Winless 49ers search for spark versus Cardinals
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers believe they have found their franchise quarterback of the future after trading for Jimmy Garoppolo, but it's their present that has them stuck in the mud and mired with their worst start in history.
If they hope to snap their winless streak, the 49ers (0-8) might end up having to turn to Garoppolo sooner than expected, perhaps as early as Sunday at Levi's Stadium when they host the Arizona Cardinals (3-4).
The Cardinals are eyeing their sixth straight victory over San Francisco.
Although C.J. Beathard is scheduled to make his third consecutive start since replacing Brian Hoyer as the 49ers' starting quarterback, the offense just hasn't been able to get on track and has been outscored, 73-20, the past two weeks.
If things start out slowly once again this week -- and only once this season have the 49ers scored a touchdown in the opening quarter -- it won't be a shocker if rookie head coach Kyle Shanahan turns to Garoppolo to help provide a spark.
"Well, we only have two quarterbacks on our roster right now, so there's definitely a chance," Shanahan said. "I'm trying my hardest not to allow that to happen right now, but I can't control all that.
"We have to prepare him to play. I know he won't be able to learn everything. ... We're definitely going to have to give him a package, that if he's called upon, he has a chance to go in and a chance to help the team."
The Cardinals said they fully expect to see Garoppolo, even if he doesn't start.
"At this point, they're 0-8," said safety Antoine Bethea, who spent the previous three seasons with the 49ers.
"I don't think they have too much to lose, so I'm pretty sure they'll work him in this week and we'll potentially probably see him."
Garoppolo, acquired at the trade deadline from New England for a second-round pick in 2018, sounded as if he's more than ready should he be called upon.
"I'm eager to get out there and show what I can do on Sundays," he said. "This league, it's tough. It really is. So when you get your opportunities, you have to take advantage of them because you don't know when you're going to get another."
Yeah, just ask Beathard, who will soon be relegated to holding a clipboard and wearing a ball cap.
"You find out a lot about guys at this point when you're 0-8," Beathard said, speaking of the 49ers' situation overall. "It's easy to be on top and rah-rah and positive when you're 8-0 or you're having a great season. The question is how do you act in the locker room and on the practice field when you're 0-8? You find out a lot about guys, and I think that's what we are doing right now."
If Garoppolo does get into the game, it will be the third time this year -- and the fourth time since the start of last season -- that the Cardinals have gone up against a former Tom Brady backup. In addition to facing Hoyer in Week 4, the Cardinals beat Jacoby Brissett and the Colts back in Week 2 and they also faced, and fell, to Garoppolo and the Patriots in the 2016 season opener when Brady was serving a four-game suspension for "Deflategate."
"We have a little history there and a lot of respect for him," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of Garoppolo. "He's going to be one of the top-flight guys, especially in that offense. Kyle does a great job with that style quarterback. It's a real good system fit and he's also a good leader."
San Francisco will be facing a different quarterback than it saw the last time these two teams met -- an 18-15 overtime victory by the Cardinals back in Week 4. Carson Palmer, who threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald in that game, is likely done for the season after suffering a broken left arm during Arizona's last game, a 33-0 rout in London at the hands of the Rams.
Palmer is being replaced by backup Drew Stanton, who is 6-3 when starting in place of Palmer with the Cardinals. Two of those victories came in starts against the 49ers, including last season when Palmer was out with a concussion.
Stanton looked spotty, however, upon stepping in for Palmer during the loss against the Rams. He completed just 5 of 14 passes for 62 yards and was intercepted once.
"We've won with Drew before. He knows what he's doing," Fitzgerald said.
Arians said the thing he likes the best about Stanton, other than that he knows the Cardinals' offense inside and out, is that the veteran backup seldom makes critical mistakes when he gets into games.
"Some people call that a game manager," Arians said. "I call that a pretty good quarterback."
Stanton said the support he has received from his teammates "means everything," adding, "That's why I put the time and effort in, to try and gain the respect to step into this role and have people confident we can go out there and be successful."
"Yes, it's going to be different than when Carson does it, but like I've said before, I can't be Carson."
Both teams have been devastated by injuries. In addition to losing Palmer, the Cardinals are without star running back David Johnson (wrist), last season's sack leader in outside linebacker Markus Golden (torn ACL) and starting left guard Mike Iupati (torn triceps).
The 49ers, meanwhile, couldn't have it any worse, especially along their tattered and torn offensive line.
San Francisco will be without both of its starting tackles for this game as Joe Staley is out with a fractured orbital bone and Garry Gilliam has been lost for the season due to a knee injury. Two guards have had to replace them, including one, Erik Magnuson, who has yet to start an NFL game. If Trenton Brown can't go as he recovered from a concussion, Magnuson likely will start at right tackle.
"It's been a challenge," Shanahan said. "Those guys battled. They played hard, but it's a huge challenge and a situation I haven't been in too many times in my career."
Shanahan has been in the NFL long enough as an assistant and offensive coordinator to know the 49ers can't sleep on Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 134 yards in his Arizona debut against Tampa Bay but was held to just 21 rushing yards against the Rams his last time out.
"I've seen Adrian hurt enough teams to never take him lightly," Shanahan said.
Updated November 1, 2017