One could call it a Miracle on Marie P. DeBartolo Way, as Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers beat the Jacksonville Jaguars and their #1 defense on Christmas Eve.
These are same Jaguars who had a 9.2% sack rate coming into today’s game. They sacked Garoppolo once and hit him an additional four times. These are the same Jaguars whose quarterback, Blake Bortles, was playing lights out until he met the 49ers’ defense today. He threw interceptions and ended the day with a quarterback rating of 53. DeForest Buckner deserves a lot of the credit with his three hurries, a quarterback hit, and a batted pass, per Pro Football Focus’ Jeff Deeney. The run defense continued to be strong, holding running back Leonard Fournette to 48 yards rushing.
“I think you can see it through the whole team,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “I think everything started off pretty perfect in that game and I think our guys were going. Then we faced some bad adversity coming into the locker room. I think it was 16-16 at halftime…To be able to overcome that and our guys not change, that’s what I was most proud of with our team…[W]e have a tight group who believe in each other and they feed off each other. I always feel having a tighter group is a huge advantage in this league. You’ve got to execute. You’ve got to be talented. You’ve got to make plays, but when you have guys who believe in each other, it helps overcome adversity.”
Garoppolo, who is now 4-0 as the 49ers’ starter, finished the day 21-of-30 for 242 yards, two touchdowns, a rushing touchdown and an interception. Beyond that, his 70% completion percentage and passer rating of 102.4 are both the highest of any quarterback who has faced the Jaguars this season.
The 49ers beat a Super Bowl contender today, and the Jaguars didn’t like it. They were fighting on the sidelines, they were chippy, and it cost them in multiple penalties.
“I think going into the game we talked about that and just keeping our cool, Garoppolo said. “Especially towards the end of the game when they started yelling at each other before they were yelling at us. It was just something we talked about on the sideline. Proud of the guys to be pros. Marquise [Goodwin], when I scrambled, he took a shot there. For him to get up and not retaliate, I can’t put that into words how hard that is for a football player to do. That was something big.”
Four wins a row. Beating Jacksonville. Are the 49ers are playoff caliber team right now?
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” said Garoppolo. That was a hell of a team we just beat so I think that was a good test for us. Next week is going to be another good one. Finish off the season strong next week.”
Fair but you can’t blame people for wondering. Jimmy G has brought an excitement to Santa Clara that’s been missing since Levi’s Stadium first opened its doors. All of a sudden, a team that was very much rebuilding may contend next season.
“Jimmy is playing great football for us at the quarterback position,” said left tackle Joe Staley. “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.”
And there it is. Jimmy Garoppolo makes everyone around him better, and not just on offense, but on defense too. There’s no denying it. This team was 1-10 am month ago. 1-10. Now the 49ers are one of the hottest teams in football, and the Jimmy G mystique is growing with each touchdown pass.
But he isn’t doing it alone. Let’s take a look.
Down 19-16 in the third quarter and with momentum looking like it had shifted to the Jaguars permanently, cornerback K’Waun Williams made an incredible one-handed interception that the Niners capitalized on with a George Kittle touchdown.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 24, 2017
“We felt so good at the beginning how we came out in all three phases and then it was, the end of the second half was, for us to go down there, we were about to score, we ended up getting an interception,” Shanahan said. “They go down and score. In my mind, that’s a 14-point swing. Then they come out and get a field goal to start, so that’s a 17-point swing. It’s tough to overcome against that kind of team. When K’Waun made that play I feel like it got the momentum back in us and everyone fed off each other. It was a good win.”
Williams also had a PBU and allowed only 11 yards in coverage, per Deeney.
This draft class. This draft class is special. With the number of injuries on this team, the 49ers’ 2017 rookie class has been asked to do a lot and they’ve delivered.
Wide receiver Trent Taylor made a hell of a touchdown catch on a hell of a thrown by Garoppolo. Not to digress, but Garoppolo was rolling to his left and threw across his body.
Jimmy G is passing out TDs for Christmas. 🎅
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 24, 2017
“Yeah, I showed him how to do it in practice,” joked Shanahan. “No, his body is different, the way he can throw. I think everyone can see that. He can make unusual throws from unusual angles and he can change that arm everywhere. I joke with him and say he’s like a jugs machine, he’s just sitting there ready to throw. It doesn’t matter how his body is, he’s just ready to throw at any time. That definitely helps, especially when you get him in some off-schedule situations and you’re going the wrong way and not a lot of people believe you can make that and he found a way to do it and Trent did a hell of a job pulling it in.”
As mentioned above, rookie George Kittle brought in a touchdown pass, while undrafted free agent running back Matt Breida had 74 yards rushing and the touchdown that completed sealed it for the Niners.
“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…,” said Shanahan. “You’ve got to always make that debate, whether to throw it there or run it. We felt good about the run, hoping they would be blitzing and be in man coverage and fake the jet sweep to [Marquise Goodwin] and the guys, I think it was Trent [Taylor] on the edge who did a good job blocking on that D-End, the outside receiver, and we pulled [Joe] Staley around everyone and Breida did a good job hitting it.”
Team work makes the dream work.
On defense, Ahkello Witherspoon had a huge interception, a PBU and allowed three catches on seven targets. Reuben Foster, who didn’t finish the game due to a stinger, was all over the field today with five tackles, one for a loss, a PBU and a quarterback hit. He also made fellow SEC-mate Fournette’s day difficult…like a lot.
Like I said, the rookies.
“…[T]hose guys haven’t wavered,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes you throw some guys in some situations where you know they can do it, but they aren’t quite ready for it. They were up and down with how good they did. When that happens, some guys kind of fold and think it’s a little too hard and they get worse and they’re just looking for someone to save them. Those guys have grinded all year and they practice every single day. They’re deliberate in everything they do and when you have people like that who work the way they do, it’s usually a matter of time before they get better. It’s been nice for them that they’ve been rewarded this way…”
Jacksonville has the best pass rush in the league, and the 49ers’ offensive line did an incredible job keeping Garoppolo relatively clean. Per Deeney, the 49ers’ offensive line held the Jaguars’ pass rush in check most of the game. Garoppolo was pressured on just eight of his 32 drop backs with Staley and LG Laken Tomlinson allowing only one hurry each.
The 49ers will finish the season on New Year’s Eve in LA against the NFC West Champion Los Angeles Rams. The future is bright. The 49ers have a quarterback, a quarterback who has made pretty much everyone in a red and gold uniform better. The fans at Levi’s Stadium were chanting MVP. Someday.
Is it 2018 yet? Go Niners!