49ers beat Jets, but lose top players

©The Mercury News

I’ve said it a million times, but I’ll say it again. As much as we want to talk about talent and scheme and playmakers, football is really just a sport of attrition.

The 49ers are reckoning with that fact in a big way following Sunday’s game in New Jersey.

San Francisco lost their top defensive player, defensive end Nick Bosa. A few snaps later, his backup, Solomon Thomas went down with a non-contact leg injury. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo messed up his ankle. Then top running back Raheem Mostert picked up a knee injury.

All of this happened in the first half.

The 49ers still won. Their performance was adequate — admirable, even, given the injuries — but the 31-6 scoreline said more about the Jets than San Francisco.

We won’t know the full extent of the attrition until tomorrow at the soonest, but it’s best to prepare as if Bosa will not play again for the 49ers this season. I’ve seen enough ACL tears in my day to know that Bosa’s knee injury wasn’t minor.

Garoppolo’s ankle injury had him hobbling around in the second quarter. It’s difficult to guess the extent of the injury, because, again, they were playing the Jets and taking out first-string players wouldn’t — and didn’t — create a problem.

But this is a team that was already down George Kittle, Richard Sherman, and Dee Ford. There were other injuries — the natural bruises and sprains that come from playing a full-contact sport — that happened in the game that will be a factor moving forward.

The Niners entered the season as deep as any team in the NFL, but after two games, that depth is gone. In so many places, those backups are now starters. The only perk is that there’s plenty of time and another less-than-capable team ahead of them on the schedule — the Niners get the Giants next week.

But if the injury ramifications from this game linger for more than a few weeks, the Niners have as hellacious a final 11 games as anyone in the NFL, with five games in the toughest division in football — the NFC West — remaining.

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Before Garoppolo exited the game, he was playing well. A novel change when you compare the performance to last week’s.

Again, I think that says more about the Jets and their laughably bad defense than the 49ers’ quarterback and the offense around him, but credit where it’s due. His backup, Nick Mullens, was downright poor as Garoppolo’s replacement in the second half.

It was a get-right game where — much like last season’s Week 2 game against the Bengals — Garoppolo got right. Against a slow defensive, the game looked like it slowed down for the 49ers’ quarterback, whose head was spinning in Week 1.

Wild how that happens, right?

Garoppolo was 14-for-16, for 131 yards and two touchdowns to tight end Jordan Reed (who followed through on my brace prediction one week too late…) before exiting at halftime.

He was on time in the offense. He wasn’t locking onto reads. He showed poise in the pocket. It was “Good Jimmy” even when he was also “Limpy Jimmy.” After a week where he looked afraid to be in the pocket, he looked tough-as-nails in Week 2.

I have to imagine playing Ben Garland at center instead of practice-squad call-up Hroniss Grasu made a big difference.

This is the Garoppolo that the 49ers need going forward. The stat line doesn’t have to be that good — it probably will never be that good again because they only face the Jets once this season — but the poise and calm demeanor need to be on par from here on out, especially if there’s no Kittle and the defense is this banged up.

San Francisco cannot win games with Mullens at quarterback. He makes Garoppolo look like he has Patrick Mahomes’ arm. Competent defensive coordinators will eat him up. So unless Garoppolo’s ankle injury is one that is deemed nearly season-ending, I’d imagine he’s on the field against the Giants.

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I don’t know much about NFL playing surfaces. I picked up some information on grass covering the Niners over the years. Remember the terrible turf when Levi’s Stadium first opened? I know how to grow a nice mix of greenery in by backyard. So I’m not one to comment on if the field at MetLife Stadium was adequate for NFL play or if it was the cause of all those injuries.

Luckily every person with an internet connection seemed keen to comment on that exact subject.

The Jets picked up a ton of injuries on Sunday as well. They weren’t as impactful — because no one on the Jets is impactful — but it does lend some credence to the argument that the game was being played on an unsafe surface.

I imagine the NFL will be investigating. It’s a short drive from the league office.

The 49ers better hope whatever needs to be done to that field is done in the next couple of days. San Francisco will play at MetLife Stadium again in Week 3, when the Giants play host.

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©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)