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2021 NFL season, Week 16: What we learned from Titans' win over 49ers on Thursday night

Tennessee Titans
2021 · 10-5-0
San Francisco 49ers
2021 · 8-7-0


  1. Playoff picture clearing up. Entering the game, San Francisco was looking to continue some nice momentum having won two in a row, and the Titans were desperately searching for some. Trends reversed. Tennessee shook loose from some dismal play of late to take stronger command of the AFC South, finding just enough offense in the second half to engineer a comeback victory at home that now has it on the brink of a division crown. The Titans will take the AFC South if the Colts lose at Arizona on Saturday night. Meanwhile, the 49ers suffered a real backslide. They failed to take greater advantage of some dominant play in the first quarter, and over the course of the game, they made far too many mistakes to hold on. Now at 8-7, San Francisco gets a 10-day regroup before facing the struggling Houston Texans, followed by a tough date with the Los Angeles Rams that could easily be a make-or-break game where the playoffs are concerned. Blowing a 10-0 lead and letting the Titans get away sucked a lot of air out of the Niners’ postseason sails.
  2. The box score tells a bit of a lie where Jimmy Garoppolo’s 26-for-35, 322-yard passing night is concerned. That’s a completion rate of 74.3%, but too many of his nine incompletions came at a real cost. Garoppolo threw two ugly interceptions that were nobody’s fault but his, one in each half. He also threw a ball right into the hands of Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans, who dropped the prize, and overthrew fullback Kyle Juszczyk on what should’ve been an easy touchdown pass in the first half. Throw in an errant incompletion on a fourth-down pass, and Garoppolo just wasn’t sharp, especially in clutch moments. He entered with the NFL’s longest active streak of passer ratings of 90 or better (eight games). That was snapped (88 rating).
  3. Welcome back, A.J. Brown. The Titans have desperately needed injured playmakers to return, and Brown came off injured reserve just in time to torch the 49ers on Thursday and lead a second-half charge. It took some time to get him rolling; at the half, Titans QB Ryan Tannehill had all of 40 passing yards and Brown had pulled in just 24 of them. After the break, it was a completely different story. He beat Ambry Thomas for a 42-yard deep ball in the second half, and a few plays later, pulled in a touchdown pass from Tannehill that gave the Titans their first lead of the game. By game’s end, he’d recorded career highs of 16 targets and 11 catches (145 yards) and pretty much was the Titans’ entire offense in an inspiring comeback victory. 
  4. Two costly second-half penalties will haunt the tape review in the 49ers’ offensive line room this weekend. They killed back-to-back drives at critical junctures. Standout left tackle Trent Williams was flagged for a false start on a fourth-and-1 on Tennessee’s half of the field, and Garoppolo threw an errant pass on fourth-and-6 for a turnover on downs. With Tennessee seizing momentum by the minute, San Francisco’s next drive was snuffed out largely due to a holding call on center Alex Mack, which set up a first-and-20 that the 49ers could not convert into another first down. These were hugely disappointing miscues for a line that otherwise had some bright moments. For the game, the Niners had just five penalties for 41 yards, but they were stung badly by the wrong flags at the wrong time.
  5. Mismatch missed. 49ers star defensive end Nick Bosa opened the game lined up over third-string tackle Dillon Radunz, who was pressed into starting duty with Taylor Lewan and Kendall Lamm both unavailable. He overwhelmed Radunz on the Titans’ first play to swallow a screen pass for a loss of eight. It looked early on as though San Francisco defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans would expose the mismatch throughout the game. Instead, Bosa spent most of his snaps working against right tackle David Quessenberry, who, with occasional chip help and notwithstanding a holding penalty, did a nice job on the 49ers’ top defender. Bosa’s streak of six straight games with a sack was snapped. Over the second half of the season, Bosa has been playing more over right tackles than left, but still, it was a curious decision not to take greater advantage of the short-handed left side of the Titans line (guard Roger Saffold was out, as well) with Bosa. 

Next Gen stat of the night: Tannehill completed six of eight passes for 55 yards and a touchdown against the blitz. 

NFL Research: 49ers WR Deebo Samuel had a huge night (nine catches for 159 yards), but his streak of rushing touchdowns in five consecutive games, the longest by a wide receiver in NFL history, was snapped.

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