It wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a plane. Hell, it wasn’t even Superman.
Instead, it was Jimmy Garoppolo who came to the rescue of the 49ers, who were in dire need of a hero once again Sunday afternoon.
After allowing the Tennessee Titans to score 17 unanswered second-half points, San Francisco’s fate was left in the right hand of Garoppolo, who clutched up — with another major assist from Robbie Gould — to deliver the 49ers (4-10) a fourth win in five outings beating the visiting Titans, 25-23.
This post has been updated with quotes and additional post-game material from the 49ers locker room.
With less than two minutes left in the second quarter, long before Garoppolo’s late-game heroics, the 49ers were flying high holding what they thought was a comfortable 16-3 lead over Marcus Mariota and the reeling Titans.
Executing a two-minute drive to perfection, Tennessee (7-7) had other plans as they marched 79 yards down field to find the end zone just before the first-half clock expired. The momentum that had looked to be on the side of San Francisco had shifted to the side of the Titans in just 90 seconds.
Coming out of the locker room, things did not look much better as Tennessee marched down field yet again, getting a Ryan Succop 31-yard field goal to make it a three-point game. Another touchdown early in the fourth flipped the scoreboard in Tennessee’s favor, 20-16.
It was time for the man rookie safety Adrian Colbert calls “The Franchise” to step in as its savior. A chance to live up to the expectations placed on him by the fans since the 25-year-old was acquired from the Patriots only a few months ago.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan voiced his confidence and comfortability in Garoppolo in such situations:
“He’s been just as good as advertised, if not better. I’ve really enjoyed working with him. … It gets easier each week.”
Garoppolo started San Francisco’s first drive of the fourth quarter backed up all the way to his own 17-yard line. With the flame lit under his back side, Garoppolo fired a 42-yard bomb to tight end Garrett Celek, who sprinted the 49ers into Tennessee territory for the first time of the second half.
Celek commented on his continuity with Garoppolo after the game:
“He’s got a great touch. I just think we’re all on the same level now. The throws aren’t late. Right when we get open, he fires it in there. Everything is meshing well right now.”
After three more completed passes for 27 yards, the 49ers were in field goal range closing the gap to a single point with just over six minutes left.
Despite being hammered by the Titans aerial attack for much of the second half, the 49ers defense caught on to the momentum regained by Garoppolo and found a way to stop Mariota and company, who had just begun to gain traction with former 49ers tight end Delanie Walker.
After forcing a three-and-out, the 49ers defense came through and gave the ball back to “Jimmy G” following a Titans punt. Garoppolo was ready once again.
In familiar fashion, Garoppolo was backed to his own 15-yard line. And in a fit of deja vu, he delivered on his first throw of the drive. This time to Kendrick Bourne, who picked up 54 yards on the shotgun pass.
Landing in the red zone once again, the 49ers were able to take the lead on another Gould field goal, his fifth make in as many attempts to take a 22-20 lead over Tennessee.
With three minutes still remaining on the clock, Mariota once again led his Titans back the other way. The Titans were able to reach Succop’s range to retake the lead at 23-22.
But Garoppolo had one more act in his monumental performance. With 1:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo completed three of four passes for 47 yards.
One of those completions found its way to speedy wideout Marquise Goodwin, who posted a career day, hauling in 10 of his 13 targets — each career- and game-highs — for 114 yards, another game-high. The result found Garoppolo and the 49ers on Tennessee’s 27 yard line to set up a Gould game-winning field goal as time expired.
“We were really confident. We chose that end because that’s one of my favorite kicks. … The offense did a great job of getting the ball down there within range. Whenever you get a chance like that, you want to put it through.”
Garoppolo spoke about the successful two-minute drill:
“It was a good two-minute drill. A lot of good execution across the board and every guy stepped up in their own way.”
When all was said and done, Garoppolo put forth his best performance not only in a 49ers uniform but as a starting quarterback in the NFL, finishing with a 72 percent completion percentage (31/43) for 381 yards and a touchdown. A 106.8 rating also places Garoppolo as the highest rated 49er QB so far this season.
With the win, the 49ers are officially on their first winning streak in two seasons, lifting the streak to three straight and four of their last five.