3 Takeaways from 49ers' Week 16 Loss

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIDecember 24, 2021

3 Takeaways from 49ers' Week 16 Loss

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers are in the thick of the NFC wild-card race despite their 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on Thursday night. However, things have just gotten a lot tighter.

    After winning five of their previous six games, the 49ers fell to 8-7 with Thursday's road loss. San Francisco is still in the No. 6 spot in the NFC, but there are three 7-7 teams—the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints—that could all win this week.

    The 49ers had a 10-0 halftime lead Thursday night, but the Titans scored 10 points in the third quarter to send the game to the fourth tied. Even after Tennessee took the lead, San Francisco responded, tying the game at 17 on Jimmy Garoppolo's 2-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Aiyuk with a little more than two minutes to go.

    However, the Titans then drove down the field and won on Randy Bullock's 44-yard field goal as time expired.

    Here are three takeaways from the 49ers' Week 16 loss.

Garoppolo's Mistakes Proved Costly Throughout Game

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Garoppolo completed 26 of his 35 pass attempts, threw for 322 yards and connected with Aiyuk for the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. However, the quarterback also made some mistakes that proved to be costly.

    After San Francisco scored a touchdown on its opening drive, it forced Tennessee to punt and got the ball right back. The 49ers were then driving and seemed to be heading toward the end zone again, but their possession ended when Garoppolo threw an interception on 2nd-and-goal at the Titans' 8-yard line.

    Garoppolo was also picked off on the first play of San Francisco's first possession of the second half. That gave Tennessee the ball at the 49ers' 13-yard line, and it punched in a game-tying touchdown four plays later.

    "Jimmy was trying to fit the ball in a small hole," San Francisco wide receiver Deebo Samuel said, per The Athletic's David Lombardi. "And they played it well and got a turnover."

    The 49ers are now 1-6 in games when Garoppolo has thrown an interception this season, and they are 7-0 when he's had none. That shows how important ball security and limiting turnovers is to his and the team's success, so he can't afford to have these types of mistakes.  

The Defense Couldn't Get Off the Field on 3rd Downs

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    San Francisco's defense did a solid job of limiting Tennessee's offense for much of the night. The Titans had only 278 total yards, and their running game wasn't effective, averaging only 3.8 yards per rush (90 yards on 24 carries). The 49ers also sacked Ryan Tannehill four times.

    However, there was one major issue for San Francisco's defense: third downs. Tennessee completed nine of its 16 third-down attempts, which allowed it to extend drives, critical during the second half. Over the final two quarters, four of the Titans' five possessions ended in points.

    With how well the 49ers defense was playing early, it seemed like they were in a good position to control the game and to potentially prevent the Titans from getting back into it.

    "They had a chance to play a special game," San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said, per Lombardi.

    And it could have been special, if the 49ers could have come up with more stops on third down. Instead, that was a major reason why the Titans earned the victory.

The 49ers Will Likely Still Be a Playoff Team

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    After Thursday's game, FiveThirtyEight's NFL projections give the 49ers a 70-percent chance to make the playoffs. So even after losing to Tennessee, it's not time to give up on the 49ers.

    In Week 17, San Francisco has a good opportunity to bounce back when it hosts the Houston Texans, who are 3-11 going into their Week 16 contest. That's a game the 49ers should win, which could help them maintain a wild-card spot regardless of how the Vikings, Eagles and Saints fare over the next couple weeks.

    San Francisco will conclude the regular season with a tough NFC West road matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. However, the 49ers beat the Rams 31-10 at home in Week 10, so it's possible that they can beat their division rival again.

    With its next game not until Jan. 2, San Francisco has an opportunity to reset and rest up for its final two regular-season outings. Perhaps that will help it finish strong and get into the playoffs for the second time in three years.