Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo drew comparisons to Joe Montana after his first five starts with the 49ers.
His performance at the end of the 2017 season was enough to secure a big contract with the 49ers through 2022.
Then, came the knee injury and, with it, a lot of questions.
Even a trip to the Super Bowl did not silence his critics. It seemed to make their voices only louder.
Through it all, Garoppolo has not lashed out on social media or used any platform to defend himself. Seemingly, he has remained blissfully unaware and disinterested in the opinions being formed outside 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara.
“It’s something I’ve always grown up with,” Garoppolo said on 49ers Talk. “I’ve always been a pretty even-keel kind of guy -- never too high, never too low.”
Spending 3 ½ seasons with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady on the New England Patriots reinforced his approach toward dealing with meaningless debates and conjecture. In other words, he simply does not get involved.
“The time in New England, the good thing it taught me was just how critical everyone was of that organization,” Garoppolo said. “When you win that consistently, people are always looking to bring you down in some way and try to take a shot at you in one way or another. When you’re there, they’re all about ‘ignore the noise.’ ”
Garoppolo returns to Foxboro on Sunday to face his former team for the first time since he was shipped to the 49ers three years ago in a trade for a second-round draft pick.
The meeting comes at a time when both teams are facing their own challenges. Brady now is with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Patriots are 2-3 to match their worst start since 2001.
The 49ers, meanwhile, are in last place in the NFC West with a 3-3 mark. They followed their disastrous 43-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins with a bounce-back victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night.
Garoppolo was benched at halftime of the Dolphins game, as he struggled mightily after attempting to return to action after missing the previous 2 ½ games with a high ankle sprain. He responded with a solid showing against the Rams.
Garoppolo’s time behind Brady served as a great learning experience for times such as these.
As the backup, Garoppolo never was subject to criticism while with the Patriots. But he saw how even successful individuals as Belichick and Brady were under the microscope for their every moves, decisions and results.
Garoppolo might have been on his way to being voted the Super Bowl MVP in February against the Kansas City Chiefs. Instead, a team-wide fourth quarter meltdown, including Garoppolo’s overthrow of Emmanuel Sanders late in the game, led to an agonizing loss and an uncertain offseason.
The 49ers considered pursuing Brady as a free agent before -- as general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have described -- determining the best move for the organization was to remain on course with Garoppolo, who turns 29 on Nov. 2.
The 49ers already have experienced an up-and-down 2020 season, and Garoppolo again is under intense scrutiny.
His time with the Patriots taught him the importance of developing thick skin -- or just shutting off most connection to the outside world.
“We’re going through a bit of that as the 49ers this year, and we went through a little bit last year, too,” Garoppolo said. “So when you’re in a tough spot like that, that usually means a good thing. Because it means you’re winning and being successful and people are seeing it.”