LEARNING TO LIVE WITH INTERCEPTIONS
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.