49ers, Shanahan have faith in little-used Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown all of 27 passes during the San Francisco 49ers’ run to Super Bowl LIV, but head coach Kyle Shanahan scoffs at the notion that his team is hiding its quarterback.

“I think it’s really funny that people say that,” Shanahan told reporters Tuesday. “Did anyone notice how good we were running the ball? We weren’t just running it to punt and try to win 3-0.”

Indeed, the 49ers pummeled the Green Bay Packers 37-20 in the NFC Championship Game on the strength of 285 rushing yards, averaging an eye-popping 6.8 yards per carry. Garoppolo wound up with half as many carries (four) as pass attempts, leaving him with a total of 14 attempts over the last six quarters, since throwing an interception late in the first half of the divisional-round game against the Minnesota Vikings.

“Jimmy should never apologize for us running the ball too well,” Shanahan said, adding that the 49ers’ style of play depends on Garoppolo converting in key moments. “… You can’t run the ball if you don’t do good on third down, and Jimmy’s been as good as anyone, to me, on third down this year.”

To Shanahan’s point, Garoppolo led all passers this season by earning a first down on exactly half (65 of 130) of his third-down pass attempts this season. His passer rating on third down (101.9) ranked ninth among qualified passers (50-plus attempts).

“People just gotta watch the whole season,” Shanahan said of his quarterback.

Jimmy G. hears the naysayers

Garoppolo has brushed off questions about his lack of a major role in the playoffs, but he acknowledged Tuesday he hears plenty of the noise.

“It’s always a good thing, because they’re not going to hate on the bad teams,” Garoppolo said. “… It’s only made this group tighter, though. With all that criticism and everything like that, it just brings us closer together.”

Jimmy Garoppolo
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Coincidentally, the opposing quarterback on Sunday could have plausibly been a 49er instead of a Kansas City Chief. San Francisco held the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft before trading it to the Chicago Bears, and that was the year Kansas City traded up 17 spots to take Patrick Mahomes 10th overall.

Shanahan said Tuesday that he “didn’t look into (Mahomes) as much as I should have” during that draft cycle. In fact, he wasn’t all that interested in any of the quarterback prospects because he had his eyes on someone he had coached previously: then-Washington Redskins signal-caller Kirk Cousins.

“I think it’s pretty well documented, just the relationship I had with Kirk, being in Washington and everything, I felt very confident that he wasn’t gonna stay there,” Shanahan recalled. “Anytime you go into a season knowing that a franchise quarterback is gonna be available the next year, it made me a lot more picky with what we were looking at.”

Garoppolo, of course, made the Cousins plan unnecessary when he arrived via trade from the New England Patriots midway through 2017, jumped into the lineup and led the 49ers to a 5-0 finish. On Tuesday, Shanahan called the challenge “borderline impossible,” adding that Garoppolo “blew all our minds” with how he handled it.

The quarterback has been winning people over — coaches and teammates included — ever since, now sitting 21-5 (including playoffs) as the 49ers’ starter.

“People keep doubting him, I guess,” tight end George Kittle said. “I’m not going to. I don’t bet against really good players.”

–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)