SANTA CLARA – When the 49ers drafted to take starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the pasture, they were greeted as a team that could see the big picture.
The beauty of Trey Lance’s third-place choice in North Dakota was that Garoppolo was considered a good enough sport to play along in his penultimate year of his contract, while the 49ers waited for Lance to make his move.
It never happened. Garoppolo solidified his starting lineup after Lance lost after a few eye-popping shots from the field at the start of training camp.
Instead, Lance was relegated to the background, details of his development were hidden in private training sessions, as well as an organizational decision to keep their 21-year-old quarterback out of the media. The 49s were 7-6 in the playoff position, and Garappolo was more of a solution than a problem.
Garoppolo’s play, as well as his grace in handling the situation, solidified his hold in the locker room. There is a future quarterback on the list and it is made for a new and improved version of the present quarterback.
“Jimmy was an absolute pro on this matter,” defenseman Kyle Yuschik said Thursday. “Anyway, bringing Trey here definitely motivated him and made him a better player. I think Jimmy has become the best defender since Trey came here. ”
Garoppolo shows his best when his passing is balanced by strong running play, but in the last two games he has used 49ers all over the field on grip, mostly in the air.
Seattle’s 95-yard march ended when Carlos Dunlap III hit a fourth-fall pass with Trent Sherfield opening in the end zone. A 75-yard march in overtime wiped out the Bengals’ goal and gave the 49ers a 26-23 win.
The management noticed.
“I think he’s really good in situations like this,” said coach Kyle Shanahan. “The game never seems too big to him. When you go fast, you don’t have much time to sit and think. You just react. And usually when Jimmy reacts, he lets it rip without hesitation and acts pretty automatically. ”
“It didn’t work in Seattle,” added KNBR CEO John Lynch. “But driving us two weeks in a row when we needed to win the game, I am very proud of him for that.”
The last time we saw and heard from Lance was October 10, the day he kicked off for Garoppolo in a 17-10 away defeat to the Arizona Cardinals. Lance made 16 passes for 89 yards and completed 15 of 29 passes for 192 yards with interceptions. The rookie ran a lot, and the 49ers were not at all like the team Shanahan coached when the quarterback is efficient and accurate.
Like Garoppolo or Matt Ryan, Sunday’s contender with the Atlanta Falcons who won MVP with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator in 2016.
Someday Lance might get there. He was named Scout Team Player of the Week by Assistant Coaches last week for playing Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow, faint praise for his rookie’s third overall pick of the year. If Shanahan has clarified something with his actions, the beginner is not yet ready to perform at the level of Garoppolo.
The 49ers won four out of five, and Garoppolo completed 68.8 percent of his passes (95 of 138) on 1,183 yards, nine touchdowns, three interceptions and a 107.9 pass rating.
How Garoppolo got his results late in the game – he hit a 75-yard touchdown in week three, giving the 49ers a 28-27 lead over Green Bay, which Aaron Rogers erased in 37 seconds – boosted his confidence.
Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young described Garoppolo’s overtime as a potentially transformative moment during his weekly KNBR appearance.
“If I was Jimmy, I would feel different, I would feel different,” Young said. “This is what I will hold on to in the future, and it matters.”
Garoppolo explained it this way:
“I always find myself just trying to calm down and let things happen as they please. You feel all the energy around you, everyone is going crazy and all that, but as a quarterback, you just have to be in the center of everything, to be like the epicenter of the storm. There is no secret in this. You just need to simplify it and really play football. ”
Offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said that while the 49s believed Garoppolo would respond positively to Lance’s presence, there is no way to know for sure.
“You don’t know how someone will react to uncharted territory,” McDaniel said. “This is what was really cool to watch. The guy who knows we picked the high quarterback. He hears a murmur. It keeps you focused and really empowers you to be the best version of yourself. ”
Tight end George Kittle has been a supporter of Garoppolo since his inception.
“I wouldn’t call it a fall on the sword for him. I respect him, ”Kittle said. “It delivers when you need it. We all play poorly, and when you are a quarterback, it clearly intensifies. But I think Jimmy is playing very well now. He delivers the ball. He is confident in his pocket. He may be wrong, but it’s not in his head at all. He just keeps on doing it. ”
Garoppolo plays the quarterback as the face of the franchise, not considering himself more than life. He communicates easily with his teammates and everyone else in the building. His eventual replacement is already in place, but Garoppolo is considered the average guy who deals with a potentially delicate situation with perspective and attention.
“He was counted the entire time he was here, possibly except for the year he came,” said midfielder Fred Warner. “He spoke, and this is a sign of a real competitor, when all the odds are against you, and you can be at your best. It’s as impressive as it gets. ”
This does not mean that Garoppolo has moved into elite status among the NFL defenders. The strength of his hand is so-so, and while accurate between the marks, at the border it’s a whole different story. Usually, one or two dizzying head shots are made per game. If Jesse Bates of Cincinnati had kept the interception in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo would never have gotten a chance to seize an opportunity in overtime.
But Garoppolo is playing well enough that a $ 24.2 million salary in the last year of his contract may be something to consider if he takes the 49ers to the playoffs and then scores one or two wins. Only then will we know exactly what the 49s think of Lance and his willingness to take over in 2022.
Moving on to week 15, I guess they still don’t know.