MINNEAPOLIS — San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got his first taste of losing as a starting quarterback in the NFL on Sunday.
After running off seven consecutive victories in games he started to open his career, Garoppolo and the Niners came up short against the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday’s 24-16 loss at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“You never want to lose,” Garoppolo said. “It sucks.”
Before Sunday’s loss, Garoppolo was one of five quarterbacks since the NFL merger to win his first seven starts. Garoppolo threw his third interception of the game with under two minutes to go to seal the win for Minnesota.
Had Garoppolo and the Niners been able to complete a fourth-quarter comeback, it would have moved him into third-place all time for most consecutive wins by a quarterback to begin his career.
It was not to be, however, as Garoppolo had an up-and-down day against a Vikings defense that ranked at the top of the league in fewest yards and points allowed in 2017. Garoppolo finished 15-of-33 for 261 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 45.1, the worst in his eight starts.
“We went against a very good defense and we all didn’t play as good as we could,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Lots of quarterbacks struggle against that defense. Jimmy did some good things but by no means was he perfect. And that’s what everyone was like on offense. (Our) defense holds that team to 17 and if I didn’t think we could get more than that, I wouldn’t be as upset but I really think we should have.”
That Minnesota defense presented Garoppolo and the Niners with one of their biggest challenges though many of the Niners’ errors were self-inflicted.
In the third quarter, Garoppolo threw an interception to Vikings rookie corner Mike Hughes, who returned it 28 yards for a touchdown and what would turn out to be the winning points as Minnesota jumped to a 17-3 lead.
According to Shanahan, there were multiple miscommunications on the play, not just between Garoppolo and receiver Kendrick Bourne but for the offensive line before the snap. Four plays earlier, right guard Joshua Garnett suffered a foot injury that forced the Niners to move tackle Mike McGlinchey to guard with Garry Gilliam entering at right tackle.
The missed protection call led to a hot route call that shouldn’t have happened, according to Shanahan. Garoppolo expected Bourne to run an in-breaking route but Bourne never cut inside, making it easy for Hughes.
After the game, Bourne took responsibility for the mix-up and said Garoppolo did the right thing on the play. Garoppolo opted not to let himself off the hook.
“It’s an it-is-what-it-is type of thing, and it’s both of our faults,” Garoppolo said. “Whenever you throw an interception, it’s always on the quarterback.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo tossed another interception, this time simply throwing too high for rookie receiver Dante Pettis and into the hands of Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Garoppolo’s third and final interception came as he tried to lead a last-minute, game-tying drive, but Minnesota safety Harrison Smith intercepted the second-down pass intended for Trent Taylor to seal the win.
While Shanahan said Minnesota didn’t do anything surprising defensively, Garoppolo did struggle with the Vikings’ pressure at times. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Garoppolo was 1-of-8 with a touchdown and two interceptions under duress Sunday, a sharp decline from the 54 percent completion rate he previously had under pressure as a starter.
Garoppolo’s supporting cast also missed some opportunities to help him out. Tight end George Kittle dropped a deep pass that would have gone for a big gain, running back Alfred Morris fumbled at Minnesota’s goal line, and receiver Pierre Garcon was unable to come down with a contested catch in the end zone.
“He did his job,” Garcon said. “He did the best he can. We have to make those tough plays for him, we have to protect him, we have to help him out.”
Despite those miscues, Garoppolo and the Niners still had some opportunities to pull off the come-from-behind victory.
With big plays coming frequently down the stretch — including Garoppolo escaping pressure and finding rookie receiver Dante Pettis for a 22-yard touchdown — the Niners had the ball twice with a chance to tie the game.
Although, Garoppolo’s completion rate of 45.4 percent was also the worst of any of his starts, he made up for it by continually hitting on some big plays. Garoppolo averaged 7.9 yards per attempt, just a little under what he did the final five games of last season. San Francisco had nine passing plays of 10 yards or more.
“I think the chunk plays helped us but finishing drives, keeping them on the field for longer. I’m not sure exactly what the time of possession was, but I think it was pretty close so it’s all those things tied together,” Garoppolo said. “All the negatives that were in the game, we still had a shot at it, so it’s a tough one.”
Alas, the late-game magic that allowed Garoppolo to lead the Niners to win five straight to close last season ran out. Now the Niners seek to begin a new run.
“We’ve got a good group in there, so I think we have the right mindset of coming in tomorrow, watch the film and bounce back and be ready for next week,” Garoppolo said.