Garoppolo's 3rd down plays key for Niners in latest win

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — When the San Francisco 49ers offense was stumbling, it was Jimmy Garoppolo who bailed the team out for a change.

The quarterback widely viewed as being carried to success by talented playmakers and a stout defense came through with several big throws in San Francisco's 22-16 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night.

Garoppolo was at his best in difficult spots, completing 6 of 7 passes for 90 yards and four first downs when the Niners (5-4) were facing third-and-8 or longer.

That proved to be a big reason why San Francisco managed to win back-to-back games.

“It’s not going to be perfect,” Garoppolo said. “When we get in those tough situations, it’s how can we overcome it? I thought we did that a couple times tonight, especially in big situations.”

Garoppolo got the offense going late in the second quarter with a 21-yard strike to George Kittle on third-and-12. His best play might have come right after that when he scrambled to avoid the rush and then dropped a perfectly placed deep shot down the sideline to Ray-Ray McCloud for a 33-yard gain.

Garoppolo capped that drive with a 1-yard TD sneak for San Francisco's first touchdown.

He then converted three more third-down passes on the go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter with his 24-yarder to Brandon Aiyuk on third-and-10 leading to Christian McCaffrey's 2-yard TD run.

“We were super excited, especially not playing last week. I think a little too excited for a little bit,” Aiyuk said. “It took us a while to settle in but once we got going, it was good.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Third and long. Garoppolo has been one of the best in the league this season converting on third-and-long. The 49ers have gotten a first down on 45.2% of his passes on third and at least 8 yards, second best in the NFL to Patrick Mahomes' 46.9% for Kansas City.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Red zone offense. The Niners moved the ball well but struggled to finish drives, setting for field goals on three of their five trips into the red zone. McCaffrey was stopped on third down from the 2 on the first drive, Aiyuk dropped a pass in the end zone on third down in the third quarter and Elijah Mitchell was hit for a loss on third-and-goal from the 1 late in the game.

San Francisco has scored TDs on 57.8% of red zone drives this year, down from a league-leading 66.7% in 2021.

“I do think there are a lot of things clicking,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “But you’re not going to get points if you move it and can’t score inside the 10. You’re not going to get enough points, that’s for sure.”

STOCK UP

Mitchell's looked sharp in his return from a knee injury that had sidelined him since the opener. He had a team-high 18 carries for 89 yards, generating six first downs on the ground.

STOCK DOWN

LB Dre Greenlaw got ejected late in the second quarter when he was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Chargers QB Justin Herbert.

Greenlaw has been called for seven personal fouls since entering the league in 2019.

INJURIES

The Niners had no in-game injuries for a second straight game for a pleasant change. Rookie WR Danny Gray rolled his ankle in pregame warmups and didn't play. He is day to day. ... DT Arik Armstead (foot, ankle) could return for the first time since Week 4. Shanahan said he wouldn't know until later in the week if Armstead will be able to practice.

KEY NUMBER

0. San Francisco held the opponent scoreless in the second half for the second straight game.

The 49ers allowed 58 yards and no points after halftime to the Rams in Week 8 and then came back from the bye to hold the Chargers to 52 yards and no points in the second half on Sunday.

NEXT STEPS

The 49ers will fly to Colorado on Tuesday to practice at Colorado Springs as they try to acclimate to high altitude before playing Arizona in Mexico City on Monday night. San Francisco will practice in Colorado through Saturday before flying to Mexico on Sunday.

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Josh Dubow, The Associated Press