49ers Garoppolo headed back to where his career got off to a perfect start

George Kittle was asked Thursday about his memories of the two starts quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo made for the Patriots in 2016 when Tom Brady was suspended.

The 49ers tight end began by trying to answer the question earnestly, but he soon was unsuccessfully trying to stifle his laughter.

“He went undefeated, right?” Kittle said before chuckling at his good friend’s past misfortune: “I’m not going to lie, I think the only thing I remember is him getting hurt because he fell on his shoulder. So I want to eliminate those bad vibes.”

Indeed, Garoppolo, after throwing three touchdown passes, was sidelined late in the second quarter of New England’s 31-24 win over the Dolphins on Sept. 18, 2016.

Who: 49ers (3-3) at New England (2-3)

When: 1:25 p.m.

TV/Radio: Channel: 5Channel: 13Channel: 46/680, 107.7

That was the only start he’s made at Gillette Stadium.

The second will come Sunday when Garoppolo faces the legendary coach who drafted him in the second round in 2014 and reluctantly traded him to the 49ers for a second-round pick three years later because owner Bob Kraft wasn’t about to part with Brady, who was then 40.

New England’s Bill Belichick, who has remained in contact with Garoppolo since the deal, drafted him to serve as Brady’s eventual heir apparent. Instead, he’ll face Garoppolo as an opponent.

“I think we all know Jimmy’s a quality player and can do all the things that a good quarterback needs to do,” Belichick said to the New England media Tuesday. “He led the 49ers to the NFC Championship last year … So I don’t think there’s any question about his skill level and what he’s been able to accomplish and what their team’s been able to accomplish. We’ll be ready for his best. I’m sure we’ll get it.”

And Garoppolo can expect the same from the defensive-minded Belichick, 68, who won two Super Bowls as the Giants defensive coordinator before winning a record six as a head coach.

Belichick, of course, knows Garoppolo well. And the same could be said of Miami’s Brian Flores, another defensive-minded head coach who was a Patriots assistant throughout Garoppolo’s three-plus seasons in New England.

It’s perhaps notable that Garoppolo is not far removed from a disastrous performance against a defense overseen by Flores and coordinator Josh Boyer, a Patriots assistant from 2006-2018. Garoppolo threw two interceptions and posted a career-worst 15.7 passer rating before he was replaced at halftime of a 43-17 loss to the Dolphins on Oct. 11.

On Thursday, that substandard start — and the coaching staff’s familiarity with him — was mentioned to Garoppolo. That is, will he face a similar fate Sunday?

Garoppolo pushed back on the idea Flores and Boyer had his number. He noted he played against Miami when he was still feeling the effects of a high ankle sprain he’d suffered three weeks earlier.

“Well, my ankle is feeling a lot better than it was in the Miami week,” Garoppolo said. “So I think that will definitely help out a little bit. As far as the (defensive) scheme, they came from the same tree. But that type of defensive scheme is so — you’ve just got to be ready for anything. What they are showing on film — they could not do that (Sunday). It’s a game-plan defense. You’ve got to be ready for in-game adjustments.”

Garoppolo also could have said: In 2018, he faced Lions coach Matt Patricia, another Belichick assistant who was with Garoppolo in New England, and threw two touchdowns and had a 118.4 rating in a 30-27 win over the Lions.

So he’s beaten a Belichick disciple.

But beating Belichick would be a far bigger feat.

“You’ve got to be on your toes,” Garoppolo said. “… They’re going to do something that we’re not preparing for and at the end of the day, you’ve got to play ball.”

Eric Branch covers the 49ers for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Eric_Branch

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