The 49ers had a chance to walk away from Nissan Stadium with a convincing win over the Tennessee Titans Thursday night in Week 16 but ultimately too many mistakes cost them the game.
Losing to the Titans 20-17, the 49ers, at one point, looked as if they were set up to control the remainder of the game after a strong 10-0 lead in the first half. Two interceptions from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played an integral role in San Francisco's demise.
After the game, coach Kyle Shanahan didn't put all the blame solely on Garoppolo.
"Two turnovers cost you, but they're not all just on him," Shanahan told reporters. "That's on everybody out there."
The 49ers' first-half lead was modest, especially given how dominant the defense was against the Titans. Shanahan believes San Francisco could have carried a much bigger lead into halftime.
"I thought we should have been up more, that's for sure," Shanahan added. "I thought we could have gotten three scores with those drives. We didn't, we're still up 10-0. That opening third quarter I thought was rough, I thought our defense did great except for third down. They got a 3rd-and-15, 3rd-and-10 and a 3rd-and-7 all in that one drive that led to three (points) which kept them alive. We weren't good on third down and I think our first play in the third quarter on offense was a pick, which that was a real bad one, should not have thrown that. It was a bad play, nobody was open on the play, he just had to take it. I was glad that we tied it up there at the end but then they came back and finished it on the final drive."
In the second half, the 49ers' defense struggled to stop a surging Titans offense. They held strong against the run and handled their own on first and second downs, but were torn apart on third downs.
On a 3rd-and-23 play early in the fourth quarter, 49ers linebacker Samson Ebukam was called for a penalty mid-play which gave Tennessee a free play that resulted in a booming 42-yard reception from wide receiver AJ Brown. In a situation like that where it's third and very long, the 49ers could not afford to shoot themselves in the foot, given that they were just one play away from very likely forcing a punt.
"The ones that I saw live, for us to jump offsides and give them a free play on 3rd-and-20-something is just completely inexcusable," Shanahan said. "Then they just launched it up and the guy made a good play. It looked like the ones over the middle we were playing zone, looked like they chipped us and we just didn't get there fast enough. From what I saw it looked like the quarterback looked off for a while and then opening a zone up over the middle. It looked like we had three guys close to it, but the zone broke apart a little.
The 49ers' defense struggled to close out drives in the second half and surrendered way too many third-down completions, ultimately helping to fuel the fire that was Tennessee's resurgent second-half offense. After a dominant first half, San Francisco's defense was a shell of itself.
"All three phases weren't good enough but I thought they had a chance to have a special game, especially with how they played in the first half," Shanahan added. "I thought they were close to doing that in the second half but when you're like that on third down, first and second doesn't matter."
Even after a frustrating loss to the Titans, the 49ers (8-7) will hold on to the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race even if either the Minnesota Vikings (7-7) or Philadelphia Eagles (7-7) were to win their games Sunday afternoon.
In Week 17, the 49ers will host the lowly Houston Texans at Levi's Stadium, which should present San Francisco with the perfect get-right game before closing out the 2021 season against the division-rival Los Angeles Rams in Week 18.