There was more than one significant, perhaps one day historic, quarterback change made in the NFL last week. There was more than one benching that could have ramifications on its franchise for years to come. For while the football world obsessed over every piece of minutia related to the end of the Eli Manning era with the New York Giants, the unveiling of the Jimmy Garoppolo era in San Francisco went largely ignored.
But make no mistake, Manning, for all that he has accomplished, is a declining asset who will have a heavily limited trade market this offseason (it just may be Jacksonville or bust for him). But because of his two Super Bowl MVPs, the weight of his last name, and the fact all of this transpired in the self-proclaimed media capital of the world -- New York City -- Manning's saga tended to dwarf anything else going on in the league (in large part to the ham-handed manner in which the organization handled the situation).
Yet the quarterback switch that might actually usher in a brave new chapter for a once-storied NFL franchise went almost entirely unnoticed. Rookie C.J. Beathard finally making way for Garoppolo, frankly, could have far greater ramifications moving forward for the 49ers than anything accomplished during the Giants' dalliance with Geno Smith as their starting quarterback ever will. Garoppolo is a bright, shiny new quarterback -- one already polished up and cultivated by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels -- who finally gets a start at a time when the league is desperate for precisely that commodity, with injuries and stalled development derailing quarterback play league-wide in 2017.
Chances are you didn't pay that much attention to it, with the one-win 49ers playing at the three-win Bears, but I am here to tell you Jimmy G did not disappoint. If I am a 49ers fan, I am getting pretty amped up about what is to come. If I am Kyle Shanahan, whose system has thrived in the past with far less gifted athletes and passers than Garoppolo at the helm in the past, I am downright giddy. If I am 49ers rookie GM John Lynch, I am already ruing the weeks I wasted not worked diligently to try to get Garoppolo -- a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season -- signed to a contract extension, and I am beginning that process in earnest this week.
Sure, it was only one last-second comeback win against a struggling opponent. But it was an impressive performance from Garoppolo really from start to finish against what has been a stingy defense led by mastermind coordinator Vic Fangio. Sure, the 49ers failed to score a touchdown in the red zone, but they also marched down there almost every possession they had the ball, thanks in large part to some third-down wizardry from Garoppolo. Yes, he did throw one interception, though if you actually saw the play Garoppolo threaded a pretty first-down throw right into the hands of receiver Louis Murphy, who then had it pried away.
What Garoppolo did was distribute the ball all over the field, completing four passes of 15 yards or more in the first 17 minutes of the game alone. He routinely stayed calm under pressure and made big throws downfield (five different receivers had completions of 15 yards or more), displaying plenty of gunslinger, but never out of control. He eluded the pass rush to find secondary receivers (eight different 49ers caught passes from him), and he didn't lock in on receivers. He didn't seem timid or nervous. He looked nothing like many young quarterbacks we've seen forced into action this season because he isn't a novice; he's ready to compete from the outset, and his three-plus years in New England served him well and made it a no-brainer for any smart team in need of an emerging QB to be all over the Pats, since he is so much more evolved than the rookies that come from the college ranks these days.
Despite a poor supporting cast around him, Garoppolo started fast and moved the ball all day. He was 15 for 22 for 172 yards and a pick (more like a strip of Murphy) in the first half, with the 49ers holding the ball for 20 minutes. He finished the game 26 for 37 for 293 yards. Things bogged down in the red zone, as mentioned (and this offense isn't exactly overloaded with matchup nightmares) but Garoppolo was near perfect on the final two scoring drives.
With San Francisco trailing 14-9 at the half, Garoppolo took the game over on third down -- he was 8 for 11 with seven conversions on third-down passing deep in the second half -- and led a 16-play, 70-yard scoring drive that took nearly 8:30 off the clock. Then he won the game with a 14-play, 86-yard drive that took nearly 5:30 off the clock and ended with a chip-shot, game-winning field goal.
There is a lot to like about this young quarterback, and while I'm still a little shocked the 49ers didn't play him sooner after spending just a second-round pick to land him at the midseason trade deadline, no better time than the present. Now, it's time to prioritize getting him signed as soon as possible, because the price, I suggest, is only going go up. And once you start doing the franchise-tag dance with a young quarterback, it tends to crush your cap and kill your leverage. Just give Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder a call in Washington if you don't believe me.
I had someone really smart throw this theory at me today: Imagine if the 49ers end up franchising Garoppolo twice and then he goes back to New England as a free agent when Brady retires? Wouldn't that be something? Yeah, 49ers, pay the man. He's the real deal. Don't delay.
Keenum deserves to be mentioned in MVP race
Speaking of waiting too long to sign a quarterback, the Vikings have put themselves in quite the corner. I urged them, in this very spot a month ago at their bye week, to engage wholeheartedly on extension talks with Case Keenum. Now, it's very likely too late.
Keenum has to be a top-five contender for MVP. He isn't the MVP, and shouldn't be the MVP, and won't be the MVP, but he should be on any shortlist and he has absolutely rescued Minnesota's season when Sam Bradford went down and Teddy Bridgewater was still recovering from a lengthy injury himself. There haven't been five better quarterbacks in the league this season, and he was excellent again Sunday in a tough spot at Atlanta. This was vintage (2017) Keenum, controlling the game and avoiding mistakes and making critical throws on the critical drives. He did it this week with top target Adam Thielen largely bottled up, and against an opponent who was desperate for a win and treating it more or less like a playoff game. And he did it on the road.
Keenum's box score was pretty -- 25 for 30 for 227 yards and two touchdowns -- but it didn't tell the entire story. When the Falcons threatened to pull ahead by more than a score at various times, Keenum was particularly pristine leading drives that at least maintained field position for the Vikings' potent defense, and often led directly to points. Keenum completed all 13 attempts in the second half, and only once the entire game did he throw incompletions on consecutive attempts (and that came about 12 minutes in).
Forget about whatever he did previously in his career, and any preconceived notions about him, and then tell me why he shouldn't merit some MVP consideration.
Flailing Broncos hit latest low point
The Denver Broncos will be making a head coaching change. I can't fathom any way they won't. What was already a miserable situation there -- I chronicled it at length midweek -- somehow got worse.
It's pretty damn hard to lose 35-9 to the woeful Miami Dolphins these days, but the Broncos somehow did it on a day their top corner was suspended and with the players giving no indication they want this season to end on anything but a sad and hollow note. Rookie head coach Vance Joseph appears overwhelmed, and I cant see him back in 2018.
With one coordinator already fired, the Broncos' eight straight losses is one shy of the all-time franchise mark (set in the AFL in 1963), and they have been outscored 241-108 in those games (an average of 30-13.5). This is a team at a crossroads and the further deconstruction of their Super Bowl roster awaits.
Raih working magic in Lambeau
Keep an eye on Packers offensive perimeter coach David Raih. I was pretty hard on the Packers for the play of Brett Hundley through his first five weeks starting, but he's turned the corner some for sure, and made enough plays to win a must-win game last week before leading the Packers to an overtime win on Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers appears on track to play in Week 15, and Green Bay is in the playoff hunt. It wasn't always pretty, but the Packers sustained that absence from the best quarterback on the planet and get the Browns next week.
Raih has been on the radar of some smart established coaches in the league, and he does a lot for head coach Mike McCarthy in game-plan preparation and execution. Don't let the esoteric title fool you. He is a future offensive coordinator for somebody (the Packers, quite possibly) and should get some traction as new coaching staffs are put together in January.
More Week 13 notes
The Chiefs are cooked. Told you it was coming a while back, and this was the culmination. Beyond just the loss to the Jets, it was the lack of institutional control late in the game that shows what a frustrated and lost bunch they are. Repeated penalties in their end zone handing extra series to the Jets late in the game, killing the clock and the Chiefs' timeouts. It was Marcus Peters throwing a flag into the stands and leaving the field on the assumption he was ejected, then coming back with the game still going on in only part of his uniform (like an extra out of the last scene in "Slapshot" or something). This had all the signs of a team in crisis, and games looming against the Raiders and Chargers will likely further expose that …
The Jets never quit on Todd Bowles and won't quit on Todd Bowles. While I would have been among the many to put Bowles atop a list of coaches on the hot seat coming into the season, I don't see it happening now. Finishing at New Orleans, vs. the Chargers and at New England in the last three games will be tough, but the reality is the Jets deserve to be in the thick of the playoff race and are unlucky not to be there …
The Bears may be in tearing up the entire front office and coaching staff, and Mitch Trubisky isn't exactly showing much. His arms are tied, the Bears lack much creativity or verve on offense. Without the QB stepping up late, you cant help but wonder if ownership doesn't start over completely. Chicago ran all of 36 plays on offense Sunday against what has been a weak 49ers defense, for 147 net yards …
Another win for the Titans, but another bland and listless offensive performance. Marcus Mariota looks limited, and the passing game seems to consist mainly of the occasional big play to Delanie Walker. I remain a staunch skeptic about this team doing anything in the playoffs …
Tom Savage has been very good the last few weeks, and the Texans could find themselves in a good spot when Deshaun Watson comes back. With so much quarterback need and demand, Savage could be quite an interest trade chip, I believe. He threw a pick he would want back, but he also made some great throws and looked the part. He certainly had his team in position to win the game …
No corner in the league had a better day than Xavier Rhodes did on Sunday, shutting Julio Jones down for the most part. Huge day for him …
This was the best the Ravens' offense looked all season, without a doubt. We'll find out how sustainable that is, and the loss of top corner Jimmy Smith for the season is a big blow, but they could be a tricky postseason team with the defense among the best in the NFL. Throw in the league's best kicker and what have been dominant special teams units, and this team won't be an easy out …
This season has been tough at times for the Cowboys but their personnel department has received worthy accolades in recent years, and other teams have noticed. Drew Fabianich, the team's national college scout, has been a big part of their draft success and quietly interviewed for Washington's GM opening earlier this year (the team promoted Doug Williams in-house, ultimately). He's someone who I suspect gets other opportunities for key personnel jobs in 2018.