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Jimmy Garoppolo Begins Bright Future With 49ers

A look back at the San Francisco savior’s first start against the Bears, and how Bill Belichick and Tom Brady played a small part in the win

We want to know the magic formula, the potion San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo carried in his suitcase from Boston to San Francisco less than 12 hours after Bill Belichick called him and said: “We traded you to the 49ers.”

There isn’t one, of course. Unless you consider “work” something “magic.”

In the wake of his first start for the 49ers, a 15-14 squeaker over the equally lousy Bears in Chicago on Sunday, Garoppolo considered the question: What had he taken from Tom Brady, his mentor for three-and-a-half years before this stunning trade to the Niners at the Oct. 31 deadline, that would help him for the rest of his NFL life?

“One thing?” Garoppolo said. “I’d say preparation. That stuff that goes unnoticed. Practice. Tom used to say you could get better in practice every day. The time you spend on the things you didn’t do in college—studying, watching film, the little things, everything. I was able to watch him for three-and-a-half years, and I hope to carry those lessons for the rest of my career.”


The little things. Brady and Belichick schooled Garoppolo in them. “I was thinking about them on the final drive, when we drove for the winning score,” Garoppolo said.

It isn’t the win that was the most notable point of this day, Garoppolo’s first start for the 49ers since the Oct. 30 trade from New England to San Francisco for a 2018 second-round pick. It was the way he won. Wins now for San Francisco don’t matter as much as the mechanics of them, and whether the new kid on the block is getting it.

The Niners took the ball at the San Francisco 8-yard-line, with 5:27 left in the game, trailing 14-12. It’s a fascinating study, how the 1-10 49ers attacked the 3-8 Bears. Fascinating, because the 49ers really didn’t attack them at all.

“We knew we needed first downs,” Garoppolo said, “and we knew we needed to work the clock. That’s what I learned playing for Coach Belichick. It’s funny you mention that, because I was thinking about that [clock management] on the field. Coach would run through situations like this all the time.”

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Garoppolo worked the clock down to third-and-nine from the San Francisco 49, with 2:17 left. Garoppolo to Trent Taylor for 33 yards, to the Bears 18. Game within reach now. Now the Niners had to kill the clock. The Bears had all three timeouts left, but could they bleed enough clock to make San Francisco kick the field goal with enough time left for the Bears to mount a late field-goal drive? “Coach [Belichick] would run through situations during film situations, things you can’t practice. You’ve just got to know.”

It was a combo platter of bleeding the clock and getting into field-goal range. Garoppolo told his backs to stay inbounds, and on five straight plays they did. Robbie Gould’s 24-yard field goal with four seconds left won it, 15-14. Garoppolo's first start for the Niners was the second win this season for a bad, and needy, team.

After the game, he and Brady texted, and the man who idolized all things Niners growing up told his protégé, the future of the Niners, congratulations. A cool moment. It’ll be a surprise if Garoppolo and the Niners don't have a very long future together.

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Brett Hundley is Getting the Job Done

We all know why Brett Hundley is in the Packers lineup right now: to keep the seat warm for Aaron Rodgers. He knows it. “I just want to make sure we are in a good position to make the playoffs when Aaron comes back,” Hundley said this week. Going 2-5 since Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone is not what Hundley had in mind. But the last two weeks have proven that Hundley is good enough to be a stopgap for Rodgers. With one game left before Rodgers’ return, the Packers know they’re one win (over an 0-12 team in Cleveland Sunday) from being 7-6 with three games left, and being in prime position in a tough NFC to win a playoff berth.

Ironically, what helped Hundley the most Sunday in the win over Tampa Bay is the unlikely return to his roots, the running game. Green Bay used the read-option to beat the Bucs. Hundley made two big read-option runs, and one big throw off the read-option, to win a game the Packers had to have.

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“As a quarterback,” Hundley said this week, “I like to throw it, obviously. So it’s hard. It wasn’t like we emphasized it in practice, so I knew it was coming. It just sort of turned into a read-option game for us.”

This was one of the best-called games I’ve seen out of coach Mike McCarthy in recent years, because he changed the game plan to fit what he thought was the best thing for his quarterback. Thought Hundley had a strong game the previous week against Pittsburgh, McCarthy knew the run-pass combination would do the most to keep the defense off-guard. McCarthy as right. The late-game change-ups helped Green Bay win and stay in the NFC race. “The experience I’m getting is good, and I’m happy to be playing,” Hundley said. “But I just want to leave us in the best spot to make the playoffs.”

A win over Cleveland Sunday and it’s mission accomplished. Rodgcers is due back Dec. 17 at Carolina.

And now for your email...

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Josh McCown has played really well in many games and the Jets show promise for the future. Is it too early to talk about how the Jets could and maybe should sign McCown for two more years?  He is playing like a 33-year-old and playing well.​

Interesting question, P.J. But it’s hard to plan any more than year to year with a 38-year-old quarterback. I’d definitely be in favor of the Jets keeping McCown for 2018, in part to groom his successor and in part to play.

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I think Todd Bowles deserves to be Coach of the Year. His team has been in every game this year despite preseason predictions of the record the Giants have. Any team that plays them for the remainder of the season should recognize it will be a challenge to win against the Jets. What do you think?​

Bowles would be in my top five. As of today, I’d probably go: Sean McVay, Mike Zimmer, Todd Bowles, Doug Marrone, Doug Pederson.

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After watching Tom Brady verbally abuse Josh McDaniels, I thought, “What if that was Cam Newton?” If the same thing happened with Cam Newton, I think the story would be very different. Do you agree?

I think it’s unfair to say either way about Newton. When Brady, who has quarterbacked five Super Bowl championship teams, and his longtime offensive coordinator, who will be a sought-after head-coaching candidate after the season, get into a five-second hissy fit on the sidelines in the middle of a competitive game, I don’t think it’s worthy of criticism for either one. Brady sometimes barks at people on the sidelines. It’s part of who he is as a competitor. He wins. If he didn’t win, or if you heard “sources saying” players and coaches were ticked off at Brady for it, then I’d think it was a big deal. They don’t, and it’s not.

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Any thoughts on Odell Beckham's tweets comparing the reaction to Brady's sideline argument with McDaniels to how OB is treated when he explodes/argues with coaches? Does he have an argument?​​
—Paul, Boston

When Beckham leads a team and wins multiple Super Bowls and stops proposing to sideline kicking nets, I’ll listen to him.

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Peter, now that the reality hammer has come down on the flailing Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese, surely your warm embrace of their disgraceful treatment of Eli Manning is due for further reflection? Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater! In their death throes McAdoo and Reese conspired to kill a wonderful starting streak and sully the image of one of the classiest players ever to don a helmet. A QB who, it must be pointed out, is ahead of more than half the league in completions, has better accuracy than Russell Wilson and fewer interceptions than the vaunted Matt Ryan. John Mara is no doubt kicking himself for how this has all panned out. I look forward to the roar of appreciation that awaits Eli on Sunday in the Meadowlands.​
—Marty M.

I have tremendous respect for Eli Manning the player and person, tremendous admiration for how he represents the Giants with class at every turn, and tremendous appreciation for his play in the most important moments of the two biggest games of his NFL life, the two Super Bowl wins over New England. But if my team is 2-9, and I know my team is going to have a high pick in the draft the next year, and the draft has multiple good quarterback prospects, and I know my veteran quarterback will be 37 in 2018, I am putting my sentimental feelings for Eli Manning aside and doing what’s best for the team. What’s best for the team is seeing if either quarterback behind Manning deserves to be considered as the quarterback of the future, thus enabling me to consider dealing the second or third or fourth pick next April for a trove of picks to help rebuild my team.

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“With the regular season 75 percent complete, my MVP top three: 1. Tom Brady, 2. Russell Wilson, 3. Carson Wentz.”  Why not Case Keenum?
—Burke E.

Not in front of those three. But Keenum certainly will deserve credit, and may deserve inclusion at the very top, if he keeps up this incredible play over the last four weeks. Man, he’s been a revelation.

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As a Pats fan, I thought Gronkowski’s hit was unforgivable, and a one-game suspension is a must. It’s not even a question. But I do think it remains a largely unreported story the absolute mauling this guy gets game in and game out from defensive players half his size, without a call. And then the phantom offensive PI calls that go against him. It’s almost like he’s too good, and the refs feel a need to even the playing field.​
—Reuben, Boston

I agree, mostly. It’s like the way the league overlooked a lot of hits on Cam Newton before it became a point of contention (and, I believe, a quiet point of emphasis for the officials doing Carolina games). I think Gronkowski should get more flags for the abuse he takes. Having said that, I appreciate you calling the hit Sunday “unforgivable,” which it was. The fact that he appealed was just not smart. He should just take his medicine, apologize, and use the week off to heal for the important games to come.

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It struck me when you highlighted in your column the little quirk Tony Romo said about Tom Brady faking the silent count. What is your watching routine on Sundays? Do you watch the normal broadcasts? Are you into Red Zone? DVR and fast forward games? Highlight shows only? It would be difficult to see enough and write the column either way so I was curious. Also, I was surprised at the lack of attention paid to Seattle beating the Eagles.​

Thanks Matt. Regarding the Sunday night game, we had a reporter there, Jenny Vrentas, who wrote 1,500 words on it. Usually when we have a reporter on-site, I mostly steer clear of those games. And there was so much else going on Sunday I needed to focus my attention on other stories. I usually DVR a couple of game so I can go back and watch complete series or some plays in the wee hours of Monday morning when I’m writing … and then, mostly, I watch Red Zone from 1 to 7 p.m. ET to be able to see as much of the important plays in as many games as I can.

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