I was honestly interested to tune into Kyle Shanahan’s Zoom presser today. Last week, after a disappointing loss to Arizona, he seemed surprisingly nonchalant.
The vibe from him, as well as the players, seemed to be, “Yeah, it happens. We didn’t think we were going to win every game.”
So this week, after watching key players limp and stagger off the field with injuries, or in the case of Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas, wheeled away on a golf cart, it was a win that could have felt like a loss. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is iffy for next Sunday against the Giants, Raheem Mostert is out with a knee injury and the team probably won’t know until Wednesday about star tight end George Kittle or running back Tevin Coleman.
And that’s not to mention the roster list of injured players who didn’t even answer the bell: Debo Samuels, Dee Ford and Richard Sherman. Put it this way, Fox broadcasters were noting how beat up the 49ers were before the game.
That’s a lot of adversity. And you have to wonder if this is a moment. Every season has an iconic image, like that long Super Bowl pass sailing over Emmanuel Sanders hands. You just hope this year’s isn’t Bosa on a cart.
But the way I read Shanahan this time, it was more like, “Yeah, this sucks. But something happens every year.”
“Teams go through this,” he shrugged. “We lost our quarterback at the beginning of the season two years ago.’
But he also said, “We’re a lot more equipped for this than we were a few years ago. Collectively, I know we’ve got a good team and it’s not just me who feels that.”
So I’d say he hasn’t lost his swagger.
The injuries were also a hot topic because of the field. The New Jersey Meadowlands installed new artificial surface in the off-season and the players complained it was “sticky,” causing them to get their cleats stuck in the turf, leaving them vulnerable to a shot to the knee that could take out an ACL.
Worse, in a quirk in the schedule, they will play on the same turf this Sunday against the Giants. The players say it may be dangerous.
And they should know. They play the game for a living. That’s probably true.
But there is another potential factor, which we mentioned in an earlier post. It wasn’t just on the Meadowlands turf where players were going down to injury. The Athletic’s Lindsay Jones counted 40 game-ending injuries in 14 Sunday games before Monday Night Football kicked off, including stars like Christian McCaffrey (ankle) and Saquon Barkley (knee)f.
There has to be a discussion about the NFL’s decision to rush into this season without spring workouts or pre-season games. We thought the concern was going to be the pandemic. Maybe it will be a rash of injuries. It is something to watch.
Speaking of which, the soap opera, “As Jimmy G Turns,” took another spin. Some have already jumped ahead and installed Nick Mullens as the starter. But Shanahan only said they were awaiting results for Garoppolo. And if his right ankle is manageable, he will start.
“Jimmy’s our guy,” Shanahan said.
Garoppolo must wonder how he acquired a Voodoo curse. Every time he’s on to something good, events take a bad turn. See broken ACL two years ago.
By all indications, he was on his way to a stat-padding, critic-quieting game against the Jets. Then he got hurt. Garoppolo toughed it out for the first half but was ruled out for the second.
“We knew it was getting worse, not better,” Shanahan said. “That’s not a good sign.”
Oddly, as he has done in the past, Garoppolo seemed to be more at ease and more effective after taking the shot to the upper ankle. It’s a trend. It is almost like the more he gets banged around the better he does.
“He does. He’s pretty consistent with that,” Shanahan said. “He even says it too. I told him we could hit him with a bat on the way out if that’ll help him.”
It was one of the qualities we admired last year, what Shanahan calls “a lot of grit,” to stand in there, throw the ball and take the shots. His numbers for the half on Sunday, 14-16 for 131 yards and two touchdowns for a 140.0 QB rating, were glittering. Shanahan also gave him a shout-out for a third-down scramble, on the gimpy leg, for a throw that kept a 14-play drive alive.
But having said all that, and since the 49ers are staying at an east coast resort this week before another game at the Meadowlands, you have to hope Garoppolo is going to buy Jordan Reed dinner.
Reed, the free agent tight end who is back after two years out with a concussion history, was a revelation. He caught the first pass Garoppolo threw in the game — one-handed. And he was just getting started.
With a modest 7-3 lead in the second quarter, Reed took over. In what may have been the turning point of the game, he took a short pass, hurdled a tackler and then dove to the end zone to nick the pylon for the touchdown. I’ve seen floor exercise routines with fewer moves.
That made it 14-3 and it was a whole new ball game.
Then, just seconds before halftime, Jordan made a third down catch with his hands, away from his body, at the goal line and walked into the end zone. That made it 21-3 and the game was essentially over.
It was an important touchdown. If they’d failed to covert there, and had to kick a field goal, it would have been a letdown. We’d have to spend another week bemoaning lack of red zone success.
Instead, we await the injury report. It is going to be that kind of year.