FOXBORO, Mass. -- The 49ers withstood New England's stunning comeback from a 28-point deficit and beat the Patriots, 41-34, last night in the rain to clinch a playoff berth.
The Patriots scored 28 unanswered points in a span of 14:16 to tie it at 31 with 6:43 to play, but 18 seconds later, the 49ers (10-3-1) went ahead for good. LaMichael James had a 62-yard kickoff return, and on the next snap, Michael Crabtree took a short pass and sped around cornerback Kyle Arrington for a 38-yard touchdown.
"We faced adversity," James said. "Nobody flinched."
"We can win a shootout," Crabtree said. "Whatever it takes, that's our motto . . . We feel like we can do anything, sky's the limit."
David Akers' 28-yard field goal with 1:56 to go clinched it. The Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 41-yard field goal with 38 seconds left, but they couldn't recover the onside kick.
"I used to live next to a train station in Chicago," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "And it's like the more you hear the train, the less you hear it. I feel that way with our team in terms of pressure in big games. The more you feel it, the less you feel it."
Thanks to a pair of touchdowns by the 49ers in a 17-second span, New England (10-4) fell behind 31-3 with 10:21 left in the third quarter. But Danny Woodhead had 6- and 1-yard touchdown runs and Tom Brady added a 1-yard TD run and a 5-yard TD pass to Aaron Hernandez in the 28-point outburst.
The only other team to overcome a 28-point deficit in the regular season was the 49ers, on Dec. 7, 1980. The 49ers trailed the Saints 35-7 at halftime and won in overtime, 38-35.
The 49ers' Colin Kaepernick threw four TD passes. Brady completed 36 of a career-high 65 passes for 443 yards and a TD. "We just spotted them 28 points," he said. "We fought hard, but you can't play poorly against a good team and expect to win.''