There was still hope when running back Jerick McKinnon was lost for the season because the San Francisco 49ers still had their golden boy — quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. You know, that guy who single-handedly changed the fortunes of the franchise last year.

The 49ers' fortunes changed on Sunday with 5:55 left in the game against the Kansas City Chiefs when Garoppolo fell to the ground grasping his left knee after scrambling in an attempt to make a play.

San Francisco's offense was facing a third-and-goal situation from the 20-yard line. Garoppolo ran for a 13-yard gain and attempted to cut back inside rather than safely run out of bounds or even slide. Just like that, the 49ers' season took a drastic turn for the worst.

"I think Jimmy was just trying to be a ballplayer and trying to make a play," tackle Joe Staley said after the game. "He wasn't running out of bounds. He was trying to get some extra yards for his team, and it was just one of those things."

The injury likely takes away the 49ers' franchise quarterback, and with him, their season. Expectations were high heading into 2018. Those hopes have fizzled, and all eyes now look toward 2019 while fans try not to reflect too much on what could have been.

"This is part of the NFL," head coach Kyle Shanahan reminded the media. "We're not the first team this has happened to, so it's next guy up."

The next guy up is second-year quarterback C.J. Beathard, who started five games for San Francisco last year before Garoppolo took the team on an incredible run. Beathard had a chance to speak with Garoppolo before the team left Arrowhead Stadium to board a plane back to the Bay Area.

"I just talked to him in the training room, and told him I'd be praying for him, and I love him," Beathard told reporters. "He told me to lead these guys."

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


The injury to Garoppolo has to be especially frustrating for veterans like Staley, who was understandably excited for this season. While the 49ers may not have been a Super Bowl contender just yet, after enduring through years of Jim Tomsula, Chip Kelly, and then nine straight losses to start last season, the feeling was that they were on the cusp of something special.

"We're really trying to take the next step," Staley said. "We're trying so f'ing hard to take that next step. We've got to come out and execute like we did in the second half. We can't have those mental lapses. If we want to take the next step, we have to take the opportunity to score points on every single series."

The 49ers are right where I expected them to be, record-wise, after three games and on their way to what I figured to be about a nine-win season. How they got here, however, isn't what I expected.

I figured that with an entire offseason to prepare and Shanahan's familiarity with quarterback Kirk Cousins, the 49ers would be much more competitive against the Minnesota Vikings. The game was by no means a blowout, and I figured Garoppolo might struggle, but not to the tune of three interceptions.

I saw Week 2's contest as a mismatch and figured the 49ers would cruise in their home opener. Instead, they escaped with a three-point win after a late Detroit comeback was halted.

I didn't foresee quarterback Patrick Mahomes having a record-breaking season in just his second year, so I figured the 49ers would be competitive in Kansas City but eventually succumb to the hostile environment at Arrowhead Stadium in a 10-or-so point loss. That's what happened, but I saw it being a close matchup until the Chiefs pulled away at the end which is the opposite of what occurred. Before Garoppolo's injury, the 49ers were mounting a comeback after trailing 35-7 at one point.

What lies ahead for the 49ers without Garoppolo? Probably not the nine-win season I once projected. I had the Garoppolo-led 49ers going on a small two-game run against the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals before falling to the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams. Now? As was the case last year, every game will likely be a struggle. Garoppolo's presence made everyone around him that much better.

"That's the type of leader he is," Marquise Goodwin said via KNBR after Sunday's loss. "Talk the talk, walk the walk, encouraging words to the whole offense not to give up."

The 49ers' growth as a team was undoubtedly linked to Garoppolo's maturation. That was proven last year. The 49ers and their fans now brace for San Francisco's final 13 games while being left to wonder about what could have been.

"I've got a lot of confidence in C.J.," Shanahan said of Beathard. "He got a lot of playing time last year, led us to our first win last year, came today, made a hell of a throw on that fourth down (which was nullified because of a questionable penalty), no hesitation. C.J.'s a gamer. Everyone in here has a ton of respect for C.J., how he handles himself. He's a man out there, and he's a very good quarterback. We're fortunate to have him."





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