20 Dec Jimmy Garoppolo Clipped the Atlanta Falcons’ Wings
The game started on a terrible note for the San Francisco 49ers. They received the opening kickoff & JaMycal Hasty immediately fumbled & lost the ball on the return. Visions of the two games vs the Seattle Seahawks games came rushing in instantly. The 49ers lost both games by 7 points, after Trenton Cannon & Travis Benjamin both lost fumbles on their kickoff returns. Initially, the Atlanta Falcons drove from the 49ers’ 12-yard line, to 1st & goal on their 1-yard line. I was imagining the inevitable Falcons TD, or at the very least a FG and them also getting the ball to start the second half. On 1st & goal, DT Kevin Givens stuffed Cordarrelle Patterson for no gain. On 2nd & goal, Matt Ryan threw an incompletion. On 3rd & goal, DE Arik Armstead stuffed Patterson for no gain, but initially it was ruled TD. Luckily all scoring plays are reviewed & it was reversed. I thought surely the that the Falcons would kick a FG to make sure that they didn’t come up empty on this free trip into the red zone. Instead, Atlanta went for the TD on 4th & goal from the 1-yard line. Matt Ryan threw to rookie TE Kyle Pitts, who was unable to haul it in. The 49ers took over on downs at their own 1-yard line! Instead of having Jimmy Garoppolo hand off or drop back, Kyle Shanahan wisely had him sneak it forward for a gain of 2 yards. FB Kyle Juszczyk caught a 6-yard pass, but the 49ers were forced to punt. At least they had enough room to do it. Safe to say the 49ers had dodged 2 bullets to open the game.
From the SF 49-yard line, the Falcons drove to the SF30 & K Younghoe Koo kicked a 48-yard FG, giving them the early 3-0 lead. Special teams had put the 49ers’ defense in bad positions twice already, but the defense also held up well twice.
The 49ers got the ball back on their 9-yard line, after Hasty bobbled the kickoff out of bounds (strike 3 for S/T). Jeff Wilson Jr. (JWJ) ran three times for 16 yards, Deebo Samuel ran for another 3, then Jimmy Garoppolo called his own number for 2 yards & a first down. Garoppolo has never been stopped short of first down (or a TD) when sneaking in short yardage situations. Then, Jimmy G. connected with TE George Kittle for a scary looking 28-yard catch. I was so relieved to see George bounce right up after a tough looking hit. Sadly, the drive stalled on ATL 12-yard line. Gould went out & hit a 30-yard FG, evening it up at 3-3.
The Falcons began their next drive on their 21-yard line. Normally, I wouldn’t celebrate that, but as you will see, I should’ve. They drove to their 45-yard line, before 49ers DE Arden Key sacked Matt Ryan for an 11-yard loss on 3rd & 8!
The 49ers then took over on their own 23-yard line, but WR Brandon Aiyuk was penalized for a false start that pushed the offense back 5 yards to their 18-yard line. on 1st & 15 Jimmy Garoppoolo threw beautiful pass over the middle to Aiyuk for a massive 36-yard gain. All was forgiven & then some! Jimmy now had 2 big-time throws under belt in this game. Then, JWJ gashed the Falcons’ defense for a 17-yard run up the far right sideline! The offense was really humming. JWJ ran two more times for 5 yards, leaving the 49ers with a critical 3rd & 5 at the ATL 24-yard line. Jimmy G. came up big again, with a pass to WR Jauan Jennings for 9 yards. Then, Kyle Shanahan got tricky. Deebo Samuel came around on a reverse to the right — much like Aiyuk had done last Sunday in Cincinnati. Unlike Ayuk, Deebo didn’t pull the ball down and run, like he probably should have. Instead, he heaved the ball towards Aiyuk in the back right corner of the end zone. Falcons CB AJ Terrell made ground & the ball hit him in the back. In real time, it appeared as if Terrell might’ve committed DPI, but he had played it cleanly upon further review. It seems that Kyle is hell bent on making one these WR option plays work, after the Colt ‘McCards’ hit a big one against the 49ers in their second meeting this this season. On 2nd & 10 from the 15=yard line, Jimmy G. hit Kittle for a 9-yard catch. The raging bull took half the Falcons’ defense to bring him down! That brought up 3rd & 1 from the ATL 6-yard line. Juszczyk ran right up the middle for the 49ers’ first TD of the game, giving them a 10-3 lead. Chants of “Juuuuuice” rang out in Levi’s Stadium!
The Falcons had a 26-yard kickoff return to begin at their 35 yard line. That was, well, not good. The Falcons then drove to the SF 30-yard line, where on 3rd & 4 Arden Key got his second sack on Matt Ryan! Unfortunately, it was poorly penalized as a roughing the passer. Matt Ryan was running forward when Key bearhugged him from behind and tackled him to the ground. In my opinion, this was a total BS call. One play later, Matt Ryan hit WR Russell Gage over Ambry Thomas for a 20-yard TD. Thomas was also called for defensive holding. The referees missed a blatant hold on Arik Armstead on this “TD” play, making it 10-10. Chants of “Ref you suck!” erupted at Levi’s
The 49ers began their next drive on their 25-yard line. On 3rd & 7 with two minutes to go in the half, Jimmy G threw to Aiyuk, who was able to draw the pass interference penalty on AJ Terrell. JWJ ran for another 3 yards, then Garoppolo hit Jennings for a 15-yard catch to the ATL 10-yard line! Deebo Samuel did the rest, running to the left for a 10-yard TD, making it 17-10 right before half!
The Falcons got the ball on their 25-yard line with :33 to go in the half. Matt Ryan heaved a deep pass to Pitts down the right sideline. Ambry Thomas read it perfectly, had great positioning & went to make an interception. Not only did Kyle Pitts break up the INT, but he almost took the ball away & came very close to being a catch that had to be reviewed. Another bullet dodged right before the half! The 49ers went into halftime still up 17-10!
The Falcons began the second half with the ball on their 40-yard line. (Boo S/T!) DE Samson Ebukam sacked Matt Ryan for an 8-yard loss. After connecting with Gage for 10 yards, Nick Bosa sacked Matt Ryan for a 4-yard loss & forced a fumble that LB Fred Warner recovered! The defense was dominating!
After the fumble, the 49ers took over on the ATL 38-yard line. The next play Alex Mack & Jimmy G fumbled the snap exchange. Luckily, JWJ was right there to recover the ball. Then, Garoppolo hit Kittle for a 13-yard gain and after that, a big pass to Deebo Samuel over the middle for a 21-yard gain down to the ATL 5-yard line! JWJ ran up the middle for the 49ers’ third TD of the game, making it 24-10! Way to capitalize on the turnover!
The Falcons took over on their on their own 25-yard line & despite a 21-yard catch by Gage & a huge 49-yard catch by Olamide Zaccheaus, the next set of downs stalled out on the SF 4-yard line & they settled for a FG, making it 24-13. In between the 2 big catches, Patterson ran for 1 yard. Bosa made the stop, but limped off the field & into the blue medical tent. He would be evaluated and come back out holding his helmet, only to go back into the blue tent shortly after.
The 49ers began their next drive on their 25-yard line. Deebo had a 6-yard run, Garoppolo hit Kittle for a 15 yard catch, JWJ ran it for 12 yards, 8 yards & 13 yards. Then, Hasty ran for another 13 yards! Just like that, the 49ers were down to the Falcons 8-yard line.! JWJ got 1 yard & 3 yards, leaving them with 3rd & goal from the 5. Garoppolo hit Jennings for the 49ers’ fourth & (and what would be their final) TD of the game, making it 31-13 with 1:20 left in the third quarter!
The Falcons began their next drive on their 31-yard line. Thankfully, Nick Bosa returned to the lineup & the Falcons were forced to punt. Coincidence? I think not!
After a 49ers punt, the Falcons began with the ball on their 34-yard line. I saw Kyle Pitts lined up wide to the right, with Ambry Thomas across from him and no safety help nearby. I mentioned to my group, that this was a big mismatch. Kyle Pitts is 6’6 & 247 pounds, with one the widest wingspans ever recorded in the NFL. One the other hand, Ambry Thomas is 6’0 & 190 pounds. Just as I had feared, Matt Ryan heaved another deep ball up for Pitts, and this time he easily caught it. S Jaquiski Tartt came to tackle Pitts, but not before he had already gained 48 yards. Things were getting tense again! To make things worse, Tartt limped off the field & into the blue medical tent. Tartt’s backup, Talanoa Hufanga, had just been ruled out of the game with a knee injury, so the 49ers appeared to be getting really thin at safety. Jarrod Wilson, who was just called up from the practice squad a day before the game, replaced Tartt while he was getting his leg looked at.
Meanwhile, the Falcons now had the ball on the SF 17-yard line. Patterson ran for 5 yards. Ryan hit Gage for 5 yards, setting up another 4th & goal at the SF 5-yard line. The Falcons handed the ball to Patterson, the highest rated red zone RB, per PFF. Well, the 49ers’ defense came up huge again! This time it was S Jimmie Ward, stuffing Patterson for no gain! The 49ers then took over on their own 9-yard line, & although they ended up punting, it was still a huge momentum swing!
After the punt, the Falcons took over on SF 47-yard line. The 49ers jumped offsides, giving the Falcons a 1st & 5. Ryan hit Pitts for a 14-yard gain & then ran for 8 yards. The Falcons again got down to the SF 1-yard line, but the 49ers’ defense came big one more time! On 3rd & goal Ryan rolled right, and it looked like he might walk right into the end zone, when Marcell Harris came out nowhere to slow Ryan down & Tartt, who had just returned to the game, absolutely pasted Matt Ryan with a very clean shot to the mid-section stopping him short! The Falcons decided yet again to go for it on on 4th & goal from the 1 yard line, and this time, Ryan threw an incompletion. It was another turnover on downs!
The 49ers then took over on their own 1-yard line with 5:08 left in the game. JWJ ran it up the right side for a huge 16-yard gain. Deebo ran for 8, JWJ for another 2, 3 & 2 yards. After another couple of runs, the 49ers were forced to punt. They punted with :29 left in the game. A huge victory & likely playoff berth had just been secured.
Jimmy Garoppolo was the real hero of the day for the 49ers! 18/23, 78.3% completion rate for 235 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, & a passer rating 123.7! JWJ was very solid on the ground in his second game filling in for Elijah Mitchell, finishing with 110 rushing yards on 21 carries & a TD. George Kittle had 6 catches on 6 targets for 93 yards (425 yards & 3 TDs in his last 3 games, tying Raiders TE Darren Waller for the most from any TE in NFL history over a three game stretch!)! Deebo Samuel was amazing, with 6 rushes for 29 yards & a TD plus 4 catches for 60 yards. Jauan Jennings had a couple big drops, but is progressing nicely 3 catches for 28 yards, two off which resulted in 1st downs & one was a TD, Brandon Aiyuk had just one catch, but it just so happened to be arguably the biggest of the day. It went for 36 yards & sparked life into the offense. Nick Bosa added 1 more sack to his season total of 15! Arden Key & Samson Ebukam each also recorded 1 sack! Fred Warner had a signature Fred Warner type performance. These were heroes of the defense. The offensive line played very well, keeping Jimmy G. clean. Special shout out to Tom Compton & Daniel Brunskill, who both had bad games last week. The Falcons’ pass-rush is a bit anemic, but the 49ers’ offensive line did very well.
Now it’s on to Nashville, to face the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. The Titans’ #6 ranked run defense will not be so easy to beat
Look for my preview on Tuesday, or Wednesday morning!