In his first playoff game with the 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t have to be a star.
When San Francisco took apart the Minnesota Vikings last Saturday in the NFC’s divisional-round, 27-10, it was the 49ers’ running game that was center stage, not Garoppolo’s arm.
The 49ers ran the ball a whopping 47 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns, both by Tevin Coleman on short runs. The 49ers’ plan was to run the ball, control the clock and wear down the Minnesota defense, and it worked well. Garoppolo threw just 19 passes, completed 11 for 131 yards and had a TD pass and an interception.
But what happens this Sunday in the NFC Championship Game if the Green Bay defense stops the Niners running game, and Garoppolo is forced to win a shootout against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers?
That’s a question some NFL analysts have brought up this week because Garoppolo remains untested as a playoff quarterback.
Garoppolo had a fine season, completing 69.1 percent of his throws for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns vs. 13 interceptions, while earning a quarterback rating of 102.0. But even though he led his team to a 13-3 record and the NFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC, he still has doubters. As Dan Graziano of ESPN.com wrote this week, Garoppolo "remains untested" in the postseason. The fact he didn’t have a big day in the 49ers’ opening playoff win encouraged those doubters.
Yet Graziano points to several big games Garoppolo produced this season, when he came up big in a late-season victory over the Saints in New Orleans, throwing for 349 yards and four touchdowns, for one, and in a win over the Packers in November, as well as consecutive wins over the Rams and Seahawks at the end of the season to secure the NFC West. Graziano said the victory in New Orleans was like a postseason game, a matchup between two powerhouses in an electric atmosphere.
"But," he added, "while that game had a playoff feel, we’ve learned time and again that the actual playoffs are a different animal. There’s no particular reason to doubt Garoppolo’s ability to win a playoff game if the 49ers need him to win one, other than the fact he hasn’t done it yet. But he was definitely shaky Saturday, and Niners fans hope he was just working out some first-playoff-game jitters."
Sean Wagner-McGough of CBS Sports is one of those doubters. Of the four quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs, Garoppolo is ranked fourth – behind Rodgers, Ryan Tannehill and Patrick Mahomes – by Wagner-McGough. Behind Tannehill? Really?
His reasoning: Garoppolo makes too many turnovers, with his 13 interceptions and 10 fumbles (including five lost). And, he argues, Garoppolo thrives largely because he’s in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, which consistently gets him good looks at open receivers on short routes.
Yet Wagner-McGough also says Garoppolo doesn’t have to be great.
"He’s repeatedly proven to be good enough for an otherwise great 49ers team that only needs good quarterback play to get where they want to go," he wrote.
Garoppolo and the 49ers get their next test Sunday against Green Bay at Levi’s Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:40 p.m.