FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Jim Harbaugh might have learned more about his San Francisco 49ers during 20 minutes of sleepwalking than at any other time in his two years as their coach.
His 49ers turned a nearly historic collapse into a stunning victory and a playoff berth. They withstood a 28-point comeback by the New England Patriots to win 41-34 on Sunday night in the rain.
"Our team has now hung in in a lot of big-time pressure games," Harbaugh said. "They've overcome adversity. They've shown they can do that."
Michael Crabtree took a short pass from Colin Kaepernick and sped around cornerback Kyle Arrington for a 38-yard touchdown with 6:25 to go, then David Akers made a 28-yard field goal to clinch it.
"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."
The 49ers (10-3-1) own at least a wild-card spot and play at Seattle next week with a chance to win the NFC West. A loss would bring the division race down to the final weekend.
Kaepernick threw for four touchdowns, two to Crabtree, who had 107 yards receiving. The defense rattled Tom Brady at times, but also yielded 443 yards passing in a sloppy contest between two of the league's more precise teams.
AFC East champion New England (10-4), which had won seven in a row, trailed 31-3 in the third quarter and lost for the first time at home in December in 21 games. The Patriots also had won 21 in a row in the second half of the schedule before San Francisco somehow regrouped late in a game it seemingly had clinched long before.
"I used to live next to a train station in Chicago," 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."
San Francisco forced four turnovers, matching the number of giveaways New England had at home all season.
But then the Niners began collapsing, and back came Brady and the Patriots on a 6-yard TD run by Danny Woodhead and a 1-yard dive by Brady. A 5-yard pass to Aaron Hernandez and Woodhead's 1-yard run with 6:43 remaining tied it.
And just like that, San Francisco went in front again.
Rookie LaMichael James broke free for a 62-yard kickoff return. On the next snap — the third time the Niners would have a one-play TD drive — Crabtree took a pass on the left side, spun and headed into the end zone.
"We faced adversity," James said. "Nobody flinched."
New England turned over the ball on downs and Akers made his kick. Stephen Gostkowski added a 41-yarder for the Patriots with 38 seconds remaining, but they couldn't recover the onside kick.
San Francisco led 17-3 at the half. And they looked safe after Frank Gore picked up Kaepernick's third fumble and scored on a 9-yard run, followed by Crabtree's 27-yard score in a pinpoint pass from the second-year quarterback.