San Francisco 49ers fans were dealt a blow Monday night when the team they care about as a function of employing the fans’ truest love—whichever quarterback isn’t playing at the time—got a passable game from the quarterback they can’t seem to be rid of, Jim Garoppolo and punked the Los Angeles Rams, 24-9.
That means one thing. The aims of the Brock Purdy Movement have been temporarily thwarted.
Garoppolo wasn’t brilliant; that would be too obviously showbiz. He found an early rhythm to power the 49ers to a lead, did not puke it away in the middle of the game, and held serve in the fourth quarter while the very elite defense kicked the horns off the Rams’ helmets for every one of their 35 on-field minutes. He gave little reason for dissatisfaction, which in his current incarnation is the West Coast equivalent of Patrick Mahomes v. Tampa Bay.
This stalls the central story of this 49ers season, like all the ones before it going back to the All-American Football Conference (ask your dead great-grandfather), which is that the quarterback they see cannot ever be as good as the quarterback they don’t. Excepting a peaceful six-year reign of Joe Montana from 1980 through 1986, the 49er backup has always been much preferred to whomever the starter was because, well, it’s the same devotion to tradition that Chicago Bears fans have to having no quarterback at all.
This year, it seemed like they were heading on a similar course with the fresh-faced and styrofoam packing peanut–encased Trey Lance, because surely Garoppolo would be foisted upon some team with a bad quarterback of their own. Only Garoppolo never got moved because whatever market did exist for him evaporated when it was announced in March that he was having shoulder surgery, and despite rounds of rumors about how much he and Kyle Shanahan must hate each other, Shanahan still came to the weird but defensible conclusion that, while Lance would still be the starter, Garoppolo rather than Nate Sudfeld would be the backup. Knows the system, can be a mentor, is a professional, can’t be left out on the front lawn with a “TAKE ME I’M FREE” sign around his neck, etc.
So of course it played out this way. Lance broke his ankle and tore some ligaments early in the season opener, which meant Garoppolo again went from intriguing veteran backup not named Josh Johnson to frustrating starter, and with no discernible backup of his own since Sudfeld was released and Brock Purdy, taken last in the 2022 draft, is clearly no factor, he could get through the season without customer regrets.
You naive fools. Of course the fan base was unhappy, and of course they imagined Purdy, who had put up decent numbers by Big 12 standards while at Iowa State but not so amazing that it prevented him from being this draft class’s Mr. Irrelevant, could be the guy. And maybe he couldn’t, but he could become the guy they wanted instead of Garoppolo.
And so he did, especially after Garoppolo became the lead culprit in the festival of urban blight that was Broncos 11, 49ers 10 in Week 3. Since the only alternatives were fullback Kyle Juszczyk or Trey Lance learning how to drop back while hopping on one leg (polling at 12 percent, if you’re looking for the fan preference pie chart), Purdy became a fan favorite while doing nothing but show up for work, which was largely Lance’s resume as well.
Anyway, Monday was supposed to be yet another referendum on Garoppolo, only this time with Purdy and his zero experience or pedigree behind Door Number 2. Except that Garoppolo’s brightest moments are when he does just enough to get you interested and not enough to ruin your appetite. Rather than bog you down in Buck’n’Aikman play recitations, suffice it to say that the 49ers looked crisp offensively, committed no turnovers, and let its defense, which is the true story of the team anyway and has been for four straight years, crushed the Rams and their Kupp/Higbee-obsessed offense. Matthew Stafford was overwhelmed, sacked seven times, and pick-sixed as a final insult, and the 33 times he targeted the Kupp and Higbee in question represented exactly half of the offensive plays that weren’t sacks. It wasn’t close, and truth be told, this was far more about what the defense did than what the offense didn’t screw up.
But that’s not the way things work in Silicon Valley, where only one position matters and, as an homage to the industry and region which invented the concept, it holds a tablet and watches other people doing actual work. Whatever Brock Purdy may be, he is not yet the quarterback 49er fans get, and the odds suggest that he probably will never be unless Garoppolo gets hurt too. If that happens, the season is doomed unless the defense allows only field goals to all its remaining opponents, and even then it will only be the last wild card in. In a division where everyone is .500 and frankly looks worse than that, the 49ers remain the looniest operation of them all. Kyle Shanahan may end up not as the offensive design mastermind he has been painted as but as the defensive genius who doesn’t involve himself on the defensive side of the ball. He might also be the craziest, luckiest, most reckless reaper-cheater in the entire NFL.
Or Garoppolo will throw two picks next week in Carolina and the pleas for Purdy become deafening. Make up your own narrative, it doesn’t matter. The 49ers are a rolling piefight anyway, so all things can be equally true in a place where logic has never quite held as much sway as looking like the smartest guy in the room no matter what the actual evidence might suggest.