What Garoppolo did not do was throw a touchdown. The 49ers settled for five goals in their 15-14 victory. It didn’t matter. Just 34 days into his education of Kyle Shanahan’s byzantine offense, Garoppolo showcased why the 49ers were willing to surrender a second-round pick in the middle of a lost season, and why other teams are going to regret not offering more.
Garoppolo basically could not have offered up a more reassuring performance to the 49ers brass who made the daring in-season move. A picture of calm, Garoppolo excelled both in the pocket and on play action. He was not afraid to pull the trigger on difficult passes, more than once targeting pedestrian or unproven talents like Louis Murphy and Trent Taylor in tight spaces.
Most of all, Garoppolo Got. The. Ball. Out. Quickly. He might have the fastest release in all of football. When Garoppolo decided to throw, the pass was immediately upon his intended target. This is important for a variety of reasons. Garoppolo can unload the ball before pressure gets home, and get it to his pass catchers before the defense can react. It had to be why he was comfortable targeting players he just met a month ago in the tightest of spaces on the road.
It’s important to keep perspective. This was one game against the Chicago Bears, a team that’s laughably been the victim for the 49ers’ only two wins outside the state of California since Harbaugh was sent packing. But it was also a Bears defense that entered Week 13 allowing just 216 passing yards per game, and the eighth fewest quarterback fantasy points. Garoppolo completed 70.2 percent of his throws, and averaged 7.91 yards per attempt.
There will be stiffer tests, namely the Jaguars in Week 16. Garoppolo gets two showcase games before that, the Texans this upcoming Sunday and the Titans the week after. If his performance at Soldier Field was any indication, he’s going to put on a show, and justify the 49ers’ bold deadline decision.
Five Week 13 Storylines
Rob Gronkowski has huge game, but risks suspension with cheap shot of Tre'Davious White. Gronk has made a habit of smashing in his hometown of Buffalo. Sunday was no different, as he abused coach Sean McDermott’s defense for nine grabs and 147 yards, both new season highs. It was his most prolific performance since last October. So it’s a pity he had to go and mar it with something completely out of character. Gronk has earned his fun-loving reputation, avoiding feuds and clichés as he’s built his Hall-of-Fame résumé. He’s been a Good Guy. His hit on White was not something a Good Guy does. The intended target on White’s interception of Tom Brady, Gronk was incensed after believing White got away with a penalty. He retaliated by blindsiding an unsuspecting White from behind as he lay on the ground. The result was a concussion, the worst of outcomes. Gronk is at serious risk of being suspended for next Monday's dream matchup with the Dolphins in the first week of the fantasy playoffs. Frankly, he deserves it.
Josh Gordon comes back from the dead with 4/85. It had been three Decembers since Gordon’s last appearance on a regular season field. It would be terribly cliché to say it looked like he was never gone, so we’ll stick with … he was certainly there. Gordon’s presence was the takeaway. Over the middle, down the sideline, after the catch. The Browns forced the issue, funneling 11 targets their erstwhile WR1’s way. He somehow managed to play 48-of-63 snaps, many of them lined up on lockdown CB Casey Hayward. Gordon ended up being just the second wide receiver all season to clear 85 yards against the Bolts. Back in the fire, Gordon could really get hot in an attackable Week 14 matchup with the Packers.
Tyrod Taylor injures ankle then knee against the Patriots. Taylor tweaked his ankle on the first play from scrimmage. He battled through it for three quarters before coming down with a knee injury, an issue that required a cart to the locker room. Taylor was despondent, in near tears before draping a towel over his face for the long ride down the tunnel. It seemed like a sad end to not only a crazy season, but crazy Bills tenure. Then he got good news, apparently avoiding major injury. A Monday MRI will tell the final story, but the initial bullet has been dodged. It might still not be enough to save Taylor’s 2017 job. He’s unlikely to be healthy enough for Week 14. Even if he is, coach Sean McDermott is probably ready to go with rookie Nathan Peterman again after Taylor looked dreadful against the Pats before going down. If Taylor both gets cleared and keeps starting duties, he’ll have a delectable Week 14 matchup in the Colts.
Matthew Stafford bruises throwing hand. On Thanksgiving, Stafford got his ankle twisted up. 10 days later, it was his $135 million right hand. Stafford departed with 6:16 remaining, watching a 30-20 deficit turn into a 44-20 blowout loss. Backup Jake Rudock threw a pick six on his first series. The afternoon had an “all is lost” feel for the Lions before Stafford was revealed to have escaped with only a contusion. With swelling and bruising, it will probably still be a tricky matter for Week 14, but it’s hard to imagine Stafford won’t be out there as the 6-6 Lions play for their season against the Bucs. An underrated warrior, Stafford played through a broken right finger in 2016.
Josh McCown does it again in unsung 2017. We are 75 percent of the way through the season and McCown has more fantasy points than all but seven quarterbacks. Although 38 and a 16-year veteran, McCown had never really had what could be considered a “career year.” That’s what happens when you bounce around and make more than 10 starts only twice. He’s having it now, keeping the unlikely Jets in the mix for a .500 campaign. Unsigned for 2018, don’t be surprised if McCown is invited back to East Rutherford, though perhaps as a No. 2.
Five More Week 13 Storylines
Keenan Allen keeps reaving souls. Allen caught 10 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, astonishingly making it the third straight game he had gone 10/100/1. No other player in NFL history has done that. Altogether, Allen has 33 grabs for 436 yards and four scores during his hot streak after entering Week 11 the owner of a 44/596/1 line. His explosion has unsurprisingly coincided with Philip Rivers’ best stretch of the year, and the Chargers rattling off three straight victories to pull even with the Chiefs at 6-6 in the AFC West. Allowing the sixth fewest receiver fantasy points, the Redskins are a tough matchup for Week 14, but the way Allen has been running routes of late, no opponent is daunting.
Zach Ertz suffers concussion in Seattle. In the midst of a quiet game — his third in four — Ertz got his head rattled on the turf late in the third quarter. Clearly dazed, he was quickly ruled out. It’s Ertz’s second documented concussion as a pro, with the other coming in 2015. It’s a sensitive subject for the Ertz family, as Ertz’s brother’s high school career was ended by a head injury. Nevertheless, Ertz missed only one game in 2015, and it came on a short week. He should be considered genuinely 50-50 for Sunday’s showdown with the 9-3 Rams.
Eli Manning says he plans to play in 2018. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Sunday morning that Manning could consider retirement this offseason. Speaking after the Giants’ loss to the Raiders, Manning insisted that wasn’t the case, and that he will return for a 15th season. The rest of the league will have a say in that, of course. Manning is going on 27 games of below-average quarterback play. His situation could be similar to that of Jay Cutler’s last offseason. Cutler didn’t head into free agency planning to retire. He only did so after the requisite interest wasn’t generated. Fair or not, Manning and his “championship pedigree” will probably draw more serious interest than Cutler did last spring.
Alex Smith staves off Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs still lose. Following a month in hibernation, #NewAlex resurfaced after a week of Mahomes talk. Smith’s 366-yard, four-touchdown performance was easily his best since Week 1. The formula was similar, as he kept finding Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill for big plays. The big day came against an eminently rippable defense, but Smith also faced those in Weeks 9-12 (Dallas, Giants, Bills). It’s unclear why Smith can’t play like this every week. He has the weapons at his disposal to take the lid off opposing secondaries. The Raiders are a drool-worthy Week 14 opponent, but it would be foolish to assume Smith resumes ripping. That has not been the story of his 2017. Peaks and valleys have.
Kenyan Drake has himself a ballgame against the Broncos. Drake’s 120 yards rushing were a new career high by 38. It was exactly 100 more than he managed in Week 12, where he was relegated to a timeshare with the replacement-level Damien Williams. The big day came against a Broncos run defense that had been one of the few brights for an otherwise dismal team. Initially believed out for the season, Williams (shoulder) could return for Week 14. That would up Drake’s fantasy volatility for a matchup with the Patriots, though there’s little doubt he will be given another long look as the 1A.
2. Are the Broncos finally out of new options to throw three interceptions?
3. There’s no way the Chargers can screw this up, right?...
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
DEF: Bengals (vs. CHI), Cowboys (@NYG), Jets (@DEN), Bills (vs. IND)
Stats of the Week
Jameis Winston has 50 turnovers in 41 career contests. 2018 is beginning to look like a make-or-break campaign for the former No. 1 overall pick.
Hue Jackson is on the verge of having as many losses in 34 games as John Madden had in 10 years.
Drew Brees is on pace for “just” 4,397 yards, which would be his fewest in a 16-game season for the Saints. Yes, Brees’ arm has declined, but what can a dynamic run game do for you?
The Time I Will Never Get Back Award: The Jets seemingly spending 20 minutes in real time inside the Chiefs’ five-yard line at the end of Sunday’s 38-31 victory.