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Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

‘He’s a hell of a leader’: George Kittle says Jimmy Garoppolo inspires 49ers to play their ‘best ball’

Nov 21, 2021 at 2:50 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers haven't asked Jimmy Garoppolo to carry the team over the last handful of games, and the veteran quarterback has been playing his best football of the season. On Sunday, he had another solid outing as the 49ers dominated the Jacksonville Jaguars, winning 30-10.

Garoppolo finished 16-of-22 passing for 176 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. His 126.3 passer rating was his second-highest of the season, with his highest mark coming in the team's last game, a 31-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

"I thought he played well," head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. "He was very efficient. He made the right plays. [He] protected the ball, most importantly. He did what he had to do for us to win."

Garoppolo has thrown just one interception in the last four games. The quarterback's 176 passing yards against the Jaguars give him 10,154 career passing yards, a milestone he didn't know he surpassed until a reporter informed him after the game.

"I had no idea until you just said that," Garoppolo commented. "That's pretty cool—I don't even know what to say."

Aside from an embarrassing Week 9 loss, the 49ers as a whole look like a much-improved team compared to previous weeks. That has given San Francisco and Garoppolo a lot of confidence. That could be significant for a team looking to make a strong push for a playoff appearance.

Tight end George Kittle, who caught four passes for 34 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars, believes Garoppolo's growing confidence is influencing the entire team.

"I think a lot of the confidence comes from [us] having really good practices, and I think the guys Jimmy is throwing the ball too, and our run game, we're making it easy on him," Kittle shared. "We're not putting all the pressure in the world on him. We don't want to throw the ball 40 times. We want to run the ball. We want to run some play-actions, and we're going to hit those big shots, and move the chains consistently, and have those long drives, and Jimmy does a fantastic job of that.

"He gets us in the right play calls when we have a bunch of options. Like when we have to change the play at the line of scrimmage, he does a great job of that. He just gets us in the right calls and allows our best players to take advantage of those plays, whether it's the run game or it's the pass game."

It's not just the improved defensive play and the strong rushing attack that has led to a confidence boost for the veteran quarterback. Kittle and the other offensive targets are doing their part too.

"I think Jimmy's confidence comes from when Jimmy throws me a ball, and it's contested, and I catch a touchdown," Kittle added. "Or when [Brandon] Aiyuk is open in the red zone, Deebo's [Samuel] running the ball at a high level, and our offense is blocking, that's what gives Jimmy confidence. That's what gives out team confidence."

The rest of the 49ers' season depends on Garoppolo sustaining his level of improved play. Last week, general manager John Lynch said that the quarterback being healthy after dealing with a calf injury this season is finally paying dividends.

"When [the injury] happened, he missed the time," Lynch said during a radio interview. "But even when he came back (against the Colts), he just wasn't quite right. Now, when he's been healthy, he's played at a really high level this year."

Added Kittle: "When Jimmy's rollin', I think we're rollin'. He's a hell of a leader out there, and he really inspires us to play our best ball."

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