Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers saved by late holding call in win over Lions

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers saved by late holding call in win over Lions

SANTA CLARA -- The collective gasp could be heard all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge on Sunday as Lions defensive back Tracy Walker stepped in front of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass in the flat with the 49ers leading by three and just 2:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. 

From up 17 points in the early fourth quarter, to almost certain defeat in a matter of moments.

In case you missed it, the story doesn’t end in crushing defeat for the 49ers, but in a 30-27 win. It turns out that somewhere in the middle of the field, Lions safety Quandre Diggs was holding on to 49ers tight end George Kittle. 

The savior of San Francisco was not one play or one person: It was a tiny weighted yellow flag sitting in the middle of a sea of finely groomed grass. 

“Very happy, yeah. I didn’t see what happened with the flag and everything, but, yeah, very happy,” Garoppolo said at his postgame scrum.

Garoppolo hadn’t seen the holding call that completely changed the trajectory of the game. He was too busy chasing down Walker, who made it all the way to the 49ers' 7-yard line before the quarterback could drag him down.

“A win is a win,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I’m extremely excited about that and we’re all happy, but it was extremely frustrating there at the end. I thought we had a chance to completely finish them and put it away, especially when the defense got us that ball back.”

It’s clear that the 49ers still are learning how to win. They came out of halftime the aggressor, built a big lead and then lost their momentum late. It’s a classic sign of a team that hasn’t been together long and has young players in crucial positions. If anything, Sunday’s near-loss is another learning experience for a team that comes into the season with high expectations.

Garoppolo finished the game 18-of-26 passing for 206 yards and two touchdowns. After throwing three interceptions in the opener, he barely escaped with a clean sheet against Detroit. 

It wasn’t a perfect game for Tom Brady's former understudy. Garoppolo was sacked six times on the afternoon, including multiple times in the red zone. It appeared that Garoppolo held the ball too long on at least a couple of those sacks, which he took the blame for afterward.

“I’ve got to help the O-line out,” Garoppolo said of his performance. “I thought those guys were battling today. They handled their games well up front and picked up the blitzes. It’s a mix-and-match thing. They help me, so I have to help them.” 

Garoppolo was sacked three times in the opener last week. Shanahan pointed to multiple reasons for the increase in sacks in Week 2, but he also acknowledged that the ball needs to come out of the backfield quicker.

“I thought we could have done a better job today beating man coverage, but on a number of those, I thought we had to get rid of it,” Shanahan said. “I’ll see when I see the tape on all of them, but those ones in the red zone, especially, you’d like to give a guy an opportunity, and if he doesn’t beat man, we’ve got to get rid of the ball.”

It’s a work in progress in San Francisco. Losing starting wide receiver Marquise Goodwin to injury doesn’t help matters either. Garoppolo is balancing risking mistakes, like the ones that cost the team dearly in Week 1, with playing too conservatively and taking hits. 

49ers' offense remains calm on game-winning drive vs. Saints

49ers' offense remains calm on game-winning drive vs. Saints

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans Saints offense left too much time on the clock for 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle on Sunday.

The 49ers’ defense, which has been dominant this season, could not protect the team’s lead late in the game. New Orleans marched 76 yards on seven plays to take the lead on Brees’ 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith.

But the 49ers still had 53 seconds to respond. And it turned out to be more than enough.

The offense came up big, setting the stage for Robbie Gould’s 30-yard field goal as time expired for a 48-46 victory over the Saints at the Superdome.

“It wasn’t anything different than usual,” Garoppolo said. “I thought everybody was calm on the sideline. We were all in a good state of mind. We went out there and executed. That’s really what it comes down to in those situations -- execution.”

A week earlier, the 49ers failed on a fourth-and-1 pass play in the late stages of their 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Again, the 49ers faced a critical fourth-down play with less than a minute remaining with the Saints leading by one point.

“Coach Shanahan said as an offense we feel like we lost the game last week,” Kittle said. “Fourth-and-1, we just couldn’t get it done. We have to learn to not put our defense in those positions. I think we did that today.

“It came down to us having to win the game, and I’m just happy we could get it done.”

Faced with a fourth-and-2 situation from their own 33, the 49ers had to use a timeout to set up the play because of difficulty dealing with the crowd noise.

“The guys kept battling,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We had to call a timeout right before. It was hard to hear the right play calls in the huddle just because they couldn’t hear through the microphone. I had to use a timeout there, and it quieted down so we could call that. It ended up being worth it because Kittle made a hell of a route, broke that tackle and taking it down the sideline.”

Garoppolo hit Kittle on a pass play for the first down when he got open with an outbreaking route against rookie C.J. Gardner-Johnson. After Kittle slipped through Gardner-Johnson’s tackle attempt, Kittle set his sights on safety Marcus Williams.

“Once he caught it and turned upfield and squared the guy up, I didn’t know what he was going to do, but I knew the guy was in a bad situation on the other side,” Garoppolo said. “George is a beast with the ball in his hands, so it’s just get him the ball in space, let him go to work.”

When it was over, Kittle had rumbled 39 yards while carrying Williams for the final 20 yards with him. Williams finally brought Kittle down with the use of his facemask to add another 15 yards onto the play to set up Gould’s short field-goal attempt.

“George is a beast,” 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “It took them to almost rip his neck off for them to bring him down. He’s the best in the world.”

[RELATED: Kittle fulfills promise to Yorks with 49ers' win in NOLA]

Veteran tackle Joe Staley said the game reminded him of the playoff matchup against the Saints at Candlestick Park in January 2012. There were four lead changes in the final four minutes of that game. The 49ers took over trailing with 97 seconds remaining and pulled off the 36-32 victory on Alex Smith’s last-second touchdown pass to Vernon Davis.

“It was kind of eerie how they scored late and we still had that time to come down and get some points,” Staley said. “We were fortunate we had enough time left on the clock. And we were able to execute ... and we got George Kittle.”

49ers' Tarvarius Moore knew about pass interference rule on fake punt

49ers' Tarvarius Moore knew about pass interference rule on fake punt

The Saints, their coach and their fans were quite upset at a controversial moment in Sunday's loss to the 49ers, and really, who could blame them? After the way the NFC Championship game ended last year, it's going to take decades for those feelings of being cheated to wear off.

This time, though, their complaints didn't hold any water.

Late in the third quarter, New Orleans opted for a fake punt, as swiss-army knife Taysom Hill took the snap before launching a long pass down the right sideline intended for receiver Tre'Quan Smith. Smith, however, was absolutely blanketed by 49ers defensive back Tarvarius Moore, and the pass fell incomplete. No penalty flag was thrown, as boos rained down from Mercedez-Benz Superdome. Saints coach Sean Payton vehemently protested what he viewed as a blown call to the officials, but in fact, he was in the wrong, and the officials ruled correctly.

Per NFL rules, there is no such thing as pass interference in that situation.

"This is absolutely the correct ruling," Fox Sports rules analyst Dean Blandino explained on the telecast. "When you're in a punt formation and you attempt a fake, you can't have pass interference on the widest man on either side of the formation."

Unlike the vast majority of New Orleans, apparently, Moore knew the correct rule, and took advantage of it.

If that particular rule didn't exist, teams could just run fake punts every single time and be basically guaranteed of extending their drive. The defenders blocking the outside gunners on punt coverage have no way of seeing the developing play behind them, and thus are at too great of a disadvantage for that rule not to be in place.

Cameras later appeared to catch Payton calling for a holding penalty, rather than pass interference. Holding is possible on a punt play, so the officials could have called that, but they didn't, and it's not a reviewable penalty.

[RELATED: Shanahan used Saints' own play against them in 49ers' win]

And really, if the Saints still want to act like they got screwed because of a missed holding penalty, they aren't going to get much sympathy, considering that happens on just about every play during an NFL game.

You don't necessarily have to agree with the rules, but you do have to play by them. Obviously, it helps to know what they are.