Jimmy Garoppolo spent the 2021 season battling injuries and the prospect of a rookie quarterback taking his job. With that backdrop, all the QB did was help the San Francisco 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game.
Following the gut-wrenching 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, which ended on a desperation interception, the questions now turn to Jimmy G's future with the Niners.
After the game, Garoppolo said emotions "hit pretty hard" in the locker room, considering it could be his final affair with San Francisco.
"I think these next couple days, it'll really start to settle in a little bit," he said. "Emotions are high after a game, win or loss. It's one of those things you gotta be glad it happened. Just smile from it, think about the good things. We'll see what happens in these next couple days, weeks, whatever. I love this team. Just the fight and the battle in this team throughout the entire year has been really impressive. And I love those guys."
After the defeat, coach Kyle Shanahan wasn't ready to discuss how the Niners move forward under center.
"I love Jimmy," Shanahan said. "I'm not gonna sit here and make a farewell statement or anything right now. It's the last stuff on my mind. Jimmy has battled his ass off. He battled today. He did some unbelievable things today. I love coaching Jimmy."
Shanahan and the Niners continually backed Garoppolo during the season, but after using a boatload of draft capital to move up to select Trey Lance, it seems clear where the future is headed following the postseason loss. Projected to be up against the salary cap, San Francisco would get $25 million in relief by cutting or trading Garoppolo.
George Kittle, perhaps Jimmy G's most strident backer on the Niners, didn't want to consider playing without the QB.
"I mean, lot of unknowns," Kittle said when asked about Garoppolo. "Yeah, it's not fun to think about. Kind of more just processing losing the game before the Super Bowl, which isn't a lot of fun. But I'll get to those emotions whenever they come."
With the run game stymied to just 50 total yards, the 49ers needed Garoppolo to shine. The QB completed 16 of 30 passes for 232 yards with two TDs and the game-ending INT.
After a solid first half, the pressure ramped up on Jimmy G in the final two quarters. The Rams pass rush got to Garoppolo, as he faced pressure on 44.4% of dropbacks in the second half. The QB completed just 4 of 11 passes under pressure with an INT, per Next Gen Stats. He was 12 of 19 for 170 yards and two TDs when not under pressure for the game.
It was a performance that typified Garoppolo's tenure in San Francisco. When kept clean and the going was good, the QB led the Niners to wins. When the pocket collapsed, and the ground game slowed, life got rough.
On what was likely his final snap in a Niners jersey, on third-and-13, Garoppolo had three-time AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year winner Aaron Donald barreling at him. The QB attempted to spin out of the sack and heaved a wayward prayer that was intercepted.
"I don't think he could've done anything else," Shanahan said of Garoppolo's interception. "On the first down, even with the right spot, we got a ball tipped by 91 (Greg Gaines). On the second down, they manned everyone up, and he tried to throw it away to the flat, unfortunately, lost three yards on it. On third-and-13, it looked like Aaron just got in there fast, and he tried to break away and tried not to take a sack to make it fourth-and-20 or whatever it would've been. And that happens. You get in a situation there, and that's when those guys are gonna tee off. Thought we had a great chance of not getting into that situation, but credit to them. That's why they're still playing."
Niners teammates, one after another, offered support for the quarterback.
"I think Jimmy played very well, left it all out there," Deebo Samuel said. "This team loves Jimmy to death, and we're all behind him."
The question for another day is what becomes of Garoppolo's future. Tonight he's lamenting a chance to reach another Super Bowl that slipped through the fingers.
"I love this team, I've said it before to you guys," he said. "Just everything we've been through, starting with the offseason, into training camp. It was a roller coaster of a year, it really was. But we fought through it. Good teams, we were a resilient team, and that's what good teams do, you fight through things like that and come out better at the other end of it."
The other end for Jimmy G is likely a new start with another club.