TThere’s an old saying in NFL circles: “If you have two players, you really don’t have one.” Well, tell that to the San Francisco 49ers, who learned the value of holding two qualified starters. While the 49ers have been criticized for handing backup Jimmy Garoppolo a guaranteed one-year contract in the offseason rather than trading whatever they could get, that move could have salvaged their season after Trey Lance went down with a broken ankle on Sunday.
The extent of Lance’s injury was not known when the team put Garoppolo, dubbed “the world’s most expensive backup quarterback” by some snarkier media members, on the field in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks. As always, it was an underwhelming yet brilliant performance from Garoppolo, who had both a passing and rushing touchdown while throwing for 154 yards without a single pick. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 27-7, earning their first win of the season while handing Seattle their first loss.
It turns out that they will have to rely on Garoppolo, who has practiced alone for most of the season, for a long time. Immediately after the game, head coach Kyle Shanahan announced that Lance’s broken ankle would require season-ending surgery. It was heartening news for such a talented 22-year-old to offer his fans. Garoppolo, who suddenly looked like he was going to spend his season sitting on the bench for a team looking to pass him, is back leading the team he took to the NFC Championship Game last season.
Oh, and about that “most expensive stock” designation? If Garoppolo stays healthy, he will be a bargain. Yes, his contract guarantees him $6.5 million, but the 49ers almost certainly saved money when they restructured his contract. While he could make $12.65 million for the entire year, that’s a far cry from the $24.2 million he was owed under his old deal.
It’s not an ideal situation for San Francisco, which hopes to develop its top pick in the 2021 draft, but Garoppolo’s presence prevents Lance’s broken ankle from being a devastating blow. Turns out, in a league where a starting quarterback is the most valuable commodity a team can have, holding on to two players isn’t a bad idea.
Let’s be honest, it wasn’t San Francisco’s Plan A. If another team was willing to overpay for Garoppolo in the offseason, he would be the franchise’s starter right now. Goodness knows there are teams where he could do better (he’d likely find a home in a league that doesn’t favor tanking). Still, instead of treating him like a commodity, the team valued his skills and years of playing in their system more than suggested.
So the 49ers decided to be conservative, received their fair share of criticism, and now have probably been rewarded (albeit in the cruelest way). What is the moral here? Well, let’s invoke a sports cliché that actually applies in this situation: sometimes it’s the moves you don’t make.
MVP of the week
Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Miami Dolphins. For most of the Baltimore Ravens’ game against the Miami Dolphins, Lamar Jackson seemed like a lost prize. Unfortunately for him, Tagovailoa (with an assist from the Ravens’ porous defense) had different plans as Miami overcame a 21-point deficit and posted a shocking 42-38 victory to improve its record to 2-0.
The story in Baltimore was that Jackson had to keep betting on himself and winning: he threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, racking up a combined 437 yards. It still wasn’t enough, as Tagovailoa was even better: he threw for 469 yards and six touchdowns. It turns out that if you can do that, you don’t really need to have things happen with your feet. The best linebacker in Florida right now might not be the one the Dolphins looked at in the offseason.
Statistics of the week
six. That’s the number of times Joe Burrow was sacked in the Bengals’ 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. While Burrow has emerged as one of the most dangerous QBs in the league, the only knock on his game is his propensity for sacks. Much of the blame was placed on Cincinnati’s abysmal offensive line last season, but the team supposedly spent the offseason trying to fix it.
The results? Worse than no result. Until now, it has been the Burrow He was fired 12 times in two games, a big reason why last season’s Super Bowl runners-up started this campaign with an 0-2 record.
Video of the week
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints 20-10 on Sunday, but the biggest game had little to do with football. In what was usually a frantic game between the two teams, Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans were ejected during a bench-clearing brawl.
Given that Lattimore was pushed by Evans, he had every right to be upset about being sent off, but the umpires were certainly impressed by the history between the two players. Meanwhile, Tom Brady was also visibly unhappy, at one point slamming his tablet in frustration. Maybe his heart is somewhere else.
Quote of the week
“This shit was embarrassing. We cut our ass” – Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner after his team’s 24-0 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It’s hard to argue with Buckner. In fact, the Colts’ futility in Jacksonville is downright historic. The last time they won was in Jacksonville It was 2014, which is surprising considering the Jaguars have been mostly average-to-bad during that span. Despite upgrading at quarterback by trading for veteran Matt Ryan during the offseason, the Colts started the season 0-2. Meanwhile, the Jaguars won their first game of the season with just their third shutout in the last 15 years. There are no points for guessing which team it is beat either way.
Elsewhere in the league
— It looked like another bad Sunday for the New York Jets as they fell to the Cleveland Browns 30-17. In an instant, Cleveland a 99.9% chance of winning was predicted. However, after an elite Joe Flacco touchdown pass, punter Braden Mann made a successful punt that quickly turned into the game-winning touchdown for New York. The Jets beat the Browns 31-30 thanks in part to Mann getting his foot back on football.
Somehow, it wasn’t even Mann’s most impressive play of the game. New York wouldn’t have been in a position to come back if Mann hadn’t caught the first of Flacco’s four touchdowns with his arm, converting a fake punt on fourth-and-1. passes
— The Arizona Cardinals narrowly escaped falling into the same 0-2 hole as the Bengals. Fans had good reason to worry about quarterback Kyler Murray, who signed a five-year, $230.5 million contract in the offseason after his team’s 20-0 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. The season. There’s no way Murray managed overtime with the most absurd two-point conversion the league has seen in years.
After tying things up in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals won the game in overtime a failed recovery. You know how they designed it. It was a potentially season-saving win for Arizona. The Raiders fell to 0-2 in brutal fashion, but it was still a pretty special day for Las Vegas sports.
— New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston was playing with four broken backs, which partially explained a brutal three-interception, six-sack day. It also raises the question of whether the Saints should go with veteran backup Andy Dalton rather than force an injured starter into the role.
— In a game that would have generated more buzz a few seasons ago when Brady was in New England and Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t retired, the Patriots picked up their first win of the season in a turnover- and penalty-riddled mess. Pittsburgh Steelers. The 17-14 road win at least prevented them from falling into an 0-2 hole for the first time in 20 years. Both teams are now 1-1, and neither looks postseason bound right now.
— In defensive player of the year news, Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson had three first-half sacks for the Detroit Lions on Sunday, helping his team to a 22-0 halftime lead over the Washington Chiefs. To Washington’s credit, Carson Wentz had a three-touchdown second half to keep it from being a total laugh, as the Lions eventually won 36-27.