DENVER — Jimmy Garoppolo was pissed off.
The Las Vegas Raiders were driving down the field on his first possession as their quarterback, and then he was hit near his head on a scramble that picked up a first down.
Garoppolo had to come out of the game because the league’s independent spotter mandated he be checked for symptoms of a concussion. He watched backup Brian Hoyer hand the ball off twice for 2 yards before he was cleared and ran back on the field. Garoppolo then hit Jakobi Meyers for a touchdown pass, the first of two for them.
Fast forward two hours and 40 minutes later, Garropolo ran for another 8 yards on third-and-7 — sliding inbounds — to ice the 17-16 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon. He let out another yell, but this one was of primal joy and not frustration. The Raiders are 1-0 — and all alone in first place in the AFC West.
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) September 10, 2023
Garoppolo had completed 4 of 5 passes for 60 yards on the game-winning drive on the previous possession, threading the needle to Meyers for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:34 left. Then, with three minutes left, Meyers made a tough catch over the middle and the ensuing roughness penalty on the hit gave the Raiders the first down. (Meyers left the game and was tested for a concussion, but seemed OK in the locker room after.)
Raiders’ Garoppolo, Meyers spoil Sean Payton’s Broncos debut
It wasn’t always pretty.
Take the third-quarter interception in the end zone when Garoppolo had all day to throw, rolled out left and then forced the pass to Ameer Abdullah in the middle of three Broncos defenders. They tipped it to each other for the interception and the Raiders had nothing to show for having the ball first and goal at the 1-yard line.
“Terrible, stupid decision,” Garoppolo said. “Just got to take the points there and throw it away when nothing’s there, but I thought the mental toughness kicked in and guys stuck with it. They believed in me, so I appreciate them.”
Garoppolo plays with poise, and that effect on the San Francisco 49ers going to the Super Bowl in the 2019 season with him can’t be undersold.
“Jimmy’s got great mental toughness,” coach Josh McDaniels said, “He’s a competitor. You have to have a short-term memory if you’re going to play quarterback in this league and win games in the fourth quarter. … He understood that he was trying make something there that wasn’t quite there.
“I just love his grit and love his toughness.”
Garoppolo is the first quarterback not named Derek Carr to start an opener for the Raiders since Terrelle Pryor 2013. And it’s going to be natural for people to draw comparisons every time Garoppolo is praised.
McDaniels and Carr didn’t ever get in sync, but it was in Denver just 10 months ago that the Raiders beat the Broncos in overtime. They did lose a lot of close games last season en route to a 6-11 record … just not to the Broncos. They swept them and have now won seven straight games against Denver.
So, while they are alone in first place in the AFC West, Garoppolo and Davante Adams know it’s very early and the curtain lights have just gone on.
“Ask me again about being in first place in a month, if we are,” Adams said, smiling.
Adams went to Fresno State with Carr and they remain friends. But his new quarterback came battle-ready.
“Jimmy’s a gamer,” said Adams, who had six catches for 66 yards. “It’s fun going out there playing with him. The way he commanded the huddle, his coolness and poise. He hit Jakobi over the middle with some guys in his face — showing that toughness and resolve after throwing a pick, that’s what you need from one of your leaders.”
After a couple of plays, Garoppolo went to Adams to tell him that he was sorry that he didn’t see him and it was part of his learning process in Year 1 with the team.
Adams: “That’s like you’re arguing with your girl and she says, ‘I’m sorry, let’s watch a movie now, we good?’ That makes it really easy to grow with somebody.”
When that was relayed to Garoppolo, he was speechless.
He then laughed and said, “That’s what makes good teammates — when you could all admit when who was in the wrong and just be real with each other. It takes you a long way because we spend so much time with each other.”
Garoppolo also obviously has developed some chemistry with Meyers, who finished with nine catches. (Never mind that the first touchdown probably would have been overturned if challenged, as it appeared to hit the ground when he came down with it.)
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) September 10, 2023
The Raiders had to get the passing game going, as the Broncos defense held Josh Jacobs to 48 yards on 19 carries.
Jacobs said he heard from players on the Broncos that the game plan was to stop him, and the Broncos did stack the line of scrimmage. But they forgot about Garoppolo, who has averaged 25 yards rushing a season his nine years in the league.
“They committed to stuffing the run game,” tackle Jermaine Eluemunor said. “Sometimes they were lined up in a 5-2. Sometimes 6-2, and that’s really hard to run against because you don’t have enough blockers to block all eight guys in the box.
“And then Jimmy being able to run for the first down twice, I didn’t expect that — if I’m being honest with you. Because I remember coming into this year hearing, ‘Jimmy’s not a runner!’ And then he runs for two first downs. It was dope to see.”
It was also pretty dope for Raiders teammates and fans to see Garoppolo take some big hits — and even have a Broncos player land on his surgically repaired left foot — and just shake it all off.
“It’s just football, the hits are going to happen, you’ve just got to roll with them and keep it moving,” Garoppolo said.
And keep the energy going, from the early frustration to eventual elation.
“The guys were feeling it, pulling for each other and that always makes for a good day,” Garoppolo said.
(Top photo: Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)
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