Ah, the once prodigal son returns back to his starting point. Jimmy Garoppolo and the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers have entered the building! Coming off of what could be a pivotal win over the Los Angeles Rams last week on Sunday Night Football, the 49ers are another top team on the Patriots schedule. As for the Pats though, they’re coming off of an absolute ball buster  loss at home against the Denver Broncos last week. Losing by an interesting score of 18-12 (shoutout to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady) where the offense just couldn’t get anything done, despite the defense holding them to just field goals all game long. We’re onto San Francisco though, and I’m here to preview it. Set it up Bailey, let’s get it started!

Three Keys To The Game

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) passes under pressure in the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass.
Charles Krupa, AP Photo

Key #1: Make them throw

This 49ers offense is based on the run game. That was the case last season as they were one of the top two rushing teams in the entire NFL (only Baltimore was better). Their passing offense? Not quite as special, ranking 20th (21st through all season last year) coming into this match-up.  Sure, their rank could be down this season because quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo battled a high ankle sprain for a couple of weeks and even missed a few games. But the stats say that when you force this 49ers team to throw the ball. They’re not great. Turn this West Coast offense into a predictable air attack that can’t use the play action, and the Patriots are going to be in fine shape defensively.

Key #2: Wake up the offense

The Patriots offense was nowhere to be found through three quarters last week. Letting a decimated Broncos offense outplay them on every end. Patriots quarterback Cam Newton didn’t have even a second to breathe before getting hit last week and the receivers weren’t exactly doing him any favors. It does look like this Pats offensive line is getting back to full strength with the return of guard Shaq Mason and the captain center David Andrews. The offensive line has been playing pretty well overall all season, the injuries may have just been too much and Dante Scarnecchia isn’t here to make offensive line combinations out of thin air when injury strikes. The Patriots aren’t exactly facing a 49ers defense at full strength. defensive end Nick Bosa and lineman Solomon Thomas are both out for the season with a torn ACL. Meanwhile star cornerback Richard Sherman has been out indefinitely with that hamstring injury.

The run game is also going to be a vital point of this Patriots’ offense if the passing attack is going to be this pathetic. Running back Sony Michel isn’t here to contribute while he’s dealing with injury and a possible COVID-19 situation. 12 points weren’t enough to beat the Denver Broncos, it for sure won’t be enough to beat a Kyle Shanahan-coached offense. You’ll need to double it at least. They’ve proven to be capable of doing it (Week 2 against Seattle is a perfect example). You can do so much more than 12 points. It’s time to show it.

Key #3: Pressure Jimmy G

Simple enough right? Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t the dynamic dual-threat that Russell Wilson or Newton are. He’s going to take the sacks because he can’t escape them. This is where Chase Winovich could step up and big. The pass rush is going to determine just how much the Patriots are going to have to try on offense. Stopping the run game and getting in Garoppolo’s face is going to fluster this team at their strength. Force some mistakes and gambles and trust the elite secondary to make some turnovers out of them.

X-Factor: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley

Ja'Whaun Bentley wants to become a mentor for the Patriots' rookies - Pats Pulpit
John Jones, Sportswire

Stopping the run comes with the linebackers, and the lead inside linebacker right now is Ja’Whaun Bentley. Taking over the role that Dont’a Hightower left when he opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Bentley is going to have to hit the holes that the defensive line creates and wrap up the likes of Jerrick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson Jr. Easy enough right? Not quite, these guys are fast and Bentley is going to have to cover a ton of ground on both sides of the field, while he will have help from the safeties, he will have a big job of taking care of those off-tackle run plays that don’t stretch to the sideline. Stopping the run game is the biggest key to this game, and this guy is the start of that mission.

Closing Thoughts

Jimmy Garoppolo trade was based on Patriots' future plans, Belichick says - The Boston Globe
Barry Chin, Boston Globe

The big storyline is obviously the return of Garoppolo. He was the supposed heir to the throne left by Brady, but when it came time to make the decision, Bob Kraft prevented Bill Belichick from choosing Jimmy G over Brady. Sending the NFL’s prince charming to the Bay Area to play for Brady’s childhood team and make his own legacy. Making a Super Bowl campaign in his first full season starting. This year? There are some new developments to the story here.

Belichick is still praising Garoppolo years after the trade, saying in a press conference this week. “Jimmy is a good quarterback. He took them to the NFC championship last year — won the NFC championship — so I think he’s certainly been able to have a high level of achievement and accomplishment out there. They signed him to a contract that showed they have confidence in him as their quarterback. I don’t think any of that is all that surprising. I think we all know Jimmy is a good player.”

I for one am also very high on Garoppolo. I was of the minority that thought we should’ve kept Jimmy G at all costs and shipped off TB12 instead. Even if we got Super Bowl LIII out of it. It’s an unpopular opinion to have. Though he could still be the heir apparent after all. To put it briefly, if the 49ers were to cut Jimmy Garoppolo in the coming off-season, they would only have to pay $2.8M in dead cap. Then they could acquire Shanahan’s rumored dream quarterback Matt Ryan. Say Newton decides he doesn’t want to re-sign in New England after this year and goes to a place like Atlanta. We do the old three-team quarterback swap and we get our good pal Garoppolo back under Belichick and get started on what could’ve, and probably should’ve, been the real post-Brady era. Who says no?

Anyways to the game at hand. The Patriots had a full week of practice and don’t have any excuses to come out lazy and lackluster like they did last weekend against the Broncos. Though the 49ers are a good team, even with all of their injuries, so it will be a competitive match-up. If it ends 18-12, it will feel a lot better than it did last week. But I’m expecting more points out of this team and not just that. I think they’ll take this Garoppolo revenge game and pull out the win.

Final Score: 20-13, Patriots win (3-3)

Photo Credit: David Butler II, USA Today Sports