Rarely has a midseason trade changed the fortunes of an NFL franchise as much as the San Francisco 49ers' acquisition of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo did last year.
The 49ers were 0-8 and one of the worst teams in the league for the first half of last season, plummeting towards the No. 1 overall pick, when they shoplifted Garoppolo from the New England Patriots for a second-round draft choice.
Garoppolo spent a month learning Kyle Shanahan's offense, and when he finally took over as starting quarterback in early December, the 49ers suddenly looked like one of the better teams in the league.
Garoppolo led the 49ers to five straight victories to end the season, including a Week 16 shredding of the Jacksonville Jaguars' NFL-best defense.
And now that he's preparing to face the Detroit Lions and his old New England cohort Matt Patricia on Sunday (4 p.m., Fox), one of his former teammates said Garoppolo is the real deal.
"It was inspiring, man," said Lions linebacker Eli Harold, who spent the last three seasons with the 49ers. "Being there last year and him coming in right away in the game that he started, you could just feel his energy. He has winning DNA and I feel like that’s the nature of being a quarterback in this league."
Garoppolo won his first seven NFL starts, two of them with the Patriots in 2016, before losing last week's season opener to the Minnesota Vikings.
While he never threatened Ben Roethlisberger's record of 15 straight wins to start a career, he did enough to establish himself, at 26 years old, as an upper-echelon quarterback in the league.
"He’s special," Harold said. "In my eyes, I feel like he can make every throw. He’s a fierce competitor, he’s a leader. I have much respect for him. He’s a great player and I feel like he’s the catalyst of that team right now and with him they can be special."
Garoppolo had his worst outing as a pro last week, completing just 15 of 33 passes for 261 yards with three interceptions. But he still had his 49ers team, minus its best running back (Jerick McKinnon) and receiver (Marquise Goodwin), a touchdown drive away from tying the defending NFC North champs, on the road, when he got the ball at his own 11-yard line with less than 2 minutes to play.
"Jimmy had so much success winning our team over," Shanahan said in a conference call with Detroit reporters on Wednesday. "The day he got here, after just three weeks or a month of just being the backup, he was one of the guys right away. When he took over as the starter, nothing changed. After he won five games in a row, nothing changed. He came back in after a big contract, nothing changed. He had a tough game on Sunday and he’s been here the last three days and he’s been the exact same guy."
Patricia, the Patriots defensive coordinator during Garoppolo's time in New England, said Garoppolo looks like the same guy he faced every day in practice, too.
Garoppolo completed 67.4 percent of his passes for the 49ers last season, and Shanahan's offense has highlighted his athletic ability and quick decision making.
"It's fun to watch Jimmy," Patricia said. "He's very mobile. He does a great job of getting his eyes downfield. He’s got an extremely strong arm, he’s very confident in his ability to make plays and he just does a really good job of kind of leading an offense from that standpoint. And the guys, when they step on the field with him during a game, you see that confidence level of everybody pick up, which is really natural. I could see that coming off of what they did last year and rolling into the end of the season with a guy like him stepping him and everybody kind of just gravitating towards him knowing that he’s going to help them win. So really good player."
Source: FreeP | Dave Birkett | Septemnber 13, 2018