Niners struggle mightily on 3rd down in 20-17 loss to Titans

December 24, 2021 GMT
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (15) is brought down by San Francisco 49ers' Jaquiski Tartt (3) and Jimmie Ward, right, in the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (15) is brought down by San Francisco 49ers' Jaquiski Tartt (3) and Jimmie Ward, right, in the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (15) is brought down by San Francisco 49ers' Jaquiski Tartt (3) and Jimmie Ward, right, in the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (15) is brought down by San Francisco 49ers' Jaquiski Tartt (3) and Jimmie Ward, right, in the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (15) is brought down by San Francisco 49ers' Jaquiski Tartt (3) and Jimmie Ward, right, in the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers, led by two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Nick Bosa, turned in a mighty defensive performance against Tennessee on first and second down.

Third down was another story.

The Niners gave up big play after big play Thursday night with a chance to get off the field and blew a 10-0 halftime lead in losing 20-17 to the Tennessee Titans.

“It was tough, especially towards the end,” Bosa said. “Those are the plays that we need and if you don’t make them, it’s definitely deflating.”

The 49ers looked dominant on first and second downs, holding the Titans to an average of 3.19 yards per play. On third down, the Titans averaged 9 yards per play.

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Tennessee also joined a select group of six teams to convert six third downs of 10 or more yards in a game since 2000 and the first since the Colts against Houston on Sept. 30, 2018. The Colts have done it twice along with Minnesota, Denver, the Raiders and the Jets.

The loss was only the second in seven games for the Niners (8-7) who snapped a two-game winning streak. Their loss clinched a playoff berth for Dallas and trimmed San Francisco’s margin for error with two to play.

The Niners still sit in the No. 6 seed in the NFC as the second wild-card with Minnesota (7-7) right behind at No. 7 — though San Francisco has the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a 34-26 win over the Vikings on Nov. 28.

San Francisco held the Titans to 3 of 7 on third down in the first half. After halftime, Tennessee converted 6 of 9 third downs — the shortest third-and-7 with four of 10 yards or longer.

The biggest one came with Tennessee facing third-and-23 at its own 28 on the final play of the third quarter. A San Francisco defender jumped offside, giving the Titans a free play.

“For us to jump offsides and give them a free play on third-and-twenty-something is just completely inexcusable,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said.

Tannehill moved up and chucked the ball downfield to A.J. Brown, who caught the pass for a 42-yard gain. That set up the Titans’ go-ahead touchdown in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.

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The Titans quarterback came in with a 65.6 passer rating on third down, 27th out of 32 qualifiers. He was 11 for 13 for 149 yards and 114.4 rating with nine first downs passing against the Niners.

Niners linebacker Fred Warner said getting off the field on third and long is a “no-brainer.”

“That’s what kept them going,” Warner said of the Titans.

San Francisco held Tennessee to 55 yards total offense in the first half and 278 for the game. The Niners also had four sacks, though Bosa only added one to his league-leading tackles for loss, giving him 19 for the season. Bosa snapped his streak at seven straight games with at least one sack.

“I thought they had a chance to have a special game, especially how they played in the first half,” Shanahan said. “I thought they were close to doing that in the second half, but when you’re like that on third down, first and second doesn’t matter.”

Yes, third down was big Thursday night.

“We just couldn’t get off the field,” Bosa said.

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AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

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