The ending was predictably desperate. That was what made it an appropriate last act for Jimmy Garoppolo in a San Francisco 49ers uniform.
As the fourth quarter disappeared in a 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, it became increasingly clear that in a post-season dominated by quarterbacks, the 49ers had finally reached a moment where they could no longer hide theirs. The defense could only do so much for so long. It had excellently shut down the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott, and mercilessly put the grip on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. In the end, the 49ers played less than perfect Sunday, dropped an interception, lost a wideout in coverage or simply failed to break an offense. And at that moment, it required help at a critical time, like in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game.
At that moment, the 49ers needed Garoppolo to be something more than he has been for the past two years. Something not only can but particularlike the cornerstone the team thought it got when it signed him to a massive contract that has paid out $ 110 million since 2018. Just one critical effort when it was most needed, as what Joe Burrow has given the Cincinnati Bengals or Matthew Stafford has given the Rams.
That was what the 49ers needed in the final 1:46 on Sunday, with the faint hopes of hitting the score with a field goal or, in their wildest dreams, putting the game away with a 75-yard touchdown drive. Instead, San Francisco got two things: A drive that included an incompletion, a -3-yard reception, and an interception. And a titanic reminder that Garoppolo is a quarterback problem, not a solution.
Like he was back in April when the 49ers tried to replace him with Aaron Rodgers before finally deciding to draft the replacement project Trey Lance.
Time will tell whether Lance was ultimately the right choice to settle into as the cornerstone of the franchise. But the assessment at Garoppolo is now chiseled in granite. He’s not the guy. That’s exactly what the 49ers telegraphed to everyone in the NFL for more than nine months. A situation that reflects the bond the Rams were in last low season with Jared Goff, but were remedied by beating the 49ers at the helm of Stafford and kicking off Sunday’s events a long time ago.
Of course, we can split Sunday’s failure against the Rams in many different ways. Niner head coach Kyle Shanahan is not going to face a lack of heat in the coming days, weeks and months for how his team has faded with fourth-quarter leads. We cannot choose a defense that was flawed at inappropriate times. But there is no denying that San Francisco’s biggest failure was having to put the team’s fate in Garoppolo’s hands in the final two minutes, despite knowing what the outcome would likely be against a very good Rams defense.
Having Garoppolo to drive the team 75 yards to win a conference championship – under intense pressure, no less – is like having to park the team bus on the moon. It does not happen and there is no good reason to get stuck in that predicament in the first place. Yet that was where San Francisco was in the last moments of Sunday. No longer able to lean on the defense to pave the way all the way to the Super Bowl, and no longer able to cover up what Garoppolo could not do in the most pressured moments of distress.
That’s part of what has made the whole pablum over the past week that Garoppolo has changed his NFL stars so absurd. People talked about him as if he had somehow been the defining pilot in this impressive postseason race, rather than just another passenger in a first-class seat. Garoppolo had not been tested like so many other quarterbacks were in those playoffs. He was not Josh Allen furiously taking the lead back, or Patrick Mahomes teleporting a 13-second team. He was not Stafford responding to Tom Brady’s best shot by finding Cooper Kupp behind the defense in the light of a total blitz.
He was just Jimmy – and that’s a big deal, because that’s what his nickname should be in the future. No more Jimmy G. It’s just Jimmy. A quarterback who can take care of a team with the best of them, but who does not pull a win out of a crushing defeat when you need it.
He has proven this repeatedly so we can dispense with the curiosity surrounding this offseason. It’s going to end where last year’s break almost did: With Garoppolo walking out the door and into the arms of a desperate team. That, or taking a giant pay cut to keep going and make the 49ers quarterback picture even more awkward in 2022.
So do not read too much about Shanahan taking the upscale route or teammates flying their Jimmy flag in the near future. The departure process began in the fourth quarter on Sunday. And it’s going to pick up speed.
Shanahan said he “will not sit here and make a farewell statement” about his quarterback. Well, he does not have to. Garoppolo stated himself. It was repeated and familiar. A desperate repetition of an ending in San Francisco that simply comes a year later than expected.