win the game, and a lot of our problems on offense were self-inflicted. I have a lot of respect for that defense. They're very good; they rush, they cover, they're physical, they force turnovers. It was just a sloppy game by us."
Why was he so sure despite the big deficit?
"Because I look around at the quality and character of the guys that we've got, and I have a lot of confidence that we could do it," he said. "It's not that I was worried we couldn't score points. We put together, I don't know, was it four touchdown drives in a row? That's pretty good. You can't play, whatever, 25 minutes of good football against a team; you can't do it."
After stumbling through much of the first half, which included two interceptions by Brady, the offense clicked in the second half and had a bead on a 49ers defense that ranks as the league's best. Brady attributed the turn in fortunes not to a difference in approach and play calling, but rather to improved execution.
"No, it didn't," he replied when asked whether the play calling shifted. "We turned the ball over early, we had missed opportunities on third down. If you can't really sustain the drives and you keep giving them the ball, you're not going to score points. It's going to look pretty bad. But when you're making the plays that are there, and when you're making big plays, and we made a bunch of them, you score points. And that was the difference. It's not the plays, it's what we do as players to make those plays."
The message is consistent with what Brady delivered during the Patriots' early-season struggles, when they lost three of their first five games.
"There's really no mystery to not scoring points or scoring points for us as an offense," he said. "It's not like there's different plays that we're calling, it's just doing a better job with the ones that are called when we're scoring points. I would say I'm really proud of the fact that our guys never blinked an eye down 28 points to probably the best defense in the league. We had confidence the whole way, and we fought back to get to an even score, and we just couldn't get over the hump."
The loss pushed the Patriots back in the AFC playoff standings, and they no longer control their own destiny for a top-two seed and a first-round bye. Given the easy remaining schedule of the Denver Broncos, who stand a game ahead of the Patriots, it will take an unlikely series of events for the Patriots to get a top-two seed.
But Brady stressed that his team isn't thinking about the playoffs, but rather is focused on the task at hand: Sunday’s road game against the 2-12 Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Our season is not over by any means," he said. "We lost to a good team playing very average football. We're 10-4, it's certainly not a great record, but that's where we deserve to be. We've got to be able to move on with mental toughness this week and put this loss behind us and go down to Jacksonville and try to win a football game."