Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Back in training camp, who could have imagined that beating the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5 would be critical for the New England Patriots?
The Patriots scored a significant 30-21 triumph Sunday at Candlestick Park. What made winning so important was that the Patriots were coming off a humiliating, no-answers defeat to the Miami Dolphins.
A loss on Sunday would have compounded that blow, a true faceplant. The defending AFC champs would have been 2-2 with another California game to go before returning to their homes. The Patriots will play the San Diego Chargers next Sunday night and are staying out West in between.
The Patriots survived a tough scenario to remain within striking distance of the Buffalo Bills, who suffered their first defeat and are 4-1 atop the AFC East.
What should be encouraging to Patriots fans is that receiver Randy Moss looked like he was having fun. A 66-yard touchdown play in the first quarter will do that. His touchdown also seemed to liven up the team.
Although the Patriots lost running back LaMont Jordan with a leg injury, they dominated time of possession. They ran 80 plays, while the 49ers ran one less than their moniker. The Patriots held the ball for an amazing 39:52.