Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

‘Things are slowing down for me’: Jimmy Garoppolo more comfortable than ever with 49ers offense

Sep 13, 2021 at 11:57 AM--

There were two narratives presented to San Francisco 49ers fans this offseason. The first was by the team itself. Even though it was drafting a quarterback of the future in Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo remained very much in the plans for 2021.

The other narrative was that the 49ers sought to trade Garoppolo but couldn't find a deal that fits.

The team didn't care which narrative you believed. It was just moving forward with its plan. The 49ers, after all, have become incredibly proficient at blocking the outside noise, even as the coach, general manager, and player after player are repeatedly asked about the quarterback situation.

Garoppolo might tell you it's an "it-is-what-it-is kind of thing," as he often does. And he'd be correct. He refused to make the situation difficult, though, welcoming Lance, his eventual successor, with open arms and embracing the role of mentor.

Still, the situation had to be in the back of his mind. His time with the 49ers, the team that traded for him just four years ago, had an expiration date. And that date is closer than he anticipated.

None of the distractions seemed to impact Garoppolo's play on Sunday, even with Lance entering the game for a play here and there. The rookie even tossed a touchdown to wide receiver Trent Sherfield on the first regular-season pass of his career.

Who was there to greet and congratulate Lance on the sideline? Garoppolo.

Lance could have stolen the show. That would have fit very nicely into one narrative. But, instead, it was the 49ers' narrative that was on display on Sunday morning. They believe in Garoppolo's ability to win football games, and the veteran quarterback showed why.

Garoppolo connected with his targets on his first seven throws for 104 passing yards. The quarterback finished the game 17-of-25 for 314 yards, a touchdown, and a passer rating of 124.2. It was his sixth career game of 300-or-more passing yards. By the way, the veteran quarterback is undefeated in those games.

"I thought that Jimmy played well," head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. "I thought he was pretty on, did a really good job ... I thought Jimmy played well."

Garoppolo tossed the longest pass of his career—a 79-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who, aside from a late fumble, impressed himself with nine receptions for 189 yards.

"I saw he was one-on-one," Garoppolo told reporters after the game. "I knew we were in a tough situation. I thought I would just give him a chance, try to back-shoulder him a little bit. I got hit pretty good on it, so I didn't really see it. But it was kind of funny. Me and Trent [Williams], we were getting up from the pile and everything, and the next thing we know, Deebo was crossing the goal line. It worked out pretty well."

This is Garoppolo's fifth season in Shanahan's offense if you count his shortened 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons. The quarterback has only started 31 games since being traded to the 49ers in 2017. That's barely two season's worth.

Garoppolo definitely feels more comfortable in the offense now. That showed on Sunday. It also helps that his head coach, also the play-caller, was in a good rhythm. Things have slowed down for the veteran quarterback, which could mean a lot of success this season.

"There were a couple [throws] where it's just, I don't know, you're seeing the defense, it's slower to you," Garoppolo told Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer after the game. "You're not trying to process the play so much as before. The play-calling, and just getting the play running this offense, is as complicated as I've been around. So that part, once you get past that, you can start playing football again. And that's kinda where I'm at now. Just seeing the defense better.

"Things are slowing down for me. It felt slower out there today, and that's always a good thing."

Everyone figured Lance would have more of a presence against the Lions. After all, the Lions had prepared for him after watching Shanahan repeatedly insert the athletic rookie quarterback into drives during the team's preseason finale against the Las Vegas Raiders. Many wondered if we might see something similar at Ford Field.

While Garoppolo might have had a problem giving up entire drives to another quarterback, surrendering a play or two here and there isn't as big of a deal.

"If it was series by series, which I think when we were talking, that was kinda what the thought was, that really would've been more the rhythm thing," Garoppolo told Breer. "Because that was in the discussions for a little bit, and I was like, 'You know, I don't know how that's gonna work, just being out for that long and not throwing.' Switching off like how we're doing it, it's different. The rhythm thing doesn't matter as much—one or two plays isn't too bad."

That isn't what happened, though. Lance wasn't a big part of the game plan. Instead, the rookie jumped in for just four snaps. The rest was all Garoppolo, and the veteran took advantage of the opportunity. The 49ers have Super Bowl aspirations, and Garoppolo showed on Sunday that maybe he could be the guy depended on to reach that goal, even when the defense struggles.

Garoppolo may not know what his NFL future holds. He may not know what's at the end of the road ahead. However, for now, the quarterback appears to be staying the course and enjoying the ride.

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