FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - A 33-6 loss to San Francisco, and the 49ers weren't even at full strength. Not even close to full strength, in fact. Imagine how much worse the final score might've been.
"We were clearly outcoached, outplayed, just out-everthing-ed," head coach Bill Belichick admitted later. "We just have to keep working here and find a way to do everything better. We're not performing at a good level in any area right now. Across the board. We have to find a way to play better than we did tonight, and coach better than we did tonight.
"There's not much else to say about it. Forty-niners are a good team. Kyle [Shanahan, the 49ers head coach] did a good job, like he always does."
As reigning NFC Champs, San Francisco is clearly a roster loaded with talent, but it has suffered more than its fair share of debilitating injuries to high-profile players thus far in 2020. Big names like Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford, and Ziggy Ansah were already known to be unavailable for this game as they continue to convalesce on Injured Reserve, and then the Niners' starting safety tandem of Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward, plus starting linebacker Kwon Alexander, were ruled out on Friday with various ailments. Offensively, San Fran would be without top rusher Raheem Mostert as well (ankle).
Meanwhile, the Patriots welcomed back a pair of starting offensive linemen in center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason, who'd been shelved the past few weeks for health reasons. So, it stood to reason that New England might be the team ready to come out and control the game by running the ball this Sunday evening.
Not so, though.
"Just because you're the Patriots, doesn't mean anything good's going to happen," Andrews declared in post-game comments to reporters. "You can talk about effort and all that, but at the end of the day, this game is about execution... and we're just not doing that right now. We just didn't execute. We hurt ourselves. Got down there a couple times and didn't finish the job."
"You don't ever want to come out and get embarrassed like we did today. There's no excuses... it's just embarrassing," safety/co-captain Devin McCourty confessed.
New England's defense, which didn't surrender a touchdown last week against Denver, allowed old pal Jimmy Garoppolo to mount a methodical 75-yard touchdown drive on the game's opening possession, with help from third-string ball carrier Jeff Wilson Jr. It marked Garoppolo's first appearance at Gillette since the Patriots traded him to San Francisco three years ago this Halloween.
After a brief, ensuing Patriots drive that resulted in a punt, the New England D managed to come up with a play when McCourty intercepted Garoppolo around midfield. Yet, it was a quick-moving first quarter. The second Patriots possession spilled over into the second quarter, when Nick Folk drilled home a 40-yard field goal to trim San Fran's advantage to 7-3.
However, Garoppolo and the Niners chewed up more game clock with another sustained drive that also ended with a three-pointer by Robbie Gould to back up by seven, 10-3 in the mid-second quarter.
The very next play from scrimmage, Newton returned Garoppolo's earlier INT favor with a pick of his own, well within Patriots territory. Newton's miscue led directly, several plays later, to fullback Kyle Juszczyk's 4-yard touchdown plunge. Gould's extra point kick, though, was partially tipped by Justin Bethel and bounced off the upright to keep the score at 16-3.
Numerous holding calls by San Francisco's offense didn't seem to deter them, only delay the inevitable. The 49ers' run-blocking throughout the game was excellent. Patriots defenders were often left grasping at thin air or being bowled over by thunderous ball carriers like Wilson and receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
Wilson Jr. took full advantage of one such gaping hole to race 16 yards for a score in the final minute of the half to help San Francisco up their lead to 23-3.
New England's offense had no answer throughout the evening. Making matters worse, the O lost two important players to injury: WR N'Keal Harry (concussion on the last play of the first quarter) and left guard Joe Thuney (ankle, third quarter) who missed the first game action of his career as a result. Rookie Justin Herron, filling in on the O-line, also left with a fourth-quarter injury.
San Francisco ended up losing Wilson, too, on his final carry of the day, a 7-yard TD run in the third quarter. But by then, the outcome had long been decided. As a team, the Niners rushed for nearly 200 yards and possessed the ball for more than 38 of the game's 60 minutes.
"Every [opponent] is different each and every week. The things we don't stop, other teams are going to run until we stop it," cornerback Stephon Gilmore explained. "So, if we don't stop it, they're going to keep running it."
"Yeah, it was a cool week. Just a lot of emotions, a lot of memories," Garoppolo acknowledged afterward. "Especially coming back here, seeing the same stadium, hearing the same songs they used to play, a lot of memories came back. A lot of emotions out there. But it was a fun night."
Down 33-6, the Patriots pulled Newton and allowed backup Jarrett Stidham to close out the game in the fourth quarter. All things considered, this was among the most lopsided losing performances the Patriots have ever given under Belichick. The head coach insisted, though, that Newton will "absolutely" remain the team's starting QB.
That said, Newton's teammates acknowledge that something must change for New England to get back in the win column. Easier said than done, perhaps.
"When you lose 33-6, you can't say you're close," McCourty stated candidly. "We have to go out and play to keep jobs. I know Coach Belichick, the Kraft [family who owns the team], they're not fielding a team for us to go out and play like that."
"Just got to keep playing, you know. We've got to change something, do things a little better, from all of us," Gilmore concluded. "Everybody has to play better, work harder, and hopefully we'll get better as a result."
"We've got to go back and continue working," added Andrews. "I've got a lot of confidence in this room. I've played a lot of football with a lot of these guys. We have to start holding each other accountable. It's not all bad. There are some good things, but we just squandered away opportunities. You can't do that and win games in this league. I have confidence in this team. We have the tools to win. But if you don't execute, it doesn't matter what you've got."
"The message after the game was, 'We all have a lot to work on,'" Stidham revealed. "We all have a lot to work really hard on to get better to improve, and then that's where our focus needs to be - coming in, starting tomorrow, and getting better and working and doing everything that we can to get better and to improve on a daily basis."