Doubts about Garoppolo's doubters.
Jimmy Garoppolo knows doubters are lurking in the weeds, waiting for him to fail. After all, doubters come with the territory.
He knows there were some advocating that the 49ers sign his former mentor, Tom Brady, in the offseason to replace him, something San Francisco GM John Lynch admits was discussed internally but then dismissed. To have acknowledged that seemed to raise the temperature of the doubters but not of Garoppolo.
Certainly all young quarterbacks must face skepticism until proven otherwise, but what the doubts surrounding him are based upon is hard to fathom. They say more about the times, frankly, than they do about him.
Garoppolo’s greatest weakness may be simply that he stood in the wings too long behind Brady in New England and thus feels like a guy more advanced than his playing time actually would suggest. He will be 29 in October and is entering his seventh NFL season, which in most quarterbacking cases would mean he was an established starter by now or someone headed for a career as a backup who had made clear what he is and what he is not.
But Garoppolo’s story is far different because the truth is this guy has yet to play two full seasons in the NFL yet is 21-5 as a starter and in his only full year running the 49ers he led them to the Super Bowl and had them leading by 10 points with 10 minutes to play. That he couldn’t hold off Patrick Mahomes was neither his job nor his responsibility. That he didn’t match the magic of Mahomes is true - Garoppolo having gone 3-for-11 in the fourth quarter for 36 passing yards and an untimely pick - but it seems odd to be questioning his right to run the Niners’ offense considering what he has accomplished with less than two years of actual starting time.
Yes he seemed to waver some near the end of the season and yes he struggled in his first playoffs but despite what the doubters may say San Francisco did not reach the Super Bowl despite him. In fact, Garoppolo was the only quarterback in the NFL to finish in the top five in completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdown passes. His 3,978 passing yards in his first full year as a starter ranks fourth all-time in 49er history (hello Joe Montana, Steve Young and John Brodie) and his 69.1 completion percentage ranked fifth in the NFL. All that was accomplished coming off a lost 2018 season in which he blew out a knee and missed the final 13 games.
In 26 games as a starter (including two in New England when Brady was suspended for allegedly aiding and abetting malfeasance with an air pump), he has a completion percentage of 67.5% with 44 touchdown passes and 21 picks. If this inspires doubt what does it take to inspire faith? Garoppolo doesn’t know but said this week the most important person in his future is quite sure of his abilities.
“I’m always confident in my play,’’ he said. “I know what I put out there last season and everything like that…I’m still relatively young for a quarterback in terms of playing time. I think as a quarterback you’ve got to go out there, play, get live action like that.’’
Garoppolo also had to get used to relying on his surgically repaired knee, which naturally took some time, and now must adjust to the naysayers and the suggestion by some that his team should have considered putting him back to being Brady’s backup. How that affects him, if at all, remains to be seen but his first public statement concerning that offseason drama seemed to carry the right tone.
“It’s part of the business,’’ Garoppolo said of the 49ers’ flirtation with the idea of signing Brady. “I’ve seen both sides of it.’’
Not really but he at least has seen the side of critics who seem to feel leading a team into the Super Bowl in your first full season as a starting quarterback somehow implies you may not be up to the task of doing it again because your team blew a 10-point lead in the final 10 minutes and you overthrew Emmanuel Sanders on what might have been the game-winning touchdown pass late that Super Bowl evening.
The speciousness of the doubters’ skepticism about Garoppolo is as simple as that one play. If he’d hit it, would they still be doubting him or would they be overhyping him as the next Montana? You know the answer to that. He would have been the guy who made the play when it had to be made. He would have been the Super Bowl MVP and Lynch would not for a minute have brought up the name of Tom Brady. He would have been “a sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famer,’’ to some of the talking heads. That would all have been as ridiculous as the doubts that swirled around him at the end of last season but this is the world we live in. Or at least Jimmy Garoppolo lives in. For now.
This year he enters another odd season because no one knows what the Covid-19 Pandemic holds. Will there even be a season and how will he and every other player react to the changed circumstances and absence of proper pre-season preparation? Those are as unknown as Jimmy Garoppolo’s future.
Bill Parcells always said he didn’t have a crystal ball when asked about the future of his team or any particular player (except maybe Lawrence Taylor). Same is true for Garoppolo. No one knows if the skeptics will be proven correct or if the 49ers’ eventual faith in him will be rewarded. But one thing seems certain.
For a guy who has played barely a year and a half as a starting quarterback he’s accomplished quite a lot. Quite a lot indeed.