Patriots

Jimmy Garoppolo leads 49ers to third straight win

49ers_jimmy_garoppolo_121717.jpg

Jimmy Garoppolo leads 49ers to third straight win

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As his ecstatic teammates rushed Robbie Gould to celebrate the kicker's game-winning field goal, Jimmy Garoppolo slowly walked the other way despite his own spectacular first home start and pulling off a wild December win against a playoff contender.

He shared a quick hug near the sideline with Marquise Goodwin, who had quite a day of his own after losing his father last week.

Garoppolo led one final scoring drive in the closing seconds to cap a fantastic first full game at Levi's Stadium, Gould kicked a 45-yard field goal as time expired, and the San Francisco 49ers topped the Tennessee Titans 25-23 on Sunday.

"We're a young team, we're learning how to win," Garoppolo said. "I think these close games will pay off in the long run, I think for next year and everything."

Garoppolo threw for a career-high 381 yards and a touchdown during a dominant day to give the 49ers (4-10) a three-game winning streak in a lost season - and three straight comeback victories. And Tom Brady's former understudy showed he could do it at home as well as on the road - and against a playoff contender, no less - outdueling Marcus Mariota down the stretch as the teams traded field goals.

Gould kicked three of his six field goals over the final nine minutes: 50, 48 and 45 yards and has now gone 20 consecutive without a miss.

He put the Niners out front on a 48-yarder with 3:08 remaining. Mariota then drove the Titans (8-6) to a lead as Ryan Succop kicked a 50-yard field goal with 1:07 to play.

Then, Garoppolo and the San Francisco offense got one last shot.

It took three tries this season, and first-year coach Kyle Shanahan finally found his reliable, playmaking quarterback after acquiring Garoppolo from New England at the October trade deadline.

"He's been just as good as advertised, if not better," Shanahan said.

Garoppolo showed that in 67 seconds - the same amount of time he had left Sunday - when forced into late action in a loss to Seattle three weeks ago at Levi's Stadium, then in back-to-back road games before shining again.

"I think the 49ers got a quarterback," Titans safety Kevin Byard said.

Goodwin, who already dealt with the death of his premature son last month, made 10 catches for 114 yards and Garoppolo completed 31 of 43 passes to go over 300 yards passing for the second straight game after last week's win at Houston.

Mariota put Tennessee ahead on an 8-yard touchdown pass to Rishard Matthews early in the fourth as the Titans rallied back from an early 13-point deficit.

The 49ers were in good position the ensuing possession before Garoppolo was sacked by Wesley Woodyard for a 10-yard loss. Then, Gould converted a 50-yarder.

Tennessee came out of intermission a new team, totaling 22 offensive plays to San Francisco's five in the third quarter.

Garoppolo became the first 49ers quarterback since the merger in 1970 to win each of his first three starts and just the second QB to do so in franchise history. Y.A. Tittle did so spanning the 1951-52 seasons.

He threw a 5-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to tight end Garrett Celek - whose great play in recent weeks has earned the nickname of "Celek Time." Celek later had a 41-yard catch.

"Yeah, Celek Time. That guy, he always finds a way," Garoppolo said.

Garoppolo didn't even have Trent Brown to block for him after the right tackle went on injured reserve with a right shoulder injury that will require surgery. Mariota threw a 4-yard TD pass to former 49er Delanie Walker late in the first half to keep the Titans close.

Garoppolo was 5 of 6 passing on his opening possession as San Francisco mixed its play calls well to catch the stingy Titans defense off guard. Gould's 38-yarder capped the 12-play, 64-yard initial drive. Gould hit a 48-yarder late in the first and then kicked one from 28 yards just before halftime.

The Titans dropped back-to-back road games against the NFC West after losing last week to the Cardinals and staying in Arizona for the week of practice. It could affect their playoff chances.

Their first visit to Levi's Stadium - Tennessee last played the Niners on the road at Candlestick in November 2009 - began slowly, the team's second straight week playing a stadium for the initial time.

Mariota, in the midst of one of the worst stretches of his three-year career, threw for 241 yards while completing 23 of 33 passes.

DEFENSIVE FLOP

Tennessee's typically tough defense was a far cry from that dominant unit in the first half.

Garoppolo threw for 189 yards and the Niners outgained the Titans 219-136 in the first half. The 49ers didn't punt until more than midway through the third quarter.

Last week, the Titans allowed only four field goals, the second time this season they'd done so.

INJURIES

Titans: CB Logan Ryan sustained an ankle injury in the second quarter.

49ers: WR Aldrick Robinson suffered a concussion in the first quarter. He went to the locker room with head and wrist injuries after he was hit hard by Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson along the Tennessee sideline. Robinson was stretching out trying to make a catch when he got slammed and went down for several minutes with 5:24 to go in the opening quarter.

UP NEXT

Titans: Host Rams next Sunday and home the final two weeks.

49ers: Host Jaguars next Sunday.

McCourty reiterates Patriots players knew Butler wouldn't start in Super Bowl

butler.jpg
AP Photo

McCourty reiterates Patriots players knew Butler wouldn't start in Super Bowl

Devin McCourty said immediately after Super Bowl LII that players knew Malcolm Butler's role had changed. Two weeks later, that story hasn't changed.

After falling to the Eagles, 41-33, and while making his way from his media availability period to the Patriots buses, McCourty said he and his teammates weren't surprised that Butler's workload had been scaled back for the final game of the season. 

His explanation made it difficult to understand, though, why other players were so surprised to see that Butler wasn't a part of the defensive game plan. The corner who started in Butler's place, Eric Rowe, said he didn't know until right before kickoff that he'd be on the field instead of Butler. 

MORE ON CORNERBACKS

McCourty reiterated his point when asked about the situation during a recent event to benefit Tackle Sickle Cell, founded by McCourty and his twin brother Jason to help families dealing with sickle cell disease.

"As far as I know, all of that is the furthest thing from the truth," McCourty told NJ Advance Media when asked if Butler's benching was disciplinary in nature. "We all knew he wasn't starting all week. That wasn't a secret to the guys on the team.

"I get why people are fishing. The guy played 98 percent of the plays. I just hate that for him character-wise going into free agency. It's just not true. As far as I know -- and I was there all week -- not one time did anything come up."

MORE PATRIOTS

Butler took to social media in the days following the loss to dispel any rumors that he was being punished by Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff. He pointed out that he had not attended any concerts during the week, as had been theorized online, and that he spent his free time with family. 

"It sucked for him," McCourty said. "He put a lot of time and effort in. However it falls, the last thing you want to do is not play a snap. To me, the worst part was to see all that (anonymous) stuff come out after."

McCourty called Butler a "great teammte" and appreciated the way Butler grew as a player during his four years in New England. 

"It's been great to watch him develop," McCourty said of Butler. "To watch him, maybe, be late one day his rookie year, and say, 'Hey Malc, you can't do that.' And then becoming a guy you can count on who is very dependable.

"If he decides it's hard to come back after that, anywhere he goes, the guy is a great football player and probably one of the most competitive people I've been around. With all my guys, we're teammates and friends for life."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at the position group that received more attention than any other during Super Bowl 52: Cornerback. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


No single position group experienced as many dips, climbs and dives as Patriots corners did during their rollercoaster season. In September alone, the communication was a mess, Malcolm Butler got benched, Stephon Gilmore got benched, and Eric Rowe suffered a serious groin injury that allowed Gilmore to quickly get his job back. Second-year special teams standout Jonathan Jones might've been the team's best cover man at that juncture. Then, as soon as Gilmore started to find his footing, he was diagnosed with a concussion. The group started to put it together in the second half with solid performances against the Raiders in Mexico City and the Bills in Buffalo. Gilmore was particularly strong as the season wore on, showing the man-to-man cover skills and the knack for getting his hands on footballs that made him one of the highest-paid players at his position last offseason. But in the end, in the Super Bowl, with Butler benched again, the group (outside of Gilmore, who played well against Philly) had too many letdowns in what was arguably the team's worst defensive performance of the season.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Gilmore, Rowe, Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz

WHO ISN'T?
Butler, Johnson Bademosi

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?

The Patriots played Rowe in prominent roles in each of the past two Super Bowls and he seems to be first in line to take over No. 2 duties with Butler certainly headed on to a new chapter in his career. Jonathan Jones showed in spurts that he could be an effective slot corner, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the Divisional Round and it's unclear what the Patriots will be expecting from him in 2018. Cyrus Jones is coming off of a torn ACL, and even before his injury, it looked like he may have a hard time cracking the regular rotation. This is one position -  like tackle  - that the Patriots don't want to be left thin. If we had to rank it, the need for another capable body would probably come in at about a 7 out of 10. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There are a handful of relatively big names who will be on the market come March, including Butler. Trumaine Johnson of the Rams figures to be at the top of the class. Vontae Davis of the Colts is 29 and often injured, but in a corner-needy league, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a team. EJ Gains of the Bills could leverage his inside-out versatility to come away with a deal worth almost $10 million per year. Aaron Colvin of the Jaguars, Patrick Robinson of the Eagles, Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams and Leonard Johnson of the Bills give teams in need of slot help some options. Kyle Fuller of the Bears and Morris Claiborne of the Jets are two former first-rounders who've had up-and-down careers but showed last season they have still value on the outside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?

It feels like the best athletes at the high school and college levels are getting smarter. Or their coaches are. Once again, there's a deep group of athletes peppering the incoming draft class at corner, which is, of course, one of the highest-paying positions in football. (Why so many top-tier athletes are still playing running back, on the other hand, is beyond me.) Alabama's hybrid star in the secondary Minkah Fitzpatrick will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Same goes for Ohio State's undersized burner Denzel Ward and Iowa's ball-hawking 6-foot-1 cover man Josh Jackson, in all likelihood. At the bottom of the first round, though, players like Auburn's Carlton Davis (who has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman because of his length and ball skills) and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver (a one-time Pac-12 decathlete with a 6-foot-1 frame) could be available. Would the Patriots want to invest a first-round pick at that spot? If they feel like they have good depth at the position already on the roster but want to take a flier on a mid-round selection, they could hope Louisville's Jaire Alexander (who dealt with injuries in 2017 that will probably hurt his draft stock) lasts into the third round. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


One name that's sort of intriguing on the free-agency market is Davis'. You've heard tales similar players ending up in New England before. He's spent the majority of his career without much of a shot at a title - though his Colts made the AFC Championship Game in the 2014 season. He should be low-cost. He had season-ending groin surgery last year, was released in November and went unclaimed. He'll be 30 before the start of next season, but he may be worth a roll of the dice to help a relatively young Patriots secondary. If he doesn't pan out, no harm done. Hard to envision Belichick and Nick Caserio investing big money into this position with Gilmore on the roster, but maybe they'll deem one of the free-agent slot options worth a shot if he's cost-effective. Otherwise, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a draft that seems - at least right now - as if it's deeper at corner than it is at some other spots on the defensive side of the ball, like on the edge.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE