49ers report card: Sure, blame Garoppolo, but don’t stop there

49ers report card: Sure, blame Garoppolo, but don’t stop there

NASHVILLE — Here is how the 49ers (8-7) graded in Thursday night’s 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans (10-5):


Tennessee Titans defensive end Denico Autry (96) sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) for a 7-yard loss in the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

If not for Jimmy Garoppolo’s final drive finding Deebo Samuel for 56 yards and Brandon Aiyuk for a tying touchdown, this would have merited an ‘F’ grade. That’s because of two interceptions, an overthrow to a wide-open Kyle Juszczyk at the 10, a fourth-down miscommunication with Brandon Aiyuk and two time-sucking sacks. Garoppolo had played so sharp in the preceding games that his usual gaffes caught up with him all at once in this game. Double-covering George Kittle proved smart on the Titans’ part as he had only two catches (three targets) for 21 yards. Samuel had 159 receiving yards (ONE. HUNDRED. AND. FIFTY. NINE.) plus 32 rushing yards to further justify his first Pro Bowl selection. Jauan Jennings’ Tennessee homecoming came with mixed results (two catches, five targets, 19 yards). Trent Williams’ seemingly flawless season took a hit with two penalties (facemask to stall out a field-goal drive; false start on fourth-and-1).


San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Willson Jr. carries the ball against the Tennessee Titans in the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Of course you all wanted Kyle Shanahan to run the ball more and eliminate the risk of Garoppolo gaffes. Well, it can’t always work out that way. Jeff Wilson Jr. tallied just 45 yards on 14 carries, but he did slip in for their first touchdown. Samuel’s five rushes were a nice mix, but the 49ers need more speed and elusiveness, which they could get from Elijah Mitchell if his knee proves ready to return from a three-game hiatus.


Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) makes a catch as he is defended by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas (20) in the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

The cornerbacks’ vulnerability is endlessly jeopardizing any lead, whether it’s rookie Ambry Thomas getting shoved to the ground on a third-down bomb or veteran Josh Norman yielding a go-ahead touchdown. There is no quick fix other than to get a better pass rush, and the Titans prevented that by max-protecting and keeping in a tight end to double-team block Nick Bosa (no sacks for first time in seven games; one quarterback hit). Arden Key jumping offside as the quarter is about to expire allowed Ryan Tannehill to go deep against Thomas and find A.J. Brown (11 catches, 145 yards) in what Shanahan called a “completely inexcusable” play. Fred Warner was correct in simplifying the defense’s downfalls: No takeaways and a third-down unit that yielded 9-of-16 conversions. In the second half, here is what the Titans needed on third down/what they got: 15 yards/24yards, 7/18, 10/13, 8/incompletion, 23/42, 10/12, 8/13, 6/sack, 4/kneel.


NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – DECEMBER 23: Alex Barrett #94 of the San Francisco 49ers sacks Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium on December 23, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Letting Tannehill scamper 23 yards up the middle to set up the winning field goal was the final straw in a fourth-quarter fade. Heck, 23 yards is what the 49ers allowed on the ground the entire first half. Jeremy McNichols’ red-zone runs attacked the 49ers’ interior. D’Onta Foreman had just 17 yards on nine carries, and a holding penalty negated a near-touchdown before halftime. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones (ankle) returned to the game but linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (knee) did not in his injury-strewn season.


Tennessee Titans running back D’Onta Foreman (7) scores a touchdown on a 3-yard run in the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

It wasn’t as disastrous as recent games, or at least it got better after allowing a 37-yard return on the 49ers’ first kickoff. No turnovers came from this unit, so that’s a positive. A shanked punt by Mitch Wishnowsky was untimely. Aiyuk had a 12-yard punt return, but he let another roll on by to pin the 49ers near their goal line. Robbie Gould’s 48-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead was an encouraging sign, in case their season comes down to his foot.


Short-week, long-trip excuse? Nope, no one was going there, even if those are valid issues. Horrible play calls? Shanahan will never acknowledge that, so get over it if you’re looking for a mea culpa that would be a disingenuous attempt to pacify critics (who the past month loved him). Look, surrendering that final possession before halftime shouldn’t be a surprise at this point, not with the 49ers up 10-0 and Garoppolo looking erratic. The defense could have used more creativity to bail out the secondary. This loss isn’t a playoff crusher. It’s a humble bulletin that no rings are won in Week 16, and they must recapture their groove these next two games.

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