Jimmy Garoppolo is set to return to Foxborough to face the New England Patriots (2-3) for the first time since he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 2017. He has flourished since leaving New England and is now back for revenge and to prove the Patriots were wrong by trading him. In the bigger picture, this game is critical to both teams, as both sides have dealt with injury at key positions and have looked extremely vulnerable in the last few weeks.
I’m going to start my analysis for this matchup by making one thing perfectly clear: Bill Belichick absolutely made the right move by trading Garoppolo. When you have the GOAT on your team, there’s no way that his backup will ever get real playing time. Also Brady’s resume speaks for itself. To think that Belichick would ever have chosen anyone over Brady (that season) is foolish. Oh yeah and all Brady did was pass for 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns and 8 interceptions on his way to earning his 3rd NFL MVP award.
As soon as Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers, he brought immediate leadership and a winning clutcher to his new team. San Francisco finished the season 5-0 with him under center, but was left out of the postseason due to a 6-10 record. Now if you strictly look at the numbers from that stretch of games he played in, you might not be that impressed by his 7 touchdowns to 5 interceptions and that’s fair, but remember who he defeated during that stretch.
That memorable run included victories against three playoff teams: the Jaguars, Titans and Rams. The one that stands out to me was his upset win over the #1 ranked Saxonville defense in a week 16 showdown with the Jaguars. That defense had been untouchable and Garappolo had scored 3 total touchdowns in that game, passing for 242 yards. He limited his mistakes in that game to one interception and helped the 49ers score 44 points. Talk about making a huge statement and announcing to the rest of the league that you’re for real.
Expectations were sky high for the next season, but any hope of a memorable season was cut short when Garoppolo went down with a Torn ACL week 3 in Kansas City. San San Francisco only won 3 games the rest of the season. When he returned the following season all the pieces fell into place and the 49ers turned into a powerhouse in the NFC. Garoppolo finished the regular season with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but wasn’t asked to do everything because he had a three headed ground attack and a fearsome defense that would dominate opponents. When your running game has over 100 yards in 12 of 16 games that season, there’s no reason to go away from that. Add that to a physical defense with stars Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman and Fred Warner leading the way and it was up to Garoppolo not to lose games. This resulted in a 13-3 record and the top seed in the NFC.
That formula took center stage in the playoffs when Garoppolo attempted only 27 passes, completing 17 of them, in their first two playoff games. They rushed 85 times for 471 yards and 6 touchdowns to eliminate the Vikings and Packers. In Super Bowl 54, the 49ers did rush for 141 yards but they were outscored 21-0 in the 4th quarter, blowing a 10 point lead. The 49ers had a chance to win the game at the but Jimmy G over threw a wide open Emmanuel Sanders on 3rd down and one play later the Chiefs pass rush took down Garoppolo. Add a KC touchdown two plays later and an interception on the next drive and that was all she wrote. They had 54 yards on 17 plays in that final quarter.
Unlike that game, they will need better showing from their running game against New England and to keep Cam Newton off the field. They will try to replicate what the Broncos did in week 6 and rush for over 100 yards to set up play action to star TE George Kittle, who’s their leading receiver with 30 catches for 380 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite injuries on the offensive line and to their top 2 running backs, San Fran has rushed for 100 yards in all but one game this season. New England’s defense needs to limit big runs by lead back Jerick Mckinnon and force Garapollo to win this game through the air.
It was extremely encouraging to see the Patriots defense to give Cam Newton a chance to win the game last week with 2 fourth quarter interceptions and hold Drew Lock to a passer rating of 34.9. This is a bend but not break defense and if they can force Garapollo into some mistakes, they will give their struggling offense short fields to score. Priority #1 for New England’s secondary is to take away George Kittle. His size and speed reminds me of Gronk in his prime and he can take over games. If he’s allowed to have a big game, this defense will be in trouble. This means tight coverage and lots of pressure on the quarterback. Our front seven needs to dominate the line of scrimmage to keep the 49ers in check.
Offensively, the Patriots can’t have a repeat performance from week 6. Scoring 12 points (9 in the 4th quarter) is a recipe for disaster. It was glaringly obvious they were missing key starters on the offensive line due to injury and COVID-19, which directly led to only 41 yards rushing from their backs and forced Cam Newton to be their leading rusher with 76 yards. That lack of experience on the offensive line also led to two interceptions (both tipped) and another fumble by TE Ryan Izzo as the Patriots were trying to engineer a comeback, was killer.
The good news is that New England will be receiving reinforcements on their offensive line in the form of David Andrews, who’s coming off of IR and Shaq Mason COVID-19 reserve list. Both players are veterans who New England has relied on to provide protection and running lanes for the offense to stay on track. Even if their pass protection improves and their running game gets back on track, New England’s receiving corps needs to perform a lot better. Cam Newton has thrown 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions this season. We know what he can do with his legs but if the 49ers take away their running game, who will step up in the passing game to deliver big plays?
Julian Edelman has always been a reliable receiver regardless of who’s under center but has had huge issues with drops, as he leads all receivers in drops since the beginning of last season. As frustrating as that is, that’s not my biggest worry. Running backs Rex Burkead and James White are the next two leading receivers on this team and I feel like I’m repeating myself with calling out the Patriots other pass catchers to step up. Once again I’m looking at you N’Keal Harry. He’s been asked to fill that #2 receiver role and 18 catches on 30 targets isn’t good enough. The Patriots may need to rely on their passing game more against a top 10 defense against the run this week and it will be interesting to see who steps up.
Who do you think will win? This is a statement game for both teams and one where they can silence their critics. Jimmy Garoppolo needs to prove his terrible performance against the Dolphins in week 5 was a fluke and show his old team what they missed out on when they traded him. For New England, this is a chance to improve to 3-3 and keep pace with the 2nd place Dolphins. I expect this to be a low scoring game and it will come down to who has the ball last. Whichever team wins the battle at the line of scrimmage and the turnover battle will leave victorious.
The game kicks off at 4:25 pm ET on CBS. My prediction is the Patriots will win 20-16. Leave your thoughts on who will win in the comment section below or on the CruelFan Facebook page.
By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com