The 49ers won a game without Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback for the entire second half Sunday.
And we use the term “won” loosely because on the big-picture scale, the personnel losses the 49ers endured far outweigh the value of a win over the inept Jets.
We’re going to assume that if the 49ers want to keep pace in the NFC West, they might have to get used to Garoppolo’s absence.
The 49ers improved to 1-1, but this was no happy rebound. The players made available postgame by Zoom were somber. The injury report — headlined by the news that defensive end Nick Bosa is likely out with a torn ACL — was called “heartbreaking” and “a sucky situation.”
The team’s offensive leader didn’t appear to suffer an equally devastating injury, but his status is in doubt.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game that it was assumed that Garoppolo’s injury was a high right ankle sprain. Just four minutes into the second game of the 2020 season, Garoppolo was sacked by Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Garoppolo hobbled off, had his ankle retaped and came back to finish the first half.
It was a pretty gutty performance. Garoppolo was very effective (14-for-16 for 131 yards and two touchdowns) as he became increasingly constrained. He did not return to the game after halftime. Backup Nick Mullens said that, with such a three-touchdown cushion, all he had to do was “move the chains … preserve the victory.”
“I’m not sure,” Shanahan said when asked about his starting quarterback’s return. “We have to travel. … It will probably feel worse tomorrow morning.”
A huge factor in evaluating Garoppolo’s status is the brutal fact that the 49ers must return to MetLife Stadium next Sunday to play on its newly installed, player-eating artificial surface.
Garoppolo was the first to go down. But there were more devastating injuries to follow: Bosa was carted off the field shortly after Garoppolo’s injury. Solomon Thomas and Raheem Mostert were among the other 49ers who left the game with lower-leg injuries, and the Jets also had several.
This was only the second game on the new turf, and it was an unhappy experience. As soon as he got into the locker room, defensive lineman Arik Armstead tweeted: “@NFL fix this trash met life turf. 2020 is so wack.”
“Guys talked about it the entire game,” Shanahan said. “That was as many knee injuries, ankles and stuff, guys getting caught on the turf, as I’ve ever seen.”
The 49ers, who are spending the week between the two games in northern New Jersey at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, can say they won’t worry about going back to the surface that might have derailed their season. But they will. It’s only natural.
So, there’s virtually no chance Shanahan will roll a gimpy Garoppolo back onto the field against the New York Giants. Giants running back Saquon Barkley — not playing on his team’s own lousy turf — went down with an apparent torn ACL Sunday.
The 49ers’ injury explosion could derail a team trying to get back to the Super Bowl and stay competitive in the strong NFC West. It also could be a splash of reality for some disgruntled 49ers fans.
Unhappy with Garoppolo, whose record is a mere 22-7 in his games as the 49ers starter? You might have to find out what life is like without him.
There is a segment of folks who have pointed fingers at Garoppolo in the post-Super Bowl world. Garoppolo was handed most of the blame for the loss to Kansas City in February because he wasn’t as dynamic as Patrick Mahomes. Last week, Garoppolo received a lot of the blame for the opening loss to Arizona because he wasn’t as dynamic as Kyler Murray.
Now, the fans who are addicted to the game of “please get rid of this useless starter and put in the obviously better backup quarterback” (all fans play this, but 49ers fans have perfected it over many decades) will get to see how they feel about Mullens as the starter.
Mullens has learned a lot being in Shanahan’s system for four years. And on Sunday, after a few rough moments, he settled down and finished the game in respectable fashion (8-for-11, 71 yards).
“I have higher expectations for myself,” he said. “It’s my fourth year. There’s no excuse as to why I shouldn’t perform.”
In addition, he’s a nice guy. After Jerick McKinnon’s fourth-quarter touchdown dive into the end zone, Mullens politely replaced the pylon that had been knocked over.
He will pick up after himself and likely do fine holding down the 49ers’ QB position for the next week or two. After the Giants, the 49ers host the winless Eagles and Dolphins. But if Garoppolo’s injury requires an extensive absence, things could become worrisome.
Beginning in mid-October, the 49ers’ schedule takes a definite detour into fast lane. Garoppolo has proved he can handle the pressure. In addition, there were high expectations that this — Garoppolo’s second full season as a starter under Shanahan — could be a breakthrough. Several missed games could upset those hopes.
Born in San Francisco and raised in Marin County, Ann Killion has covered Bay Area sports for more than a quarter of a century. An award-winning columnist and a veteran of 11 Olympics, several World Cups and the Tour de France, Ann joined The Chronicle in 2012. Ann has worked for the San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Times and Sports Illustrated. She is a New York Times best-selling author, having co-written « Solo: A Memoir of Hope » with soccer star Hope Solo, »Throw Like A Girl » with softball player Jennie Finch and two middle-grade books on soccer, “Champions of Women’s Soccer” and “Champions of Men’s Soccer.” She was named California Sportswriter of the Year in 2014, 2017 and 2018. She has two children and lives in Mill Valley.
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