Jimmy Garoppolo threw his first-career interception in Week 13 against the Chicago Bears. It was easy to absolve Garoppolo of any fault on the play as Kyle Fuller ripped the ball out of the arms of Louis Murphy. Instead of a completion and a first down, Chicago's offense took over.
However, Garoppolo's pick against the Houston Texans last Sunday was all on the QB. It was an arrant throw that gave Houston an easy takeaway in the first quarter. There were a few other passes that could have been picked before falling harmlessly to the ground.
That's something San Francisco 49ers fans should get used to, at least in the short term. When Garoppolo sees an opening, he's already shown that he's going to give it a shot. Sometimes it won't work. Other times, like the 16-yard completion to Murphy despite triple coverage against the Bears or a 29-yard jump ball to Kyle Juszczyk in Houston, Garoppolo will make plays that other quarterbacks wouldn't dare attempt.
So is it fair to classify Garoppolo as a risk taker?
"Sometimes, I guess," Garoppolo said on Wednesday. "There are so many different variables that go into it. Every play is a different situation, and things change throughout the entire game. Sometimes you have to be more aggressive … and other times you have to take what the defense gives you. It's just knowing the situation and trying to be successful and just move the ball in a positive way."
Kyle Shanahan said it's too soon to make that determination, but early evidence indicates that Garoppolo has a bit of a gunslinger mentality to him.
"I don't know yet, but he's definitely taken some (risks)," Shanahan began his thorough response. "We'll see as this goes. You want guys to be aggressive and let it rip, but you don't want guys to guess. You want guys to see it, believe in it and not hesitate and think about it. When guys do that, it gives them a chance to be great. It's also going to give you some games where you have a lot of picks because they didn't see it right.
"It's how you respond to those (mistakes). Do you get more gun shy and worse as it goes because of it? Or do you learn why you saw it wrong, why you threw the pick and get better? You look at a lot of the great quarterbacks of all time, a lot of them, especially early in their career, they had a lot of picks and a lot of pick-sixes. Those guys learned from it and get better from it. The guys who don't usually get a lot worse."
This is all to say that interceptions in a statistical vacuum aren't enough to alter one's outlook on a quarterback. For sheer historical sake, Peyton Manning had 11 multi-interception games during his rookie season in 1998. He had four more such contests in 1999. What might be more telling is that Manning only had seven games where he didn't throw an interception over his first two NFL campaigns. Tom Brady and Brett Favre were others who weren't shy about turning the ball over at the onset of their careers.
But as Shanahan alluded to, if those interceptions result in learning opportunities, it only stands to benefit a quarterback's vision and overall feel for the game. Are a slew of picks coming for Garoppolo? Who knows, but Garoppolo's skill set and approach make it entirely possible.
"He's a calculated risk taker," Juszczyk said. "He's not just out there throwing blind, but he definitely trusts his guys to make a play over the defender.
"It's not always going to be a clean look out there. Sometimes you've got to count on your guy to go make a play. I think he does a good job of that."
Marquise Goodwin, Garoppolo's go-to guy since becoming the 49ers starting quarterback, isn't concerned with such conversation. In his mind, there's only one label that matters.
"I'd describe him as a winner," the receiver said flatly.
That's a hard point to argue. Garoppolo is 4-0 in his young career and has already written his name into the 49ers record books in just two starts with the club. He's given San Francisco far more good than bad with 645 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in three total appearances.
He'll look to keep it rolling in Week 15 against the Tennessee Titans as the 49ers have a shot at their fourth win in five games.