SANTA CLARA – Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo once again, had a day. “Have a day,” is what Garoppolo constantly told his teammates last week just before leading the 49ers to 25-23 win over the Titans on a 49ers.com video that went viral. On a Christmas Eve Sunday afternoon, Garoppolo had a day of his own, spearheading a dominating win over one of the AFC’s best teams in Jacksonville.
For Garoppolo, it was his sixth straight win as a starter, and the fourth consecutive victory for the 49ers to get their record to 5-10. The Jaguars, who came into the game leading the league in sacks, third-down defense and scoring defense, dropped to 10-5.
Jacksonville made it close with a furious finish, which included a recovery of an onside kick. But the 49ers had the game in their grasp at that point.
Garoppolo’s signature play came when he side-armed a 5-yard scoring pass to rookie wide receiver Trent Taylor, an instant before getting whacked by cornerback Aaron Colvin. Garoppolo stepped out of the pocket on the play and flipped the pass while moving to his left like a baseball shortstop coming across the bag to complete a double play.
The play pumped the 49ers’ lead to 30-19. It was only the second time Jacksonville had surrendered 30 points on the season. Shortly thereafter, Ahkello Witherspoon interception the 49ers’ third pass of the day, which led to a 36-19 advantage over a potential Super Bowl team.
Garoppolo and a fantastic defensive performance sent the Levi’s Stadium crowd into a frenzy, a sight rarely seen at this venue. But it was deserved after the 49ers reeled off 21 straight points to take firm command of the game in the second half.
It looked as if the more talented Jaguars were going to take control after scoring 19 straight points by early in the third quarter, but then nickel cornerback K’Waun William intercepted a Blake Brottles’ pass. It set up a five-play, 26-yard drive punctuated by Garoppolo’s 8-yard scoring pass to rookie tight end George Kittle.
The 49ers could not have pulled off the season’s signature win without getting off to a rollicking start. The sainted Garoppolo warmed up the holiday crowd by leading an opening touchdown drive. It was the first of the season for the 49ers and the first time the Jaguars’ league-leading defense had surrendered an opening-drive score in 21 games.
It led to a peculiar afternoon where the 49ers tacked on a second-quarter defensive touchdown by cornerback Dontae Johnson. He plucked a pass tipped off the hand of rookie receiver Keelan Cole and then waltzed into the end zone for the first defensive score for the 49ers since cornerback Jimmy Ward picked off a pass for a score against the Bears in 2015.
The play was made by strong safety Eric Reid, whose looming presence might have caused Cole to stop his route. Cole got tattooed anyway by Reid, so his plan to avoid a hit didn’t pan out.
The 49ers looked like they might put the game away against the 10-4 Jaguars in the first half. However, Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell hit Garoppolo on third-and-goal from the 7 and the resulting fluttered pass was intercepted by strong safety Barry Church in the end zone.
Jacksonville then tied it up when Jalen Strong, just promoted from the practice squad, caught a pass that ticked off the hands of running back Leonard Fournette in the end zone.
It was only a few plays later in which Johnson was benched for free agent Tyvis Powell, who was promoted from the practice squad eight days earlier. Johnson, however, did return for the second drive of the third quarter.