• Geoff Castaneda

Under Pressure: Analyzing Garoppolo’s Performance in His Biggest Games

Image Credit: Terrell Lloyd/San Francisco 49ers


Jimmy Garoppolo’s time with the San Francisco 49ers can be best described as turbulent. Garoppolo touched down in the Bay Area in early-November 2018 after John Lynch shipped the New England Patriots a second-round draft pick. The former Eastern Illinois quarterback was drafted 62nd overall in 2014 as the heir-apparent to the Patriots dynasty. When it became clear that Tom Brady was far from done, the Patriots realized it was time to ship the kid they called “Jimmy G” west. Garoppolo finished the final five games of the 2017 season as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. He guided the 49ers to a five-game winning streak, generating buzz around San Francisco’s latest franchise quarterback, earning nicknames like “Jimmy GQ,” “Optimus Dime,” and “Gucci Garopp” along the way. Garoppolo’s charisma was exceeded only by the five-year, $137,500,000 contract he signed after the season.

An ACL tear in Week 3 of 2018 delayed Garoppolo’s opportunity to play meaningful football. Garoppolo and the 49ers bounced back a year later, making a run all the way to Super Bowl LIV. An injury-filled 2020 campaign eliminated the 49ers from playoff contention almost immediately. With Garoppolo missing 23 games over three years, the 49ers began making plans for life post-Garoppolo.

In the midst of constant chatter about losing his job, Garoppolo and the 49ers are back in the playoffs for just the second time in the Shanahan era. Garoppolo has just three playoff starts under his belt. To get a better idea of what we can expect from Garoppolo this postseason, let’s look at his performances in some of San Francisco’s most pressure-filled games.

2019 – Week 14: 49ers 48, Saints 46

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The 49ers and Saints entered the Superdome with identical 10-2 records. Both teams were atop the NFC and jockeying for the No. 1 seed and a first round bye. San Francisco had relied on the strength of their defense and run game to this point. Garoppolo got going in a Week 9 win against the Arizona Cardinals, tossing four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 28-25 road win. He followed up with a Week 10 dud on Monday Night Football, completing just 24 of 46 passes, including a touchdown and an interception in an overtime loss to the Seahawks.

After falling behind 7-0 on the opening possession, Garoppolo started the game 4 for 5 and delivered a 6-yard pass to Kendrick Bourne. The 49ers lost ground in a rapidly paced first quarter, trailing 20-7. Garoppolo battled back, first with a 75-yard bomb to Emmanuel Sanders. On the next drive, Sanders would throw a touchdown pass of his own, hitting Raheem Mostert from 35 yards out.

In the third quarter, San Francisco trailed 28-30 before Alvin Kamara fumbled at the Saints’ own 20 yard-line. Two plays later, Garoppolo hit George Kittle for a 5-yard score, bringing the score to 35-30, in the 49ers’ favor. Garoppolo steadied San Francisco all day in an absolute shootout. He threw his fourth and final touchdown, a 6-yard completion to Bourne with just under 9 minutes remaining, increasing the 49ers’ lead to 42-33.

The 49ers defense surrendered two more touchdowns and faced a 46-45 deficit with 53 seconds remaining. Garoppolo had led come from behind victories before, but no one knew what he was capable of in a high-scoring affair. Garoppolo and the 49ers needed one more score to leave Louisiana victorious.

With 39 seconds on the clock, the 49ers faced fourth-and-2 from their own 33 yard-line. Garoppolo found George Kittle for the play of the year. Kittle ran a 5-yard out, slipped out of the grasp of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and delivered a hellacious stiff-arm to safety Marcus Williams. Thirty-nine yards later, it would take three Saints defenders and a facemask penalty to bring Kittle down. Robbie Gould sealed the win with a 30-yard field goal as time expired.

Garoppolo went toe-to-toe with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and Sean Payton’s vaunted offense. He never flinched. Garoppolo finished the game 26 of 35 for 349 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception.

2019 - Week 17: 49ers 26, Seahawks 21

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Going into Week 17, the 49ers had already secured a playoff berth. The NFC West title and a first-round bye were up for grabs. If the 49ers wanted home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, they would need to earn it on the road at CenturyLink Field.

Garoppolo opened the game with a crucial third-down conversion to George Kittle for 11 yards. Completions of 8 and 12 yards to Emmanuel Sanders moved the 49ers into Seattle territory. A 9-yard sack by Seattle safety Tre Flowers derailed the opening campaign, but Garoppolo had done enough for Robbie Gould to give the 49ers a 3-0 advantage.

Garoppolo saved the 49ers’ second possession with a third-and-5 conversion to Emmanuel Sanders. Jimmy targeted the veteran wide receiver on a quick in-route and delivered an accurate pass that only he could reach. Then, Deebo Samuel moved the 49ers from their own 19-yard line to midfield on a 30-yard catch-and-run. A 15-yard gain by George Kittle and a 6-yard run by Raheem Mostert set up Samuel to cap the drive on a 30-yard end around, spinning his way into the end zone without stepping out of bounds.

The 49ers continued to move the ball effectively behind Garoppolo’s passing. A fumble and recovery by Deebo Samuel halted a trip to the red zone with six minutes remaining in the second quarter. Garoppolo rebounded by finding Kyle Juszczyk up the sideline for 49 yards one possession later. Raheem Mostert cashed in after four more plays, via a 2-yard run.

Garoppolo led one final scoring drive at the 10-minute mark. Garoppolo guided the offense to a seven play, 75-yard march, culminating in Mostert’s second touchdown of the game.

Seattle narrowed the lead to 26-21 with just over 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The 49ers attempted to ice the game by leaning on the running game. A controversial unnecessary-roughness penalty against center Ben Garland put the 49ers behind the sticks. On third-and-17, Garoppolo hit Mostert for a 16-yard completion. The 49ers would be forced to punt and rely on Robert Saleh’s defense.

The game will be ultimately remembered for Dre Greenlaw’s fourth-and-goal stop. But - the “Clinch by an Inch” would not have been possible without Garoppolo’s steady play. Despite not throwing a touchdown, Garoppolo finished with a 118.8 rating. His 81.8 percent completion rate and 13.0-yard average per attempt buoyed the 49ers offense in the NFL’s toughest road environment.

2019 – NFC Divisional Round: 49ers 27, Vikings 10

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On the heels of leading the 49ers to a 13-3 regular season record and the No. 1 seed, the NFL wondered how Jimmy Garoppolo would fare in his first playoff start. Kyle Shanahan got Garoppolo in rhythm early. On the first offensive series, Shanahan called six passing plays, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne. Garoppolo’s day would then take a turn.

On the 49ers’ third possession, Garoppolo threw an inexcusable interception to Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. Kendricks read Garoppolo’s eyes, dropped into the passing lane, and picked off the 49ers’ quarterback. It was the type of turnover that has plagued Garoppolo throughout his career and garnered exasperation from the Faithful. The 49ers’ defense limited the damage to a field goal but cracks in the foundation were forming.

Garoppolo took a backseat to the 49ers rushing attack in the second half. He would attempt just five passes after the interception. Depending on your perspective, Shanahan either sensed a weakness in the Vikings defense or he lost trust in his quarterback. Garoppolo’s lack of involvement was punctuated by Shanahan dialing up 28 rushing plays in the second half, including streaks of eight and nine consecutive runs in the later stages of the game.

The deeper the 49ers progressed in the playoffs the more rumors began to float surrounding Kyle Shanahan’s skepticism of his starting quarterback. Garoppolo left Levi’s Stadium 11 of 19, resulting in 131 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

On one hand, a Vikings offense that managed just seven first downs and 147 yards of total offense was never a threat, thus negating the need for Garoppolo to be stellar. However, Garoppolo’s role was further reduced in the following week’s NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. While his counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, attempted 39 passes, Garoppolo was called upon just eight times. His eight attempts were plenty for a 49ers offense that produced 285 rushing yards behind Raheem Mostert’s four-touchdown day.

Super Bowl LIV: Chiefs 31, 49ers 20

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Super Bowl LIV was a day to forget for 49ers fans. The result would eventually cement the narrative about Jimmy Garoppolo and dictate the course of his career with the 49ers.

Garoppolo was twice intercepted on the biggest stage. His first giveaway came early in the second quarter. While under duress, “Bad Jimmy” lobbed a misguided pass in the direction of Deebo Samuel. Bashaud Breeland undercut the route, leading to a Harrison Butker field goal and a 10-3 Chiefs lead.

Shanahan appeared to take the game out of Garoppolo’s hands on the ensuing drive, calling five straight running plays. Garoppolo redeemed himself with a 15-yard touchdown pass to fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

Just before halftime, the 49ers were again on the move. Garoppolo hit Jeff Wilson Jr. for a 20-yard gain on a crucial third-and-5. With 14 seconds remaining, Garoppolo dropped a dime to George Kittle, setting the 49ers up at the Chiefs 13-yard line. A phantom offensive pass interference call negated the completion and the 49ers kneeled to end the half.

Garoppolo started the second half hot. He went 7 for 8 resulting in two scoring drives, a 42-yard Robbie Gould field goal and a 1-yard touchdown run by Raheem Mostert. After Patrick Mahomes’ second interception of the third quarter, it was time to put the game out of reach.

The 49ers offense stalled on the next drive. Travis Kelce scored a 1-yard touchdown, and the lead was down to three points. Garoppolo followed with a three-and-out, missing George Kittle and Kendrick Bourne on consecutive plays. It would take just seven plays for the Chiefs to take a 24-20 lead.

The stage was set for Garoppolo to join the Mount Rushmore of 49ers quarterbacks. San Francisco was down four with just over two minutes remaining. A career-defining, last-minute touchdown drive in the Super Bowl would place Garoppolo among franchise legends like Joe Montana and Steve Young. Jimmy got back into rhythm with an 8-yard pass to George Kittle and a 16-yard completion to Kendrick Bourne. Then, things fell apart. Garoppolo missed on three straight attempts. On third-and-10, Garoppolo committed an egregious overthrow to a streaking Emmanuel Sanders (viewer discretion advised). Frank Clark would effectively end the game with a 9-yard sack on the next play.

Garoppolo threw his final interception with 57 seconds remaining and the game out of reach. His final stat line: 20 for 31, 219 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

2021 – Week 18: 49ers at Rams

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After witnessing his team trade three first-round draft picks and draft a quarterback with the third overall pick, Jimmy Garoppolo guarantees he’d survive the regular season as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. Things looked even more bleak once San Francisco fell to 3-5 following an embarrassing 31-17 home loss to a Colt McCoy-led Cardinals team.

Despite rebounding with a stretch of six wins in eight games, Garoppolo again came under fire after a 20-17 road loss to the Tennessee Titans. Garoppolo sustained an injury to his right hand but finished the game. The postgame diagnosis revealed a bone chip in Garoppolo’s throwing hand and a tear to the UCL ligament.

San Francisco’s loss to the Titans forced them to win both of their remaining games to assure a berth in the playoffs. Trey Lance got his second start of the season after Garoppolo was ruled out for the Week 17 matchup against the Houston Texans. The 49ers dominated an outmatched Texans team and Lance showed his first-round pedigree. The cries to keep Garoppolo on the bench for the regular season finale against the Los Angeles Rams reached a fever pitch.

Kyle Shanahan avoided naming a starting quarterback during media sessions, noting it would depend on Garoppolo’s health. Jimmy G would return to the lineup for the 49ers in Week 18.

Garoppolo failed to push the 49ers’ offense past midfield in three drives, the last ending in an interception by Rams safety Taylor Rapp. San Francisco fell into a 17-0 hole late in the second quarter. The 49ers’ playoff hopes steadily dimmed when the Saints expanded their lead over the Atlanta Falcons. San Francisco needed a win to continue their season.

With 38 seconds remaining in the first half, Garoppolo connected on passes of 19, 10, and 8 yards to kick off the drive. A 26-yard completion to Brandon Aiyuk got the 49ers within Robbie Gould’s range. San Francisco’s only score of the first half would shift the game in dramatic fashion.

The 49ers received the second half kickoff and wasted no time chipping at the lead. Garoppolo converted an early third-and-3 with a 13-yard completion to JaMycal Hasty. A 31-yard catch-and-run by Aiyuk set up Deebo Samuel’s drive-ending 16-yard rushing touchdown. San Francisco cut the Rams lead to 17-10.

The 49ers’ defense rallied and forced a Rams three-and-out on the next possession. San Francisco’s offense went run-heavy, calling 10 straight running plays. Even Garoppolo got involved, calling his own number on a 1-yard quarterback to convert a key third-and-1. The drive lasted seven minutes and required only one passing play: a 24-yard touchdown pass from Deebo Samuel to Jauan Jennings. San Francisco knotted the game up at 17-all.

San Francisco looked poised to take their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter. But Garoppolo’s penchant for poor decisions reared its ugly head. On second-and-14 from the Los Angeles 22-yard line, Garoppolo forced a ball into triple coverage and off George Kittle’s hands. Jalen Ramsey made a diving catch as the ball bobbled around the goal line. The Rams responded with a nine-play, 92-yard, touchdown drive. San Francisco was backed into a 24-17 corner with under 3 minutes remaining.

The 49ers comeback looked like it was out of steam. Garoppolo missed George Kittle on second down from their own 26 yard-line. He took a 9-yard sack by Von Miller on third down, backing the 49ers into a fourth-and-18 nightmare. Kyle Shanahan decided to punt the ball away and use his full compliment of timeouts on defense.

The defense stifled the Rams, forcing an immediate three-and-out. The 49ers offense ran back onto the field with 1:27 left in regulation and no timeouts. Garoppolo locked in. A 21-yard pass to Brandon Aiyuk pulled the 49ers away from their own goal-line. From San Francisco’s 38 yard-line, Garoppolo delivered a rope to Deebo Samuel for 43 yards. It was the type of throw that the critics said Garoppolo was incapable of making: a dart to the boundary. Two plays later, Garoppolo found Jauan Jennings on a perfectly schemed in-route. On the strength of its quarterback, San Francisco extended the game to overtime. The playoffs were still a possibility.

San Francisco won the coin toss to start overtime. The 49ers opened the bonus period aggressively, starting with completions of 13 and 8 yards from Garoppolo. In between runs from Elijah Mitchell, Garoppolo linked up with Samuel for 6 yards. Standing on the outskirts of field goal territory, facing third-and-6, Garoppolo threw a proper touch-pass to Jauan Jennings. The former seventh-round receiver rumbled down the sideline, moving San Francisco to the Rams’ 24 yard-line. Garoppolo went back to Jennings three plays later, connecting for 9 yards on another third down. The 49ers failed to convert after having first-and-goal from the 8 yard-line. Robbie Gould’s 24-yard field goal gave San Francisco their first and only lead of the game.

Toss out the stats. Garoppolo delivered a performance that defied numbers. The mission was win, no matter the cost or the method. In a complete team effort, Garoppolo and the 49ers got the job done.

Up Next: Wildcard Weekend

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Garoppolo’s improbable heroics guaranteed another week of 49ers football. Cynics will say that one game cannot undo five inconsistent seasons with Garoppolo as the 49ers’ signal-caller. The truth is simple, Jimmy Garoppolo is a fierce competitor. In a season where he could have repeatedly surrendered, the embattled quarterback continued to fight for his team.

It was just five short seasons ago that 49ers fans were looking for a glimmer of hope in the form of a quarterback. On Halloween in 2015, Jimmy Garoppolo became the light 49ers so desperately needed. Headed into the wild-card round, the 49ers’ starting quarterback has nothing left to prove to a fanbase that once deserted him. Garoppolo’s teammates continue to rally behind the quarterback of the present. For evidence, look no further than Trent Williams’ recent comments: “I never questioned what he had. I came here looking at Jimmy as a Super Bowl quarterback. He took this team to a Super Bowl. I don’t care how good your defense is, if he doesn't get the job done, we don't get the job done. I’ve always had the highest level of confidence in him.”

Cowboys fans be warned, the 49ers are playing with house money, and they have no intention of leaving any chips on the table.


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