PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Titans face the 49ers on Sunday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
The Titans are coming off a 12-7 loss to the Cardinals, a loss that dropped the team's record to 8-5.
The 49ers are coming off a 26-16 win over the Texans, and are now 3-12.
This week, I caught up with Matt Maiocco, who covers the 49ers for NBC Sports Bay Area and KNBR-680. He's covered the 49ers for 23 seasons, and on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @maioccoNBCS, and join roughly 94,000 others.
Here's how our conversation went…
Wyatt: Hey Matt. Good talking to you again. It seems like the Titans are catching the 49ers team on the rebound. After starting 0-9, the 49ers have now won three out of four and they're playing well. How do you explain the turnaround? Has it all been quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo?
Maiocco: Well, the last two wins have been because Garoppolo has given them something they didn't have. C.J. Beathard did fine for a rookie, stepping in after Brian Hoyer lost his job. But Garoppolo gives them an element they haven't had in a while. He's a guy who looks like he is made for the part of being an NFL starting quarterback. He served for 3½ years under one of the best, and he learned from Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels and others. And he has stepped in and really owned the part of being a starting quarterback and making plays from the pocket.
Wyatt: Garoppolo is now 4-0 as a starter in his career. He's 2-0 with the 49ers, and was 2-0 with the Patriots. What's his long-term status with the 49ers after the trade in October?
Maiocco: He is basically signed for another three games. They'll try and work out a long-term extension with him, but I kind of doubt that gets done. But they are fully prepared and will place the franchise tag on him if it comes to that. They will have him for sure for the 2018 season, and all the while they'll be trying to work something out with him long-term.
Wyatt: You mentioned Beathard. He's a Nashville-area guy, having played in high school at Battle Ground Academy. How did he do as the starter, and what's his status moving forward?
Maiocco: *I think C.J. Beathard proved that he should be a member of this organization for a long time. He is as tough as they come. He took an absolute beating during his time as a starter, and won the respect of everybody – his teammates, the coaching staff, the fan base. But he is still learning, and he is still learning how to play at this level. He is learning the offense, and how to read NFL defenses and everything else. I think the 49ers feel very good about him being a long-term, back-up quarterback to Garoppolo and somebody who could step if needed and do a good job. I think the 49ers feel very good about their quarterback room with Garoppolo as the No.1 and Beathard as the No.2. *
Wyatt: The 49ers are now just 3-10 after their recent two-game winning streak. But from afar, it looks like this is a reenergized team with the quarterback change, and the recent success. Is this the case?
Maiocco: Well, even when they started off with a nine-game losing streak, I think Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch both sold to the team that they were building for something, and they wanted to do it the right way. Early in the season they had five games, five losses, of three points or fewer, so they felt like they were closer than what the record indicated. But I think this recent string with Garoppolo coming in and tasting victories in three of their last four games, the mood – I have never seen it like this with a team that has won just three games 13 games into the season. There is definitely a sense of optimism. Guys are even talking about how they wish the season didn't have to end and they wish they could start if over. It is a pretty energized team right now, and everyone is looking forward to the 2018 season with optimism. This team still has a lot of holes, but now after that trade for Garoppolo, one of those holes is not at quarterback. So they can look to other spots. They can improve the offensive line, and get another weapon for the passing game. On defense, they can get a pass rusher. But checking the box next to quarterback gives them so much flexibility heading into next season.
Wyatt: I want to ask you one on the defense. Right now, the 49ers are ranked 25th overall – 25th vs. the run, and 20th vs. the pass. But I also see they've allowed just 14 points (vs. Chicago) and 16 (vs. Houston) in back-to-back wins. How's the defense playing during this stretch?
Maiocco: When looking at the strength of the defense, linebacker Reuben Foster has been good. He's a really good player. I think he stepped in and became their best player on either side of the ball, certainly before Jimmy Garoppolo arrived. They have a pretty good defensive line, but they don't get a whole lot of pressure on the quarterback. Their safety play has been pretty good. They don't have a whole lot of playmakers on the defense other than Foster, but I think the defense has kind of felt a rejuvenation along with everyone else when Garoppolo got into the lineup. That game against Chicago, the 49ers converted a lot of third downs, and the defense was only out there for 36 snaps the entire game. So the defense has benefitted from Garoppolo, too, and I think they have an extra bounce in their step because of what has happened on the offensive side of the ball.
TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series against the San Francisco 49ers. (AP Photos)