The 49ers’ plans for 2018 went off the rails on Sunday when Jimmy Garoppolo’s left knee buckled in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on a desperate third-down scramble.
“It’s very unfortunate. I’m not going to sugar coat it,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday. “It was hard waking up today.”
An MRI earlier in the day confirmed what Shanahan feared. His franchise quarterback tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, ending his first full campaign as a starter three weeks in after signing a $137.5 million contract in February. Garoppolo didn’t suffer any additional structural damage to his knee, Shanahan said.
Now the team will turn to his replacement, second-year quarterback C.J. Beathard, whom Garoppolo replaced last December following the franchise-altering trade with the New England Patriots. Shanahan spent some time with a disappointed Garoppolo on the flight home Sunday.
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“He’s down, just as everyone would expect,” said Shanahan. “Jimmy was really excited about this year and we were really excited to go through it with him. Got to go through a few games but I know he was very disappointed. I know it was hard for him last night, it was hard today. It’ll be hard over these next few weeks but Jimmy’s a tough person. He’ll bounce back from this and be ready to go next year.”
Beathard, a third-round draft pick in 2017 from Iowa, displaced veteran Brian Hoyer in the starting lineup six games into his rookie season last fall. He was surrounded by patchwork supporting cast while Shanahan and John Lynch were in the early stages of their roster-wide reconstruction project.
Beathard impressed San Francisco’s brass with his toughness while going 1-4 as a starter. He helped the team earn its first victory of the year in November after an 0-9 start. Perhaps more important than his win-loss record was the respect he earned from his teammates while taking 17 sacks in five games.
“He got thrown into as tough a situation as I could imagine putting a rookie quarterback in. The guy didn’t blink. He had a lot of ups and downs throughout his time playing,” said Shanahan.
“C.J.’s as tough and fearless as any quarterback I’ve been around. He’s got the arm talent to make every throw. He’s extremely smart and I know he’s the type of guy that I know our team believe in also.”
Beathard completed 55 percent of his passes while averaging 204 yards per game. His four touchdowns and six interceptions led to a 69.2 passer rating, which ranked second worst among qualified starting quarterbacks, ahead of only Cleveland rookie DeShone Kizer, who has since been traded to the Packers.
Shanahan said the initial plan to replace Garoppolo on the 53-man roster will be to promote practice squad quarterback Nick Mullens. But the team is also planning on hosting quarterbacks for workouts at team headquarters on Tuesday. Former Texans signal callers Tom Savage and T.J. Yates have been invited, as have former Dolphins backup Matt Moore and 12-year veteran Kellen Clemens, Shanahan said.
Garoppolo’s injury came on a questionable decision as the 49ers were trying to come back from a 25-point halftime deficit. Trying to make it a one-score game with less than six minutes remaining, Garoppolo was trying to fight for extra yardage in a crucial moment. He could have simply gone out of bounds, setting up a fourth-and-goal from inside the 10-yard line.
Instead, he planted his knee and pushed up field to deliver a hit to Chiefs defensive back Steven Nelson. Garoppolo’s knee gave way, as did his season.
Despite the disastrous result, Shanahan understood what was going through his quarterback’s head.
“It’s a reminder to all quarterbacks and coaches,” he said. “Just turn on the tape any Sunday. You’re going to watch 15 plays by quarterbacks jumping over people, not getting out of bounds, doing a little extra to move the chains where it’s a hell of play and everyone’s glad they did it. ... Those guys are competitive guys who want to do whatever they can to win the game and you’re not assuming (if you stay inbounds) you’re going to tear your knee up.”
Now two of the 49ers’ most important offensive players suffered season-ending ACL tears early in the season. Shanahan said that Garoppolo will have a “wing man” during his rehab in running back Jerick McKinnon, who suffered his injury during a light practice eight days before the start of the regular season.
San Francisco expects both players to recover for the start of the 2019 season. Shanahan remains optimistic after spending nearly 11 months working closely with Garoppolo.
“I know Jimmy’s really down about it. So are we. But it’s still going to be alright. This is part of the league, it’s part of the NFL, it’s part of life. And you have adjust to it. And you got to make the best out of it,” Shanahan said. “You can always make things a positive. It’ll help him to sit and watch more, especially to sit there, watch C.J. go through this. When we get into the offseason, we’ll get into an early start with him going through his rehab and everything. I think it’ll make him that much more hungry next year. There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’ll come back and be the exact same guy.”
Sherman to miss time with calf injury – Cornerback Richard Sherman didn’t speak to reporters after Sunday’s defeat and left the locker room with his left foot in a walking boot following his second-quarter exit with a calf injury.
Shanahan said Sherman is expected to be out “a couple weeks.” The injury initially popped up during the week and caused him to miss practice Thursday. The injury did not come to the leg in which Sherman suffered a ruptured Achilles last November.
But it is on the same leg on which Sherman had bone spurs removed from his heel in the spring. Shanahan said the calf injury wasn’t related to a previous injury. The 49ers travel Sunday to play the Los Angeles Chargers (1-2) before hosting the Cardinals (0-3) Week 5 in the first NFC West matchup of the season.
Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder), guard Mike Person (knee sprain), guard Joshua Garnett (dislocated toe), running back Matt Breida (hyper-extended knee, calf soreness) and safety Adrian Colbert (hip) are questionable to begin the week of practice and will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
Receiver Marquise Goodwin (thigh bruise) and running back Alfred Morris (ankle) are expected to participate this week.