A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Antonio Bryant and Adam Thielen are among the receivers heading to the Pro Bowl next month. Marquise Goodwin is not.
But when it comes to catching passes in December, Goodwin is king, or at least co-king. His 24 receptions over the last three games tie him for most in the league with the New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas, who also is going to Orlando for the Pro Bowl.
“He’s been through a lot and he’s responded well,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You guys see it on the field. We see it in practice throughout the week. He’s turned into a true pro and he’s playing like a legit starter.”
In a month’s time, Goodwin has dealt with the loss of both a parent and a child.
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Before the 49ers’ Nov. 12 game against the New York Giants, he and his wife lost their son, who would have been named Marquise Jr., when he was delivered early and stillborn. Last week, Goodwin learned of the death of his biological father in Texas.
He said a lifetime of difficult events – “bouncing from house to house to house in high school, homeless,” he said – and his ironclad faith have helped him not only endure, but flourish, over the terrible month.
“Dealing with other deaths and other losses in my life to now losing my kid, losing my father – it’s just one of the small things, just a bump in the road for me,” Goodwin said. “I’ve always had to be mentally tough and had to fight through a lot of things each year. This is another year I’ve had to push through something.”
Personal tragedy has coincided with Goodwin’s professional success.
A month ago, he seemed like a No. 3 receiver – a player whose speed was useful for stretching defenses and who might be good for a deep reception every other game or so but also one who lacked the consistency and the trustworthy hands to be a top receiver.
Since Jimmy Garoppolo has taken over at quarterback, however, Goodwin has caught nearly every pass that’s gone in his direction and some that weren’t even intended for him.
Early in last week’s game, two Titans defenders were bearing down on Garoppolo, who decided to heave a pass out of bounds. He couldn’t step into his throw and the ball fluttered toward Titans linebacker Erik Walden.
Goodwin came back toward the ball and wrestled it free of Walden’s hands for what turned out to be a 10-yard gain.
“Talk about an unbelievable play (and) just helping your quarterback,” Garoppolo said. “I owe him one for that. That easily could’ve been intercepted, but he made a hell of a play on it and it turned out to be a big play.”
What kind of hot streak is Goodwin on? If he has more than 100 receiving yards Sunday, he’ll join Jerry Rice and Dwight Clark as the only 49ers pass catchers who have had three straight games with 100 or more yards.
Said Goodwin on his near-instant chemistry with Garoppolo: “It’s the word that starts with the letter ‘T’ and ends with one – it’s called trust. That’s it. He trusts me to be in a position to win and to be open and I trust that he’ll throw it when I am open.”
Goodwin flew to Texas early in the week for his father’s service, but was back for the team’s Thursday and Friday practices.
Shanahan said that when his players are dealing with personal losses, he leaves it up to them to decide how much time they need. In Goodwin’s case, the receiver twice has been adamant he wanted to be with his teammates and that he wanted to play.
“He’s been through a number of things that people hope to not go through their whole lives, and it’s happened really in the last couple of months,” Shanahan said. “… Not only has it not taken away from his game, I feel like he’s become a better player over that time. So it’s been a huge credit to him and extremely impressive.”