By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — On two separate coasts, the man known as Jimmy G. has been a major talking point — for two different reasons.
Out in San Francisco, a near-moribund 49ers franchise has been rejuvenated by the addition and the long-term signing of the man they hope can be a savior. Back in New England, members of the Patriots organization as well as its fanbase have spent the better part of 10 months grumbling about the Patriots trading away the future of the franchise, in favor of the 41-year-old Tom Brady.
Lost in all of this bewilderment was the distinct possibility that Jimmy Garoppolo may in fact not be God’s gift to quarterbacking. He could be, sure. But what if he’s … just … not?
It’s a possibility that was woefully underexplored over the past year-plus, but it’s one that can’t be avoided after Sunday’s 2018 debut for Garoppolo.
Facing a stiff test in the daunting Vikings defense, Garoppolo struggled. He completed just 15 of his 33 passes (45.4 percent) for 261 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. One of those interceptions was returned for a touchdown, as the Vikings beat the 49ers 24-16 in Minnesota.
Garoppolo also took three sacks, while rushing twice for a total of six yards. His passer rating was 45.1.
In all fairness, Garoppolo’s one touchdown pass was a thing of beauty, as he escaped pressure, fled to his left, and then threw off his back foot and lobbed a perfect rainbow to Dante Pettis in the end zone. That play displayed why the 49ers didn’t seem to hesitate to throw $74 million in guaranteed money at Garoppolo this past offseason.
But the three picks — even against a defense like Minnesota’s — do hurt. His first came on the Niners’ second possession of the second half, with Mike Hughes the beneficiary of a bit of a panic throw from Garoppolo, who was pressured by three Vikings on the play. Hughes returned the interception untouched for 28 yards and a score.
The second came early in the fourth quarter, after the 49ers forced a Minnesota punt with the Vikings leading 24-13. Garoppolo just seemed to misfire on a pass to Pettis, running a slant, and Xavier Rhodes was able to intercept the overthrow.
The final interception again came when Garoppolo faced pressure, this time in the final minutes of the game with the Niners looking to mount a game-tying drive while trailing by eight. Harrison Smith picked off the pass over the middle to seal the win for Minnesota.
Garoppolo also missed on what should have been a touchdown pass to tight end George Kittle.
The loss gives Garoppolo his first as a starting quarterback in the NFL, dropping his personal win-loss record to 7-1. As the starting quarterback of the Niners, he’s now thrown seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Again, the Vikings defense was the best in the NFL last year and may own that title once again. But when you’re paid like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, expectations are going to be high. Garoppolo didn’t match them on Sunday.
He may well end up living up to all of the expectations thrust upon him. But it’s fairly clear at this moment that the 26-year-old has got some work to do.