The 49ers finished Thursday with a disastrous 20-17 loss to the Titans. Unlike some previous embarrassing losses this season where San Francisco was dominated, this followed a different (but still familiar) script. The Niners had a chance to blow things open early, but missed opportunities piled up and proved too substantial to overcome. Despite outplaying Tennessee for most of the game, the Titans capitalized more often at the most critical moments and came away with the win.
Here’s how each position group contributed to the team’s performance:
Things were looking good for Jimmy Garoppolo on the 49ers’ first drive, but things quickly fell apart. The Niners drove deep into Titans territory and squandered an opportunity at points when Garoppolo threw an interception in the endzone. The 49ers were forced to settle for a field goal on the next drive when Garoppolo missed a wide-open Kyle Juszczyk that could have resulted in a touchdown.
Then, on the 49ers' first drive of the second half, after the Titans made it a one-possession game with a field goal, Garoppolo turned it over again, this time deep in 49ers’ territory. He gave Tennessee the ball inside the red zone, and they quickly tied the game with a touchdown.
Garoppolo was solid on a late-game-tying drive that nearly pushed things to overtime. However, it far from made up for all the opportunities Garoppolo had missed.
Running backs: B
The 49ers’ offensive line did not do a lot of favors for San Francisco’s runners, but Jeff Wilson Jr. did a decent job of driving through contact. He finished with 45 rushing yards on 14 carries and frankly seemed capable of handling a heavier workload than he received.
The other Niners running backs were more involved than usual as receivers. Juszczyk caught three passes for 45 yards and would have had a long touchdown if not for an inaccurate throw from Garoppolo. Even JaMycal Hasty hauled in all three of his targets for 26 receiving yards.
Tight ends: C-
George Kittle finished with just two catches for 21 receiving yards, easily his worst output in four weeks. In addition, the Titans double-covered Kittle quite a bit, preventing him from making the impact fans have become accustomed to. Kittle has found a way to overcome that before, but he never got on the same page with Garoppolo on Thursday.
Wide receivers: A
Deebo Samuel carries this grade. He caught nine of his 11 targets for 159 receiving yards and ran for an additional 34 yards on five carries. He only further solidified his case for Offensive Player of the Year. Whether it’s turning what looks like a sure negative into a three-yard run or taking a screen 56-yards downfield, Samuel makes plays in all facets of the game.
Brandon Aiyuk caught four of his five targets for 40 receiving yards and a touchdown, but his one incomplete target stands out. On 4th-and-6 from inside Titans territory, Aiyuk slowed his route across the field, attempting to sit in a hole in Tennessee’s coverage while Garoppolo through the pass as if he would continue his route. Had Aiyuk kept his stride, he probably would pick up the first down. But, instead, the pass bounced off his hand for an incompletion.
It was another mixed day for Jauan Jennings, who caught two passes for 19 yards, but recorded another drop and had the worst catch-to-targets ratio on the team (2:5).
Offensive line: B-
In a rare switch from their usual trend this season, the 49ers offensive line fared far better in pass-blocking than run-blocking. The 49ers allowed a few pressures, but Garoppolo was only sacked twice, and one came after Jimmy G had ample time to get rid of the ball. However, their usual ability to dominate the line of scrimmage was absent. Of Wilson’s 45 rushing yards, 37 came after contact.
Defensive line: B
There was a lot of focus on the Titans depleted offensive line heading into Thursday’s game, but perhaps not enough emphasis on the short week. Pass rushing is one of the most exhausting roles on a team, which is why the Niners have emphasized rotating linemen consistently. Unfortunately, on a shortened week, San Francisco seemed unable to live up to expectations.
The 49ers still recorded four sacks, generated solid pressure on Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and kept Tennessee’s run game bottled up. However, with A.J. Brown and Julio Jones on the outside, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans could have used an even more dominant performance.
Fred Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair each had solid games, combining for 12 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and a tackle for loss, but they both had lapses in coverage and some costly missed tackles.
Some might say this grade is too high, and it’s hard to disagree, but A.J. Brown is one of the best receivers in the NFL. While Brown racked up 11 receptions for 145 receiving yards, all other receivers on Tennessee combined for just four receptions for 48 yards. Brown could have had an even better day had rookie Ambry Thomas not recorded a pair of impressive pass breakups, flashing an improved physicality over his play last week.
Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt were flying all over the field on Thursday. Ward was exceptional in pass coverage while Tartt made several open-field tackles around and behind the line of scrimmage. The 49ers can get away with so much defensively because of how competent Ward and Tartt are in their last line of defense.
Special teams: C
Mitch Wishnowsky shanked another punt, and the Niners kickoff coverage team allowed another return to reach the 39. However, Robbie Gould made all his kicks (although he admittedly cut it a lot closer than most fans probably liked), Brandon Aiyuk had a solid 12-yard return, and a late-game Wishnowsky punt pinned the Titans at their own two. The 49ers’ special teams continue to be far from perfect, but their performance on Thursday was more passable than their recent catastrophes.