49ers

Garoppolo, 49ers light up stingy Jags like a Christmas tree, hold on for win

Garoppolo, 49ers light up stingy Jags like a Christmas tree, hold on for win

BOX SCORE

SANTA CLARA – The new-and-improved 49ers had their biggest test on Sunday.

But not even the Jacksonville Jaguars’ top-ranked defense could slow down Jimmy Garoppolo and his energized teammates.

The 49ers stretched their win streak to four games – their longest sustained success since the 2013 season – with a 44-33 victory over the AFC South champions in their home finale at Levi’s Stadium.

The Jaguars entered the game allowing just 168.9 yards passing per game. But Garoppolo took advantage of Kyle Shanahan’s masterful game plan to complete 21 of 30 pass attempts for 242 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 102.4.

Providing even more optimism for the future, the 49ers (5-10) got huge contributions from a number of rookies while sending the Jaguars (10-5) to just their second loss in the past nine games.

Undrafted rookie running back Matt Breida put the game out of reach with a 30-yard touchdown run with 1:24 left after the Jaguars clawed back into the game. Breida gained 74 yards on 11 rushing attempts.

Tight end George Kittle and slot receiver Trent Taylor caught touchdown passes. Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas were among the 49ers’ top tacklers, and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon helped put the game away with a fourth-quarter interception.

Running back Carlos Hyde helped the 49ers cash in after Witherspoon’s second interception to score on a 6-yard turn for a 37-19 lead in the fourth quarter.

Garoppolo showed a little bit of everything in the 49ers’ home finale, including a 1-yard touchdown run to give San Francisco an early lead. The 49ers squandered a 16-point lead and briefly fell behind in the third quarter before rallying for the victory.

Garoppolo threw sidearm just before Jacksonville cornerback Aaron Colvin got to him. He squeezed the pass into Taylor for a 5-yard touchdown pass to give the 49ers a 30-19 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Making his fourth start since the trade that brought him to the 49ers from the New England Patriots, Garoppolo got off to a hot start. But his first half ended on a sour note. His interception in the end zone provided a big play to enable the Jaguars to get back into the game.

Garoppolo’s pass intended for Kendrick Bourne fluttered as he was hit by Jaguars pass-rushers Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. Safety Barry Church made the interception in the end zone.

The Jaguars cashed in to score just before the end of the half, as Blake Bortles’ pass intended for Leonard Fournette was deflected into the hands of receiver Jaelen Strong for a 5-yard touchdown.

The 49ers squandered their lead at the beginning of the second half, but came back after K’Waun Williams’ one-handed interception and 27-yard return set up the offense at the Jacksonville 26-yard line.

Five plays later, Garoppolo squeezed a pass into Kittle at the goal line between two Jaguars defenders for an 8-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 23-10 lead with 6:46 remaining in the third quarter.

Bortles, who entered the game as the hottest quarterback in the league during December, completed 32 of 50 passes for 382 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating was 75.6.

JOHNSON’S UP-AND-DOWN DAY
Cornerback Dontae Johnson provided a big play in the first half with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown. The play looked as if it would give the 49ers a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.

But Robbie Gould’s extra-point attempt was blocked, and Aaron Colvin returned it for two points going the other way. The turn of events meant the 49ers carried a 16-2 lead after the play.

Then, things went south for Johnson, was called for pass interference (23 yards) and illegal use of hands (5 yards) during a three-play stretch. Johnson was also in coverage on a 19-yard pass to Dede Westbrook at the 1-yard line to set up the Jaguars’ first touchdown of the game.

When the 49ers’ defense went back onto the field later in the first half, newcomer Tyvis Powell replaced Johnson at right cornerback. Johnson has been called for a team-worst 12 penalties this season, not including three penalties against him that were declined.

Johnson returned to the field after sitting out a couple of possessions.

TWO-WAY PLAYER
Before starting nose tackle Earl Mitchell played a down of defense, he trotted onto the field with the 49ers’ offense.

The 49ers deployed Mitchell, a 310-pounder, in the backfield for a first-and-goal play at the Jacksonville 1-yard line. Garoppolo got a nice shove in the back from Mitchell on a quarterback sneak for a touchdown.

Garoppolo’s 1-yard run – with assistance from Mitchell – was the culmination of the 49ers’ first touchdown on an opening drive this season.

THIS ‘N’ THAT
--Defensive lineman Aaron Lynch was inactive for the game after being among the 46 players to suit up the previous two games. Ronald Blair replaced him on the team’s game-day roster. Lynch is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season.

--Fullback Kyle Juszczyk recorded a career-high with 76 yards receiving on five catches. He previous best came two weeks ago when he had 64 yards against the Houston Texans.

--Linebacker Elijah Lee had a fumble return for a touchdown wiped out when it was ruled Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon did not catch Bortles’ short pass in the fourth quarter. The play was ruled incomplete, and referee Jeff Triplette announced the ruling stood after Shanahan’s challenge.

--Fournette rushed for 48 yards on 18 attempts. The Jaguars had just 81 rushing yards. It was the fifth consecutive game the 49ers have held the opposition under 100 yards rushing.

--The Jaguars got back into the game with a recovered onside kick. Bortles found James O’Shaughnessy for an 11-yard touchdown with 1:50 remaining in regulation. Josh Lambo missed the extra point.

Chris Simms wouldn't be shocked if 49ers faced Patriots in Super Bowl

Chris Simms wouldn't be shocked if 49ers faced Patriots in Super Bowl

If you're looking for someone to slow down the 49ers' hype train, sorry, NBC Sports' Chris Simms isn't here to help.

Actually, it's quite the opposite.

Simms wants you to know San Francisco's 5-0 record doesn't lack substance, and he expects the 49ers to continue progressing to the highest levels this season.

Are they legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

"Yes they are," Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday. "They're not going anywhere."

"They are arguably the best team in football," Simms continued. "Okay, yeah, I'll give the Patriots the advantage right now because they're the Patriots and we've seen them do it, but when I look at the San Francisco 49ers, I look at -- it's a first-round bye. Is it a one-seed, or is it going to be a two-seed? That's how good the San Francisco 49ers are."

Simms has been impressed by San Francisco's depth and balance, particularly within the offensive and defensive lines.

"It starts up front," Simms explained, "and the 49ers -- yes, Mike McGlinchey's out ... and I know Joe Staley's out, and that hurts, and we might not see him the rest of the year -- but when McGlinchey is back in the fold, this is still one of the best offensive lines in football. Let alone, [Kyle] Shanahan is one of the best game plan designers in football with the run game, the play-action. And the defense ain't going anywhere.

[RELATED: Staley, Witherspoon closest to return among injured 49ers]

"They might be battling it out with the Patriots for the best defense in the sport," he elaborated. "It's the best front four in the sport I think right now, as far as size, physicality, ferociousness, their speed at the linebacker positions. I like Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt at safety. The corners are good, they're coached well."

Put it all together, and Simms believes the 49ers have the potential to play into February.

"The 49ers are for real, and I would not be shocked if we were down in Miami watching New England and San Francisco in the Super Bowl."

Hype train, full speed ahead.

Jalen Ramsey-Aaron Donald best NFL duo? Marcell Harris says this isn't NBA

Jalen Ramsey-Aaron Donald best NFL duo? Marcell Harris says this isn't NBA

The 49ers' much-improved defense has plenty of star power, but so do their rivals in Los Angeles after a blockbuster trade Tuesday. 

The Rams traded a trio of draft picks -- two first-rounders and one fourth-rounder -- to the Jacksonville Jaguars for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, giving LA two of the NFL best players at their respective positions when you remember that defensive tackle defensive lineman force of nature Aaron Donald also plies his trade in Tinseltown. 

It'd be difficult to find a pair of players on the same defense better than Ramsey and Donald, ESPN's "SportsCenter" account posed the question on Twitter if there is a better duo of defensive cornerstones around the NFL. The problem, according to 49ers safety Marcell Harris? There are nine other players on a defense. 

Harris has a point. Star power can only get you so far in the NFL -- even at historically important positions like quarterback or edge rusher -- because of the league's commitment to parity above all else. When it comes to the NBA, a team with the two best players on the court wins in the regular season and playoffs more often than not. 

[RELATED: Shanahan busts out jokes leading into 49ers vs. Washington]

While this is not necessarily Harris' gripe, the 49ers have a strong case to have a duo under consideration. Whether pairing defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and edge rusher Nick Bosa or swapping out one for one of linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner, San Francisco has a few cornerstones in its front seven. It's that group that made the Ramsey trade a head-scratcher to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, who argued that the Rams' offensive line should have been a bigger concern than their secondary considering the 49ers' success in Week 6.

Still, Ramsey and Donald are as good as what they do as just about anyone else in the NFL. The 49ers will get their first look at them in the same defense in Week 16 at Levi's Stadium, and they'll see firsthand whether the duo's dominance lifts the rest of the Rams defense.