The 49ers’ Super Bowl championship window is now. Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch knew that heading into the offseason after their devastating loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.
They were set to return a dominant defense and potent rushing attack led by one of the NFL’s best play-callers. All the pieces were in place with a question mark looming at the most important position in sports: Quarterback.
The 49ers had the opportunity in the offseason to examine Jimmy Garoppolo and whether he has what it takes to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. A stacked roster can get you to the dance, but you need the right leader to take your date home.
Could the 49ers be comfortable putting the ball in Garoppolo’s hands and asking him to go win a Super Bowl against the best teams in the league? If not, they had an out.
A guy who has made winning Super Bowls look easy was interested in leading the 49ers to the sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. Yes, Tom Brady is 43 years old, but his credentials are unimpeachable and the cliff many predicted he’d fall off hasn’t materialized yet.
Shanahan and Lynch debated swapping in Brady for Garoppolo. They’ve admitted so publicly. In the end, they stuck with the protegee, tying their Super Bowl hopes to Garoppolo’s ability to improve his decision-making and raise his ceiling.
The first returns from the 49ers’ decision to stick with Garoppolo over Brady weren’t pretty.
San Francisco 49ers
Garoppolo was shaky Sunday in the 49ers’ Week 1 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium. He went 19-for-33 for 259 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 103. That looks good on its face, but numbers lie.
Seventy-six of those yards came on a touchdown pass to Raheem Mostert in which Mostert racked up 71 yards after the catch. Another 41 came on a pass to Kyle Juszczyk. He went 8-for-17 for 89 yards in the second half. He threw a horrid interception but got bailed out by a pass interference call.
Garoppolo’s worst moment came late in the first half with the 49ers up 10-7. Facing a second-and-4 from the Cardinals’ 8-yard line with 44 seconds left, Shanahan drew up a bubble screen to George Kittle that should have ended with the 49ers celebrating in the end zone. Instead, Garoppolo’s throw sailed, which forced Kittle to jump for the pass. Cardinals safety Budda Baker shed his block and hit Kittle in the leg, causing the star tight end to limp off.
Then, on the final drive of the game, Garoppolo was unable to hit Kendrick Bourne for what should have been the game-winning touchdown.
Garoppolo was missing top wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brando Aiyuk, and Kittle didn’t look the same after taking the hit to the knee. But all told, it was an inauspicious start for Garoppolo.
“He had some good plays in there, but just like the entire offense, just missed a number of opportunities that it was going to take to win that game,” Shanahan said after the game. “We had a couple there. He’s got to play better. We’ve all got to play better on offense especially. It starts with me.”
Now, Brady’s debut for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was by no means pretty. He went 23-for-36 for 239 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Bucs’ loss to the New Orleans Saints. However, Brady also drew four pass interference calls for 101 yards. Add that to his total and he threw for 340 yards and 8.5 yards per pass against a good Saints’ pass defense.
Of Brady’s two interceptions, the first was a miscommunication with Mike Evans, as the star receiver broke off his route early and Brady, expecting him to keep running, threw an easy pick to safety Marcus Williams.
The second pick was an awful decision by Brady. The Bucs were running a screen to the left and a speed out to the right. Brady opted to try and hit the out from the left hash, but Janoris Jenkins jumped the pass and took it back for a touchdown.
Interceptions aside, Brady looked good for a quarterback whose first huddle with the Bucs was just a month ago.
Brady had good zip on his throws and was able to push the ball downfield, including a three-play touchdown drive after the pick-six. His receivers struggled, with Evans only grabbing one pass for 2 yards. He also drew two of the pass interference penalties. Rob Gronkowski only managed two catches for 11 yards on two screens.
"It's a game of execution. Obviously, they made more plays than we did, and I made just some bad, terrible turnovers," Brady said. "It's hard to win, turning the ball over like that. So, I've obviously gotta do a lot better job."
Both quarterbacks lost in Week 1, but while Brady’s turnovers were a key contributor to the Bucs’ loss, he did not look washed. You’ll find no Brady Is Done hot takes here. He made mistakes, but that’s to be expected after a stunted offseason and no preseason games.
Garoppolo, on the other hand, showed sloppy footwork and poor pocket presence. The same issues that plagued him last season. The same issues Shanahan and Lynch believed he would fix and take his game to the next level.
Garoppolo and Brady will forever be linked. The 49ers made their decision. If Garoppolo doesn’t improve and Brady continues to stave off Father Time, it’s one the 49ers could end up regretting.