Jimmy Garoppolo

Mike DiNovo/USA Today Sports

Tomase: Jimmy Garoppolo has 49ers seeing a young Tom Brady, and that's scary

John Tomase
December 04, 2017 - 11:15 am
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Meanwhile, halfway across the country . . .

The Patriots beat the Bills on Sunday, because they always beat the Bills. About the only drama to emerge from their 23-3 victory was whether tight end Rob Gronkowski will be suspended for his moronic torpedoing of defenseless cornerback Tre'Davious White. Cameras caught Patriots head coach Bill Belichick apologizing to Bills counterpart Sean McDermott for the obvious cheap shot. Gronk deserves a suspension.

That wasn't the story of the day with long-term implications, though. Because 500 miles away on the opposite side of the Great Lakes, a drama was unfolding at Soldier Field.

Tom Brady's one-time understudy, Jimmy Garoppolo, found himself with the ball on his own 8, trailing the Bears 14-12 with about five minutes left in his first start with the 49ers.

Garoppolo had played well to that point in his hometown, his one blemish an interception on a perfectly thrown ball ripped out of the hands of his receiver. But now he needed to make something happen.

Over the next 5:27 he drove the 49ers to Robbie Gould's game-winning field goal with four seconds left. In the process, he affirmed every good feeling we ever had about the guy called Jimmy G.

He didn't look like someone who hadn't started a game in over a year. Over the course of the afternoon, he completed 26 of 37 passes for 293 yards. He helped the 49ers convert 10 of 18 third downs (55 percent), including a huge 33-yard completion to Trent Taylor on 3rd-and-9 at the two-minute warning to drive the Niners inside the Chicago 20.

This is why in his heart of hearts, Belichick never wanted to trade Garoppolo. He knew what he had, and that was Brady's heir apparent. The issue? Brady remains the best player in football and the Patriots couldn't justify paying both of them over $20 million annually.

On Sunday, Garoppolo showed them what they'll be missing the day Brady decides he can't play anymore, while also highlighting the relatively meager return of a second-round pick. He looked like he paid attention all those years sitting behind TB12. He owned the middle of the field and made the unheralded Taylor a force who set career highs in catches (6) and yards (92). He experienced similar success with the similarly underwhelming Marquise Goodwin, a Bills castoff who caught a career-high eight passes for 99 yards.

At times, the shadows of Brady were downright eerie, like when Garoppolo rolled out off of play action and hit his backs and tight ends in the flat, or especially when he converted a third-and-1 with that Brady-est of moves -- a quarterback sneak that resembled water navigating the cracks in a foundation.

He also reminded us he's capable of things Brady can only dream about, like when he jetted upfield on a broken play and gained six yards before earning a late-hit penalty out of bounds.

"To me, it's like he really learned from Tom Brady," running back Carlos Hyde told the San Jose Mercury News. "That's what he reminded me of: just a young Tom Brady out there. How Brady is late in the game, where you give him like 30 seconds to go, yo, he can still win the game for his team."

Garoppolo consistently hit his receivers in stride and he had command of Mike Shanahan's offense, despite limited practice. "I just learned the two-minute drill the other week," Garoppolo told reporters.

When it was over, his teammates gushed about his leadership.

"We've got a quarterback, huh?" left tackle Joe Staley told the Mercury News.

The excitement in San Francisco should only be matched by queasiness in New England. Brady shows no signs of decline, though he once again ate some big hits against the Bills. As long as he's upright, we won't give Jimmy G. much thought.

But the second it's over and the Patriots ask themselves what's next, the answer won't be Garoppolo, because they pulled the plug on the guy who could've kept this train rolling for another decade. Whether they come to regret it rests on Brady's promise to deliver unprecedented longevity.

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