SANTA CLARA -- The rosy lenses through which the 49ers fan base once viewed Jimmy Garoppolo are gone, flung aside last week after a five-interception practice followed by a dismal preseason debut at Denver.
In their place is a magnifying glass. Discussion of Jimmy G, which previously revolved around his good looks and quick release, is now colored with concern over whether he can deliver results commensurate with his mega-salary.
There is at least a modicum of worry, which is why 49ers-Chiefs on Saturday in Kansas City will have considerably more magnitude than a typical preseason game for San Francisco and its established starting quarterback.
“It’s one of those things you could react two ways to,” Garoppolo said Thursday. “You can crumble up and go into a fetal position and surrender. Or you can go out and fight. We’ve got a locker room full of guys that want to fight, myself included.”
Coach Kyle Shanahan says Garoppolo will play at least a half. There was no need for the coach to add that stress levels will begin to rise if Jimmy G is not sharp.
“That’s the hardest thing about the business,” Shanahan said. “That’s the hardest thing about the position. I kind of talk about it a lot. You have to have a certain amount of ability to get into the club of being an NFL quarterback. And guys in the NFL that do have that ability. Once you can get in that club, it’s all about how can you handle that pressure, week in and week out? How can you play in the game when you’re in the pocket and things are moving? When you’re very clear-minded and everything is going right and you have that ability, it’s not too tough.
“But I promise you, no matter who you are, as a quarterback especially, you will go through rough patches. And everyone will come down on you, whether it’s your fault or not. And it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to deal with it.”
Then there is this: Garoppolo’s last appearance at Arrowhead Stadium, 11 months ago, ended in catastrophe. He was carted into the locker room and diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee, ending his season after only three games.
Shanahan says he hasn’t spoken with Garoppolo specifically about going back Kansas City, but realizes there may be a need.
“Any time you come back from an injury, there’s a bunch of mental hurdles you’ve got to get over even if you are healthy and feeling good,” Shanahan said. “I’m sure there’s some stuff with it just being eerie ... going back to the same place.”
In his first “live” action since recovering from knee surgery, Garoppolo played 11 snaps last week against the Broncos. He completed 1-of-6 passes for zero yardage and threw an interception. His passer rating was 0.0.
It should be easy to improve upon that, and Garoppolo -- in Year 2 of a five-year pact worth $137.5 million, $74 million of which is guaranteed -- realizes it’s also imperative if he is to satisfy those in the building and pacify fans following the team.
“There’s always going to be that noise and everything, but you just have to block it out,” he said. “We have so much going on in our meetings and in our locker room, and just try to take all that in. If you start to worry about the outside noise, you’ve got no chance of being successful.”
Shanahan came to the 49ers with the reputation of getting production from an offense. It’s what he grew up with; his father, Mike Shanahan, built a fabulous coaching career on offensive creativity. Won a couple Super Bowls as a head coach in Denver and was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers the season they rolled up 455 yards and 49 points in winning Super Bowl XXIX.
Garoppolo was Shanahan’s choice to help bring the 49ers out of a playoff drought that last season was extended to five years. The two are tied together, for better or worse.
After Garoppolo in Game 3, the 49ers were 3-10 over the final 13 games. That won’t cut it this season. Not for the coach or the quarterback.
“We’ve got a better team now,” Shanahan said. “I’m a lot more excited for this year.
“In defense of Jimmy, he hasn’t played a lot. When he has played, everyone has seen his ability. And everyone knows he’s in that club (of NFL-quality quarterbacks). And everyone knows he not only has the ability to be in the NFL, but he’s got the ability to be one of the better ones.
“But we’ve got to go through those ups and downs. It’s not going to be, ‘Is he good enough to do it?’ We know he’s good enough to do it. It’s going to be how he reacts to that and how we help him with that. No one can account for what these guys go through in this league at that position.”
As much of the fan base tries to suppress anxieties stemming the first preseason look at Garoppolo, the coach and the quarterback remain firm. They believe.
But belief only goes so far. With the season opener against the Buccaneers 17 days away, they’d all like to see some results encouraging enough to provide some peace of mind.