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The Game Manager, Week 1: Overreaction season

DeForest Buckner is on pace for 40 sacks! Thanks, Baalke! (That’s not even sarcastic! I actually mean it this time!)

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Whether or not you had high hopes for the 49ers coming into the season, you had to see the Vikings game to open the season as the ultimate test. Minnesota might have the best top-to-bottom roster in the NFL, they came a game away from making the NFC Championship Game last year, and they acquired the top free agent quarterback on the market, Kirk Cousins.

On the other hand, Cousins filed a trademark for the phrase “You Vike That,” which seems like the kind of thing that would anger the Football Gods. Turns out there’s something that angers the Football Gods even more: Missing your top running back and wide receiver, and playing a rookie guard who’s never played guard before.

With Reuben Foster suspended and Jerick McKinnon out for the season, the last thing the 49ers needed were more injuries. Then, moments after the season started, Marquise Goodwin limped off.

The injuries never abated, and the mistakes piled up, but I was impressed by the 49ers ability to get back in the game twice. After falling behind 10-0, they came within a yard of a 10-10 tie. After getting down 24-6, they ultimately had the ball and chance to tie the game with less than two minutes remaining. Of course, that’s when Garoppolo made the worst throw of his career.

It was disappointing to see Jimmy G look so mortal — unable to part the Purple Sea and lead his people to the promised land — but it’s hard to call it a surprise. When I talked about the three ways this game could go in last week’s column, I surmised the 49ers would have to dodge bullets and likely overcome a loss, but would be okay on the other side. A plurality of voters in the poll (48 percent) agreed. Right now, it feels like the correct answer.

Four turnovers, 25 percent red zone efficiency, numerous drops, and one very stupid penalty is no way to go through life, son. But it feels like the 49ers accomplished something by keeping this game close despite the obstacles they faced — even if some of those were self-made. I think this provides a chance for the team to learn from their mistakes and get better.

But this is no country for reasonable men. This is the beginning of football season, the time for talking heads to say things very loudly, and with extreme confidence, about small sample sizes.

For every action, there is an overreaction

As with the Fool’s Gold phenomenon, fans can remind themselves repeatedly not to overreact to what they see on the field in Week 1, but we’re bound to do it anyway. It doesn’t help that talking heads in the national media get paid to make snap judgments. Big Ben is done! The Saints D sucks again! Patrick Mahomes will inherit the earth!

Take this as public service announcement: Week 1 is complete, so keep your head down because hot takes are flying around everywhere.

In this analogy, the birds are the hot takes, and you — the intelligent, reasonable 49ers fan — is the damsel in distress. So please allow me to be your phone booth of logic, protecting you from the madness swirling outside.

Hot takes may seem harmless, but don’t be fooled. You’ve heard of “silent killers” like high blood pressure or strokes? Hot takes are like that, except the opposite — they’re the loud, annoying killer. They feed on your brain cells. One time, I watched First Take on ESPN — after 10 minutes of listening to Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, I had forgotten my name and was soaked in my own urine.

I’d like to provide the opposite of hot takes. So since the opposite of “hot” is “cold,” and the opposite of “take” is “give,” here are my top “cold gives.”

Hot take: See, I told people not to anoint Jimmy G just yet. He’s looking pretty mortal now, isn’t he? The undefeated record is gone, but the red zone issues and interceptions don’t appear to be going anywhere.

Cold give: So let me get this straight: Seven dazzling starts were too small a sample size to judge Garoppolo as a great quarterback, but one bad performance is enough evidence to say he’s been overrated?

Without a doubt, Jimmy G didn’t play well. But don’t ignore the fact he got precious little help from his surrounding cast.

That’s a great defensive play, but Pettis blamed himself, saying he should’ve jumped to highpoint the ball. Garoppolo also put a potential touchdown pass in the hands of Pierre Garçon, who dropped it, though he was hit simultaneously. George Kittle also blamed himself for the missed connection on a deep ball. And Kendrick Bourne took the blame for running the wrong route on Jimmy G’s pick-six.

By my count, that’s the fourth of Garoppolo’s eight interceptions as a Niner which don’t appear to be his fault (a number Bill Barnwell agrees with). But that’s not to say he had a good day. The other two interceptions were 100 percent on him, and the last one was ugly. Pressure or not, desperate situation or not, he can’t make that throw. It was 2nd down, and you have to live to play another down there.

He was a bit off all day. On the Garçon ball, he could’ve helped his cause had he anticipated the throw a bit more, and got it to Garçon before he’s hit. The cameras caught Shanahan making that clear on the sideline. I also think when a receiver is as wide open as Kittle was on the deep ball, hitting him perfectly in stride is less important than making sure he can get to it — even if he has to slow down.

And the biggest throw of the day may have been in the 4th quarter with a chance to pull within 24-20, when Garoppolo missed a wide-open Kittle in the back of the end zone on 3rd and goal. Quarterbacks are taught to throw high when passing to the back of the end zone (so the ball isn’t defended before it reaches its target), but he has to give Kittle a chance.

I’m not allergic to criticizing Garoppolo’s performance, but let’s keep it in perspective. We’re talking about a guy who had his first ever bad game, played behind a patchwork line, didn’t get much help, and still did this:

Hot Take: Fine, the 49ers receivers failed to make the big plays. So they should sign Dez Bryant.

Cold Give: Dez Bryant is a big name, but he’s no longer a great receiver, and he struggles to gain separation — even from blogs.

The 49ers have good receivers. The best of them — at least since Garoppolo joined the team — is Marquise Goodwin, who barely played. Kittle had the one big drop, but led the team with five catches and 90 yards. Garçon wasn’t great, but is the most experienced and proven receiver they have. There will be growing pains with young players like Bourne and Richie James, when he gets a chance to play, and impatience after one game isn’t a good look.

Hot take: The 49ers offensive line is in shambles and will eventually get Garoppolo killed.

Cold give: Are we talking about the offensive line that went up against one of the best defensive fronts in football in a dome? The one that lost two guards (neither appear to be seriously hurt), had to play a backup at tackle, and moved a rookie tackle in his first NFL game to guard (where he had never played before in his football life)?

You want to see a line that will get somebody killed? Watch the Philadelphia game from last year and imagine Garoppolo taking all that punishment instead of C.J. Beathard. I’m not saying they played well, but let’s at least wait another game before we condemn them.

Hot take:

Cold give: Okay, now you’re just screwing with me.


The 49ers were very shorthanded at linebacker on Sunday. Of course, Reuben Foster was suspended, as we all knew. Dekoda Watson was hurt. And, in a shocking twist, Malcolm Smith was also out with an injury. At this point, I can’t decide who Malcolm Smith reminds me of more, Keyser Söze or Manti Te’o’s girlfriend. In each case, you hear a lot about them, but don’t actually see them. It’s time we ask the question: Have the 49ers been catfished?

I’m sure Smith wants to play, and I would actually feel bad for the guy — if I was sure he actually existed. I mean, I’ve seen photos, but I could say that about Sasquatch. Malcolm Smith reminds me of an imaginary girlfriend some kid at school made up. He met her at summer camp and she lives out of town. He can’t call her for some reason, but he swears you’ll meet her someday. Except every time she’s supposedly coming to visit, something suddenly comes up.

After Brock Coyle suffered a concussion, LB depth has be a severe concern. Yes, Foster will be back for Week 3 — at which point, he will likely join Fred Warner, who was a one-man gang in Week 1. But that won’t help this week vs. Detroit. You know it’s bad when you’re Googling NaVorro Bowman to see what he’s up to.

The play that wasn’t

The Vikings goal line fumble recovery near the end of the first half which kept the 49ers from tying the game almost didn’t happen. We all saw the deep ball Pettis had in his arms earlier in the drive, but there was another Pettis opportunity the announcers didn’t mention.

On 1st and goal from the 4-yard line, the 49ers had an easy TD on a jet sweep to Pettis, but faked that in favor of handing the ball up the gut to Alfred Morris, who was stuffed. I’m not sure if that was the definitive call, or Jimmy G had the option to give it to either player depending on what he saw from the defense. Pettis would’ve walked in had he gotten the ball, and the game would’ve been tied. As it happened, they never caught the Vikings.

Looking back to look forward

As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are. So whether you feel discouraged by the 49ers mistakes and missed opportunities or encouraged by them keeping it within eight points, they are 0-1. The important thing now is to not be 0-2. That doesn’t end a season, but it’s damn close.

The difference between 1-1 and 0-2 is also huge for the morale of a young, maturing team. It isn’t imperative they make the playoffs this year, but it is imperative they improve, using this season as a stepping stone to future success. All that makes this week’s home opener against the Lions pretty significant.

When I think of 49er teams in this position, I always think of 1987. They opened in Pittsburgh and lost, 30-17. Joe Montana was picked off three times. The next week, the Niners were down to Cincinnati 26-20 -- six seconds away from 0-2. Then Bengals coach Sam Wyche made the most bone-headed decision I’ve ever seen, gifting the 49ers one play to win the game. Jerry Rice did just that, on a play dubbed “Hail Jerry” at the time (third highlight in this clip):

It was an ending so unbelievable, owner Eddie DeBartolo didn’t even hang around to see it. The 49ers wouldn’t end up getting their second loss until Week 10. That would be their last.

That’s not to say if the 49ers can win this week they might win 13 games, but it would stave off any “must win” talk for the time-being. Which would be nice, seeing as they have tough road games awaiting them in Weeks 3 and 4.

So can they do it?


What will the 49ers record be after Week 2?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    0-2. We’re in deep trouble.
    (54 votes)
  • 82%
    1-1. We’re at .500, and the glass is half-full.
    (1034 votes)
  • 8%
    1-1. We’re at .500, but the glass is half-empty.
    (104 votes)
  • 4%
    2-0. What can I say, I’m a relentless optimist.
    (54 votes)
1246 votes total Vote Now