Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.
Case in point: The San Francisco 49ers. They went this season with Trey Lance, the third pick in the 2021 draft, as their starter and Jimmy Garoppolo as his backup. But that was only because they couldn’t move Jimmy G in the offseason.
Granted, Garoppolo underwent shoulder surgery, which muted interest, but once he recovered nothing happened. So the 49ers did the unexpected: They decided to keep him, signing him to a cap-friendly deal in late August.
Now you know why:
Garoppolo would serve as San Francisco’s hedge against a catastrophe befalling Lance, who entered this season with 389 pass attempts in his pro and collegiate careers. If Lance faltered, the 49ers figured they had an experienced backup to call on.
Well, a catastrophe just happened.
Lance suffered a fractured right ankle in the first quarter of San Francisco’s home opener vs. Seattle and is lost for the season. Enter Garoppolo, and you know what happened Sunday. He did what he usually does. He won.
Final score: San Francisco 27, Seattle 7.
After not taking a single snap in training camp – true story --, he threw for one touchdown, ran for another and won. Nothing unusual there. All the guy does is win. He’s 31-14 as a regular-season starter in San Francisco, 35-16 including the playoffs, and took the club to Super Bowl LV.
The 49ers are supposed to be a Super Bowl threat this season, and they should be -- if they get above-average quarterbacking. But that was a concern with Lance, mostly because of his inexperience and partly because of a lackluster performance in last weekend’s loss to the Bears.
But it should be a concern no more. In Garoppolo, the 49ers know what they have … and they have a winner with playoff experience. They also know they won’t have Lance until the 2023 season. So they ride with the veteran they didn’t want … but the veteran they now need.
“The big thing,” said Hall-of-Fame coach and NBC analyst Tony Dungy, “is that (49ers’ coach) Kyle Shanahan knows this quarterback. They’re going to be fine.”
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Age has its advantages. Look no farther than what the Bucs are doing with quarterback Tom Brady. They’re giving him every Wednesday off, and if you think that’s no big deal you don’t know what happens that day: Teams install game plans for the upcoming weekend. At 45, Brady is the NFL’s oldest current player. With seven Super Bowl rings, he’s the game’s most decorated. Call this one: Age Before Duty.
2. The Browns are still the Browns. You can’t blame Baker Mayfield or Brownie the Elf for what just happened. Consider for a moment, Cleveland fans, what your team just did: It blew a 13-point lead … in the last two minutes … to the New York Jets … to Joe Freakin’ Flacco. Bad karma and the Browns go together like Levi and Strauss.
3. Aaron Rodgers still owns the Bears. He's 23-5 against them in regular-season play, with 63 TD passes (his most vs. any opponent), and he just just completed his 15th performance vs. Chicago with a passer rating over 100. The Packers are 15-0 in those games. Furthermore, in his last five starts against the Bears he has ratings of 128.0, 132.2, 147.9, 141.1 and 131.1. I think you get the idea. For the Bears, it's never a beautiful day in Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood.
4. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Sean Payton were wrong. Each was critical of Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa last week, with Fitz saying Tua was “limited” and Payton predicting he’d be benched. Not so fast, fellas. He just threw six TD passes (four in the fourth quarter) for the first time in his career and led Miami to an improbable 42-38 come-from behind shocker of Baltimore.
5. New year, same headaches for Cincinnati. The Bengals promised to enclose quarterback Joe Burrow in bubble wrap this year. They haven’t. Burrow was sacked seven times last week and hit eight. He was sacked six times Sunday and hit nine times. Burrow is the Bengals’ most valuable player. Cincinnati will be looking at Brandon Allen sooner rather than later if they don’t fix this problem.
THIRD AND 15
1. Pete Carroll needs a new message. He motivated his Seahawks this summer by reminding them he went three straight seasons at USC without losing. “So it’s possible,” he told his team. No it isn’t. The Seahawks are 1-1.
2. Once upon a time, nobody played defense like the Ravens. Not now. Dating back to last season, Baltimore has blown five fourth-quarter leads, but nothing like Sunday’s collapse when it hemorrhaged 28 fourth-quarter points. "We have to own it," said coach John Harbaugh. "Every single person." Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, report to the principal’s office.
3. Proof positive that it’s never been easier to play QB: Jacoby Brissett hit 16 of his first 17 passes.
4. Coming soon to Pay Per View: Mike Evans vs. Marshon Lattimore.
5. Maybe you don’t believe in Super Bowl hangovers, but I do … for Super Bowl losers. Since the Buffalo Bills in 1993, only one loser returned to the game the following year – and that was New England with Tom Brady. So unless you have Tom Terrific, you’re toast in this millennium. Last season’s Super Bowl loser was Cincinnati, and the Bengals are 0-2. Since 1990, of the 265 teams that lost their first two, only 30 … or 11 percent … reached the playoffs. You gotta believe.
6. Given the choice of watching his WNBA Las Vegas Aces in Connecticut or the Raiders' home opener, owner Mark Davis made the smart move: He flew to Connecticut. The Aces won the first major pro sports title for Las Vegas, while the Raiders snatched defeat from the jaws of victory to move to 0-2.
7. Two reasons I'm not sold on the Rams despite Sunday's win: 1) It was Atlanta, and 2) it was the seventh time in his past 15 games (including the playoffs) that Matthew Stafford had multiple interceptions.
8. Stupid is as stupid does. Maybe more NFL coaches should listen to Forrest Gump instead of their offensive coordinators. If they did, they wouldn't line up in shotgun formations at the goal line. The Broncos tried it twice last Monday in Seattle and fumbled both times. Then Chicago gave it a try Sunday, and quarterback Justin Fields was stopped short. "Those who can't remember the past are condemned to repeat it," Santayana once said. Maybe NFL coaches should pay attention to him, too.
9. Dating back to the last game of 2021, the Lions scored 35 or more points in three consecutive games. How rare is that? The last time that happened was 1952-53, when the Lions won back-to-back NFL championships under Buddy Parker.
10. To channel Chuck Noll: Matt Ryan, it’s time to get on with life’s work.
11. I don’t know if coach Nathaniel Hackett wins in Denver. What I do know is that he doesn’t have a prayer if he fails to clean up stupid penalties. The Broncos have been flagged for three delay-of-game penalties in two games under McDaniel, and that can't continue. They committed two all of last season. No wonder Denver fans on Sunday decided to help out, counting down the play clock as Russell Wilson stood over center.
12. I’ve seen enough in two weeks to know the AFC West is not wide open. It’s the Chiefs and Chargers, with Vegas and Denver bringing up the rear.
13. Tampa Bay will be the first to clinch its division. Two reasons: Defense and competition. The Bucs have the defense, allowing 13 points in their first two wins, and they don’t have the competition. Tampa Bay is 2-0. The rest of the division is 1-5..
14. Best receiver you seldom hear about: Detroit’s Amon-Ra St. Brown. He has nine TDs in his last six games. He also has eight straight starts with eight or more catches.
15. What is so rare as a day in June? A day in September where the Giants and Jets each win. It’s happened once the past three years.
NUMBERS TO REMEMBER
0 – Pittsburgh sacks, just the third time that’s happened since 2017.
1-4 – Tom Brady vs. New Orleans in regular-season play with Tampa Bay.
1-25 – Carolina under Matt Rhule when allowing 17 or more points.
15 -- Justin Fields completions in two weeks.
2-0 – Cooper Rush’s record as a starter.
20.8 -- Seconds it took Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray to complete a dazzling two-point conversion.
23 – Consecutive Cooper Kupp games with five or more catches, tying him with DeAndre Hopkins for second most in NFL history. Antonio Brown is the leader with 36.
2005 – Last time Miami won after trailing by 21 points.
2014 -Last time Indianapolis won in Jacksonville..
361 – Receiving yards for Miami’s Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, who combined for four TDs.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTE
“It is what it is. You just block it out and continue to play football.” – Pittsburgh quarterback Mitch Tribusky on Steelers’ fans calling for rookie Kenny Pickett.