29 Dec Can’t Say That I Didn’t Warn You! Remember the Titans!
Well, I predicted a low scoring, close game. When I got the news that LB Azeez Al-Shaair would be able to play, that was enough for me to pick the 49ers to win, by a score of 20-17.
Sadly, Al-Shaair injured his knee, causing him to miss at least the Titans’ final drive, where they kicked the game-winning FG, with only :09 remaining in the game. I’m confident that if Al-Shaair had remained healthy, my score prediction would’ve been correct. Instead, the Tennessee Titans won by a final score of 20-17.
Many people were shocked that the 49ers lost, but if you had read my preview article, then you shouldn’t have been. As expected, Titans’ WR AJ Brown feasted on the 49ers’ CBs. The Titans were able to neutralize the ferocious pass-rush of the 49ers by using max protection packages, with only a couple of WRs in the mix. Keeping the extra player in pass-protection made Nick Bosa a nonfactor, unfortunately.
It was no surprise that Jimmy Garoppolo struggled vs the Titans’ formidable defense. He finished the night with 2 INTs (a 3rd INT that was dropped) & a missed walk-in TD to a wide open Kyle Juszczyk. Garoppolo completely overthrew him and missed out on 7 points in a game which they lost by 3, so the memory will likely live in both his and the minds of 49ers fans for a while.
The special teams unit for the 49ers continued to struggle, especially on kick-return coverage, which wouldn’t have shocked anyone who’s been reading my work. What we didn’t expect was that the 49ers’ offensive line would largely neutralize the vaunted Titans’ pass-rush & that Jimmy Garoppolo would ultimately tear his UCL & fracture the thumb in his right (throwing) hand, which reportedly caused him to struggle with ball placement, in the second half. Kyle Shanahan said they knew about the injury in the second half of the game, yet Jimmy Garoppolo did not appear on the postgame injury report, and we did not find out about it until late Monday morning.
Deebo Samuel was insane with 159 receiving yards and another 32 rushing yards on the ground, for a whopping 191 combined yards! No other skill players on offense were particularly noteworthy. However, it seemed like Deebo Samuel & AJ Brown were having a one-on-one matchup to be crowned the best WR from the 2019 NFL Draft.
Defensively, the 49ers played pretty well. However, they eventually they got tired from being on the field for too long, as Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense struggled to maintain drives. The Titans were able to consistently convert on 3rd & 10+ situations, which ultimately proved to be too much. We have to keep in mind this game was on a short week and across the country, they were already asking a lot from this unit to then add carrying a stymied offense to.
The loss to the Titans lowered the 49ers’ chances from making the playoffs from 88% to 69% (nice), which wasn’t nice at all. Not only that, but it temporarily knocked the 49ers out of having control of their playoff destiny. Prior to Monday Night Football, if the New Orleans Saints & Philadelphia Eagles had won out, the 49ers would’ve been eliminated from the playoffs due to 3-way tie breakers — even if they would’ve won out and defeated the Houston Texans & Los Angeles Rams. Luckily for us, the Dolphins beat the Saints on Monday night. Now the 49ers are back in control of their playoff destiny, but the only way to be certain of making the playoffs, is still for them to win out.
It’s possible (maybe even likely), that Jimmy Garoppolo won’t be able to play this Sunday vs the Houston Texans. If rookie Trey Lance does well, then we might not see Jimmy G. take the field for the 49ers ever again. If that’s the case then I truly thank Jimmy, for helping the 49ers get out of the cellar of the entire NFL & get back to being a respected team that players want to come to & play for. I still remember the excitement we all shared seeing the ESPN headline: “BREAKING: 49ers Trade for Patriots’ QB Jimmy Garoppolo!“
I’ve wanted to see Trey Lance start since week 3 vs Green Bay, but I didn’t want it to be due to Garoppolo being injured. I would never root for an injury. We should learn more about Garoppolo’s status on Wednesday, but I’m optimistic about how Trey Lance will do as the 49ers’ starting QB. He may not be as efficient at scoring TDs in the red zone immediately, but I believe that he will maintain drives better than Garoppolo did, which will ultimately get the 49ers into the red zone more often & actually score more points. Lance requires one defender to spy him at all times to keep him from running wild. Lance also makes another defender stay out of the box, to keep him from throwing deep (something Jimmy was never proficient at doing). This should allow Mitchell & JWJ to get more rushing yards per carry with Lance under center, than they did with Jimmy. Even with a player spying him, Lance will also contribute generously to the total rushing yards.
A lot of people I’ve spoken with in the 49ers community seem to think that Lance’s first start wasn’t good, and while it wasn’t great, they tend to ignore some important context. It was Lance’s first ever NFL start, and he only had one week to work with the first team to get prepared. George Kittle & Robbie Gould were both out. Elijah Mitchell was on pitch count, after just returning from injury after being out for a few weeks. Brandon Aiyuk was still in his slump. The 49ers’ WRs had three bad drops. There were also four batted balls allowed by the offensive linemen, who were also called for countless holding penalties as they adjusted to Lance’s mobility in the pocket. The Cardinals’ defense that Lance faced was the toughest that the 49ers had faced all season. All of these things together made Lance’s performance appear to be worse than it would’ve been, if the team had played a much cleaner and disciplined game. We later learned that Trey Lance’s finger injury impacted him until only a few weeks ago! So, it’s possible Shanahan used him more as a runner than a passer due to the fact that he was still healing from the injury. Keep in mind, Jimmy Garoppolo looked completely lost vs the Colts without George Kittle. During the 49ers’ 4-game losing streak, Kittle was either not 100%, or out completely with his strained calf/Achilles injuries.
I don’t hate Jimmy G, but he’s just not a top QB. He’s mediocre. He’s usually only good vs bad teams & more often than not bad vs good teams. He’s also very inconsistent. Garoppolo has a knack to often be good & bad, both within the same game. The thing is, the 49ers are paying him way too much money to not be able to lean on him when it matters most. They often find ways to win in spite of Jimmy Garoppolo, rather than because of. The one or two classic ‘Jimmy Throws’ per game are all too familiar to me and my fellow 49ers fans.
ESPN ranked Garoppolo as the #17 QB, before the debacle vs the Titans on TNF. He’s almost certain to drop a few spots after his poor performance. Lance will likely be rusty, after more than 10 weeks since his only NFL start. Most veteran QBs would be expected to be rusty after such a long layoff. I have zero doubts that Lance will surpass Jimmy, in short order, once he’s up to speed. I stress to fans to keep in mind we’re seeing a 21 year old rookie QB making his second NFL start after not playing in over two months, knowing the playoffs are on the line! We should not immediately hold Lance to the same standards that we held a veteran like Garoppolo to — at least not yet. With all that said, I am extremely excited to see what the rookie can do!
The Houston Texans are playing well right now, but more about that in my preview, which should drop this Friday morning!