Jimmy Garoppolo is no longer perfect.
On Sunday in Minnesota, the 49ers lost to the Vikings 24-16 in the 2018 season opener. It was Garoppolo’s first loss as an NFL starting quarterback after going 7-0, including five straight wins for San Francisco to close the 2017 season.
Yet the loss in some ways proves the point that with Garoppolo, the Niners should be consistently competitive this season.
Despite losing deep-threat wide receiver Marquise Goodwin early in the game to a quad injury, despite losing starting right guard Mike Person — and then his backup, Joshua Garnett — and then having to play with a restructured right side of the offensive line, with No. 1 pick Mike McGlinchey moving from tackle to guard, the 49ers stayed in the game. In fact, with a few breaks, the 49ers could have come out with a win against a new-look Vikings team with quarterback Kirk Cousins that some believe could go to the Super Bowl.
Minnesota jumped to a 17-3 lead in the third quarter en route to the win, but it happened after consecutive plays that turned the course of the game.
First Garoppolo threw a perfect deep pass to tight end George Kittle down the left sideline that fell off the outstretched hands of the receiver. If caught, the ball could have been taken for a touchdown for the 49ers to get them into a 10-10 tie. Then, on the next play, Garoppolo threw to his right — while under pressure from the right side where the O-line had been reshuffled — and the intended receiver slipped, allowing Vikings rookie defensive back Mike Hughes to intercept the ball and return it 28 yards for a TD and the 17-3 lead.
The 49ers stayed in the game, battling back on a 22-yard TD pass from Garoppolo to rookie Dante Pettis and two Robbie Gould field goals — and nearly scored another TD when Pierre Garcon wasn’t able to hold on to a pass while being hit in the end zone — but could never overtake the Vikes.
Before the season began, head coach Kyle Shanahan told the media he believes his team will go into every game this season with a chance to come out with a win. Judging from how close the 49ers came Sunday — despite key mistakes and injuries — there’s no reason to believe that’s not true.
Cousins won the quarterback duel with Garropplo, completing 20-of-36 throws for 244 yards and two scores with no interceptions. Garroppolo was 15-of-33 for 261 yards, one TD and three interceptions. His main target was Kittle, who had five catches for 90 yards. Matt Breida led the Niners in rushing with 46 yards on 11 carries.
One bright spot for the 49ers was the pass rush, which looked much improved from 2017. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner had a huge game, with 2½ sacks and seven tackles, including three for loss.
The 49ers will try to rebound this coming Sunday with their home opener against the Detroit Lions at Levi’s Stadium.