Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

What led to 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo’s resurrection against the Bears?

Marc Adams
Nov 5, 2021 at 3:13 PM--

Jimmy Garoppolo had one foot in the grave. As he entered Chicago's Soldier Field on a chilly Halloween, his career as the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback must have been flashing before his eyes. He was coming off of his worst start of 2021, an ugly performance at home against the Indianapolis Colts. And now, the vultures were circling, and some were predicating this would be his final start as the 49ers signal-caller.

It doesn't matter that the weather was horrible the week before in Santa Clara. Fans, as well as some in the media, had been waiting to run Garoppolo out of town, so that rookie Trey Lance could really begin his development. And after the loss to the Colts, it looked like that might happen sooner rather than later.

But Lance was dealing with an injury, a knee sprain, that still had him limited in practice. And when a rookie (with only one start) doesn't get enough reps in practice, that rookie is most likely not going to start on Sunday. And so Garoppolo was assured of starting at least one more game, this one in his hometown.

To say Garoppolo had his best game of 2021, against the Bears on Halloween, would be an understatement. Garoppolo showed that he wasn't ready to surrender his job to anyone just yet. The 49ers quarterback threw for over 300 yards and had two rushing touchdowns, one coming on a busted play that showed a lot of poise, leading his team to a much-needed win.

But the bigger thing was that Garoppolo looked different. He looked more confident, he took more risks, he threw downfield more. And his teammates responded, as did his coach.

Kyle Shanahan said after the game, "I felt the whole offense was in a rhythm, which makes me in a rhythm when I'm calling plays. The guys made a ton of plays out there. And then we were able to make some key ones on third down.

"I thought he [Garoppolo] played real well. Seemed healthier. But I thought he had a hell of a game and guys made some plays for him, too. Thought it was a real good day for the offense."

So what was it that led to a better form of Garoppolo last Sunday? Here are a few possibilities:

He had nothing to lose.

It's possible that Garoppolo knew he was about to lose his job as starting quarterback. And perhaps, knowing this, he decided he needed to take more risks, throw more deep balls, and be a more vocal leader. He really had nothing to lose and everything to gain from doing so. When people are backed into a corner, their true character usually comes to light. Maybe that's what happened here.

Shanahan had nothing to lose.

Shanahan may not have been in jeopardy of losing his job, but many fans and media were calling for accountability and answers (at best), or his job (at worst). Maybe Shanahan decided he needed to let Garoppolo play like he did for the final five games in 2017, when he flung the ball around the field, fearless and willing to take risks. That form of Garoppolo worked then. Maybe the 49ers need that form of Garoppolo to return. And maybe Shanahan decided he had nothing to lose, so he let the quarterback be himself.

Coming back home made a difference.

It is also a possibility that going back to Chicago, and playing in front of many family and friends, was really good for Garoppolo, as well. 49ers General Manager John Lynch seems to think that played a part. Lynch was a guest on KNBR's Murph & Mac Show Friday morning and discussed the talk he had with the team the night before the game.

He didn't go into details, except to say a little bit about what he told Garoppolo. "I said, 'Hey, Jimmy, I remember very vividly, your first start here. You led us to a game-winning drive. When you come home, great players, they step up, and I expect that out of you, and I can't wait to watch it.'

"It's always fun. I always played my best when I went back to San Diego. I think there's something about going home, and Jimmy was feeling that. I'm really proud of the way he played. I think he got better as the game went on and did a great job of leading us to victory. And I think it was sweet for him for a bunch of reasons. He had a ton of family in the stands. A really cool deal."

So did going home make that big of a difference for Garoppolo?

A fluke, or a good matchup against the Bears.

Some will say it was a fluke, and that Garoppolo can't repeat that performance, especially against better teams and defenses. And it's true, the Bears have struggled this season. But the Chicago defense had played well leading up to the game with San Francisco. Yes, their star pass rusher, Khalil Mack, was missing. But so was one of Garoppolo's best weapons, George Kittle.

The benefit of a strong running game.

It's no doubt that Garoppolo is better when there is a strong running game. For that matter, so is Shanahan. And everyone else on offense. The beauty of Shanahan's offense is that run plays and pass plays, alike, are set up to look the same, so as to never give the defense a jump on what is about to come. When the 49ers are running the ball effectively, the offense is able to employ play actions, roll-outs, and misdirection that keep the defense guessing. The pass game, in particular the quarterback, benefits from this.

In all likelihood, it was a combination of all of these possibilities. Whatever was the main reason for his success on Sunday, Garoppolo escaped the grave, and came back to life. Whether or not he is fully resurrected will be determined in the coming weeks, starting this Sunday against one of the league's best defenses, the Arizona Cardinals.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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