“It was a cool week,” Garoppolo said. “Just a lot of emotions, a lot of memories. Especially coming back here, seeing the same stadium, hearing the same songs they used to play, a lot of memories came back … But it was a fun night.
“Couldn’t imagine it going any better than this.”
Fun might be putting it mildly considering what Garoppolo and his new team were able to do against his old one.
Fueled by a dominant running game, an opportunistic passing attack and a punishing defense, Garoppolo and the Niners rolled over the Patriots 33-6 on Sunday afternoon. The victory was the most convincing against a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team in Foxborough, Massachusetts, since he took over as head coach in 2000. The 49ers improved to 4-3 with the win, their third in as many tries on the road this season.
Under Belichick, the Patriots’ previous biggest home loss was a 25-point defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins in Week 3 of the 2008 season. They had lost only three games by 20 or more points at home in Belichick’s tenure before Sunday.
“It really was never in my mind,” Garoppolo said. “I obviously wanted to come here and get a win. To me it didn’t matter if we won by 1 or 100. It was go and get the win. That was the mindset we had this week. Same mindset we had last week. Just got to keep that mindset the rest of the season.”
On Thursday, Garoppolo acknowledged it would be an “exciting week” and that he “can’t wait” as he prepared to play his former team for the first time. Apparently, that excitement permeated the team as the Niners jumped on the Patriots early and never looked back.
With running back Jeff Wilson Jr. back from a calf injury and on his way to a career day on the ground, Garoppolo took advantage by spreading the ball around and capitalizing on play-action opportunities.
Garoppolo finished 20-of-25 for 278 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions (one of which came on a Hail Mary to end the first half) for a passer rating of 79.7. He went 13-of-14 for 146 yards on play-action passes, the most play-action completions in a game of his career and the most allowed by the Patriots since 2012.
“He was locked in during the week, locked in to the game plan, leads our guys every single play, every single time we’re in the huddle,” tight end George Kittle said. “He just gives us that energy to go out there and dominate.”
The Niners’ offense racked up 467 yards on 7.4 yards per play, as the running game put together its best performance of the season behind surprise starter Wilson. Back from a calf injury that kept him on the sideline last week, Wilson rushed 17 times for 112 yards with three touchdowns before departing with a left ankle injury and having his return ruled out.
Wilson is the first player to score three rushing touchdowns against the Patriots since Houston’s Ben Tate in 2013. Coach Kyle Shanahan said Wilson likely suffered a high ankle sprain that will cost him some time.
“[I] know he’s hurting right now,” Shanahan said. “Hopefully, we’ll get better news on that tomorrow. Not sounding great right now.”
Rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk also had his first career 100-yard game, finishing with six catches for 115 yards. Fellow wideout Deebo Samuel had five catches for 65 yards before leaving with a hamstring injury.
Samuel’s injury could also keep him out of game action, according to Shanahan.
“You never know,” Shanahan said. “[I] know it pulled on him on that run, which usually is some time. Hopefully the severity won’t be too bad, he won’t miss too much time.”
While the offense was moving at will, the 49ers’ defense was suffocating the Patriots. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, San Francisco limited New England to 7:30 time of possession, its lowest in a first half under Belichick, and the Patriots’ 16 offensive plays were their fewest in any half under Belichick and fewest in any half since 1997 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For the game, San Francisco’s defense limited the Patriots to 241 total yards, 17 first downs and came up with four interceptions, including two for nickel cornerback Jamar Taylor.
It was the type of complementary football that carried the 49ers a long way in 2019 and that they hope will guide them through a difficult stretch of schedule which includes games against the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints the next three weeks.
“When you play defense the way our guys have been playing, we’re running the ball like we have been, just how physical all our guys have been playing, every play it seems is like the last play for our guys,” Shanahan said. “I’m just very impressed with the character of our guys individually, which adds up collectively. Those guys play like it’s their last play every down. When you can do that for an entire game, you play smart, don’t turn it over, usually good things happen.”