Thursday's NFL: Titans rally from 10 down at half, edge 49ers 20-17

Associated Press

Nashville, Tenn. — Randy Bullock kicked a 44-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining and the banged-up Tennessee Titans rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 Thursday night.

The Titans (10-5) are a win or a Colts' loss away from clinching their second straight AFC South title despite losing three of their past four games to drop from the AFC's top seed to third. Indianapolis plays Arizona on Saturday.

Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) catches a touchdown pass as he is defended by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Josh Norman, left, in the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.

Ryan Tannehill threw for just 40 yards in the first half but finished with 209 yards and a TD for Tennessee. A.J. Brown caught 11 passes for 145 yards hours after being activated off injured reserve, and his 18-yard TD catch gave Tennessee a 17-10 lead early in the fourth.

“It was all on us and we just had to make a play," Brown said. "Then we had to make another play. That was the mindset. Just come out here and make plays, so that’s what we did.”

The Titans also picked off two passes, sacked Jimmy Garoppolo twice and forced the Niners to turn it over on downs once.

San Francisco had one final chance. Garoppolo completed a short pass that started a handful of laterals before Jayon Brown finally tackled Pro Bowl receiver Deebo Samuel.

The 49ers (8-7) lost for the second time in seven games as they try to hold onto a wild-card berth in the NFC.

Garoppolo tied it with a 2-yard TD pass to Brandon Aiyuk with 2:20 left, a score set up by a 56-yard catch-and-run by Samuel down to the Tennessee 6.

This was the Niners' first loss after leading by 10 or more at halftime under coach Kyle Shanahan — they had been 18-0 in the regular season and playoffs with those leads. They hadn't blown such a lead since Week 14 of 2016 to the Jets under Chip Kelly.

Tennessee played without the left side of its offensive line with left tackle Taylor Lewan out with an injured back and left guard Rodger Saffold on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Rookie Dillon Radunz, a second-round pick out of North Dakota State, replaced Lewan, and the Titans gave up four sacks.

The Niners dominated the first half but missed chances for a bigger lead.

Garoppolo threw for 322 yards and moved the 49ers down the field at ease early, setting up Jeff Wilson's 1-yard plunge on the opening drive and giving them goal-to-go on the second possession. Titans cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins beat 49ers tight end George Kittle for an interception in the end zone.

A face mask penalty on Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams forced the Niners to settle for a 48-yard field goal by Robbie Gould and a 10-0 lead.

The Niners led 10-0 at halftime, their first time shutting out an opponent in the first half since the 2019 NFC title game against Green Bay. That also marked four straight scoreless quarters for the Titans.

Tennessee finally strung together a 13-play drive to open the third quarter, matching its first-half production at 55 yards, with Tannehill completing three straight passes on third down until missing a screen to Jeremy McNichols. Bullock kicked a 38-yard field goal to pull the Titans within 10-3.

Titans safety Amani Hooker picked off his first pass this season on the Niners' next play, returning it 21 yards to the San Francisco 18. D'Onta Foreman finished that short drive with a tying 3-yard TD run.

Then the Tennessee defense, as healthy as it's been in weeks, forced the Niners to turn it over on downs at the Titans 41 late in the third after having fourth-and-1 when Williams false started.

NFL medical officer: Asymptomatic people not spreading COVID

New York — The NFL's chief medical officer says asymptomatic players are not spreading COVID-19 based on his observations during this season.

Allen Sills appeared on the NFL Network on Thursday, and said the league has “really not seen this phenomenon that people have discussed, which is asymptomatic people in the facility spreading the virus to others.” He added that the key is “symptom recognition and prompt testing.”

“As we’ve gone back and looked throughout the entire season, what we’ve seen consistently is that when people have symptoms, that’s when they seem to be contagious to others," he said. “And that’s why we’re asking people to come forward and acknowledge symptoms because that’s the point at which they’re vulnerable and the point at which they expose themselves to others.”

Last weekend, the NFL agreed with the NFL Players Association to scale back testing for vaccinated players. The move aligned with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends “diagnostic testing” only for symptomatic or close-contact vaccinated people and “screening tests” only for unvaccinated people.

The NFL previously required vaccinated players to get tested weekly before amending the protocols. The NFLPA had advocated for daily testing for vaccinated players but eventually agreed to “target” testing.

The league has seen COVID-19 spike over the past couple of weeks, and Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter, the players' union who has been pushing the league for daily COVID-19 testing all season, tested positive for the virus Thursday.

Cam Akers returns to Rams practice after offseason injury

Los Angeles — Running back Cam Akers has been cleared to practice with the Los Angeles Rams, taking one of the final steps in his rapid comeback from a torn Achilles tendon.

The Rams (10-4) also designated Akers for return from injured reserve Thursday, which means he is in a 21-day window for reactivation to the roster. Coach Sean McVay won't predict when Akers will play, but he expects the second-year pro to be added to the roster within the window while Los Angeles makes its playoff push.

“What a resilient, tough-minded guy,” McVay said. “It’s an incredible story. Can’t wait to get him back out there. When that is, is something we're going to continue to work through, but the guy is a stud in every sense of the word.”

Akers was the Rams' leading rusher as a rookie last season, but he tore his Achilles tendon in private workouts shortly before the start of training camp in July. The team initially expected the second-year pro to miss the entire year, but he made rapid progress in his rehabilitation workouts and spurred hopes he could return late in the season.

McVay said Akers won't play Sunday at Minnesota, but he seems likely to be in uniform at some point this year for the Rams, who are even with Arizona (10-4) atop the NFC West.

Los Angeles, which is in the first wild-card playoff position, travels to Baltimore next week before finishing the regular season at home against San Francisco.

“There’s still some levels to this,” McVay said. “We want to be smart and check all the boxes.”

Akers' comeback is remarkably fast, even for a 22-year-old elite athlete in prime physical condition. McVay said team doctors and surgeons have told the Rams they aren't risking Akers' long-term health to move him forward quickly, and Akers has been itching to participate in the Rams' solid season.

Immediately after the injury happened in the summer, McVay cheered up Akers by comparing him to Artur Dalaloyan, the gymnast who helped Russia to win the men's team final at the Tokyo Games four months after tearing his Achilles tendon at the European Championships.

“We had an idea that if he stayed on track ... I was giving him a hard time about some of those Russian gymnasts that were freakin' making a comeback from the Achilles and performing in the Olympics,” McVay said with a grin. “But no, I'd say we had an idea that he was accelerating his rehab and making great progress. He's a freak.”

Akers racked up 625 yards rushing in 2020 despite not getting consistent playing time until the second half of the season. The second-round pick out of Florida State showed impressive speed and toughness down the stretch — and he blossomed in the playoffs, where he rushed for 131 yards at Seattle and 90 yards at Green Bay, scoring a touchdown in both games.

He was expected to be Los Angeles' primary running back this season, but the injury led the Rams to acquire Sony Michel in a trade with New England.

Darrell Henderson leads the Rams this season with 671 yards and five touchdowns despite missing three games and being limited in others because of injury. The hard-nosed Michel has been Los Angeles' most effective back lately, with 292 of his 597 yards coming in the past three games.

“It's good to have a lot of good depth at that position and be able to have some fun things that we can do moving forward,” McVay said.

The Rams' running game has been solid, but is secondary to their strong passing game led quarterback Matthew Stafford and NFL receiving leader Cooper Kupp. Los Angeles' eight rushing touchdowns are tied for the second fewest in the league.

The Rams also designated three more players to return from the reserve/COVID-19 list: defensive backs Juju Hughes and Antoine Brooks and injured tight end Johnny Mundt.