Today marks the official beginning of a new era for the 49ers.
Jimmy Garoppolo, hailed as the “quarterback of the future” on his first day in Santa Clara, will make his first start. The Faithful have been pining for this moment. Frankly, they need anything to make themselves feel anything approximating positive feelings about their team.
Going 3-24 combined between the last two seasons tends to do that.
And the Niners starting Garoppolo’s reign as winners is an enticing idea. The Chicago Bears are 3-8 and losers of their last four. Their head coach, John Fox, sits on one of the hottest seats in the NFL. And there’s been so much turmoil around the team, Pernell McPhee — one of the best players on the team — told ESPN on Friday that “life is a distraction.”
Garoppolo took his first snaps last weekend and threw a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks. He looked quick — both on his feet and in his throwing release — and he reinvigorated a previously checked-out crowd at Levi’s Stadium.
Pretty impressive stuff considering he was out there for just three snaps.
The combo of the 49ers’ sustained futility over the last couple years and Garoppolo’s flash of success last week has created an unsustainable image of conquering hero for the 26-year old. Essentially, it’s buried the one indisputable fact about Garoppolo’s career to this point: His career is the real-life manifestation of a small-sample size.
The New England Patriots were able to parlay two impressive starts (one of which was cut short by an injury) into a second-round pick, leaving the Niners with the arduous task of giving Garoppolo enough reps to prove what he really is.
He could pan out to be one of the next great quarterbacks in the NFL. From all accounts, he has the makeup of a franchise cornerstone. But he’s the most unproven member of that class, and it would be ridiculous to expect him to be the 49ers’ savior from his first start.
Not with this receiving corps. Not with this offensive line.
And, for all their faults, the Bears will present a formidable challenge. The defense hasn’t checked out on the season like the New York Giants were in Week 10.
Chicago has a top-10 front seven in terms of creating sacks, and Garoppolo’s life likely won’t be made easier by the 49ers’ running attack, which is ranked in the bottom 10 of the league and will be facing the third-best run defense in the league according to Pro Football Focus’ data.
Then there’s that steep learning curve when it comes to absorbing Kyle Shanahan’s complex offense. The first-year head coach said on Friday that Garoppolo will be working with a gameplan that was tailored for him and won’t be limited. I find that hard to believe. It takes time to digest Shanahan’s complicated play calls. For weeks, people around the team compared it to learning a foreign language.
No one masters a foreign language in the matter of weeks.
So, pace yourself today, all ye Faithful. Your savior might finally be in place, but even Jesus needed time before he was able to perform miracles.