The Union Democrat
No drama, no problem: Jimmy Garoppolo the 49ers’ best quarterback option all along
The Jimmy Garoppolo panic meter seems oddly calm this week. The hot-take “bench him, trade him, toss him” hordes don’t have much ammunition at the moment.
Neither does the “fire Kyle Shanahan” crowd.
Thanks to the steady partnership of Shanahan and Garoppolo, who clearly do a good job of tuning out all the noise, the 49ers have turned their season around.
Instead of sprialing toward disaster, the 49ers are trending toward the playoffs.
For Garoppolo, whose job security and
future is its own cottage industry, the recent success must be particularly gratifying, though you wouldn't know it to talk to him. There's no “how do you like me now?” bravado about him like there once was with Kirk Cousins.
But Garoppolo has quietly solidified his hold on the job. Doesn't it seem to you that he's playing better?
Your eyes don't deceive you. Since the Bears game in Chicago in Week 8, Garoppolo ranks first in the league in quarterback rating (108.7). He is also first in yards per attempt (9.2).
“He's playing really well right now,” Shanahan said Monday. “And our whole team is. Everything feeds off each other, especially when you get into ratings. The receivers have gotten better, the tight ends, the running backs, they're all playing much better in the last month. And Jimmy is getting better.”
In the process, Garoppolo is looking better than some of his foils, the quarterbacks he has been compared to over the years.
On Sunday, Garoppolo defeated Cousins, Shanahan's favorite son. Three years ago, in a visit to Minnesota, Garoppolo had a terrible game, throwing three interceptions and losing to Cousins. Two seasons ago, in the playoffs, Garoppolo's team beat Cousins' team, though much of that had to do with Shanahan running the ball 47 times.
Of the three meetings, Sunday's game was the one that felt most solidly like a Garoppolo win. Cousins did not play well, even lining up behind a guard instead of the center on a crucial play late.
Garoppolo also looked superior to one of Shanahan's offseason flirtations, Matthew Stafford. Stafford, too, had a lousy game. He threw a pick-six for his third consecutive game, all Rams losses, and has become increasingly inaccurate as his team has slipped in the standings.
The quarterback who vanquished Shanahan and Garoppolo in the Super Bowl? Patrick Mahomes appears to be righting himself, but he has thrown 11 interceptions this season, almost twice as many as Garoppolo. The new prototype in the NFC West, Kyler Murray, has been hurt for several weeks.
Garoppolo wasn't perfect Sunday. He never will be. And neither will any other quarterback, including Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
But after a few bad misses, an ugly interception and getting lambasted by his coach in front of his teammates and the television cameras, Garoppolo settled down, made some excellent throws, converted key third downs and directed the team to a win.
Garoppolo carries himself with an easy self-confidence, which is surely how he has withstood the swirl of speculation around him. When Shanahan yelled at him in public, he took it. Didn't pout. Wasn't angry. Acknowledged to his teammates that he needed to be better.
“He always approaches me face-to-face with it,” Garoppolo said of Shanahan's dressing-down. “Just really, I had to get my checkdown. It wasn't what we were looking for and I tried to be aggressive. I just can't do it.
“It wasn't a good decision. I have to be better than that with it. Just take the checkdown. They were giving those to us early, and I just need to be more efficient with those.”
No excuses. No spinning. I've been listening to quarterbacks postgame for decades, including Hall of Famers, and I've heard plenty who are less willing to suck it up.
For his part, Shanahan took some of the blame after the game. After calling the interception “inexcusable,” he humorously backed off.
“I just wanted to use a bigger word there,” he said. “I'm a little amped up. So that was stupid of me.
“It wasn't a good play call. No one was there. You take the sack, or you hit the checkdown. He knew that and I knew it because I could see it wasn't a good play call as soon as I called it. It's not like it had a chance. So that's why we have to count on (Jimmy) when it doesn't have the chance.”
Shanahan's comments reveal the mechanics involved in execution. The play call might be wrong. Another player might not be in the right spot. Everything is happening in a hot second, and it takes experience to see it, read it, react to it.
Shanahan said Monday that he has gotten away from calling packages for backup QB Trey Lance because he feels it disrupts his play-calling rhythm and his approach to attacking a defense. Lance will one day be the 49ers' quarterback, but it seems highly unlikely that if the rookie took over as the starter a month ago, he could have pulled the 49ers back into contention. There are too many instant decisions to make, too much experience needed.
Garoppolo is called “serviceable” by many. But his record as a starter would suggest he's far more than that. If the goal is to win games, that's what Garoppolo does: he is 31-12 as a starter, and that includes games he left due to injury that were eventually lost.
Football is a team game, which is why laying all the glory and all the blame on the quarterback has always seemed absurd. It is the most important position in the sport, but it is interconnected to all the others. The 49ers' five losses this year were team losses.
Their six wins have been team wins, especially the past three, with Shanahan adjusting, the team putting in the work and limiting the mistakes.
That concept doesn't move the needle on the panic meter or on social media. But it is how to salvage a season.