Then the fourth quarter arrived and it all fell apart.
Garoppolo was forced to process the sting of defeat in real time Sunday night, remaining cordial with reporters before spending the next 48 hours attempting to understand just how everything went wrong. For one, San Francisco's offense, which had been rolling in the third quarter, stalled on multiple occasions. At one point in the third, Garoppolo had only thrown three incompletions. He followed that up with a fourth quarter in which he completed just 3 of 11 attempts.
"As an offense, as a team, we've been in that situation multiple times and answered the bell," Garoppolo said Wednesday, via The Mercury News. "It's tough that one time you didn't. But that's what people remember, that's the world we live in and you just have to own up to it and be a man about it.
"It will fuel us in this offseason, fuel me especially in this offseason, to come back better."
The most fateful incompletions came in succession, with the 49ers clinging to a three-point lead and desperately grasping for any semblance of positive momentum to counter the Chiefs' tidal wave of a comeback. On second and third down, Garoppolo failed to connect with a receiver on attempts, taking less than 90 seconds off the game clock before handing the ball back to Kansas City. The Chiefs eventually scored to take a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"No doubt. That's something you've got to move on from. It sucks," Garoppolo said of the missed opportunity. "Obviously some throws I wish I had back, some throws I made differently. The one to 'E,' just missing him, putting a little too much on it. But you've got to be a man, you have to own up to those things. Some things I'd rather have back. But this whole year, it's been incredible."
There's plenty of reason for hope. These 49ers are young and talented and play under a front office that isn't afraid to be aggressive in an attempt to improve its team. That might include retaining running back Tevin Coleman, who was one of a stable full of playmaking running backs that flourished in Kyle Shanahan's versatile offense and made clear Wednesday he wants to run this thing back.
"I'm willing to do whatever," Coleman said, via ESPN. "The organization knows I want to be a part of this team, so when that time comes there will be a talk between both parties."
Plenty of decisions are left to be made in this offseason that will likely feel like an eternity for a 49ers team that was a quarter of football away from winning the Lombardi Trophy. The 49ers have a good chance to come back and replicate their success in 2020, but they'll first have to get over this loss. That process began Monday.
"It sucked. I wouldn't want to put anyone in my head that Monday morning going through all that stuff," Garoppolo said. "Like I said before, special year, special group of guys, no one I'd rather be in a foxhole with than these guys. I just love all of them."