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Jimmy Garoppolo tried to drag the San Francisco 49ers back to a win on Thursday night. Too bad it was his mistakes that put them in a hole.
The 49ers experienced the best and worst of Jimmy Garoppolo, all in one evening. Garoppolo helped the 49ers get off to a fast start, made some crucial mistakes that gave momentum of the game back to the Tennessee Titans, then had a clutch late drive that tied the game with 2:20 left.
The Titans answered with a clutch drive of their own, with a long Ryan Tannehill scramble setting up a game-winning field goal with four seconds left. Tennessee won 20-17.
The 49ers have a lot going for them and should easily be in the playoffs. They have plenty of ingredients for a long run. But there will still be the specter of getting into a tight playoff game and not knowing what to expect from Garoppolo.
49ers started fast before Jimmy Garoppolo INT
Early in Thursday night's game, the 49ers looked like they would blow out the Titans. They led 7-0 and were at the Titans' 8-yard line. Then the Garoppolo implosion started.
Garoppolo threw an interception into the end zone, forcing a throw when Janoris Jenkins had great coverage on tight end George Kittle. That started an awful stretch for Garoppolo.
Garoppolo threw a second interception deep in 49ers territory that led to a short Titans touchdown drive. He missed a wide-open Kyle Juszczyk on a throw that could have been a touchdown. He misfired on a fourth-down pass to Brandon Aiyuk that led to a frustrated reaction from Kyle Shanahan. When that was going on, a 7-0 lead turned into a 17-10 deficit.
Garoppolo hasn't been bad this season. He has been an asset most games for a team that should go to the postseason. But he was bad for most of Thursday night with everyone watching.
When the 49ers traded a lot to move up and draft Trey Lance third overall, it was an indictment of Garoppolo. Garoppolo has held off Lance for the starting job. But when the 49ers traded multiple picks to get Lance, it was an admission that they could go only so far with Garoppolo. No matter what the 49ers say publicly, a team that feels good about its quarterback isn't giving up multiple firsts to draft another QB.
What happens after this season with the 49ers and Garoppolo will be a big talking point, but there's still this season to go. The 49ers are very likely going to the playoffs. They have a team with a playmaking defense, a very good running game, elite pass catchers Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Aiyuk, and a quarterback who might melt down at the worst time. The fear that Garoppolo will be a problem in the playoffs popped up again on Thursday when he made some bad mistakes.
Titans take advantage and win
The Titans needed a win. They had lost three of four and it was possible the Colts could have tied them for the AFC South lead this week.
The Titans decided, after unsuccessfully running the ball and dumping it off on short pass plays early, to force-feed A.J. Brown the ball and make the 49ers defend him. It shouldn't be an epiphany to get your most talented offensive player the ball as often as possible, but once the Titans came around to that idea Brown went nuclear. He had 11 catches for 145 yards. Brown's touchdown gave the Titans a 17-10 lead in the third quarter.
By that point the 49ers, who started the game like they might win by three or four touchdowns, were in a shell. The offense had no flow, Kittle wasn't involved, and perhaps it all stemmed from not trusting Garoppolo to avoid mistakes.
The 49ers needed Garoppolo to make plays when they got the ball back trailing 17-10, backed up deep in their own territory with more than five minutes left. He came through in that spot. Garoppolo got the 49ers out of a hole, then hit Samuel on a short pass that Samuel turned into a 56-yard gain down to the Titans' 6-yard line. Garoppolo hit AIyuk for a game-tying score with 2:20 left.
The Titans had an answer. They drove right down into field-goal range, helped by a big run from Tannehill, and Randy Bullock hit the game-winning field goal with four seconds left.
The Titans are in great shape to win the AFC South now. The 49ers are in good shape too, though with more uncertainty at quarterback coming out of Thursday's game.