It has been a while since Jimmy Garoppolo threw four touchdown passes in a single game. The last time was Dec. 8, 2019. That day, Garoppolo went toe to toe with Drew Brees, and won 48-46 at the Superdome. That was the game that changed the minds of many who did not believe that Garoppolo could lead the 49ers to a sixth Super Bowl Championship.
Last night, at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Jimmy G tossed four touchdowns in a far less compelling game. The 49ers went into halftime up 17-10 against the short-handed Arizona Cardinals. By the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Cardinals pulled second-stringer — last night’s starter due to injury — Colt McCoy, and San Francisco returned the favor by telling Garoppolo to keep his baseball cap on for the rest of the game as it went on to win the game 38-10.
With eight games remaining in the regular season, the 49ers have assumed first place in the NFC West. Hopefully, for NFL viewers, the margin in that division between first and second place will be close enough that the San Fran and Seattle Seahawks rivalry from the previous decade will be reignited at Lumen Field on Dec. 15.
Even if the 49ers prevail during the most important Thursday Night Football matchup of this season, that likely won’t be enough to remove the one dark cloud hanging over the team. Can Garoppolo win it all?
Football is the most team of team sports, so Garoppolo is far from alone on the field. In fact, the offense that he is leading is more talented than the one he guided to a home NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl appearance during the 2019 season.
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Deebo Samuel was a rookie then, and now he has fully established himself as one of the NFL’s top offensive weapons. Instead of a 32-year-old Emmanuel Sanders, this season the 49ers have 24-year-old Brandon Aiyuk as their other top wideout. The backfield is lethal with Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell. On defense, Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, Talona Hufanga, and company, have carried on the smashmouth ways that have defined the franchise over the last 10 seasons.
Yet, even with those four touchdown passes, Garoppolo did not look like the player he was in 2019. He threaded the needle to Aiyuk on that first touchdown pass, but the other three were accomplished mostly by the YAC talents of the 49ers’ pass catchers.
Kittle did the same thing on Monday night that he did to the Saints defenders in 2019. He shook them off of his body like a chill, while on his way to the endzone. Aiyuk’s second touchdown catch required a skillful run, and Samuel’s only score of the day was a rushing touchdown on an end-around.
Against the Saints, Garoppolo held defenders with his eyes, and made a few tight throws in the middle of the field. It was enough to make some critical NFL analysts refuse to find fault with him that day. However, it’s not like he was throwing 17-yard darts up the seam, or launching moon balls 50 yards down the field to a pass catcher in stride. On a 75-yard touchdown pass, it was Sanders who turned that 50/50 ball into a score. Kittle’s game-winner was all about his effort after the catch.
Against the Cardinals, Garoppolo threw for only 229 yards, as opposed to the 349 he dropped on Drew Brees’ Saints in the waning months of a pre-pandemic America. He kept last night’s passes much shorter and sweeter, averaging just under eight yards per attempt as opposed to nearly 10 that Sunday in New Orleans.
The 49ers, as a team, looked like they’re the evil troll that the rest of the NFC will have to get past come playoff time, but at no point did Garoppolo show any special playmaking that is different from the player he has been. The player whose NFC Championship performance last season, was supposed to be his last one in a 49ers’ uniform.
He and the 49ers are stuck with each other for however long this season lasts. If they want a title, and Garoppolo wants his contract offers to look better come spring 2023, he will have to find a way to reach another level, even if it’s only temporary. If not, these eight touchdowns across three seasons will end up being the highlight of his career.
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