SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- From the moment the San Francisco 49ers acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on Halloween, the reality was he would eventually trade in his backup quarterback costume and assume the mantle of starter.
Chances are, that will happen as early as the Niners' next game, which is Nov. 26 against the Seattle Seahawks.
If and when that happens, rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard will return to the reserve role he held at the beginning of the season. If Sunday's 31-21 win over the New York Giants was Beathard's last start before handing the job over to Garoppolo, there's no doubt he left a strong, lasting impression in the midst of all the Garoppolo speculation.
Even after the victory, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan received questions about when Garoppolo will make his first start. As has been his custom since Garoppolo arrived, Shanahan did not commit to anything.
"As I told you guys, I’m taking it week-by-week," Shanahan said. "I’m going to continue to work with Jimmy over the bye week, here and there. We’ve got some rotations of some coaches doing that to catch him up. We’ll get a bonus practice next Monday, or a week from tomorrow where we get everyone back in and that will be to get everyone loose and get them back from their time off and we’ll see where it goes from there. Monday is an extra day and then we’ll start the evaluation Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, but it’s not just about C.J., it’s not just about Jimmy. There’s a lot of things that go into it.”
One thing that will definitely play into it is the right thumb injury Beathard suffered on his 11-yard touchdown run. Beathard injured the same thumb last week against Arizona and again played through it. If that ailment lingers, it could clear an easy path for Garoppolo to step in.
“I just wanted to stick it out there with those guys and finish," Beathard said. "I wanted to finish the game in a victory formation and be able to kneel the ball and that’s what we did. It was the first one of the year and it was just an awesome feeling.”
That same awesome feeling accompanied what was easily the best performance of Beathard's young career against the Giants, as he played a key role in giving Shanahan his first victory as a head coach.
One week after Beathard looked the part of designated tackling dummy, taking 16 hits in a loss to Arizona, Beathard and the Niners welcomed back left tackle Joe Staley from a fractured orbital bone under his right eye. Staley immediately stabilized the offensive line and Beathard capitalized on the cleanest pocket he has had to work with since he became the starter on Oct. 22. The Giants hit Beathard just two times and he was not sacked after taking 16 sacks in his previous four games.
In addition to the usual grit and toughness, Beathard produced. He finished with 288 yards on 19-of-25 passing. He added two passing touchdowns and an interception for a career-high passer rating of 123.4. His 83-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was the best throw of his pro career. And he chipped in his third rushing score of the year, an 11-yard run on third-and-2 that essentially put the Giants away and gave the 49ers their first two-score lead of the season.
Beathard was particularly effective throwing between the numbers, where he was 13-of-14 for 239 yards and two touchdowns and when he cut it loose a little bit, hitting on 6-of-9 for 190 yards and two touchdowns on passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
All of that in the face of constant questions about when Garoppolo will take over.
“It’s been very impressive," Shanahan said. "Everyone says that because that’s what you should do, but it’s harder to do than it is to say that. But with C.J., it has been very true. That hasn’t fazed him at all. He’s been the same guy since the first day I met him until now. He just works. He grinds. He’s extremely tough. He’s very smart. The game is not too big for him."
Now, as the 49ers head into their long-awaited bye week, they can use the time to rest up, get healthy and continue getting Garoppolo ready for the final six games of the season. And if, as expected, Garoppolo gets the call to start against the Seahawks, Beathard can head back to the sideline with some much-needed confidence.
To be sure, the Giants offered little in the way of resistance, as best seen on 49ers tight end Garrett Celek's 47-yard catch-and-run touchdown in which no New York defender seemed interested in tackling him. All the same, Beathard was calm and poised, showing no signs of the wear and tear one might expect from a quarterback who has taken the beating that he has over the past few weeks.
The chances that Beathard was ever going to do enough to be the Niners' long-term starter were always slim. But as the Niners get set to turn the page to the guy they hope is their long-term starter, Beathard sent a message that he could at least be the team's backup quarterback of the future by delivering a win-starved franchise its first victory of the season.