The San Francisco 49ers (4-10) won their third straight game on Sunday, in a well-fought contest that went down to the final snap, defeating the Tennessee Titans (8-6) 25-22 in Santa Clara. In what has become something of a trend for these 2017 San Francisco 49ers, they leaned on the right leg of Robbie Gould, who went an astonishing 6/6 on field goals, including a 45 yard game winner as time expired. This marked the third game in a row that Gould has carried the team to victory, and he’s hit 15 field goals in a row during that 3 game span. For the 2nd time in three weeks, Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers to victory on the final drive, this time delivering a 6 play, 48 yard gem with 1:07 to go in the game. Garoppolo and the offense breezed down the field in seemingly effortless fashion, as ‘Jimmy G’ hit on passes of 7, 24, and 14 yards, to put Gould in possession for the winning kick.
Garoppolo turned in career highs in attempts and yards, going 31/43 for 381 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He continued to maneuver marvelously in the pocket, and, as we’ve come to expect, seemed un-rattled and cold as ice throughout the game. Marquis Goodwin continued his emergence as a legitimate #1 receiver with his 3rd 95+ yard game in a row, this time tallying 10 grabs for 114 yards, and Kendrick Borne came alive with 4 catches for 85 yards.
For a while it looked as if the Niners might pull away in this one with relative ease. They led 16-3 with 1:37 to go in the 2nd half, after having dominated most of the game. They also received a huge break earlier in the half when Delanie Walker dropped a would-be touchdown. But the “Swiss Army Knife” soon made up for it, as the Titans got themselves together and marched down the field quickly to end the first half, in a drive that culminated in a 4 yard touchdown pass to Walker as time wound down.
For the third game in a row, the 49ers made this victory harder than it had to be with red zone inefficiency (1/4 inside the 20) and penalties; they continued to fail miserably in this area, and were penalized 7 times for 70 yards. This nearly came back to bite them, as they were penalized twice on a 4th quarter drive with less than 7 minutes to go. One penalty came on a short pass to George Kittle, which backed them up 10 yards, and another one nullified a touchdown on a nifty 20 yard screen pass to Trent Taylor, called back for offensive pass interference by Goodwin. This sloppy play forced the Niners to settle for the field goal, thereby keeping the game in reach for Tennessee.
Although Garoppolo was sacked 3 times on the afternoon, the 49ers did an admirable job against the Titans’ blitz heavy scheme, as Garoppolo’ s nifty pocket awareness, quick diagnoses and decision making foiled the Titans’ pass rush time and time again. Garoppolo repeatedly made the Titans’ defense pay for bringing pressure, and the trio of Garret Celek, George Kittle and 3rd down phenom Trent Taylor combined for 11 catches, 155 yards and a touchdown.
For the defense’s part, they did a great job all afternoon, managing to hold the Titans’ DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to 78 yards’ combined rushing on 25 carries. The Titans’ quartet of receiving threats were held for the most part in check, though Rishard Mathews and Eric Decker picked on Dontae Johnson early and often, with Mathews turning in a solid 95 yards on 6 receptions and a TD.
It is now plain to see that when the defense is not being worn down game after game (this is the third straight game that 49ers have won the time of possession battle), they are more than capable of playing it close with most teams in this league. They bent as always but did not break, and came up huge on the Titans’ last drive of the game, stuffing DeMarco Murray for no gain on 3rd and 2 with 1:20 to go, thereby forcing the Titans to kick a field goal, keeping the score within 3, and returning the ball to the offense for a chance to win the game.
Garoppolo continues to impress with his excellent throwing ability and cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow (RIP Stuart Scott) demeanor. While I love his Brett Favre gun-slinging mentality, there were a couple times where it almost got him into trouble – this controversial catch by Marquis Goodwin was suspect, and probably was a pass best left un-thrown. Jimmy G also almost served up an interception during a 4th quarter bomb down the sideline to Goodwin, though it was unclear if it was a poor throw or if Goodwin had sub-optimal route positioning in relation to the sideline. Still, one has to love the confidence of the quarterback here, and should gladly trade an interception here and there higher scoring frequency and more big plays.
This game was by no means a perfect effort. The 49ers MUST start converting these beautiful drives into touchdowns if they are going to defeat the top teams in the league. In addition, it is imperative that they clean up the penalties and stop shooting themselves in the foot. My guess is that both these issues are a result of the steep curve inherent in learning Kyle Shanahan’s offense, combined with what is essentially a brand new quarterback and a roster full of young players. It is probably too early in this process to point to a fault in coaching with the penalties. Shanahan has a very complicated system that is proven time and again to take 1+ seasons for players to master. If the penalty woes continue into next season, however, we’ll have a problem.
Despite the flaws, this rebuilding process is on the fast track to completion. An offseason with Jimmy Garoppolo in the classroom and on the practice field, another year of these young players coming together, and the addition of some key pieces in the draft (#1 cornerback please!), as well as the return of the various injured players, and this team could very well be sniffing a playoff spot this time next season.
For now, it is onward and upward to the next challenge. And what could be more exciting for a young team playing solid football and discovering itself, than to go up against one of the best next week? It sure will be exciting to watch these young 49ers go toe-to-toe with the mighty Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday, and to truly get an idea of where they stand among the league’s top teams.
Deforest Buckner: He showed up big time in this game, recording a game high 7 tackles, including a sack, and the drive-ending snuffing of DeMarco Murray’s rush attempt on 3rd and 2 during the Titans’ final drive.
Reuben Foster: What can I say? All I needed to do was watch about 45 seconds of this guy’s Alabama tape during the offseason to know he was the one I wanted the Niners to draft with their first pick. Though I kind of wish he wouldn’t go down like he’s just been sniped every time he gets nicked up, I can live with it if he keeps popping people like this.
49ers Defense: These guys have been a top 10 defense over the past three games in several statistical areas. I love dominating defense, and I look forward to what this unit can blossom into as they continue to grow together, get enough rest during games, and after they have a few more pieces added to the mix.
Just throwing this in here because it’s awesome
PODCAST: Dre Greenlaw and Kaden Smith Scouting Reports
- Scouting report on 5th round LB Dre Greenlaw
- Scouting report on 6th round TE Kaden Smith
- Reuben Foster out for the year with torn ACL
- New York Jets front office turmoil
- Marshawn Lynch, actor
PODCAST: Matt Barrows of the Athletic
- Guest: Matt Barrows, 49ers beat writer for The Athletic
- Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw’s path from group homes to the NFL
- OW’s are the new black
- Jimmy Garoppolo and young pass catchers may need a little time to jell
PODCAST: Winky Wednesday, DeFo Contract, Hard Knocks
- 49ers won’t appear on Hard Knocks in 2019
- Listener mailbag
- Could they let DeForest Buckner walk instead of sign him to a long term mega-deal?
- Will Nick Bosa holdout like his brother?