SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- With about one minute left, this game looked like it was going to be about the Tennessee Titans finding their offense and squeaking out a must-needed win to further their playoff chances.
Then Jimmy Garoppolo happened. He had his way against the Titans' defense all day, but it was particularly impressive and frustrating for the Titans what he did in short work to command a comeback drive. The 49ers handed the Titans their second consecutive loss, 25-23, and left their once comfortable playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.
"To lose to two sorry teams like that, back to back, I'm at a loss for words," Titans Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said.
This was a disaster West Coast trip for the Titans, and there are serious question marks about this fading team with two games remaining. The Titans haven't looked like a playoff team much of the season and now at home to start January is looking like a more possible ending to their season due to a difficult schedule to close.
Garoppolo looked similar to the man he once backed up in New England, Tom Brady, as he marched down the field with just over a minute on the clock. He found the open zones in the Titans' defense, often thanks to coverage busts, and effectively hit receivers on slants, comebacks and crossing routes. The Titans' defense looked out of position too often.
Marcus Mariota finished well, thanks to a lot of no-huddle offense in the second half. He finished 23-of-33 for 241 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. But he was the second-best quarterback on the field. And the Garoppolo-led 49ers' six field goals and a touchdown beat the Titans' five field goals and a touchdown.
"We left Nashville in first place in our division," Mariota said. "It's not a very good feeling."
Garoppolo threw for a career-high 381 yards. It was the first Titans loss by less than four points in two seasons.
What it means: The 8-6 Titans remain the No. 5 seed in the tight AFC wild-card race. They have a head-to-head tiebreaker over the 8-6 Baltimore Ravens and they currently have a better conference record than the 8-6 Buffalo Bills. They have the most difficult schedule of these two teams, hosting two playoffs teams in the Jaguars and Rams. They'll likely need a win against at least one to make the dance.
What I liked: Tennessee's offense in the second half was resurrected by a lot of no-huddle. Mariota took control of the offense and led the Titans to 17 straight points between the end of the first half and the third quarter. This needs to be a huge part of the offense going forward.
What I didn’t like: How Garoppolo had his way with the Titans' secondary. Dick LeBeau's defense brought plenty of blitzes with some success, but there were multiple coverage busts that led to big passing gains. The most notable was a 24-yard reception to George Kittle on the game-winning drive and a 54-yard reception to Kendrick Bourne on the field goal drive before. Losing Logan Ryan didn't help, but the Titans looked like they had fixed some of their issues in the secondary.
The Titans went conservative handing the ball off to DeMarco Murray on a third-and-2 on their final possession. The play lost a yard and led to a go-ahead Ryan Succop field goal with a little over a minute left, prior to Garoppolo's game-winning drive. Mariota said after the game it was his call to run the ball and he regretted not checking out of the play once he saw the defense crowding the line.
"I thought we could cram it in and get 2 yards," Mariota said.
Fantasy fallout: Rishard Matthews was the big winner of the day with six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. Matthews had some extremely clutch catches for the Titans. He's known for his consistency and he may have helped a fantasy owner make it further in the playoffs with his big day.
Disappointing homecoming: It was a shaky start to Delanie Walker's homecoming against the 49ers, where he played the first seven seasons of his career. He dropped a potential touchdown and he fumbled a few drives later, which led to a 49ers field goal. He got a touchdown late, but the missed opportunities were huge.
What’s next: The Titans return home to play the hot Los Angeles Rams on Christmas Eve. They'll finish the regular season in Nashville against the playoff-bound Jaguars. This team could be staring at 8-8 and missing the playoffs once again if they don't turn it around.