Three things to know from 49ers' 44-33 win over top defense in the NFL

Three things to know from 49ers' 44-33 win over top defense in the NFL

SANTA CLARA -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 44-33 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16 on Sunday:

Rookies typically wear down late in the NFL season due to the increase in the number of games over college football. But the 49ers’ first-year players appear to be peaking late in the season.

After such players as draft picks Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, Ahkello Witherspoon, George Kittle and Trent Taylor helped put the 49ers in position to win, it was undrafted running back Matt Breida who supplied the finishing touch.

Breida took a pitch from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and flashed his speed to get around the left corner en route to a 30-yard game-clinching touchdown run with 1:24 remaining for the 10-point victory.

Kittle and Taylor added touchdown catches from Garoppolo, and Witherspoon supplied one of the 49ers’ three interceptions of Blake Bortles, who entered Sunday as the hottest quarterback in the NFL.

Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick, and Foster played a role in shutting down Leonard Fournette, the No. 4 selection in the draft. Fournette gained just 48 yards on 18 rushing attempts for a meager 2.7-yard average.

The 49ers are building a lot of momentum going into the 2018 season, and the play of the rookies is a big reason it appears to be a program on the rise.

"A lot of it is new coaches, new players," Kittle said. "We are just really learning to come together as a team. I think we are finding our rhythm now. I feel like we are just clicking on offense, which is one thing we struggled with early. Our defense has been playing well all year. We were just struggling from the beginning, now we are just rolling. We are on a heater. I think we are going to stay that way."

Garoppolo faced his stiffest challenge since entering the 49ers’ starting lineup. Going up against the top defense in the league, Garoppolo made more than enough plays to enable the 49ers to pull off the upset over the AFC South champions.

"I thought he played very similar in this game that he has the last few games," Shanahan said. "He made the right reads for the most part, made the right throws. I’m sure there’s a couple he’d want to have back, just like any game. It was that he’s been very consistent.”

Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith during the week described this game as a “hat and T-shirt week” – alluding to the Jaguars’ intention to celebrate the division title in the 49ers’ stadium.

While the Tennessee Titans’ loss clinched the Jags’ championship, their hopes as the top seed in the AFC playoffs were extinguished with the loss to the 49ers. And Jacksonville did not appear to be much in the mood for a celebration before returning to the East Coast.

The Jacksonville defense leads the NFL in sacks and entered the game allowing a league-low 168.9 yards passing per game. The 49ers’ offensive line generally gave Garoppolo time to throw, and he was sacked just once. Garoppolo completed 21 of 30 pass attempts for 242 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think it was a good test for us, especially as an offense," Garoppolo said. "Our team overall responded. It was an overall team win today. Offense doing our part. Defense getting us field position. Special teams. It all came together really nice today. That’s what makes a good team. We’re moving in the right direction right now. It seems week by week we just keep getting better.”

Said left tackle Joe Staley, "Jimmy is playing great football for us at the quarterback position. It is probably the most important position in team sports. He is doing a terrific job out there. He raises all shifts up there and everybody is playing really good football right now. We have a close locker room. I am really proud to be a part of it. It is pretty special here.”

Garoppolo surpassed Hall of Famer Kurt Warner’s record for passing yards in his first four starts with a new team. Garoppolo has thrown for 1,250 yards with the 49ers. Warner had 1,217 yards passing in his first four starts with St. Louis Rams in 1999.

The 49ers (5-10) will take a four-game win streak into the season finale next week at the Los Angeles Rams.

Coach Kyle Shanahan was regarded as one of the best offensive coordinators in the league. And those skills were on display Sunday, as he put together a masterful game plan against the top-ranked Jacksonville defense.

The 49ers went with multi-receiver formations to spread out the Jacksonville defense. Shanahan kept the Jaguars off balance with a variety of quick passes and misdirection. Shanahan found the weaknesses in the Jaguars’ defense, which resulted in players running free all over the field in the passing game.

Garoppolo missed some of his throws, but he also made good on the key downs. The 49ers converted 10 of 15 on third downs for a remarkable 67-percent conversion rate.

The 49ers scored five offensive touchdowns against a defense that allowed just 14.9 points per game. After Jacksonville clawed back into the game in the final two minutes, Shanahan’s call for a pitch to Breida on a third-down play was well-timed and well-executed, resulting in a 30-yard touchdown run to seal the victory.

"The guys made their blocks and we had a strong feeling they’d be in man coverage and playing the run and daring us to throw, which you know you need to get a first down there because I believe they still had one timeout, so you can’t run the clock out," Shanahan said.

There could more of this kind of precision execution in the future as the 49ers get more acclimated to Shanahan’s system and the talent level on the roster improves.

Greg Cosell singles out 49ers player he believes is poised for a breakout season


Greg Cosell singles out 49ers player he believes is poised for a breakout season

With the 146th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected...

George Kittle.

The tight end from Iowa had a solid rookie season -- racking up 43 catches for 515 yards and two touchdowns.

On the latest episode of the 49ers Insider Podcast with Matt Maiocco, Greg Cosell of NFL Films was talking about Kyle Shanahan and Rams head coach Sean McVay. And then unsolicited, pivoted the conversation to Kittle.

"You know, I think one player we should mention who I really liked coming out of college -- and I know he fought some injuries last year but I think that he has a chance to be a really meaningul part of this offense -- and that's George Kittle," Cosell said. "I think George Kittle is a really good tight end who can do a lot of things.

"He can line up and be a really good blocking tight end -- and obviously we know that Kyle's offense does start with the run game. I think he's more athletic than people probably give him credit for.

"I remember studying him coming out of Iowa and looking at some of his Combine measureables -- some were superior to those of OJ Howard from Alabama, and I think people would be surprised by that.

"In this offense he might not catch 80 balls, but he might average 14-15 yards a catch, and for a tight end that's pretty darn good."

Kittle had his best game in the season finale -- four catches for 100 yards at the Rams.

Why Greg Cosell believes Jimmy Garoppolo needs work on his 'quarterback feet'


Why Greg Cosell believes Jimmy Garoppolo needs work on his 'quarterback feet'

Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films, believes 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo “has a chance to be a top-level quarterback.” But there remains room for improvement from the player the 49ers awarded a franchise-record contract in the offseason.

Garoppolo has a quick release and can throw at a number of different arm angles to avoid oncoming pass-rushers. And while his accuracy underneath was unquestioned during his 5-0 run as the 49ers’ starter last season, most of the time, his deep throws did not reach the target.

Garoppolo completed just 4 of 16 attempts to targets 20 yards or more down the field last season for 134 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus.

[RELATED: Greg Cosell: Kyle Shanahan does one thing 'better than any coach in the NFL']

During the offseason program, Garoppolo appeared to struggle on his deep throws, too. Cosell, a guest on the 49ers Insider Podcast, spoke about Garoppolo’s mechanics.

“Because he has very quick feet, I think people just assume he has great feet all the time when he delivers the ball,” Cosell said. “There’s a difference between having quick, athletic feet and having really good quarterback feet. And I think he needs to work on the quarterback feet part.

“I think guys who have that kind of snap delivery, sometimes they don’t step exactly to their throw and they throw a little bit off-balance, and that could really impact your accuracy to a significant degree. So my guess is those are the kinds of things they’ve worked on. Those are tweaks. I don’t think it will prevent him from being a really good player.”

Garoppolo appeared in six games with five starts last season after the 49ers acquired him for a second-round draft pick in a trade with the New England Patriots. Garoppolo completed 120 of 178 pass attempts (67.4 percent) for 1,580 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions.

Cosell said it is important for all quarterbacks to use consistent mechanics when making throws from a clean pocket.

“Think of a major league pitcher,” Cosell said. “They theoretically should throw the ball the same way every time. So should a quarterback unless the defense dictates otherwise. If the defense doesn’t dictate otherwise, the throws should look the same.”