Instead of Jimmy Garoppolo carrying his teammates, as he did at during his 5-0 jaunt as the starter to finish 2017, the 49ers franchise quarterback needs to be propped up.
He’s walking with crutches these days, getting ready to shed them and continue his recovery.
“Eventually you get to a point where you have to accept it and start moving on,” Garoppolo said at his locker on Friday, speaking publicly for the first time since suffering his season-ending left knee injury Sept. 23 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Garoppolo had surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in Los Angeles on Oct. 3. He was holed up for two weeks in bed in Southern California before he could return to the team’s Santa Clara headquarters earlier this month, where he has participated in team meetings despite having to hobble around on those crutches.
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He watched the team’s recent loss to Rams from the coaches’ booth eight stories above the field at Levi’s Stadium, along with running back Jerick McKinnon, who is working back from the same injury. He won’t be able rejoin his team on the sidelines until he no longer needs crutches, which remains at least a few weeks out, head coach Kyle Shanahan said.
The most challenging part of going down just three games into his first full season as the starter?
“I think just the overall acceptance of it initially. It was tough,” Garoppolo said. “I have never had a serious injury like this so it’s different but we’re very positive now. I’ve got Jet going through it with me so we’re kind of helping one another.”
Garoppolo now faces obvious questions about his durability. His only two injuries throughout his playing career have come in the NFL – not college at Eastern Illinois or Rolling Meadows High School. He left his second career start with the Patriots in 2016 with a Grade 2 AC joint injury to his right shoulder when Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonsohe landed on him awkwardly.
Garoppolo’s knee injury came 12 quarters into his first full season as San Francisco’s after signing his record-setting five-year, $137.5 million contract to become the face of the franchise. He’s made 10 career starts and left two with significant injuries.
“If someone’s saying I’m injury prone, then they don’t really know what they’re talking about,” Garoppolo said. “I’ve played sports my whole life, I’ve only had two injuries. So, it’s weird. I’m not used to it, that’s for sure. It’s something that I don’t want to get used to. I want to be out there with the guys battling, preparing throughout the week and everything.”
Shanahan said when Garoppolo signed his new deal he was looking forward to seeing how the signal caller would handle adversity.
After all, there wasn’t much misfortune during his transition to San Francisco when he helped orchestrate the league’s third-most potent offense during the final five weeks of last season, which included wins over three teams that wound up playing in the playoffs (Titans, Jaguars and Rams, who were resting their starters Week 17).
Garoppolo now finds himself dealing with more adversity than Shanahan could anticipate. Not only is the quarterback out for the season, but he’ll spend the next seven-to-nine months going through excruciating rehab to get ready for training camp next summer for a hopeful playoff run in 2019.
“I think he’s handled it as good as you can,” Shanahan said. “Jimmy was extremely down, like anybody would be. Jimmy was very excited about the season. He was very excited to play. He was very excited to go through his first year.
“We would have loved to see him go through it the rest of the year and go through the ups and downs, because you get better from those in every aspect. But I think he did learn a lot in his three games. I think that helps him going into this offseason – how to prepare, what to expect.”
Said Garoppolo: “I think it’ll be a good test, for sure. It’s a long process so you can’t look too far ahead and start thinking about things that don’t matter right now. And so, I think just staying locked in every day, just trying to get better. I know it sounds cliche, it’s a long process and if we keep getting better every day, we’ll be OK.”
Garoppolo got off to a slower start in 2018 than he did in the weeks after being acquired in a trade from New England last Halloween. His completion rate dropped from 67.4 percent to 59.6. He took 13 sacks in three games this season after being sacked just eight times during his five starts in 2017. The 49ers dropped two of Garoppolo’s three starts after he entered the season 7-0 as a starter.
Suffice to say, he didn’t quite live up to the sky-high expectations he created while playing like one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks during his first impression with his new organization.
”We had a completely different team, so every year it’s going to be different,” Garoppolo said. “Kind of how you go throughout the year, it’s an up-and-down battle. There’s going to be good games and there’s going to be bad games. It’s disappointing that I didn’t get to see this year all the way through.”
Shanahan was asked how he felt about Garoppolo’s three-game sample to 2018 following his impressive debut last December.
“I think it has to do with each situation individually. There’s 22 guys on the field, not just the quarterback,” Shanahan said. “... Our team was really clicking at that time (late in 2017). It wasn’t just Jimmy. Jimmy played well, and he got better each game.
“But everyone around him got better too. Just this year, because he started out 1-2, it doesn’t mean he was worse than last year. I don’t think we, as a whole, played as well as we were at the end of last year.”
The 49ers struggled for most of the season opener against the Vikings, a team fresh off an appearance in the NFC title game with one of the NFL’s most ferocious defenses. Garoppolo was up and down the following week when he took six sacks against the Lions and nearly gave the game away with a late interception that was negated by a penalty in Detroit’s secondary.
Garoppolo sustained the injury against against the Chiefs after falling behind 35-7 in the first half. The 49ers nearly made it a one-score game after Garoppolo left but wound up losing, 38-27. Through three games, the 49ers offense averaged 360 yards to rank 12th, down from 410 during Garoppolo’s five starts in 2017.
“Everyone keeps telling me you’ll get back to how your legs were before, just as strong if not stronger,” Garoppolo said. “It’s all about putting in the work right now – coming back stronger than I was before.”