The 49ers quarterback must have been exhausted following his afternoon of work on Sunday. C.J. Beathard? No, I’m talking about Jimmy Garoppolo. He didn’t play a snap in the Niners’ 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, just six days after they had acquired him in a trade. But the man never stopped fidgeting on the sidelines.
If anyone had taken the trouble to count Garoppolo’s practice throws during the game, Bruce Bochy probably would have sped to Levi’s Stadium and given him the hook midway through the third quarter.
And thanks to my powers of telepathy and the bruises on Beathard’s body, I can tell you exactly what Garoppolo was thinking during those three hours. When he lunged and bent while stretching an industrial rubber band around his legs, the former backup to Tom Brady was wondering what he had done to incur Bill Belichick’s wrath. When he got up for the 20th time to play toss, he was considering other lines of employment — TV analyst? Priest? Toothpaste model? And when Garoppolo and Beathard sat side by side on the 49ers bench and stared into their electronic tablets, the newcomer certainly must have been checking Orbitz for flights to Greece.
Nothing about Sunday’s loss could have made Garoppolo excited about playing for the 49ers. Teammates continued to fall like autumn leaves, as safety Jaquiski Tartt (broken hand) and fullback Kyle Juszcyk joined the injury list. The receivers dropped several balls, subverting any chance of finding rhythm on offense.
“It didn’t look like offensively any of us did very well,” head coach Kyle Shanahan noted.
Most egregious was the pounding Beathard took. He wasn’t an inexpensive NFL quarterback in this game, he was the world’s costliest tackling dummy. The Cardinals sacked him five times and hit him 16 times. Sixteen. I’m pretty sure there have been entire seasons when Brady wasn’t hit 16 times.
“I thought we should have had more,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said after the game. “That was a beat-up offensive line, and God bless Beathard, he’s tough. He’s tough as nails and stood in there and threw the ball, because we hit him a bunch.”
The Cardinals decked him so many times that Beathard had trouble sorting through the wallops afterward. “Actually, the most painful hit wasn’t even really a hit,” he said. “It was when I was throwing, I hit somebody’s helmet with my thumb. That was the most painful thing. My neck got twisted around on the false start (on a different play). That one didn’t feel great.”
The most dramatic point of contact didn’t even show up in the Cardinals’ defensive statistics. When Beathard broke the pocket and ran for 10 yards with about 3½ minutes left, Arizona safety (and former Niner) Antoine Bethea drilled the quarterback around the chin as he slid.
Amazingly, Beathard did not submit to the violence. If anything, his poise galvanized his standing on the team. You could see that in the 49ers’ response to Bethea’s late hit. Several teammates jumped in to defend the quarterback. Running back Carlos Hyde was ejected for fighting.
Beathard was far from mistake-free, but his teammates recognized his resolve.
“I’m proud of him, how he has handled himself,” right guard Brandon Fusco said. “As an O-line, we haven’t done our job well enough.”
“C.J., man, that dude is tough,” Goodwin echoed. “He’s gonna be something, for real.”
“That’s what’s so impressive to me about him,” Shanahan said. “I think those hits affect almost everybody. I haven’t seen them affect him.”
Shanahan admitted in his postgame presser that he has shaped his game plan to help keep his rookie quarterback in one piece. He’d be crazy not to. The 49ers had already made one change on the offensive line this year, benching left guard Zane Beadles and trading for Laken Tomlinson to replace him. Sunday, with veteran Joe Staley out with an eye injury, rookie Erik Magnuson made an emergency start at right tackle and big Trent Brown was forced to move from the right side to the left.
The result was a line that offered the resistance of a cardboard dam. And the receiving corps is just as ragtag, especially after No. 1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon was placed on the injured reserve with a neck injury last week.
It must be a terrifying vision to Jimmy Garoppolo.
As the former Patriot watched Beathard dodging buses, you could forgive him for hoping that he wouldn’t be the next one sent into traffic. And he wasn’t alone. Shanahan would probably like nothing more than to put Garoppolo in storage through the rest of 2017.
The coach said as much when the 49ers introduced Garoppolo last Tuesday. When I asked Shanahan whether it’s important to see the new quarterback in game action, he said: “I think it is important, but I don’t put everything into games, either. I mean, you play 16 games a year, you practice all the time. And you can learn a lot from a guy in practice, too. We didn’t bring Jimmy here to just help us right now.”
They brought Garoppolo here as their long-term solution at quarterback. But is he the answer? Is he better than Beathard?
I mean, probably, but it’s hard to say for sure, because Garoppolo has started exactly two games and thrown 94 passes in two-plus NFL seasons. He looked very good in those two starts in 2016, when Brady was suspended for his role in Deflategate. But he was playing for the destined-to-be-champion Patriots, and he trailed for six minutes combined in the two games.
If the 49ers had Garoppolo wrapped up for several seasons, they could afford to be patient and write off the 2017 season. But that’s not the case. Garoppolo has an expiring contract and will be a free agent in 2018. He has been one of the NFL’s most coveted backup quarterbacks, and will command big dollars when he hits the market.
If the 49ers use their franchise tag on him, it will probably cost them about $24 million. If they want to sign him to a long-term contract, the overall investment will be far more.
Shanahan knows this game, and especially this position, far better than I. But it’s hard to believe that he can evaluate Garoppolo solely on practice snaps and old tape. Sooner or later, for better or worse, Garoppolo must take the field for the 49ers.
If they can find him. The guy might be halfway to Greece by now.
You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.