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Winners and losers from 49ers/Titans: The Niners are who we thought they were

We didn’t learn anything new on Thursday night

San Francisco 49ers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Don’t let a 49er loss ruin your holiday. San Francisco couldn’t put away a playoff team in the first half and paid for it in the second half. The “winners” were outshined by the “losers” because the poor performances were too great to overcome.

Here are the winners and losers from Thursday night’s loss.

Winner - Deebo Samuel

Samuel had at least three touches where it seemed as though he would be tackled for a loss, but since he’s so slippery, each play ended with a positive gain.

Deebo’s ability to reach top speed in a few steps will always impress me. Against the Titans, he showed once again why he’s one of the most valuable players in the NFL. Explosive plays are the name of the game, and Samuel has made a habit of gaining more than 20 yards.

When the 49ers needed him the most, Samuel outran the defense for 56 yards and put the team in a position to tie. Samuel finished with 159 yards on 11 targets with nine receptions and added 32 rushing yards on five carries. Deebo didn’t score, but he was responsible for seven first downs. He’s incredible.

The safety duo

Jaquiski Tartt continued his high-end play, as did Jimmie Ward. Tartt led the team in tackles with six, including one for a loss. Ward added three tackles, as well as two pass breakups. If you recall the third-down target Ward allowed on an out route, it looked like that could have been a push-off from the wide receiver.

Trick plays and throws down the field have hurt the 49ers, and it did it in this game. But not on an A.J. Brown double-pass that Ward didn’t fall for and had a near diving interception.

Tartt continues to play with confidence, be rock-solid in coverage, and make plays near the line of scrimmage. The 49ers safety duo is a strong tandem. I fear the organization letting Tartt walk this offseason and missing him dearly next year.

The defensive line

It may not seem like it, but the defensive line played as expected. They were a notch below dominant. And based on the first couple of series, the Titans were in for a long night. If I were to tell you that the 49ers finished with four sacks, nine tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits, you would have thought they won.

The defensive line put pressure on Ryan Tannehill all night. Unfortunately, Tannehill made plays. He was outstanding under pressure. Yes, the 49ers didn’t consistently have tight coverage. But Tannehill made plays in the face of pressure. The 49ers bet on Tannehill beating them, and he did.

Losers - Third down defense

Tannehill went 6-for-8 for 55 yards and a touchdown against the blitz. He was over-reliant on A.J. Brown. Why wouldn’t you be? Tannehill was tough in the pocket and kept his eyes down the field while rushers were in his face. He made the 49ers wrong. There’s no other way to slice it.

The 49ers' defense allowing the Titans to convert 9 of 16 third downs with Brown playing in his first game in a month when Julio Jones is a shell of himself is a shame. Everyone in the building knew the ball was going to Brown except for the 49ers cornerbacks.

Jumping offside on 3rd & 23 shows a lack of discipline. And allowing a 40+ yard free play when the Titans were going to give up on the drive is summed up how third downs went in the second half.

If DeMeco Ryans is going to blitz, the cornerbacks have to understand the ball is coming out quickly. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, which is why you saw Brown catch underneath route after underneath route for first downs.

This is the bed the 49ers made by neglecting to invest highly in a cornerback last offseason. Josh Norman or Ambry Thomas shouldn’t be starting on a playoff contender. Not yet for Thomas, anyway. Going all-in on a cornerback during the offseason should be the top priority for San Francisco.

Jimmy Garoppolo

It’s scary how true the line “this team will only go as far as Jimmy takes them” is. Trey Lance isn’t going to be your new starter. But, we can end that discussion before it starts. It’s Week 16. The 49ers are in too deep at this point with Garoppolo, for better or worse.

There are still highlights, like Jimmy’s quick-release that helps him get throws off as he did last week with bodies in his face, or knowing that you’re in good hands if you’re down late in the game because that’s when Garoppolo operates at his best.

The hard truth is that Jimmy, against a defense that can hold its own, is going to throw the ball to them at some point during the game. The only part we’re unsure of is whether or not the defender would catch the ball.

Garoppolo could have easily had three interceptions Thursday night. His most egregious miss came when he had Kyle Juszczyk running open down the sideline for a touchdown that would’ve put the 49ers up two scores. Failing to throw the ball away and taking sacks didn’t help, either.

This version of Jimmy has reared its ugly head too often this season, which is why the Niners have been fighting to stay above .500. They’re one of the most talented teams in the NFL but not talented enough to overcome multiple turnovers from their quarterback.

Cornerbacks

Thursday night felt like a preview of the playoffs. The quarterbacks in the NFC excel against man coverage and the blitz. They process faster than a computer chip and know where they have the matchup advantage. What does Ryans do on 3rd down? He blitzes and plays man coverage.

We learned the value of bringing down the quarterback against the Titans. Pressure is great, but quarterbacks with mobility and experience aren’t phased. Then, throw in the potential receivers the 49ers might see in the playoffs: Ceedee Lamb, DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Mike Evans, Cooper Kupp.

The Niners jumped offside on 3rd & 23. In no way should that result in Thomas failing to break up a 40-yard pass. That’s inexcusable. I have a better chance at seeing Santa come down the chimney tonight than Norman does against a No. 1 receiver at this stage in his career.

The most concerning part about Brown’s stellar performance was that he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. It felt like Brown ran two or three types of routes. Yet, the cornerbacks still didn’t have an answer for him.

Outlook

Fred Warner’s missed tackle toward the end of the game was a brutal open-field miss. He also gave up a few underneath throws in coverage, but that, in my mind, wasn’t enough to put him on the “loser” list.

Under the radar performances like Kentavius Street and his strip-sack, the offensive line pass protecting, Azeez Al-Shaair will go unnoticed because of the outcome.

The 49ers don’t need to hit the panic button. Ask yourself, what did we learn from the Titans game that we didn’t already know? The team doesn’t have a cornerback you can trust. The QB play flirts with subpar decision-making weekly, and they paid for it this week after escaping an interception against the Bengals. The offense is full of playmakers, and the defensive line is good enough to win you games but can’t do it all.

There’s no need to press the panic button because what we saw Thursday night is what we’ve seen all season.