This post contains affiliate links. “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”
INGLEWOOD, California – In his alternately turbulent and successful time with the San Francisco 49ers, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has had bigger and better numbers than he did in Week 18 against the Los Angeles Rams. He has played in more meaningful competitions with higher stakes.
But given the circumstances surrounding what took place at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, Garoppolo had never stood face to face with a more important moment. It is no exaggeration to say that any number of passing attempts in late play could easily have been Garoppolo’s last with the Niners.
That Garoppolo slung the football with a badly injured right thumb in an away game that his team absolutely had to win to qualify for the post-season with his hand-picked replacement ready to step in with a moment’s notice ensured that this was that kind of moment. it would not only define a season, but help dictate where Garoppolo’s career goes from here.
The only thing Garoppolo did was bite his teeth together through the pain and deliver that kind of magic in the late game that once made the Niners and their fans anoint him to the face in the franchise. Led by Garoppolo and a long list of strong side characters, a 17-0 deficit turned into a touching 27-24 overtime victory to beat San Francisco’s ticket to the playoffs.
“[He’s] “Everything you want out of your starting quarterback to put yourself in a position to get into the playoffs no matter what he goes through,” said defensive tackle Arik Armstead. He could easily have knocked out or come up with excuses, but he did not. He moved up and made plays and got the job done. “
To be sure, Garoppolo’s winning streak against the Rams was not without its share of hiccups. Bad Jimmy showed up a few times, including a poorly cast interception deep inside Los Angeles territory in the fourth quarter. What at least should have been a clear goal turned into a Rams touchdown.
Niner coach Kyle Shanahan’s faith in Garoppolo never wavered. Instead of going for it on the fourth and 18th from San Francisco’s 17 with less than two minutes to play, Shanahan sent it back to the Rams in hopes that the defense could get a quick stop and give Garoppolo and the offense another chance.
Sure enough, the 49ers got the ball back on their 12 without timeouts and 1:27 left. Anything less than a touchdown and the 49ers season was over.
“He’s a really good football player,” said tight-end George Kittle. “You have to be a good football player to get back from bad games … He does not let things snowball and he just flushes it out and moves on to the next game.”
Untouched by the interception that took place six minutes earlier, Garoppolo threw a strike to receiver Brandon Aiyuk in 21 yards. Two plays later, Garoppolo fired his best and most challenging pass of the day, walked away from the pressure and ripped it to wide open receiver Deebo Samuel with just enough speed to sneak it past diving Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Samuel pulled it in, made a couple of defenders miss and ran after a 43-yard win. It was the kind of long throw that many wondered if Garoppolo could do with his bad thumb.
Two plays after that, Garoppolo hit receiver Jauan Jennings for a 14-yard touchdown to send it into overtime. With the season at its peak, the Niners went 88 yards on five games in 1:01. He did so by controlling a deliberate 12-game drive that lasted 7:15 to what turned out to be the battle-winning field goal in overtime.
“It was really hard, but getting back and leading us down there, tying it up, sending it to overtime,” Shanahan said. “He was incredible.”
After the interception, Garoppolo completed 8 of 11 passes on 129 yards and a touchdown. For the game, he completed 23 of 32 for 316 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for a pass rating of 87.5.
Garoppolo did so after a week in which he diligently tried every day to adjust to his injured thumb as calls for rookie Trey Lance to take over grew louder.
Garoppolo said he knew most of the week that he wanted to be the starter, it was just a matter of pain tolerance to get through a full fight. After it was over, Garoppolo said it felt “amazing.”
“Honestly, with injuries like that, your body just learns and adapts all the time,” Garoppolo said. “So early it was pretty numb, so it felt ok and then just got better and better as it went. I think my arm just learned to adapt to it.”
With a win in the season’s biggest match in his pocket, the fire alarm went off at SoFi Stadium in the middle of Garoppolo’s press conference after the match. Garoppolo laughed and did his best to keep answering questions even as the sirens rang around him.
After all, he had already pushed through far more difficult challenges unabated.