Fred Warner flipped his body sideways as he shuffled and spied Cam Newton. Then, in a flash, Warner coyly retreated into coverage, and, voila, the 49ers’ star linebacker came through with a shoe-string interception.
At that point, the 49ers lead just 10-3, and, at that point, the New England Patriots showed just how little a shot they had Sunday on their home field.
With Warner commanding a 49ers defense rift with injury replacements, and with surprise starter Jeff Wilson rushing for a career-high three touchdowns, the 49ers cruised to a 33-6 victory in their first game at Gillette Stadium since their 2012 Super Bowl run.
The only downers from the 49ers’ aspect were, of course, injuries. Wilson got carted off with a left-ankle injury from his final touchdown run, which pushed the 49ers’ lead to 30-6. Fellow offensive catalyst Deebo Samuel grabbed his left hamstring after a 1-yard run with 13:27 to go.
The 49ers (4-3) have won two straight after losing two in a row, and any positive momentum helps going into next Sunday’s game at the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots (2-4) have lost three straight for the first time since 2002.
Warner’s interception was the first of four by the 49ers, and their third got Newton benched in favor of Jarrett Stidham. Those were just some highlights by a defense that started only four of the same players from last season’s Super Bowl appearance.
The 49ers outgained the Patriots 467-241, including 196 rushing yards on 37 carries.
Here are the highs, lows and all you need to know:
WILSON’S CAREER DAY
With Raheem Mostert joining Tevin Coleman on injured reserve a day earlier, Wilson made the most of his surprise start, only to have his left ankle got trapped under a Patriots defender while scoring his third touchdown, on a 7-yard run midway through the third quarter.
That put an end to his first 100-yard game in just his third career start. He had 17 carries for 112 yards. The last 49ers running back with three rushing touchdowns in a road game was Roger Craig in 1988 against the Los Angeles Rams.
It was surprising that Wilson, rather than Jerick McKinnon or JaMycal Hasty, replaced the injured Mostert in the starting lineup. That’s because Wilson missed last game because of a tight calf, and he entered this game questionable to even play.
Wilson’s first touchdown run (3 yards) came on the 49ers’ opening series, and his 14-yard touchdown run just before halftime gave 49ers a 23-3 lead. Wilson hit the 100-yard mark with an 8-yard run on his first carry after halftime.
These weren’t Wilson’s first heroics as a 49er. He had back-to-back, two-touchdown games early last season against the Bengals and Steelers, and he had a game-winning touchdown catch in November against the Cardinals.
Hasty wasn’t shabby in relief (56 rushing yards, 16 receiving).
The injury-ravaged 49ers certainly can’t afford losing another offensive catalyst. Samuel sustained a left-hamstring injury after taking 1-yard toss to the 14-yard line, setting up a Robbie Gould 32-yard field goal and 33-6 lead.
Samuel remained a popular target on passes behind the line of scrimmage. He had five catches for 65 yards through three quarters. His three carries gained just 7 yards. Samuel missed the first three games recovering from offseason foot surgery.
Injured cornerback Richard Sherman promptly tweeted “All-Pro Fred” — as did the 49ers – after Warner’s second interception this season. That put an instant end to the Patriots’ third possession, and it came midway through the second-quarter.
Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley made a last-minute interception before halftime, and he weaved through sleep-walking Patriots for a 49-yard return to the New England 45-yard line. Interceptions Nos. 3 and 4 came from nickel back Jamar Taylor, starting with Newton’s first target to Julian Edelman.
Those interceptions proved more harmful than the pair the Patriots defense produced against Jimmy Garoppolo. The Patriots’ first points – a 40-yard field goal – came after Devin McCourty’s second-series interception. That cut the 49ers’ lead to 7-3 to open the second quarter. The Pats’ second interception of Garoppolo came near their goal line on a desperation heave as time expired.
Garoppolo (20-of-25, 278 yards) was efficient, mostly untouched and generally happy throughout his first game at New England since a Halloween 2017 trade.
He completed his first seven passes for 93 yards before spoiling the 49ers’ second drive with a red-zone interception. He accrued 181 yards by halftime (14 of 19) but his passer rating dropped to 63.6 when a desperation pass got intercepted near the Patriots’ goal line as time expired.
Garoppolo’s month-old ankle injury did not inhibit him from scrambling for a third-down conversion on the first series. He also showed mobility escaping a potential sack just before halftime.
Warner (team-high seven tackles) and the 49ers’ four interceptions aside, the defense looked solid despite missing, among others, starting safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt for the first time because of injuries.
Linebacker Dre Greenlaw came through with the 49ers’ first sack, and it helped slow a Patriots’ series in 49ers territory right after halftime. The Patriots settled for a field goal that drive as Javon Kinlaw stopped Newton on a third-down scramble, after Dion Jordan and Arik Armstead missed potential sacks. Kevin Givens ended the game with a sack.
Newton got benched after his third interception, and he finished with 98 yards and no touchdowns while completing 9-of-15 passes.
Marcell Harris and Tarvarius Moore made their starting debuts this season in place of Ward (quadriceps) and Tartt (shoulder). Moore made a third-down tackle to force a Patriots’ punt on their first series, and his third-down pass defense sent N’Keal Harry out of the game with a concussion.
BIG LEAD EARLY
The 49ers scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the second straight game, and third time this season. Sunday, it was Wilson capping things off with a 3-yard run. Stoking that drive were Garoppolo completions to Samuel (23 yards, 14 yards) and Kittle (7, 15).
As the 49ers took a 22-3 lead into halftime (and 301-59 advantage in yards), it was worth recalling their last visit to the Patriots. In December 2012, the 49ers led 17-3 at halftime, bumped that to 31-3 before falling into a 31-31 tie and eventually escaping with a 41-34 win.
Brandon Aiyuk notched his first career 100-yard game, tallying five catches for 112 yards. A 35-yard reception to the 7-yard line set up Wilson’s final touchdown.
TIGHT END’S DAY
George Kittle had four catches for 44 yards as the face of the NFL’s second annual National Tight End Day pseudo-holiday. He caught his first three targets for 36 yards, including a 14-yarder against Stephon Gilmore, the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Officials also noticed Kittle, calling him for two penalties (holding, false start).
Robbie Gould has made 391 field goals since the Patriots cut him as an undrafted rookie before the 2005 season. That includes two field goals Sunday, starting with a 41-yarder that gave the 49ers a 10-3 lead 9 minutes before halftime. Gould hit the left upright on his second point-after attempt, after it got deflected, to keep the 49ers’ lead at 16-3.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk scored his second rushing touchdown in three games, after totaling none in his first three seasons with the 49ers. He had four carries for 18 yards; he entered with three carries for 18 yards.