SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The time to feel down about star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending knee injury has passed.
The San Francisco 49ers know they now must prepare to go ahead with the rest of what was supposed to be a promising season with backup C.J. Beathard at the helm instead of the player who immediately became the face of the franchise.
“There’s a lot of people out there doubting us and counting us out,” Beathard said Wednesday. “I think everybody in the building is excited and we’re ready to get rolling and win some games moving forward.”
There’s good reason to doubt the 49ers, who were 1-10 last year under Brian Hoyer and Beathard before Garoppolo took over as starter following a midseason trade from New England. He immediately injected life into a struggling franchise by winning all five of his starts to end last season.
The 49ers (1-2) rewarded him in the off-season with a $137.5 million, five-year contract and entered this season with high hopes that might have been dashed when Garoppolo blew out his left knee when he planted and tried to cut up field rather than run out of bounds late in a 38-27 loss at Kansas City.
Coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t try to sugarcoat the gloom when he delivered the bad news to his players Monday, telling them it was understandable to feel down.
The players appreciated that sentiment even if they know they must move on and prepare for Sunday’s road game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“It’s cool to see your head coach acknowledge that, yeah, we all feel it for a little bit,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “That’s OK to acknowledge it but we don’t need to dwell on it. We just need to find what we need to do to get better.”
The Niners under Garoppolo were a dynamic offence. They ranked sixth in the league in scoring and in yards per play in eight starts with him under centre. That was a big jump after ranking in the bottom 10 of the league in both categories before Garoppolo took over.
The 49ers believe Beathard’s experience playing as a rookie, the opportunity to watch Garoppolo succeed in the offence and going through an entire off-season program will make Beathard a better player this time around.
He got one snap last week after Garoppolo got hurt and threw a touchdown pass to George Kittle. The play was negated by a penalty, the 49ers settled for a field goal and the offence never got the ball back.
“You see it in his decision making,” Juszczyk said. “He’s just much more decisive out there. You can tell things aren’t spinning in his head so much. He gets the ball out quick and has a lot of confidence.”
Beathard started five games as a rookie last year, completing 54.9 per cent of his passes with four touchdowns, six interceptions, 6.4 yards per attempt and a 69.2 passer rating that was second lowest in the NFL.
He wasn’t helped by the fact leading receiver Pierre Garcon had gone down with a season-ending injury, the running game was inconsistent and the offensive line was hampered by injuries. That contributed to Beathard taking 19 sacks last year but also allowed him to prove his toughness to his teammates.
“That wasn’t exactly the situation I wanted to put C.J. into,” Shanahan said. “That’s why I think myself and a lot of our team earned a lot of respect for him. Not all the weeks, but some weeks, he was in a very tough situation. He never wavered, never saw his confidence change and when he eventually was benched and we put Jimmy in, you would think a guy would be less confident after that. You guys can ask him, but I truly believe he was more confident. Even though he struggled at times, he truly believed he could do it. Those are the kind of guys you want to go to battle with.”
NOTES: San Francisco worked out several quarterbacks Tuesday but decided to promote Nick Mullens from the practice squad to serve as the backup for now. Mullens originally joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and spent all last year on the practice squad. … RB Matt Breida (knee) and WR Marquise Goodwin (quadriceps) were limited in practice. … S Adrian Colbert (hip), G Joshua Garnett (toe), G Mike Person (knee), CB Richard Sherman (calf), T Joe Staley (not injury related), S Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) did not practice. … The 49ers signed DL Ryan Delaire, OL Christian DiLauro and DB Dexter McCoil to the practice squad.