Jaquiski Tartt of the San Francisco 49ers laments a missed interception
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — With just under 10 minutes left in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, the moment that San Francisco 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt had dreamed of since he was young was hung in the air for a second – then another and another and another.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford had just uncorked an ill-advised deep ball into midfield, the pass supposedly intended for receiver Van Jefferson. But Tartt was the only one with a realistic chance of catching him.
All Tartt had to do was carry it and the Niners’ 10-point lead could have reached their second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons.
None of this happened. The ball, and potentially the game, slipped through Tartt’s fingers and landed harmlessly on the SoFi Stadium turf.
“It’s a game I should be doing in my sleep and I haven’t,” Tartt said.
The Rams capitalized on Tartt’s mistake, picking up 13 straight points after the drop to turn a 10-point deficit into a 20-17 victory and a chance to win Super Bowl LIV on their home turf.
An emotional Tartt was left to pick up the pieces.
“It’s a moment that a lot of athletes I know dream of, right now, a par ball game and you can make the game change,” Tartt said. “For me it’s something I’ve been thinking about all week. I know I can make this game and when the game came I didn’t. I know it was a big game in the game, a great opportunity for me and for the team and as a player, I just feel like I let my brothers down.”
No excuses!! I deserve all the reviews in my own way! Opportunity of which I dream I missed!!! Forget my brothers!! It still won’t define me as a person/player. Only will become stronger and better… #believdat
— Jaquiski ‘Quaski’ Tartt (@quaski) January 31, 2022
After the match, Tartt quickly took to Twitter and said, in part, “No apologies!! I deserve all the criticism in my own way.” He then spent about five minutes answering questions from the media and taking responsibility for the missed opportunity.
“I see him and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, he screwed up, we’re about to win this game,'” Tartt said. “He touched my hands, I thought I had it and I don’t know how I dropped it.”
Moments after Tartt fell, Niners linebacker Fred Warner reminded him that there was plenty of football left to play. Alas, the missed opportunity to win the ball back and possibly go up three scores soon gave way to a burst of life for the Rams.
On the next play, Stafford hit wide Odell Beckham Jr. for a 29-yard gain, which turned to 44 yards when free safety Jimmie Ward was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness.
The Niners were able to hold the Rams to a field goal, but the defense was unable to fend off the Rams as San Francisco’s offense couldn’t elicit a response.
Despite Tartt’s fall, coach Kyle Shanahan was quick to point out that last week Tartt possibly made a life-saving tackle on a long pass to Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones. That tackle set up Ward’s blocked basket to keep the Niners within striking distance just before halftime.
“I thought he was one of the best players on the court last week against Green Bay,” Shanahan said. “I’ve loved him in our team since I’ve been here and I know he’s disappointed with that crash he’s had, but there are a lot of other plays in this game and I’m very happy that Tartt is there. in our team this year.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Tartt’s teammates, many of whom did their best to pick him up after the game as best they could.
“It’s hard to really say anything to help him right now,” winger Nick Bosa said. “Obviously he missed an opportunity, but there’s I think another 70 games that I’m sure a lot of other guys missed a lot of opportunities there. That’s football. That’s a game, and we’re definitely going to be there for him.”
Tartt now heads into an uncertain offseason. He is expected to be an unrestricted free agent for the second time in as many years after recording 64 tackles in 14 games.
But it will be the game he didn’t make that will last longer.
“It’s a moment of truth and the moment of truth came and I didn’t interfere,” Tartt said. “I made a winning layup in high school, a winning interception in high school, so for me it’s like I know I can do it. It’s like being at the top level of football; even when I was little you see these guys make these plays for the team, make the big interception and I was like, ‘I can be that guy’, and when it was in the air I was like “I’m going to be that guy. ‘ I just didn’t make it up.”