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Week 15 Risers and Fallers: Pats Stage Furious Comeback, Let Win Slip Away

You just can't make up games like this, folks. 

On a night where New England uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times, allowed Colin Kaepernick to throw four touchdown passes and even let Randy Moss snag his 156th career TD reception, the Patriots nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages. 

Almost. 

Down 31-3 early in the third quarter, the Patriots were on the verge of suffering their most embarrasing home loss of my lifetime. 

Then Tom Brady became, well, Tom Brady. 

After being completely shut down in the first half by Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Co., Brady engineered four incredible consecutive touchdown drives to tie the game at 31. 

However, as soon as it seemed the Pats would complete the epic turnaround, 49ers rookie LaMichael James took a kickoff back 62 yards, and Michael Crabtree turned what should have been an average completion into a 38-yard score. 

The offensive line got overwhelmed on the ensuing drive, and although the Pats did kick a field goal with less than a minute left, they were unable to recover the onside kick, leaving fans, players and coaches with an empty pit in their stomachs. 

While the offense displayed incredible efficiency in the second half, there were plenty of issues that came to light in the seven-point loss. 

Defensively, the Patriots mixed in spurts of excellence (two turnovers, 5 of 14 on third down) with busted coverages and missed tackles. 

Let's look at this week's risers and fallers. 

 

Risers

1. Tom Brady, QB: He won't get the W for Sunday's performance, but anyone who watched the Patriots' second-half comeback can appreciate just how competitive and downright badass Tom Brady is. After getting harassed by the 49ers' front seven in the first half, Brady exploded for 367 passing yards in the second half, chipping in a signature goal-line quarterback sneak to boot. Down by 28 at one point, Brady fired up his team and put them in position to pull off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. I'd be scared to be the Jaguars next week. 

2. Brandon Lloyd, WR: The real Brandon Lloyd has stepped up. After a middling first half of the season, New England's top offseason acquisition has finally emerged as a go-to weapon for TB12. Lloyd quietly racked up 190 yards on 10 receptions, including a beautiful 53-yard bomb down the right sideline. Over his last two games, Lloyd's stat line of 17/279/1 stands out. 

3. Danny Woodhead, RB: With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen putting the ball on the ground, Bill Belichick turned to Woodhead to pick up the slack. He did that and then some. Once again, Woodhead just found ways to make plays, gaining 61 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries while catching five passes for 23 yards. On a night where ball security was an issue, Woodhead was rock solid. 

4. Vince Wilfork, DT: Anytime you surrender 41 points, you have to look at your defense as the culprit. However, for being put in such bad field position time and time again, New England's D didn't perform as horribly as the stats would indicate. The reason? Big Vince. The burly defensive tackle was an absolute terror on the interior, routinely blowing up plays in the backfield and jacking offensive linemen into Colin Kaepernick or Frank Gore's lap. He's playing on another level right now, even if his stats don't indicate it. 

 

Fallers

1. Stevan Ridley, RB: New England's second-year back better buy Tom Brady a damn good Christmas present this year to make up for his quarterback's tired arm. Because Ridley put the ball on the ground twice, Brady was forced to attempt an astounding 65 passes against the NFL's best defense. Ridley has been so good this year, but you always wondered if the fumbling would become an issue again. The weather conditions weren't ideal, but Sunday's performance may cost Ridley serious snaps the rest of the way. 

2. Chandler Jones, DE: After taking the league by storm, an ankle injury has sapped Chandler Jones of his mojo. Whether he's 100 percent healthy or not, the 6'5" pass-rusher simply hasn't put pressure on the quarterback like he did early in the season. The Syracuse product racked up six sacks in the first half of the season but has been shut out during his last four games. 

3. Offensive Line: It's hard to knock this group after it kept Brady mostly upright during the 28-point comeback, but in the biggest moment the front five came up short. In need of a touchdown to tie the score at 38, the o-line surrendered back-to-back sacks which ultimately doomed the comeback attempt. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer had their moments, but both mammoth tackles gave up some untimely sacks. 

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