ATLANTA (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo threw a little bit behind Deebo Samuel on his next-to-last possession, a fourth-and-2 from the Atlanta 19. The ball bounced off Samuel’s hands and fell to the ground with 2:18 remaining.
Try as he might, Garoppolo couldn’t get the Niners’ offense on track in the second half, and San Francisco left Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a 28-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
The Niners (3-3) went scoreless in the final two quarters. Garoppolo had a long attempt to Charlie Woerner that slipped through the tight end’s hands on one possession and interception by Jaylinn Hawkins that was intended for Samuel on the next drive.
That essentially sealed San Francisco’s fate and ended a two-game winning streak. Garoppolo had thrown 72 consecutive passes without a pick until he was intercepted on the final drive of the first half.
“It’s just on the offense,” Garoppolo said after completing 29 of 41 passes for 296 yards, two scores and two picks. “Putting up zero points in the second half is just not us. We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board, get back to our style of football, and I think the rest will take care of itself.”
The Niners couldn’t overcome abundant injuries, particularly on the NFL’s top-ranked defense. Star defensive end Nick Bosa didn’t dress because of a sore groin, and the team ended the game with seven defensive starters sidelined.
“It truly does suck, but in the five years I’ve been here, I’ve seen it,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “Guys have to be ready to go and ready to win regardless of the circumstances.”
Coach Kyle Shanahan thought the game turned late in the second quarter with the Falcons facing third-and-12 from their 39. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, under heavy pressure, scrambled through the middle of the defense for 15 yards. Shanahan thought his team should have made that play.
From there, Atlanta picked up 20 yards on a pass to Drake London and got a 16-yard run from Caleb Huntley before Mariota ran for a 3-yard score and a 21-14 lead with 57 seconds left before halftime.
Garoppolo followed with a harmless interception right before the break, and the Niners were blanked in the second half as the offense failed to capitalize when Atlanta’s offense struggled.
“We knew going into this game how that team was built,” Shanahan said. “We knew it would have to be a physical game, we knew we would have to protect the ball, especially going in a little depleted. We knew we had to come out strong. Then going on that first drive all the way down the field I thought was rough, fumbling, having the return for a touchdown to put us in a 14-0 hole.”
The first-quarter fumble came as a result of running back Jeff Wilson Jr. trying for 1 yard up the middle and getting the ball punched out by Rashaan Evans. A.J. Terrell recovered for the Falcons at the San Francisco 22 and ran 21 yards before tight end George Kittle forced a fumble that Atlanta’s Hawkins recovered and ran in 4 yards for the TD.
That put the Niners in a 14-0 hole, and they never recovered. It only got worse on the second snap of the final period as Garoppolo threw deep for Samuel but had the ball picked off by Hawkins for a 14-yard gain to the Atlanta 45.
San Francisco got the ball back at its 1 after an Atlanta punt and drove to the 19 before Garoppolo and Samuel failed to connect on fourth down.
“I thought we had opportunities all day," Garoppolo said. “I thought we had a lot of opportunities, we just didn’t take advantage of them. Self-inflicted wounds, really.”