The San Francisco 49ers’ push for a Super Bowl has taken a serious blow.
The 49ers turned to third-string quarterback Brock Purdy to lead their offense, and relied on the NFL’s best defense to fluster Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and win their fifth straight game. But it came at a considerable cost.
“Just hearing it, it’s pretty crushing. We know what Jimmy’s been through and how hard he’s worked at this,” Shanahan told reporters postgame.
“It was such a special win, but definitely mixed emotions hearing about Jimmy.”
Garoppolo was injured and carted off during the first quarter. The sequence was not a pleasant one considering what the 49ers hope to accomplish this season.
The 49ers made the biggest splash trade at the NFL trade deadline acquiring star running back Christian McCaffrey and appeared primed to make another deep playoff run after Garoppolo led them to a Super Bowl and two NFC title games in the last three years.
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At full strength, the 49ers (8-4) could have made a real push to challenge the Philadelphia Eagles (11-1) and Minnesota Vikings (10-2) at the top of the NFC playoff picture in their final five games.
Garoppolo’s injury, however, will affect how the rest of the 49ers’ season unfolds.
Purdy completed 25 of 37 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in relief of Garoppolo, including a third-down conversion to tight end George Kittle in the fourth quarter as Shanahan relied on McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel to secure this victory.
“Brock came in and made some big plays,” Shanahan said. “We have to clean some stuff obviously ... We were having to change a lot of stuff on the fly, and putting a lot of pressure on him that way. And I thought he did a helluva job doing it.”
The 49ers certainly have the defense, which intercepted Tagovailoa on two straight plays, while star defensive end Nick Bosa led with three sacks. They certainly have the weapons on offense, too. Together, the 49ers have outscored their opponents 70-7 in the second half during their five-game win streak.
But will the rookie Purdy be able to sustain his performance in his first taste of real NFL action?
Purdy, who earned the nickname Mr. Irrelevant for being the 262nd and final pick in the 2022 NFL draft out of Iowa State earlier this year, did not appear overwhelmed by the moment.
As the Dolphins defense used its Cover Zero scheme to blitz Purdy with as many as eight defenders, Shanahan called two plays so Purdy could quickly find McCaffrey at the end of the first half for a 3-yard touchdown pass on a drive that helped San Francisco take a 17-10 lead into halftime.
While the Dolphins narrowed the score to 23-17 after Tagovailoa found Tyreek Hill for a 45-yard touchdown and they were unable to convert on a crucial fourth down on their ensuing drive, Purdy managed the offense enough to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
“That’s just where I fell in the draft. I’m very thankful that I got drafted,” Purdy said. “But I’ve always had confidence in myself that I can play at this level.”
The 49ers will depend on Purdy and likely elevate former University of Georgia and University of Washington quarterback Jacob Eason from the practice squad unless there’s another appealing option off the street for San Francisco to consider. (Per reports, they will sign veteran Josh Johnson off Denver's practice squad.)
Trey Lance, who began the season as San Francisco’s starter, sustained a season-ending ankle injury against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 18.
“We know we have to bring someone else in, at least,” Shanahan said when asked about adding a new, third quarterback to the roster.
Lance was taken by San Francisco with the No. 3 pick in 2021 NFL draft, after the franchise traded three first-round picks to the Dolphins. He’s still considered the franchise’s future at the quarterback position.
That’s a major reason why Garoppolo has experienced a rollercoaster season, beginning the year as the 49ers’ backup before being again thrust into the starting quarterback role during the second game of the season.
The 49ers restructured Garoppolo’s contract before the season after being unable to find a trade partner as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.
Keeping Garoppolo turned out to work in San Francisco’s favor. He was instrumental in helping San Francisco take the lead in their division and reach the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoff picture behind the Eagles and Vikings.
Now, the 49ers will try to keep their season afloat without their top two quarterbacks on the roster.
“We’re going to do our best to overcome this,” Shanahan said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jimmy Garoppolo out for year, and 49ers' Super Bowl hopes take hit