The Jimmy Garoppolo experience, a ride with far less thrills than the Michael Vick one from the Nike commercial. Riding with Jimmy Garoppolo has gotten the San Francisco 49ers to the doorstep of the franchises’ sixth Super Bowl Championship, but he hasn’t been able to get them inside the building.
They defeated the shorthanded Los Angeles Chargers, at home, on Sunday night. Following the game, NBC showed a stat that sums up what it has been like for those who have a vested interest in the 49ers’ success, in the years since Garoppolo has been the franchise’s’ starting quarterback.
The 49ers are 10-2 with Garoppolo as their starting quarterback in games in which he doesn’t throw a touchdown pass. In the modern-day NFL, where 30 touchdown passes in 2021 would’ve only been the ninth-most, the 49ers have an .833 winning percentage in games when their starter since Nov. 2017 fails at completing a pass that goes into the end zone.
Garoppolo went 19-28 on Sunday night for 240 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. The 49ers dominated the shorthanded Chargers in the second half but never pulled away on the scoreboard, winning the game 22-16.
However, even though he didn’t light up the boxscore, Garoppolo made some of the most important plays of the day for the 49ers. Not only were they 9-17 on third down, they also were 5-8 on 3rd and long situations. This helped the 49ers control time of possession battle, keeping the Chargers’ best player — Justin Herbert — on the sideline.
It was Garoppolo’s arm that extended those 49ers drives. There was the 3rd and 12 pass to George Kittle, deep in their own territory, in the second quarter. Garoppolo completed three more passes in a row to get the offense in a goal-to-go situation that would result in him scoring their first touchdown of the night on a quarterback sneak.
In the fourth quarter, on the touchdown drive that gave the 49ers the lead for the first time in the game, Garoppolo’s arm was golden on a 3rd and 8, and a few plays later on a 3rd and 10. That first conversion was a pass to Juwan Jennings in space that allowed him to power his way to a first down, but second one to Brandon Aiyuk — who dropped a touchdown pass earlier — was a dart that went well past the marker.
If a person had never watched Garoppolo before, this game was a pretty good synopsis of how he plays. There were a handful of strong throws, some great play designs from the coaching to get pass catchers open in space, and also some missed opportunities. For example, Garoppolo missed a throw outside the numbers on the second touchdown drive.
The 49ers are currently loaded with talent on offense. Last year’s leading rusher, Elijah Mitchell, has returned from injury and he is sharing the backfield load with Christian McCaffery — a first-team All-Pro performer the last season that he was healthy. At wide receiver the 49ers have possibly the best non-quarterback offensive player in the NFL — Deebo Samuel — as well as Aiyuk who continues to improve, Jennings, and another all-pro performer in George Kittle. On the offensive line, the player protecting Garoppolo’s blind side is Trent Williams, who looks like a fire engine in the 49er red when compared to the players he is assigned to block.
For those who have thought that Garoppolo has played on a loaded team before, the talent level on this one far exceeds both the 2019 and 2021 teams. Which leads to the 49ers’ biggest problem, him behind center.
There is a reason that teams weren’t climbing all over themselves to trade for him this past offseason. His unspectacular play, and that dud of a performance he put on in the NFC Championship Game, left little reason for a team with a need at quarterback to give up assets for him.
His own team didn’t even want him. When the 49ers weren’t able to find a trade worthwhile, they restructured the final year of Garoppolo’s contract, and didn’t even have him practicing on the same field as his teammates during training camp. Then Trey Lance broke his ankle in Week 2, and the 49ers and Garoppolo have had to at least act like they’re all still friends.
This season is probably Garoppolo’s last chance to earn himself another payday as an NFL starter. If he shows out, and the 49ers win the Super Bowl, he may have some suitors on the open market. That Lombardi glow has made many players look better when it comes time for a new contract.
For Garoppolo to bask in that light, his performance needs to parallel what it was against the Chargers. Be steady, and when a big play is needed, drive the ball where it needs to go and let his playmakers work their magic.
If that requires no touchdowns and his performance to be more Dumbo the Flying Elephant than a thrilling roller coaster, then so be it.
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