49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has a complicated relationship with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Even with Garoppolo’s eventual replacement on the roster, Shanahan continues to cling to an unrealistic vision of what Garoppolo could be, but for the periodic mistakes.
But the periodic mistakes continue to happen. On Thursday night, Garoppolo’s pair of interceptions contributed significantly to the morphing of a trademark 49ers overpowering victory into a loss. One came in the end zone when the 49ers hoped to double an initial 7-0 lead. The second happened in the third quarter, after the Titans cut the margin to 10-3. That one ignited a Tennessee touchdown drive that tied the game.
After the 20-17 loss, Shanahan opted not to blame Garoppolo for a pair of misfires that helped turn 9-6 into 8-7.
“I mean, two turnovers cost you,” Shanahan said early in his post-game press conference. “But they’re not all just on him. That’s on everybody out there.”
The other 10 players out there may wonder about that. They blocked, they ran their routes. They didn’t make the bad throws.
Later, Shanahan had a flash of candor regarding the second interception.
“That was a real bad one, should not have thrown that,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan later declined to blame Garoppolo for missing receiver Brandon Aiyuk on a fourth and six from the Tennessee 40 after the Titans knotted the score at 10.
“[Aiyuk] was a little in between [on the route], and Jimmy was a little in between on the throw,” Shanahan said, explaining that communication in a situation like that is critical.
At the risk of being unfairly critical to Garoppolo, he continues to be just good enough, but never sufficiently great. He makes enough throws to stave off the rookie for whom the 49ers gave up three first-round picks and more. And the team gets just hot enough at times to get Shanahan to publicly ponder the possibility of a second lame-duck year for Garoppolo.
It’s almost as if Shanahan hopes on one hand that Garoppolo will justify the unreasonable faith the team has shown in him (they had a chance to pivot to Tom Brady after Super Bowl LIV but didn’t) and on the other hand that Garoppolo won’t end up in a place where the coaching staff will iron out the rough spots and turn him into something he’s never before been. He’s the bird in the hand that Shanahan wants to keep there while looking for two in the bush.
Maybe Shanahan’s faith in Garoppolo will be rewarded. Or maybe Shanahan simply needs an intervention. Regardless, Garoppolo has held the 49ers back from being what they could have been in recent years, whether because of his inability to stay healthy or his inability when healthy to avoid key mistakes. While Thursday night’s blunders likely won’t keep the 49ers out of the postseason (they have the Texans and Rams left on the docket), they were a reminder that, no matter how well things seem to be going, 49ers fans have to constantly worry that their quarterback will eventually screw things up.