Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's current and former employers go head-to-head for the first time since their headlines-grabbing trade in 2017 when the San Francisco 49ers visit the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon.
The 14th all-time meeting between the reigning NFC West and AFC East champs pits franchises that have combined for 11 Super Bowl crowns, yet have never met in the postseason.
In fact, the 49ers (five titles) and Patriots (six) haven't squared off at all since a 30-17 New England road win in 2016 in a game in which Tom Brady celebrated a rare San Francisco Bay Area homecoming with four touchdown passes.
Expectations were high once again for both teams this season, but neither has come close to meeting them so far, with quarterback play having been a focal point of the issues.
The 49ers (3-3) rode one of Garoppolo's career-best efforts to a 24-16 home win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night.
The 23-for-33, 268-yard, three-touchdown effort, however, came on the heels of one of his career-worst outings, when he was pulled at halftime of a 43-17 home loss to Miami, having gone just 7-for-17 for 77 yards with two interceptions.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan cited his quarterback's health -- Garoppolo had sat out the previous two games with a high ankle sprain -- as a contributing factor to the benching, before praising his signal-caller for the bounce-back effort against the Rams.
"You learn more about each other through all the experiences you go through," Shanahan said this week about his relationship with Garoppolo. "He played a hell of a game (against the Rams). I know he's pumped to go back to New England. I haven't been there for a while, either, and looking forward to watching him there."
Garoppolo is 21-7 as the 49ers' starting quarterback since being acquired on Halloween nearly three years ago for a second-round draft pick. The Eastern Illinois product played his first 3 1/2 seasons with the Patriots, for whom he made just two starts, winning them both in Brady's absence in 2016.
For the first time since 2000, the Patriots (2-3) don't have either Brady or Garoppolo on the roster. They also have a losing record five or more games into a season for the first time since 2001.
Newcomer Cam Newton got the perennial AFC power off to a good start with two wins and a 29.0-point scoring average in the first three games. But he has since tested positive for the coronavirus, which caused him to sit out a 26-10 loss to Kansas City before struggling through a 17-for-25, 157-yard, two-interception debacle in last week's 18-12 home defeat at the hands of Denver.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick noted this week that he's more interested in how his quarterback does Sunday than his ex-quarterback.
"I'm glad that it's worked out for him in San Francisco," he said of Garoppolo. "I hope it doesn't work out on Sunday."
Belichick hopes to get more from star slot receiver Julian Edelman this week after a knee injury has limited him to a total of seven catches in the past three games.
Edelman has practiced this week, which is more than the 49ers' top running back, Raheem Mostert, can say. He likely will be out with a sprained ankle sustained in the Rams game.
On a positive note, both teams are coming off impressive defensive efforts.
One week after getting scorched by the Dolphins for 436 total yards, including 342 through the air, the 49ers limited Jared Goff to 198 passing yards and the Rams to a total of 311 yards.
Meanwhile, the Patriots were even better defensively against Denver, holding the Broncos to 299 total yards.
The Patriots put starting right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor on injured reserve Wednesday. Mike Onwenu is expected to get the start.
49ers' defensive starters safety Jaquiski Tartt (groin) and Kwon Alexander (ankle) did not practice Wednesday.
--Field Level Media