Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

‘Third and Jauan’: 49ers WR Jennings steps up again in the clutch during win over Saints

Nov 27, 2022 at 8:00 PM--

49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings has had a quieter year statistically than some may have expected, considering where he was at the end of the 2021 season. But just as he did in 2021, Jennings stepped up in the clutch Sunday, giving the 49ers multiple huge plays while helping them secure a 13-0 win over the New Orleans Saints.

After catching 16 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns over the final five games of the 2021 regular season, Jennings entered this weekend with 30 catches for 220 yards and zero touchdowns for 2022. But on Sunday he caught six passes for 49 yards while hauling in the game's only touchdown. Jennings also made a key third down catch on the game's final drive that helped run out the clock and seal the win.

Jennings' clutch performance on Sunday was reminiscent of what he showed late in 2021 when he emerged as a key performer for the 49ers heading down the stretch. And he might have coined a new phrase that fits him well, considering the success he's had on third downs the past two years.

"I like the term 'Third and Jauan,'" Jennings said Sunday. "I like that one."

Jennings' touchdown against the Saints didn't come on a third down, although it did happen one play after he made a third down catch while also drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty from defensive back Chris Harris to set the 49ers up with a 1st-and-Goal at the Saints' 6-yard line. 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw towards Jennings on the play, but Jennings almost lost his opportunity to catch his first touchdown of the season when safety Tyrann Mathieu leaped up to tip the pass. But the ball dropped right into Jennings' hands, giving the 49ers a 10-0 lead over the Saints right before halftime.

"My assignment was just to run a simple corner route," Jennings said. "I was running to the pylon. I saw the safety go away from me, which I knew Jimmy was going to come to me. When I looked back, the ball was in the air. I was so excited. I'm thinking it's just going to drop in. It got tipped. It was just a load of events, and ultimately it was a touchdown. I was happy."

Jennings' final catch of the day came on a 3rd-and-5 at the 49ers' 28-yard line with just over four minutes to play. The Saints had just spent their second timeout, meaning the 49ers could run a significant chunk of time off the clock if they were able to get a first down. Garoppolo found Jennings for a six-yard gain, which kept the clock moving and turned out to be a key moment in a drive that allowed the 49ers to run out the clock entirely.

"Jauan's clutch for us," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "He kept us out on the field a couple times and got us those points."

It's easy for Jennings to seemingly get lost in the shuffle on offense for the 49ers considering the amount of high-profile targets surrounding him. But his efforts since being selected by the 49ers as a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft have earned him the respect of his teammates, particularly quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who knows he can trust Jennings even if he isn't often the main target on a play.

"I see it every day in practice," Garoppolo said. "I've seen it for multiple years now, even. When you have a guy like that who does it every day in practice, is reliable, wants the ball, you can see the competitiveness. Every play he's in, Jauan is busting his ass. As a quarterback, you love having a guy like that. Just the trust and reliability from Jauan goes a long way for me."

And what's Jennings' secret on third downs? That's when teams tend to play him man-to-man, which allows him to thrive.

"A lot of teams like to play man-to-man on third downs," Jennings said. "That's one of my strengths. I beat man-to-man."

Garoppolo added, "It's hard to play man against Jauan. He's big, he's quick, he's physical when he gets the ball in his hands, he's hard to bring down. I'm not trying to pump him up too much there, but he does a lot of good things. He separates at the top of his routes, and as a quarterback, it's easy to read him, his body language and things."

Odds are Garoppolo will target players like Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, or (maybe) George Kittle more than Jennings over the final portion of the season, but Sunday's game served as a reminder that Jennings can and will make an impact when the 49ers need it the most. He may not wind up producing the numbers of other players, but chances are Sunday won't be the last time Jennings steps up in the clutch for the 49ers this season.

"When an opportunity comes my way, I just want to make it," Jennings said.

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