The Tennessee Titans blitzed Jimmy Garoppolo on Sunday more than he or 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan had experienced in a game.
Their reaction: Good.
“I love it when they blitz us like that,” Garoppolo said afterward. “It makes everything a lot easier. I think we took advantage of it in the right way and got some big plays out of it.”
The 49ers quarterback said the heavy blitzing simply created more opportunities, including a three-completion sequence at game’s end that began at the 49ers’ 25-yard line and ended with them well within Robbie Gould’s field-goal range. The veteran kicker struck a 45-yarder – his sixth of the day – as time expired to give the 49ers a 25-23 victory.
Receiver Trent Taylor, who caught a seven-yard pass to begin that drive with 1:07 remaining, said the blink-and-miss-it possession was “kind of shocking.”
“We started on the 25,” Taylor said. “I had the quick pass and then two plays later we’re in field-goal range. It happened real fast.”
Maybe it should be no surprise. Garoppolo is now undefeated in his five NFL starts with three fourth-quarter, game-winning drives on his résumé. That includes his first career start, which came last year in Arizona when he was with the New England Patriots, as well as San Francisco’s win over the Chicago Bears two weeks ago that also ended with a Gould field goal.
Sunday’s was the most dramatic, however, because Garoppolo actually engineered two come-from-behind drives.
Down 20-19 with 8:27 to play, Garoppolo took over at San Francisco’s 13-yard line and immediately hit rookie receiver Kendrick Bourne on a 54-yard catch-and-run play that put the 49ers into Titans territory. That set up a 48-yard Gould field goal that gave the 49ers the lead, but only briefly.
Tennessee answered with its own 11-play drive that ended with a 50-yard Ryan Succop field goal and just a little more than a minute left on the clock. The Titans, who are fighting for a playoff berth, celebrated what they thought would be their own gritty, last-minute win.
But Garoppolo and Shanahan had a little more magic left.
One of the most obvious effects of having Garoppolo under center is that he has made everyone around him look better, including Shanahan, who also serves as the team’s offensive coordinator.
With the Titans (8-6) blitzing constantly and Garoppolo as accurate as ever – he was 31 for 43, a 72 percent completion rate, for 381 yards and a touchdown – Shanahan found a rhythm with his play calls, at times going with a no-huddle approach to build momentum.
After the completion to Taylor, Garoppolo connected with rookie tight end George Kittle for 24 yards. A 14-yard pass to Marquise Goodwin on the next snap got the 49ers inside Gould’s range.
The 49ers (4-10) won the time-of-possession battle and converted 50 percent of their third-down plays. They had seven drives with seven or more plays. That meant they had plenty of time to get in sync, Shanahan said.
“When you have a bunch of long drives – that’s easiest for me to get in a rhythm,” he said. “When we get a number of plays and you actually have a chance to set some things up and get them a little bit off balance ... that’s when it gets fun.”
Unlike his first two starts against the Bears and Houston Texans, squads with no playoff chances, Garoppolo’s third came against a Titans team with a winning record.
It also was his first start at Levi’s Stadium. And that may have been the quarterback’s greatest trick – pulling some energy into a building that had become infamous for its dullness.
Said center Daniel Kilgore, one of the few 49ers who has played in Candlestick Park: “I would say Levi’s today – it had a Candlestick feel to it, for sure. The Faithful was loud, they were getting into on third down. … I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it now.”