The 49ers had a 10-point lead when they took over at their own 10-yard line with 1:20 remaining in the first half of their 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night in Nashville.
If you expected coach Kyle Shanahan to go hurry-up, air it out and try to pick up 60 yards to get into field-goal position, you have not been paying attention.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had already thrown an interception in the end zone, and he overthrew fullback Kyle Juszczyk on a deep pass.
The strategy to get into the locker room without giving the Titans another possession was the correct call — regardless of the kind game Garoppolo was experiencing.
The 49ers picked up a first down on the first play to get out to the 22-yard line with 1:06 left before the half.
When Garoppolo got a first down on a third-and-2 sneak, the 49ers had the ball at the 33.
Why didn’t Shanahan consider hitting the accelerator at that point?
“(There was) just there was 19 seconds (left),” he answered. “I didn't want it to lead to a turnover, give them a chance to get anything.”
Of course, the 49ers went on to lose to the Titans, so every play, every decision can be second-guessed.
Garoppolo’s first interception was in the end zone. His second giveaway, deep in 49ers territory, led to a Tennessee touchdown just four plays later.
His overthrow of Juszczyk could have been a touchdown. Instead, the 49ers got a field goal out of that drive. And a fourth-down miscommunication with Brandon Aiyuk late in the third quarter ended another prime scoring chance.
Before Garoppolo's worst game of the season, a common topic became whether the 49ers made the right move to trade away two future first-round picks for his successor.
Last week, general manager John Lynch said there were no regrets about the decision.
Remember, it was widely speculated the 49ers would look to move on at quarterback after last season, and they certainly explored a lot of options.
Ultimately, Shanahan and Lynch decided to move up in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Trey Lance, the No. 3 quarterback chosen after Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson.
The 49ers did not want to stay at No. 12 and see which quarterback was still there. And they did not want to trade up to any spot lower than No. 3 because they wanted to be able to dictate exactly which quarterback they would anoint as the player to eventually replace Garoppolo.
The 49ers opted to keep Garoppolo for one season because they figured — and, in retrospect, they got this part correct — Garoppolo would be a better option in 2021 than any of the rookie quarterbacks.
With a lot of money invested on both sides of the ball in star players, the 49ers wanted to give the team the best opportunity to win this season.
Garoppolo was placed in a tough spot, but he responded to the challenge. He carried himself with professionalism, and he has generally played well.
But the decision was made to move on from Garoppolo because Shanahan determined there was a greater chance for long-term success with a new quarterback.
Entering this year, Garoppolo was sidelined 23 games over the past three seasons due to injuries. That was part of the problem, of course.
But the bigger issue is Shanahan does not believe Garoppolo is capable of executing his offense up to the lofty standards he places on his quarterbacks.
The offense is at its best is when the 49ers are running the ball, chewing up yards and time off the clock.
In the 49ers’ playoff victories two seasons ago over Minnesota and Green Bay, Garoppolo attempted a combined 27 passes in back-to-back 17-point wins.
Whether Shanahan’s conservative strategy in end-of-half situations means he has a lack of trust in Garoppolo is immaterial. Label it however you wish, their game management has generally been successful.
Play it safe? Or play it smart?
Regardless, the predictable approach is something with which Shanahan believes advances his team toward winning. And it likely has the full support of the team’s in-house analytics department.
What does it mean?
We might learn a lot more in future seasons when we see how Shanahan handles those same scenarios after Lance takes over and gets up to speed.