Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

49ers say Trey Lance has been dicing them up at practice, but Jimmy Garoppolo is undoubtedly the team leader

Dec 19, 2021 at 8:15 PM--

Trey Lance remains the quarterback of the future for the San Francisco 49ers, but Sunday's 31-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons showed why Jimmy Garoppolo is still running the show.

Garoppolo produced an efficient performance in the win over the Falcons, throwing for 235 yards on 18-of-23 passing and one touchdown. On top of that, Garoppolo was clearly fired up heading into the game and set a tone for the other players, at least according to fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

"I know today, there was something different about him," Juszczyk said. "He had this aura about him. Even at breakfast, George [tight end George Kittle] and I looked at each other (and said) 'Jimmy's ready to go today.' I love to see it from him. It's contagious too, because when we see our head guy like that fired up and ready to go, it makes everybody else fired up."

It's clear the 49ers feed off Garoppolo, who became the team's starting quarterback not long after arriving via a trade from the New England Patriots in 2017. The 49ers decided to trade up to select Lance in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft after Garoppolo missed a chunk of the 2020 season due to injury—the second time in three years injuries forced him to the sidelines—and right away questions began over how much time would pass before the 49ers chose to put Lance in the starting role. But Lance has been the backup all season, while Garoppolo has heated up over the second half of the year to help propel the 49ers towards a playoff berth. Garoppolo has long had doubters outside of 49ers facilities, but he's never lost his support on the inside—even with Lance showing what he's capable of behind closed doors.

"Inside he's been the guy all along," linebacker Fred Warner said of Garoppolo Sunday. "Trey has got a bright future ahead, right? We see it every day in practice on our side because he's out there dicing us up. But Jimmy is our leader. He's our quarterback. We've rolled behind him the entire way. To see him playing at a high level like he is right now, we're going to need it."

While there aren't many on the outside who are calling for Lance to step in to the starting spot at the moment, it wasn't always that way earlier in the season. Garoppolo and the 49ers' offense were inconsistent over the team's first eight games, stumbling to a disappointing 3-5 record to start the year. But they've won five of their past six games since then, with Garoppolo's play being no small factor in that streak.

"Jimmy hasn't been much different to me all year," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said Sunday. "I think we've gotten better around him throughout the year. I think we've gotten more continuity on the offense. I think with the skill positions and tight ends, I think they've gotten healthier and have and been out there more consistently than they were at the beginning of the year. When you get to string weeks together from a quarterback and some of the guys you're throwing to, I think you usually improve and get more consistent. I think that's what we have struggled with is consistency. Guys getting a little better from health and stuff, then us committing to the run a lot better than we did at the beginning of the year and getting more results out of that to me helps everybody on offense."

Like Warner, Juszczyk said Sunday that Garoppolo is unquestionably the team's leader, saying the team's destiny for this season rests on the arm of their current starting quarterback.

"For sure. He's the quarterback," Juszczyk said. "We're going to go as far as Jimmy takes us. He does such a good job of being that leader, especially on the offensive side. He's so good at stepping into the huddle, commanding the huddle, get us fired up, but also keeping us calm and be able to direct the offense. He does a great job."

But whether or not everyone agrees that Garoppolo had an "aura" at breakfast on Sunday is up for debate. Kittle told reporters that the team fed off Garoppolo today but that he didn't necessarily notice anything out of the ordinary about the quarterback at breakfast.

"Jimmy was definitely inspired to play at a high level today," Kittle said. "And he definitely inspired all of us. He's a guy that breaks down the team before we all head out to the field as a team. I thought he did a great job today. He definitely pulled us all along.

"An aura—nice Juice. Nice. He had some s*** to him today though. I liked that. I swear too much. I'm sorry."

As for Garoppolo, it seems like that the main thing that was different for him about today was what was at stake in terms of playoff positioning.

"I feel good but I feel good a lot of games though," Garoppolo said. "I don't know. Guys were locked in today. You felt it throughout the week too. It was a big game. NFC opponent, playoff picture and everything like that. It's December football. We knew what we were in for."

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