© Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY — There aren’t many encouraging elements to the 49ers’ developing situation with Jimmy Garoppolo’s knee injury. In the fourth quarter of San Francisco’s 38-27 loss at Kansas City Sunday, Garoppolo injured his left knee as he scrambled for an 11-yard gain. The 49ers fear he tore his ACL, making incumbent backup C.J. Beathard the starter in Garoppolo’s absence.
This feels like déjà vu from last season when Beathard, as a rookie, inherited the starting job as former 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer struggled. One of the different aspects this year is Beathard has experience on his side, which encourages his teammates.
“(I have a) great deal of confidence in C.J.,” Marquise Goodwin said Sunday. “He started a few games last year and did his thing, helped us get our first win of the season last year vs the Giants. There’s no doubt I feel he will come in and assume his role and study up and do exactly what he needs to do to help us win.”
This, of course, is not what anyone wanted. It’s hard to find silver linings when Garoppolo, the face of the 49ers franchise and its new regime, goes down just three games into his first season as the full-time starter. Garoppolo was the main source of optimism in San Francisco’s 2018 campaign, as he looked to build upon the five-game winning streak he engineered to close the 2017 season.
The 49ers traded for Garoppolo to give the 49ers another option in case Beathard struggled. Last year, in seven games, Beathard threw for 1,430 yards, four touchdowns, and six interceptions on 54.9 percent passing. His biggest accomplishment was leading the 49ers to a Week-10 victory, their first of the season, over the New York Giants. It was his only win of the season out of five starts.
Beathard is no Garoppolo, at least based on what both quarterbacks have shown this far in their careers, but the second-year quarterback doesn’t act like a young player — which gives his teammates solace.
“The game is not too big for him,” Joe Staley said.
But Beathard struggled throughout the 2018 preseason. In 14 drives, he led the 49ers to just one touchdown and two field goals. Kyle Shanahan stuck with Beathard throughout, saying he would remain the backup moving forward, despite third-stringer Nick Mullen showing flashes. Shanahan said he is happy with Beathard and Mullens moving forward, but it’s probable the 49ers will add another quarterback to either compete for playing time or run the practice squad, bumping Mullens to second string.
Beathard did not amass big numbers throughout his tenure at the University of Iowa. In 40 career games, he produced 5,562 passing yards and 40 touchdowns on 58.1 percent passing. But the 49ers selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Shanahan praised Beathard’s accuracy and ability to process reads.
“He lives and dies football,” Shanahan told reporters last year.
49ers tight end George Kittle, who played with Beathard at Iowa, spoke similar praise Sunday when asked about the quarterback’s top qualities.
“C.J.’s big strength is that he is a winner, and he’s the most competitive person I have ever been around in the locker room,” Kittle said. “Doesn’t matter what it is, he’s going to do everything he can to win. When you have a quarterback like that, who is going to put all of his time and effort into football, that’s all you really need.”
Beathard has to prove he can win consistently in the NFL. With 13 games left in the 2018 season, he has his best opportunity yet.
“It’s not my first time in a live NFL game in the regular season,” Beathard said after Sunday’s loss. “The second time around, I think it will be a little easier this time.”