But the 49ers are in the NFC Championship game for the second time in three years, and they don’t like the heat their quarterback is taking.
“You can’t say enough about that guy,” Kittle said. “People try to pull him down, and all he does is try to deliver.”
Garoppolo, 30, said it’s important to ignore social media altogether.
“If you get lost in it and start believing some of those things, it could take you down the wrong road,” he said. “As long as these guys in this locker room have faith in me and belief in me, that’s all I really care about.”
It was an interesting comment, whether Garoppolo meant it or not. Most players in the 49ers locker room seem to have Garoppolo’s back.
It’s his bosses upstairs in the 49ers’ organization that don’t necessarily have his back.
Garoppolo has led the 49ers to within one step of another Super Bowl appearance despite his team doing its best to replace him. Last March, the 49ers traded first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 to get the No. 3 pick and use it on quarterback Trey Lance. The message to Garoppolo could not be any clearer – Lance is the future, and you are not.
It’s understandable the 49ers got wanderlust. Since Garoppolo arrived in San Francisco in a 2017 trade deadline deal with the Patriots, the Niners have been great with Garoppolo in the lineup, but he has also been hurt too much.
They reached the Super Bowl in 2019, but Garoppolo missed 23 starts total in 2018 and 2020 because of various injuries, and it sank the 49ers in both seasons. Hence the trade up for Lance, with the plan of Garoppolo keeping the seat warm for a year.
But Garoppolo has responded to the challenge this season. He started 15 of 17 regular-season games, plus two more in the playoffs, playing through injuries to his calf and thumb. Garoppolo finished ninth in the NFL with passer rating (98.7), sixth in completion percentage (68.3), and second in yards per attempt (8.6).
And, as he has done throughout his career, all he did was win. Garoppolo is 11-6 this season including the postseason, and is now 37-15 in his career (4-1 postseason). His .712 career win percentage ranks fifth in NFL history, behind only Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Roger Staubach, and Lamar Jackson.
The 49ers started the season 3-5, but enter Sunday’s game against the Rams on a 9-2 run.
“He’s done an unbelievable job. People don’t give him enough credit, ”said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. “Yeah, we win as a team and that’s why he doesn’t always have the same stats that some of these MVP candidates have. But Jimmy’s a very good quarterback, and he doesn’t worry about any of that stuff. ”
Shanahan noted that Garoppolo has not let Lance’s presence sour his mood or performance.
“He never really changes, and I think that’s what people respect the most about him,” Shanahan said. “And then the way that he goes and battles on the field, everyone knows how tough he is, everyone knows how hard he’ll compete running with the ball. And our guys also know he can throw pretty well, too. ”
Garoppolo has become one of the most polarizing NFL quarterbacks, and the centerpiece of the debate over whether wins are a quarterback stat.
He makes one or two throws per game that make you want to rip your hair out. Last week against the Packers, Garoppolo threw several dangerous passes that through divine intervention weren’t intercepted and returned for touchdowns. And the 49ers always have featured a strong run game that takes some pressure off the quarterback. Garoppolo ranked 25th this season with 29.4 pass attempts per game.
Yet it can’t be a coincidence that whenever Garoppolo makes it through a season healthy, the 49ers have an opportunity to get to the Super Bowl. In 2019, the 49ers went 13-3, had the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl before falling apart. This season, Garoppolo has the 49ers back in the NFC Championship game, and with a win over the Rams, Garoppolo can join some guy named Joe Montana as the only 49ers quarterbacks to reach multiple Super Bowls.
“More than a lot of quarterbacks I’ve been around, he’s a football player at the quarterback position,” said 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel. “I know when he started playing football he was a linebacker. And on game day, he has a fire about him that, as he’s more confident and he expects more of himself, guys feed off that, and it’s organic. ”
Garoppolo’s raw stats were solid this season, but a deeper look makes him look more impressive. He was outstanding against the blitz this season, with a 74.7 completion percentage, seven touchdowns, just one interception, and a 128.7 passer rating that was second-best in the NFL.
Garoppolo hit an impressive number of big plays, too. He hit a 25-yard completion on 7.5 percent of his pass attempts, third in the NFL behind only Russell Wilson (9 percent) and Joe Burrow (7.7 percent).
And Garoppolo has impressed his teammates in how he has handled the outside criticism and the internal strife created by the Lance decision. The Niners’ success this season will give them a tough decision in the offseason about whether to move on to Lance or keep Garoppolo for another season.
“He’s been incredible,” Kittle said of Garoppolo. “When you’re the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, you kind of have the spotlight on you. And there’s a lot of people that always try to consistently bring you out of that spotlight. All Jimmy has done is stand firm and continue to throw darts left and right to all of us, so I just appreciate that from him. ”
What Garoppolo lacks in respect outside the locker room – and from his bosses – he gets plenty of from his teammates.
“A lot of people give him crap for whatever, but he’s as cool and collected as a quarterback as I’ve ever had,” 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa said. “He’s a perfect guy to lead us where we need to go.”
Ben Volin can be reached at [email protected].
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