By Sam McPherson
With a 25-23 comeback victory at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday over the playoff-contending Tennessee Titans, the San Francisco 49ers (4-10) won for the third time in a row this season. However, unlike the prior two wins against mediocre outfits from the cellar of the NFL’s division standings, this time the 49ers beat a good team that still has a chance at the postseason.
Let the hyperbole rain down on the San Francisco 49ers organization and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, for the team’s winning formula seems to have been discovered: an efficient and mobile QB with a knack for making something out of nothing, combined with a placekicker who just cannot miss. Yes, the 49ers are fun to watch again, and now the countdown to 2018 is suddenly an exciting one in the Bay Area.
It’s been almost two decades since a 49ers QB passed for 300-plus yards in consecutive games, but now Garoppolo has put his name into the basket of (potentially) great quarterbacks for the S.F. franchise. The Titans (8-6) are one of the toughest run-defense teams in the NFL, and they proved it today by holding the 49ers to just 51 yards on 22 carries. But that didn’t stop Garoppolo from dominating the game, even if the team couldn’t score touchdowns.
The S.F. quarterback completed 31 of 43 attempts for 381 yards and a TD, and when given the ball inside the final minute with a chance to win the game, he did just that—completing three passes in a row to get the 49ers into field-goal range. Overall, for the game, Garoppolo completed passes to nine different players (including himself), although wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was the favorite target with 10 catches for 114 yards.
The Titans gained 328 yards, but when they needed a few more to keep a late-game drive going, the 49ers run defense stuffed them—forcing Tennessee to settle for a FG that enabled the S.F. offense to come back on the field to win the game. The 49ers held the Titans’ talented running back duo to just three yards a carry, and although QB Marcus Mariota had a solid game throwing the ball (241 yards, two TDs), Tennessee held the ball for just 27:25 in this game.
San Francisco’s defense also nabbed the game’s only turnover, recovering a fumble by former 49ers tight end Delanie Walker. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner had a very nice game, with nine tackles and half a sack. Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Reuben Foster made his presence known with eight tackles of his own. This defense is one more good draft away from being dominant again.
Special Teams: B+
It’s a good sign when your punter makes only one appearance, and placekicker Robbie Gould once again proved himself to be the team’s savior with six field goals. When the offense stalls, Gould has been money this year, and he made kicks from 45, 48, 48 and 50 yards in this game. Where would the 49ers be without him? At least two games lower in the standings, that’s for sure. Special teams were nothing to be noticed in this game, for better or for worse.
While the offense needs to find a way to convert more red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, everything else in the game plans seem to be working for the 49ers these days. This was a huge victory, for it tells the roster it can compete with good teams in the league right now. San Francisco has two more games to end the season, both against 10-win teams (Jacksonville at home, the Rams on the road). The 49ers have turned the corner though, and the early nine-game losing streak is long forgotten. That’s right where head coach Kyle Shanahan wants this team’s mindset.
Up Next: Jacksonville Jaguars
After dismantling the Houston Texans on Sunday, the Jags are 10-4 and in the playoffs for the first time in a decade as winners of the AFC South Division. Jacksonville also has a chance at clinching a bye for the first round of the postseason, so the Jags will be ready and motivated to win this game against the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on Christmas Eve. Jacksonville’s defense probably is the best one in the NFL this season, which means Garoppolo and Co. will face their toughest test yet. If San Francisco’s defense can stay healthy and pressure Jags QB Blake Bortles, anything is possible in Week 16.