You can come out from under the bed now, 49ers fans. Remove that pillowcase from your head. You finally have a real quarterback again, potentially a star quarterback, and a quarterback who appears to have all the attributes and then some to lead this franchise out of its deep abyss.
In his first start with them, Jimmy Garoppolo transformed the 49ers from a fairly hopeless offensive outfit to a team that look like it can actually compete in the NFL. This was just the beginning, too. Imagine when Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch can expand his playbook and actually build a better team around him.
For now, they’d better get him a bodyguard or two and a limousine. Because, based on what Garoppolo showed in Chicago Sunday against the Bears in a 15-14 squeaker, his ceiling could be limitless. He was restricted by his supporting cast from being great. But he was very, very good, and you should be very, very excited.
Jimmy G made all the right throws. He made all the right decisions. He demonstrated all the correct mechanics so critical to passing accuracy. He showed incredible levels of poise, panache and competence. He elevated the players around him, from the linemen to the backs to the receivers. Even the defense seemed to play better, perhaps finally excited to get the ball back to their offensive partners.
Last but not least, Garoppolo won a damn game for the 49ers, with an assist from the leg of Robbie Gould. Winning matters. He won a road game, no less, in a duel with another good-looking young quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, who was the second overall pick in this past year’s draft. Trubisky was good. Garoppolo was way better, even in a one-point victory.
One hesitates to go too crazy about one performance. But you have our permission: You should go a little crazy about the birth of the Garoppolo Era, because this debut turned out better than anybody could have imagined, except possibly Garoppolo himself.
It was evident from the very first pass. On a third-and-10 play, Garoppolo stepped back and fired a seed in the right flat into the waiting hands of Marquise Goodwin for a first down. The pass was not only perfect, there wasn’t a millisecond of hesitation about what he wanted to. It was if he’d already run the play in his head before he executed it with complete precision.
Then came about 35 more plays from Garoppolo just like it. It was as if we were watching Tom Brady’s kid brother or something, and to some degree, we were. You have to figure if you’ve been Brady’s understudy for three years, you’re going to learn some valuable tricks that help you immensely once you get the chance to run a team yourself.
Garoppolo appears to have been an attentive and exquisite watcher and listener. He did so many impressive things it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s begin with something that might seem insignificant but isn’t – "feeling" pressure and avoiding it.
That skill is such a huge deal for an NFL quarterback, and we have such an intriguing frame of reference in the last true long-term quarterback the 49ers had in Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick was fast, and early on in his career, he electrified us with that blazing speed of his. But as teams figured him out and learned to how keep him contained in the pocket, he got sacked repeatedly or rushed his throws to avoid getting pummeled.
Why? Because for all his foot speed, Kap couldn’t adjust to a rush and extend plays from the pocket. Garoppolo? Goodness, it was like watching Joe Montana out of the drop-back. One of undervalued things about Montana is he could shed a menacing rusher with a simple little sidestep or step up, and most of the great ones can execute those moves, even if they aren’t running quarterbacks. Brady can do it. Drew Brees can do it. Peyton Manning did it.
Jimmy Garoppolo can do it. He probably shook off three or four sacks against the Bears with just one tiny hip swivel. On a couple of them, he subsequently completed first-down passes. So often, those kinds of plays make a difference in a game.
Perhaps more than anything, though, Garoppolo exhibited an uncanny overall polish for a guy who’s spent so much time on the bench waiting for his turn. It was more than just his confidence. It was his assuredness, and there’s a big difference.
Kaepernick was confident, at least until he got bludgeoned so many times in the backfield he wasn’t. Rookie C.J. Beathard, who admirably kept the starting spot warm, was and is confident. But you need more as a quarterback to win in the NFL consistently.
Assuredness in a quarterback is the confidence to get it done plus knowing how. It’s part mechanics. It’s part understanding the speed of the game. It’s part game-plan preparation and savvy. It’s part being able to read the field before a play. It’s part being able go through progressions once the play begins and making the best throw. It’s part just being smart and part being bold enough to know when to take chances. Finally, it’s part being able to inspire and lead your unit and make it function like a machine.
The 49ers haven’t functioned like they did Sunday on offense in quite some time. True, they didn’t score any touchdowns, but they moved the chains with uncommon proficiency for them. They made 23 first downs. They made 10 of those first downs with third down conversions (10 of 18). They held the ball for an ungodly 38 minutes and 47 seconds, or more than 17 minutes than Chicago did.
Receivers Goodwin and Trent Taylor had career days. Goodwin caught eight passes for 99 yards, Taylor six for 92. That’s because Garoppolo hit them right in stride with balls that were easy to catch. Taylor, just 5-foot-8, suddenly looked like so many of those pesky Patriots wideouts over the years like Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Goodwin looked like a bona fide all-purpose receiver as opposed to the track-star deep threat you try hit downfield once or twice a game.
Garoppolo finished the game with a fair to so-so official quarterback rating of 82.4, but that number is a flat lie. For one thing, his only interception was actually a completion that was ripped out of the hands of receiver Louis Murphy.
If you’re a 49ers fan, you should be giving Garoppolo a 100 percent rating, because he was everything you dreamed he could possibly be. Nowhere to go but up now.