Mother Nature slowed Tom Brady midway through Sunday’s game. The 49ers could not.
A rainstorm that dumped almost a half inch between the second and third quarters helped keep Brady and the New England Patriots scoreless for more than 30 minutes and allowed the 49ers to hang around. But after the storm passed, the veteran quarterback threw two of his four touchdown passes, and the Patriots cruised to a 30-17 win that extended the 49ers’ losing streak to nine, tying the franchise record.
The 49ers’ plan was to push Brady, not known as much of an athlete, out of the pocket, and they succeeded. But it seemed every time the defense was about to pounce on the 39-year-old, he spun out of trouble and made a huge play.
“Well, he is Tom Brady,” outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. “So he is going to make the plays he needs to make, and he did so today.”
Brooks was one of three defenders who came within a footstep of sacking Brady, only to watch the quarterback pull the trigger, in his case on a 56-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth quarter.
“That’s why he’s a Hall of Fame quarterback,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s not the fastest quarterback out there, but I would argue that he’s as good as anybody when it comes to being able to move within the pocket.”
Brady threw touchdown passes on New England’s first two drives. But entering halftime, the 49ers had momentum, and Brady’s counterpart, Colin Kaepernick, at least was the statistically better quarterback.
Kaepernick had just one incompletion in the first half and threw an excellent 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vance McDonald that cut New England’s lead to 13-10 late in the second quarter.
The 49ers (1-9), however, have been a terrible second-half team, scoring only 16 points in the third quarter all year. That trend continued Sunday.
Between McDonald’s touchdown and Shaun Draughn’s 13-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter, the 49ers punted six times. Kaepernick, who entered the game completing only 53.0 percent of his passes, finished 16 of 30 (53.3 percent) for 206 yards.
Kaepernick was sacked five times and played without his best deep threat, Torrey Smith, who missed the first game of his six-year career because of a shoulder injury suffered in the Nov. 13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Once the 49ers fell behind early in the fourth quarter, Kelly said they just weren’t equipped to keep pace with the Patriots (8-2).
“Then when the skies opened up a little bit, we were behind and we have to throw it every down,” Kelly said. “We’re not good enough to throw it every down.”
Without Smith, Kelly said, San Francisco’s most explosive pass catcher is McDonald, a tight end. He finished with three receptions for a team-best 46 yards.
The 49ers’ wide receiving crew, meanwhile, combined for just four catches – two each by Quinton Patton and Chris Harper – for 52 yards. Jeremy Kerley, who had seven catches for 71 yards and a touchdown the previous week, was targeted six times by Kaepernick but didn’t have a reception. Neither did rookie Aaron Burbridge, who started in Smith’s place.
Burbridge, a sixth-round pick, was the only wide receiver the 49ers drafted this year. Two other wideouts, Bruce Ellington and Eric Rogers, suffered season-ending injuries before Week 1.
“We don’t have a go-to wide receiver that’s going to elicit double coverage, and then all of a sudden you’re going to get single matchups across the ball and then we can line up in empty (backfield) sets all day long and throw the ball all over the lot,” Kelly said. “That’s just not the way we’re built right now.”
Brady also was without his full complement of pass catchers, including tight end Rob Gronkowski and No. 3 wideout Chris Hogan. It didn’t seem to matter as he found Mitchell, who had had seven catches entering Sunday, for the game’s biggest play and connected with wide receiver Julian Edelman eight times for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Brady and Edelman grew up in the Bay Area and were playing their first game at Levi’s Stadium. Of course, they might have occasionally thought they were back home at Gillette Stadium. The weather was foul, and the stadium was full of fans in No. 12 jerseys chanting Brady’s name.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Brady said. “For the first chance to ever do that, it was very special. I felt it in pregame warmup, and it carried right to the last play of the game. It was pretty great.”