What we learned from the 49ers’ big win over the Bears

Garoppolo quiets critics, but for how long?

Jimmy Garoppolo is never going to remind anyone of Joe Montana or Steve Young, but he’s certainly a serviceable NFL quarterback. For now, he’s also the guy who will continue to be the face of the 49ers on the field. The repeated calls for his benching and the negativity concerning his play the last couple of years has been blunted, at least for one week, after his sterling performance Sunday in his hometown of Chicago.

Jimmy G was fortunate that the Bears didn’t have their defensive leader, linebacker Khalil Mack, available for the game against San Francisco. Mack is one of the few defensive players in the NFL who can determine the outcome of a game. With their star and leader out of action, the Bears’ defense was easy pickings for Garoppolo in the second half as the 49ers scored three TDs in a come-from-behind 33-22 win.

Garoppolo also showed what he is capable of when given the protection he needs from the team’s somewhat-beleaguered offensive line. While rookie running back Elijah Mitchell pranced for 137 yards and scored from five yards out, Garoppolo ripped the Bears’ secondary to shreds with 327 yards passing while scoring twice on short runs. And he certainly would have piled up even more yardage had several of his passes not be dropped.

People who watch pro football sometimes seem to forget that quarterbacks are usually only as good as the teams they play for. Montana was surrounded by brilliant stars such as Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott. John Brodie’s best years came late in his career, in the early 1970s, playing with stars such as wide receiver Gene Washington, and future Hall of Famers Jim Johnson and Dave Wilcox on defense.

Garoppolo’s current team has been decimated by injuries the last couple of seasons, so it’s no surprise that the 49ers have struggled since going to the Super Bowl just two years ago. Garoppolo has certainly not been immune, spending time on the injury list for extended periods since his arrival here in 2017.

Blaming the failures of a team on the quarterback may be a popular practice among fans and media, but it’s sometimes unfair and simplistic. Remember just two years ago when Jimmy G was the toast of the Bay Area?

The biggest problem Garoppolo faces is not so much the fact that highly touted rookie Trey Lance is waiting in the wings for his chance, but it’s the high expectations placed on his shoulders. This is not surprising, given how well the 49ers played in 2019 when they won 13 of 16 regular season games and plowed through the Vikings and Packers on their way to a Super Bowl.

Two things in particularly motivated Garoppolo going into the Bears’ game: He needed to silence the critics who were calling for him to be benched, and he wanted to show his family and friends in his hometown just what he is capable of doing. He certainly did both against the Bears, turning in one of the better games of his pro career.

Sadly for Garoppolo, the win at Chicago was probably only a reprieve from the drone of the naysayers and cynics who will no doubt be calling once again for Lance to start when the Niners lose another couple of games. But anyone who plays knows you need a strong a strong backbone to ward off the critics if you expect to be successful.

And to be fair, Garoppolo currently is not, nor will he probably ever be, a perennial All Pro leader who will take teams to the playoffs on a yearly basis. He’s a serviceable, better than average signal-caller who will be a good caretaker for the offense until Trey Lance is ready to step forward.

Meanwhile, another rookie who has certainly taken more than a few steps forward is Mitchell. A season-ending knee injury to opening day starter Raheem Mostert gave Mitchell the opportunity to show his stuff and the young man has barged through the line gaining big chunks of yardage while giving the fans something to cheer about.

In their last two touchdown drives, Mitchell came up with two big plays, breaking tackles on a brilliant 27-yard run and then plowing through defenders for a key 12-yard gain.

Coach Kyle Shanahan also had to be heartened by the explosive show put on Sunday by wide receiver Deebo Samuel. The speedy Samuel pulled in six catches for 171 yards, including a stunning 83-yard catch that was a game changer. That led to a short TD run by Garoppolo. Samuel is the most exciting player to watch on the 49ers’ offense and Shanahan loves to use him in unconventional plays such as end reverses, which frequently leave opposing defenders grasping at air.

<strong>Niners wide receiver Deebo Samuel 
hauls in a catch against the Chicago Bears. <ins>(Courtesy San Francisco 49ers)</ins>

Niners wide receiver Deebo Samuel hauls in a catch against the Chicago Bears. (Courtesy San Francisco 49ers)

But even with Samuel and Mitchell making big plays and the offensive line giving Jimmy G the time to throw, this is almost certainly not a team that we’ll see in the postseason. Injuries have played a major role in the Niners’ recent frustrations. That’s not an excuse, as it’s something that every football team has to contend with.

You’ll remember in 2019, the Niners won a bunch of games in the last minute, mainly because they were at full strength and had the manpower and confidence to do it. Having to go with backups, rookies and journeymen rarely works in sports, although the San Francisco Giants were an exception this past season.

The Niners defense will continue giving up too many points to have a chance to win consistently. Bears quarterback Justin Fields had probably the best game of his rookie season and made Niner defenders look silly when he weaved his way through them on an electrifying 22-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that narrowed the Niners’ lead to one point. This kind of thing will probably happen again a few times more this season as the injury-depleted Niners’ defensive desperately tries to shore things up.

The Niners will probably get a break from that Sunday when they host the 7-1 Arizona Cardinals. That’s because the brilliant second-year quarterback Kyler Murray suffered an ankle sprain in last week’s Thursday night loss to the Packers and will probably miss the next two to three weeks.

The Niners are in one of the toughest divisions in football, as the NFC West features not only the surging Cardinals, but the 7-1 Rams, who, like the Cardinals, are averaging better than 30 points a game with quarterback Matthew Stafford running the show.

There’s no question that if the 49ers continue to struggle, Lance is going to get another chance to play and show what he’s capable of. But people need to remember that this prized 21-year-old youngster played only one full season at North Dakota State, and that was two years ago before the pandemic hit.

For now, the 49ers’ Faithful will have to be content with Garoppolo continuing to start at quarterback, unless of course, he goes down with another injury. But if he and the offense can stay healthy, we might at least see some high scoring and exciting games the remainder of the 2021 season. And at least that will be a consolation.

Bruce Macgowan is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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