Even as San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathardlay on the ground in the final quarter of last week's loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, his teammates never doubted that he'd get back up, collect himself and finish the game.
Beathard had just evaded pressure from the Chargers defense and scrambled away. Only a week after watching quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffer a season-ending ACL injury on a similar scramble, the natural reaction to Beathard's run would have been to yell for him to slide or scurry out of bounds.
Instead, Beathard desperately reached for the needed fifth yard to convert on third-and-5 deep in Chargers' territory. As he did, Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. dropped his shoulder and sent Beathard sprawling. After landing hard, Beathard remained down as medical attention rushed to his side.
Beathard's mad dash didn't bring concern from his teammates, though. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk said he knew instantly Beathard had just had the wind knocked out of him and would be back even as Beathard entered the medical tent to be checked for a concussion. Others not only agreed with that assessment but found inspiration in their quarterback's moxie.
"He is a tough competitor as you can see," running back Matt Breida said. "He’ll take the ball and run it, take big hits and get back up and get back in the game. It’s going to be hard to get C.J. out of the game. I feel like that’s what’s going to make him a great quarterback in this league.
"It fires us up. That’s your quarterback. You see a guy like that putting his life on the line out there and trying to get the first down every time or the touchdown, it makes you want to do it, too."
And that's the conundrum that Beathard and the 49ers face with 12 games left in the season. The easy thing to do is remember what happened to Garoppolo, observe Beathard's fearless approach and constantly remind him that if he suffers a serious injury the Niners will be down to their third-string quarterback and be facing a season that will surely be lost.
But what happens if you take away the thing that leaves teammates and coaches gushing about his toughness? A major part of the reason the Niners and coach Kyle Shanahan believe in Beathard in the first place is his fearless approach to the game. Remove that quality and it's fair to wonder what kind of player remains.
Which is why Shanahan and the Niners aren't about to cloak the second-year quarterback in bubble wrap. No, for Beathard to survive and thrive in the final 12 games, it's all about finding the balance between discretion and valor.
“There’s definitely a fine line between getting the extra yard and getting down and protecting yourself," Beathard said. "You don’t want to get hurt and be out for any game and that’s something I’ll definitely work on is getting down. If the game’s on the line, fourth down, you’ll try to get that extra yard.”
There's no definitive guidelines on when a quarterback should go for it and when he should protect himself. There is, however, a common sense guideline that can be dictated on a case-by-case basis. Namely, things like down and distance, the time of the game and the score should all be factors in that decision.
For every serious injury like Garoppolo's, there's a memorable quarterback scramble like John Elway's helicopter spin in Super Bowl XXXII that didn't result in an injury and helped win a championship. The key is knowing when to hit the gas pedal.
As if NFL quarterbacks didn't already have enough to process on a given play.
“There’s times that he can avoid it, and there’s times you can’t," Shanahan said. "... C.J.’s not trying to get hit. He’s just trying to play the way he’s always played and he’s trying as hard as he can to win. But, he’s got to understand when he has a chance to avoid those and when doesn’t and when he can recognize those to take care of himself, which I know he wants to do. But, there’s a time in the heat of battle that that’s tough to do."
Two weeks in a row, a Niners quarterback offered an example of what a "heat of the battle" decision could look like.
Garoppolo suffered a season-ending injuries he tried to make a play that didn't seem to offer much more of an opportunity. As Shanahan pointed out the next day, it's a decision Garoppolo will remember for the rest of his career and inform any future decisions he makes when he's in that situation.
Beathard was more fortunate, getting his wind back and finishing the game. When Beathard and Shanahan watched the tape Monday, Shanahan went back to that play and told Beathard he appreciated the effort and that nobody would have looked at him different had he opted to slide.
After the game, Beathard said he had no regrets about trying to pick up the first down and that he'd do it again if that situation presented itself.
“C.J. is very important to us," Shanahan said. "... There’re times he’s got to get down and give up on the play. He knows that, I know that. It’s going to be hard for me to really go too hard on him when it’s third-and-5 and the game is on the line. I can sit there and do it and he can say it, but most quarterbacks are going to attempt that in that situation. But, he’s too important for us to risk losing him in those situations and all quarterbacks are. I hope he can get better at it and I hope we can help him.”
It's a delicate balance to find but no less than the rest of the 49ers' season could depend on finding it.
Source: ESPN | Nick Wagoner | October 4, 2018