LEARN­ING TO LIVE WITH IN­TER­CEP­TIONS

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Chris Biderman

SANTA CLARA — Jimmy Garop­polo car­ried the San Fran­cisco 49ers across the fin­ish line Sun­day with his sec­ond gamewin­ning drive of the sea­son.

But that drive was nec­es­sary be­cause Garop­polo threw two in­ter­cep­tions deep in Ari­zona Car­di­nals ter­ri­tory ear­lier in the game that took scor­ing chances off the board.

It’s a bal­ance San Fran­cisco (91) has worked with so far. The 49ers still have the best record in the NFC and Garop­polo’s two fourth-quarter, game-win­ning drives are tied for the third most in the NFL.

Coach Kyle Shana­han is learn­ing to live with Garop­polo’s pen­chant for throw­ing the ball to the other team. His 10 in­ter­cep­tions are tied with Sam Darnold and Jared Goff for the fourth-most in the league.

“What’s more frus­trat­ing to me is when a guy can’t make any plays and a guy can’t throw it at all and you just sit there and you’re beat­ing your head against the wall for three-and-a-half hours,” Shana­han said. “So it’s nice when they do make a lot of plays and do some good stuff, but some bad plays do come with that. I un­der­stand that, I think Jimmy will get bet­ter in that area.”

Garop­polo’s sam­ple size is ad­mit­tedly small. Shana­han re­it­er­ated Wed­nes­day that com­ing into the year he con­sid­ered his quar­ter­back closer to a rookie than a six-year vet­eran, par­tic­u­larly work­ing back from an ACL tear sus­tained Sept. 2018. Garop­polo has fewer starts than sec­ond-year pro Baker May­field and the same as Darnold.

Garop­polo will be mak­ing just the 21st start of his ca­reer Sun­day when San Fran­cisco hosts the Green Bay Pack­ers in prime time.

With 20 starts un­der his belt, Garop­polo’s 18 in­ter­cep­tions are hardly an in­di­ca­tor of bad things to come, as long as he works to im­prove his mis­takes.

Pey­ton Man­ning fa­mously strug­gled early in his ca­reer and had 34 in­ter­cep­tions in his first 20 starts. Tom Brady had 21. Drew Brees, 23, Cam New­ton, 22. De­shaun Wat­son and Car­son Wentz both had 16. Shana­han’s for­mer pupil in Wash­ing­ton, Kirk Cousins, had 25 in­ter­cep­tions dur­ing his first 20 starts and is cur­rently sec­ond in the NFL in passer rat­ing (114.8), with only three in­ter­cep­tions for the Vik­ings.

Shana­han and Garop­polo’s team­mates have noted Garop­polo has a way of over­com­ing his mis­takes with­out los­ing con­fi­dence, which al­lows him to ex­e­cute in key mo­ments as he did on Sun­day.

“I think that’s just part of being a quar­ter­back,” Garop­polo said. “In foot­ball, bad things are go­ing to hap­pen at some point. No one’s ever go­ing to play a per­fect game, so it’s just how you re­act to those things. I thought our team over these last two weeks just when we’ve got­ten put in tough sit­u­a­tions, I think we’ve re­sponded well, es­pe­cially this past week.”

Re­ceiver Em­manuel San­ders, who’s caught 16 of 23 passes for 194 yards and two touch­downs in three games from Garop­polo, noted Garop­polo’s abil­ity to bounce back from his in­ter­cep­tions is unique.

“(He’s) one of the best I’ve been around at do­ing that,” said San­ders, who played with Ben Roeth­lis­berger in Pitts­burgh and Man­ning in Den­ver. “Even when the throws an in­ter­cep­tion, you never see him go in the tank. Some­times you see quar­ter­backs that throw a pick and they go on to tank and you got to go over there and be like, ‘It’s okay bro!’ But Jimmy is still smil­ing, and say­ing, ‘Al­right, let’s get another op­por­tu­nity and the next op­por­tu­nity we’ll go down and score.’ It’s im­pres­sive.”

Added Shana­han: “It’s very rare that you just come out and throw a ton of touch­downs and not picks, but I do like that Jimmy doesn’t seem to be af­fected by it, that he doesn’t go into a shell. He still gives us a chance to win. The more that he can keep play­ing the way he is with­out do­ing those turnovers, the harder he’ll be to stop.”

Ge­orge Kit­tle in­jury up­date — Shana­han said Wed­nes­day that star tight end Ge­orge Kit­tle’s left knee and an­kle in­juries that cost him the past two games are im­prov­ing but he’ll likely be a ga­me­time de­ci­sion Sun­day.

“Bet­ter than last week, but not good enough to prac­tice today,” Shana­han said. “It’s go­ing to come down to the wire again and hope­fully it will work out.”

Kit­tle on Wed­nes­day wore cleats and had his hel­met in hand while talk­ing to as­sis­tant coaches dur­ing the early por­tion of prac­tice open to the me­dia.

The 49ers had their worst two rush­ing per­for­mances of the sea­son their past two games against Sea­hawks and Car­di­nals, record­ing 87 and 34 yards, re­spec­tively. Kit­tle’s ab­sence has been a fac­tor.

“Any time you take a play maker of his level off the field, it makes a dra­matic difference,” Pack­ers coach Matt LaFleur said in a con­fer­ence call. “One thing I think that I re­spect that I re­spect so much about Ge­orge Kit­tle is he’s a com­plete foot­ball player. I think he’s as good in the run game as he is in the pass game. And I think he’s ar­guably the best tight end in the game.”

49ers be­gin week thin at re­ceiver

Top wide­outs San­ders (ribs) and rookie Deebo Sa­muel (shoul­der), who had his sec­ond-straight 100-yard game Sun­day, missed prac­tice Wed­nes­day and are ex­pected to be game-time de­ci­sions.

For San­ders, he men­tioned the im­por­tance of hav­ing a full week be­tween games as he deals with a rib car­ti­lage is­sue. Last week, he had a short week af­ter sus­tain­ing the in­jury in the Mon­day night loss to Seat­tle just six days be­fore play­ing the Car­di­nals.

Sa­muel re­turned to Sun­day’s vic­tory in the fourth quarter and made two catches on the gamewin­ning drive af­ter sus­tain­ing the in­jury on his ac­ro­batic, jug­gling catch be­tween two de­fend­ers along the 49ers’ side­line.

Bosa earns high praise from Pack­ers coach

Rookie de­fen­sive end Nick Bosa hasn’t had a sack since his three­sack per­for­mance Oct. 27 against the Pan­thers, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t shown up on film to LaFleur.

“Some of the plays he’s made are ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble,” LaFleur said. “He’s con­sis­tently in the back­field dis­rupt­ing both in the run and the pass game. And the mo­tor on him is in­cred­i­ble. It doesn’t shock me be­cause his brother’s the same way. They’re both go­ing to go. Any time you get a tal­ented player, as tal­ented as he is, with a mo­tor, that is a night­mare for an of­fense. And I think that’s why guys like that be­come fu­ture Hall of Famers.”

LaFleur went up against Nick Bosa’s brother, Joey, in a loss Nov. 3. Joey Bosa was credit with 1.5 sacks against Aaron Rodgers in that game.

— Run­ning back Matt Breida (an­kle), kicker Rob­bie Gould (quadri­ceps), and left tackle Joe Sta­ley (fin­ger) did not prac­tice Wed­nes­day. Sta­ley is not ex­pected to play fol­low­ing surgery last week to re­pair a frac­tured and dis­lo­cated fin­ger.

Nose tackle D.J. Jones (groin) and run­ning back Ra­heem Mostert (knee) were lim­ited.

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