The 49ers are bracing for the worst regarding their franchise quarterback.
“We’re fearing (a torn) ACL and we will find out for sure tomorrow,” a dispirited coach Kyle Shanahan said about Jimmy Garoppolo after Sunday’s 38-27 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The quarterback is scheduled for an MRI on Monday.
Garoppolo, trying to orchestrate a second-half comeback after San Francisco fell behind 35-7 in the second quarter, tried to fight for extra yardage on a quarterback scramble in the fourth quarter.
It was third-and-goal from the 20-yard line after Garoppolo took consecutive sacks. He was pushed from the pocket, rolled to his left and moved upfield along the left sideline as defensive back Steven Nelson heading his direction.
So Garoppolo made a cut off his left leg, attempting to drive into Nelson for extra yardage rather than stepping out of bounds, which quarterbacks are taught to do. Garoppolo’s left knee buckled just before the blow. He grabbed his knee after the collision. He walked gingerly back to the sidelines and was replaced by C.J. Beathard, who will be under center in Garoppolo’s absence.
Beathard saw Garoppolo in the training room after the game.
“He told me to lead these guys,” Beathard said.
“It’s heart dropping, seeing our offensive leader like that, team leader like that,” said linebacker Reuben Foster, who played for the first time this season following a two-game suspension.
Losing Garoppolo means losing the catalyst for the optimism entering the season. He led the 49ers to a 5-0 record during his starts to end 2017 despite learning Shanahan’s offense on the fly after coming over in the trade from the New England Patriots.
The team rewarded him with a hefty five-year, $137.5 million contract in February, ending their multiyear search for a franchise quarterback that could help the team return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“We’re really trying to take that next step. We’re trying so effing hard to take that next step,” left tackle Joe Staley said.
Beathard also made five starts last season, in which San Francisco went 1-4. A knee injury late in a game against the Seattle Seahawks allowed Garoppolo into the game before taking over for good the following week against the Chicago Bears.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in C.J.,” Shanahan said. “Everyone in here has a ton of respect for C.J., how he handles himself. He’s a man out there. He’s a very good quarterback and we’re fortunate to have him.”
After Garoppolo left, Shanahan inserted Beathard to convert a crucial fourth-and-goal. He found tight end George Kittle (five catches, 79 yards), for an apparent 7-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone that would have made it a one-score game. But fullback Kyle Juszczyk was called for offensive pass interference, negating it. The 49ers settled for a field goal with 5:21 remaining and couldn’t complete the comeback.
But losing Garoppolo was the bigger story than falling to the Chiefs, who entered the game as heavy favorites and improved to 3-0.
“Any time you lose your starting quarterback,” Shanahan said, “that is a big deal. ... Obviously, feel for him personally. I know how disappointed he is.”
Garoppolo’s family was visibly shaken near the locker room after the game. His teammates flooded the training room once they heard it was a possible ACL tear and his season might be over.
“I just see in his face,” Foster said. “And I was like, ‘Hey, brother, we got you. You got to just sit down, heal. We’re going to fight for you, no matter what.’”
Beathard was the first quarterback drafted by Shanahan and general manager John Lynch when the new regime took over. He was a third-round pick out of Iowa in 2017 who was revered for his toughness and ability to run a pro-style offense. He wound up displacing veteran Brian Hoyer during a Week 6 loss at the Washington Redskins and bridged the gap to Garoppolo.
“He’s a hell of a quarterback,” Kittle said of his former Hawkeye teammate. “He knows how to win. I’m not worried about that at all. He’s going to step right in and he’s going to do just fine.”
Added Foster: “It’s a hard pill to swallow. That’s Jimmy G. But guess what, we got C.J. up next. And C.J. ain’t no roody-poo.”
Shanahan was asked afterwards if the team will bring in a veteran quarterback once Garoppolo goes on injured reserve.
“We will think about that later,” he said, “But I am definitely happy with the guys we got.”
The 49ers have only kept two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster since Shanahan became coach. Their only other quarterback currently on the team is second-year player Nick Mullens, who’s on the practice squad.
“We will have to do something,” Shanahan said. “We will only have two guys on our roster, so we got to add a guy from the practice squad or bring in a third. We will definitely want to have three guys in our building.”
Garoppolo in three games this season completed 59.6 percent of his passes for 718 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions, good for a 90 rating. He connected Sunday on 20 of 30 throws for 251 yards with two touchdowns and no picks while the 49ers outgained the Chiefs in yardage 406-384 despite the early 28-point deficit.