After missing most of last season with a knee injury, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo can’t wait to kick off the 2019 season Sunday against the Bucs.
“A lot of excitement,” he told reporters Wednesday, when asked how he feels. “It’s been a long time coming, so it’s finally here, getting into the game-week schedule and everything and it’s good to be back.”
Garoppolo, more than any other player on the team’s 53-man roster, will dictate how this season plays out for a team that went 4-12 in 2018. If he plays like the quarterback who led the Niners to wins in his first five starts with the team at the end of 2017, San Francisco could have a rosy season that includes a playoff spot.
If he isn’t that sharp, the 49ers may be improved in many other areas, but they could be in trouble.
As Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee noted Thursday, an effective Garoppolo is the key that unlocks success. The 49ers lost six games in 2018 by eight points or fewer, wrote Biderman, with five of those coming after Garoppolo suffered his injury in Game 3. And, the 49ers were 2-6 in one-possession games overall. So, if the QB -- who has only 10 NFL starts – revives the offense, the 49ers have an excellent chance to turn around their record.
But questions hang over Garoppolo. Can he stay healthy? Can he be the QB in those five wins in 2017 who completed 67.4 percent of his throws and averaged 8.44 yards per pass attempt, or will he be the QB of 2018 who completed 59.6 percent and averaged 8.1 yards per attempt?
“Garoppolo looked mostly like himself early in training camp, save for the now-infamous five-interception practice which came the same week as hjis skittish preseason debut,” wrote Biderman. “He followed up that 0.0 quarterback-rating game in Denver with a much more promising 14-of-22, 188-yard, one-touchdown, no-interception performance in the third exhibition game in Kansas City, the same place where he sustained his knee injury.
“But the regular season is an entirely different animal. And Garoppolo is still looking to finish his first full season as the starter. The 49ers will need a Pro Bowl-caliber season from their $137.5 million quarterback to stay in the playoff mix.”
The 49ers are set for a 1:25 p.m. (PDT) kickoff Sunday in Tampa.