Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Deebo Samuel credits 49ers’ physicality, Jimmy Garoppolo for impressive turnaround

Jan 24, 2022 at 8:43 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers are one win away from returning to the Super Bowl. They got to this point by stunning the top-seeded Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field with a 13-10 win. In their way is a familiar foe. The 49ers will travel to SoFi Stadium to face the Los Angeles Rams for the third time this season in the NFC Championship Game, with the right to return to the same venue two weeks later for Super Bowl LVI on the line.

The 49ers arrived at the NFC Championship Game with an old-school mentality. They are looking to dominate opponents with their physicality. That was the case against the Packers and a week earlier against the Dallas Cowboys. It has become the 49ers' identity.

"It's just the physicality that we've always had here as a whole," wide receiver/running back Deebo Samuel told TheMMQB's Albert Breer after stepping off the frigid battlefield on Saturday night. "And I don't think too many people love to play the physical game that we play. They have to get mentally prepared. And the week is not long enough to prepare for how physical we play."

In October, few expected the 49ers to be in this position. The team had just lost its fourth consecutive game and fallen to 2-4. Many questioned head coach Kyle Shanahan's decision to stick with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, especially with their playoff hopes diminishing—at least from the view outside the building. The team had used the No. 3 overall pick on Trey Lance, who was sitting and learning behind the veteran starter.

Shanahan stuck with Garoppolo.

The media and fans criticized the decision, but it didn't matter. San Francisco stuck with its plan. Garoppolo is the quarterback this season. After that? Who knows? But it's Garoppolo on this run. And the quarterback has displayed his own brand of toughness, not just blocking the outside noise, but playing through painful injuries. Garoppolo is throwing the football with a torn ligament in his right thumb and a right shoulder sprain. He's been toughing it out for his teammates for a while now, even while knowing each game may be his last with the Niners.

Garoppolo has been far from perfect since suffering his thumb injury, throwing at least one interception in each of his last four starts. But the locker room is behind their 30-year-old quarterback.

"I mean, it's hard being a quarterback in this league, and we know what it takes, and Jimmy has the heart and the mindset to do it," Samuel said. "There's never a [time] that we ever doubted Jimmy. We know everything that he's capable of. And mistakes are going to happen, but it's just how you bounce back, and he bounced back."

San Francisco's turnaround is an impressive story. Of course, turnarounds in the NFL are nothing new. Teams drastically improve over the offseason all the time. Seeing that happen over the course of a season, though, with many writing you off in October, is rarer.

"[The path here] just showed the determination, the trust that we have in each other as a whole, as a group, as a team," Samuel said. "Just putting all the pieces together, knowing it didn't start off well, but just coming together as a team and just hitting the ground running shows everybody what we're capable of."

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