Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports


Uncertain future helped Jimmy Garoppolo lock in on 49ers’ playoff run, says Kyle Shanahan

Jan 24, 2022 at 5:51 PM--


Jimmy Garoppolo has openly acknowledged he is well aware that each game could be his last with the San Francisco 49ers. He knows the team's situation. The 49ers used a lot of draft capital to trade up and acquire his successor, Trey Lance, with the No. 3 overall pick. Lance, not Garoppolo, is the quarterback of the future.

That could have created an awkward situation for Garoppolo. That wasn't the case earlier in the season because it was easy enough to focus on the many remaining games. However, as that number of games diminished, Garoppolo started to think about his situation.

Before the regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Rams, before the 49ers clinched a playoff berth, Garoppolo approached his fullback, Kyle Juszczyk.

"And we hugged," Garoppolo told Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, "and he was like, 'Man, I don't want to get emotional or anything, but this is our last regular-season game together.' It was a pretty cool moment, and from that point on, I really was like, 'This could be it.'"

That wasn't it. Garoppolo helped the 49ers win that game and the two playoff games that followed. Now, they are preparing to play in their second NFC Championship Game in three seasons, one win away from a return to the Super Bowl.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke with reporters on Monday afternoon and was asked how much Garoppolo's attitude about the end of this chapter has helped the quarterback and team lock in on the task at hand.

"A ton," Shanahan responded. "That is the reality we're at. It's been that way for a while, since we made that trade, and the more that we all can accept it and know it and not beat around the bush, the easier it is to go on with your jobs. And that's what we've all done, and we've all enjoyed each other as people. We all respect the hell of each other in our profession.

"And I think it's just allowed everyone to move on and be themselves. And I think throughout the year, that's allowed him to get better, it's allowed our team to get better, it's allowed me to get better and focus on what we should focus on, and just trying to be as good at our jobs as we can."

Surrendering so much draft capital for Lance had many pushing for the 49ers to start the rookie, especially when the team was sitting at 2-4 in October and 3-5 in November. Shanahan and his players never felt the season was over, though, and pushed forward with their quarterback plan—Garoppolo plays, and Lance sits and learns, so long as the playoffs were a possibility.

Did Shanahan ever consider a quarterback change when things looked dire?

"No, there was never a point where I thought of switching to Trey in terms of I think the stuff that I said at the time was the truth," Shanahan said. "I didn't think Jimmy was the issue. I thought Jimmy, there was games that he could have played better in, but I didn't think he was playing the way that everyone was saying. And just watching the tape with our team, I didn't think our team was there, and I didn't think it was the best thing for Trey.

"But when we did have a 3-5 record, I knew we were not one game away, but it was getting close to where the best thing for the team was focusing on some other things and maybe getting some guys some chances to play, but I never felt that at 3-5.

"But you could see that the games were going to come if we didn't turn this around fast. And I felt the first time we did that was that game versus the Rams, and since then, I haven't had that thought because that got us on a pretty good roll after that. And we've never been in that situation since, where you see that nearing."

Maybe it's fitting that the 49ers are preparing to face those Rams again, this time with a return trip to the Super Bowl on the line. It could make for a fitting finale for Garoppolo, redeeming himself for the missed oportunities the last time San Francsico appeared in the big game.

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