SANTA CLARA — Kyle Shanahan wasn’t going to play Jimmy Garoppolo unless the circumstances absolutely demanded it. In Sunday’s case, it was Michael Bennett’s flattening of C.J. Beathard with slightly more than a minute remaining that forced the 49ers coach to play the quarterback everyone’s been talking about since the team traded for him at the deadline.
The fans lingering in the rain at Levi’s Stadium couldn’t wait to share their excitement as Garoppolo took the field (more on that later).
A new era was being launched. The wait was finally over.
Garoppolo scrambled for four yards on his first play from scrimmage as a Niner. A positive play he followed with two strikes, the second landing in Louis Murphy’s arms for a touchdown.
The clouds broke and the sun shone through (not literally) as the clock wound down to zero. Hope was reborn in the South Bay. “California Love” blared over the speakers. Center Daniel Kilgore was given the ball to spike.
The 49ers lost, 24-13.
And for those members of the Faithful hoping the final drive of the game is indicative of an official changing of the guard should be advised not to get ahead of themselves.
“Those plays have nothing to do with anything,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game.
Garoppolo could end up being the starter in Week 13, but don’t hold your breath.
FANS SHOW THEIR ASS
After the game, the 49ers weren’t too happy with their fans. The feeling in the locker room was that the Faithful cheered Beathard’s injury.
Rookie Reuben Foster understood the excitement about Garoppolo’s debut, but he felt the fans needed a lesson that there’s a time and a place for everything. So, maybe wait a second before letting out cheers as Beathard — who was subjected to 13 hits — laid on the ground in obvious pain.
“That’s the one who been hurting, fighting for us — for the Niners organization,” Foster said. “… It’s all about respect. Our fans, I was disappointed in them when they was cheering.”
Eric Reid said he wished he could think of a stronger word than “disappointed” and that he was pissed off.
“People don’t understand what we go through as football players, what our bodies go through,” Reid said. “He’s laying down on the ground and people are cheering, that’s messed up.”
There are moments that serve as reminders that this brutal game is the modern-day gladiator games. This was a major one.
And Beathard wasn’t all bad when he was able to play.
According to Pro Football Focus, he was 14-for-21 for 138 yards when the offensive line — which was without starting tackle Trent Brown — gave him time to operate.
Beathard still has a problem holding the ball too long, a criticism of his since his days at the University of Iowa, and it led to him taking three sacks. But he’s proved he’s worthy of a roster spot in the NFL and he’s earned a ton of respect in the locker room in the process.
He’s often referred to as a placeholder — the play-caller who keeps the fort together while Shanahan and the 49ers braintrust put together a winning plan for the future — but that doesn’t mean he should be treated like disposable goods.
CAN’T STOP RUSS
As currently constructed, the Seahawks would be a bad team if they didn’t have Russell Wilson.
The sixth-year quarterback didn’t play his best game against the Niners for the second time this season. But, what he brings to his team is irreplaceable. Because if he didn’t have the ability to escape seemingly every hit, the Seattle offensive line would be getting killed as much as Santa Clara’s is now.
Despite being under constant pressure, he was never sacked. And, after throwing an interception on his first possession of the game, he was responsible for two unanswered touchdowns to start the second half — effectively killing the 49ers’ chances of an upset.
“It does seem crazy [that Wilson wasn’t sacked] because it seemed like we were around him a lot,” Shanahan said. “That’s what he does, though.”
All week, the Niners defense said they had to be prepared for Wilson’s scrambling ability — acknowledging the amount of stress he places on all three levels of the defense. The line has to get to him and then hold onto him. The linebackers and secondary have to stick to their coverages even as Wilson creates “second plays” by breaking the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield.
They weren’t able to get the job done. And now Wilson is 11-2 against the 49ers. He’s won the last nine contests between the two franchises.
“It sucks,” Joe Staley said about his team’s losing streak against Seattle. “Especially because that game was such a rivalry game for us a while ago. … It’s not much of a rivalry until we start winning again.”
There’s always next year.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.