- Associated Press - Thursday, December 14, 2017

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - In just two starts with San Francisco, Jimmy Garoppolo has shown the traits of becoming the franchise quarterback for the 49ers.

That’s just the kind of play the Tennessee Titans need out of their promising young quarterback Marcus Mariota down the stretch if they want to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

The usually reliable Mariota is in the midst of one of the worst stretches of his three-year career heading into the game Sunday between Tennessee (8-5) and San Francisco (3-10).

Mariota has thrown eight interceptions the past four games and has failed to reach 200 yards passing for three straight weeks as the Titans have dropped a game behind Jacksonville in the AFC South and have only a one-game cushion in the wild-card race.

Mariota had his worst game of the season in a 12-7 loss at Arizona, completing 16 of 31 passes for only 159 yards without a touchdown and being intercepted twice. The frustration boiled over into the postgame interview where Mariota apologized this week for acting “rude and inappropriate.”

“When you go through a tough game, it’s nice to get back on the field and go out there and play,” Mariota said. “It’s probably not a good thing to bottle (frustration) up all the time, but at the same time I was pretty upset with the way that I performed and I think it just carried over.”

Garoppolo has provided excitement in another rough season for the 49ers. Since taking over two weeks ago from rookie C.J. Beathard, Garoppolo has thrown for 627 yards to lead San Francisco to back-to-back wins and showed why the 49ers thought highly enough of him to deal a second-round pick to New England to acquire him at the trade deadline.

His performance has given a needed spark to a team that began the season with nine consecutive losses.

“Jimmy’s made some big plays, which does give guys confidence, it makes receivers have more fun down the field,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I think defense and special teams see that and feed off that just like the offense feeds off them.

Here are some other things to watch:

KNOCK ‘EM OUT: In a midweek team meeting, Shanahan went over the remaining schedule featuring three contenders in Tennessee, the Jaguars and Rams. He challenged his 49ers to somehow make an impact on the playoff chase in the final weeks of a lost season.

“He said some things in our meeting that kind of made a lot of sense. These next teams that we’re playing, if they lose then they’re most likely out of the playoffs,” linebacker Eli Harold said. “I looked at that as let’s knock ‘em out. I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team win and lay it all on the line for these last few weeks.”

SACK THEM UP: The Titans certainly are showing they know how to put the quarterback on the ground. Jurrell Casey had two sacks with seven other Titans getting a sack in Arizona as Tennessee piled up eight sacks in the loss even with linebacker Derrick Morgan, their sack leader with 7½ sacks out with a sprained knee.

It’s the second time in three games the Titans have had eight sacks in a game, and they have 20 over the past three games - the most in the NFL in any three-game span this season. The eight sacks tied for the third-highest in franchise history, just one off the team record. The Titans have had at least four sacks in each of those three games.

CELEK TIME: The catchphrase “Celek Time” began last month after tight end Garrett Celek made up for any mistakes this season by catching a 47-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter of an eventual 31-21 victory against the Giants, the 49ers’ first win of the season. Celek made a 9-yard reception the play prior to his touchdown, a 7-yarder the previous snap and an earlier 4-yard catch.

“I had like three or four catches in a row and then the big play and that’s when Kyle said it in a meeting,” Celek said. “It was kind of catchy I guess. It caught on, and all the guys have been saying it and giving me a hard time.”

Celek has been steady through three quarterbacks, making 17 catches for 245 yards and three TDs.

“We just started joking there that they didn’t realize that it was Celek Time and it just kind of stuck,” Shanahan said. “We thought it was a one-time deal, but it came up again last week so now we’re getting used to it and guys enjoy it.”

STINGY D: The Titans allowed only four field goals last week, the second game they’ve done that this season. They’ve also been very stingy since the first month of the season. Starting Week 5, Tennessee is allowing only 295.1 yards per game. That ranks the Titans fifth in the NFL over that span.

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AP Pro Football Writer Teresa Walker and AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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