Jimmy G or Joe Cool 2.0? Clutch QB gives 49ers late-game edge vs. Cowboys.
Imagine the 49ers down by a point Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in front of 80,000 screaming fans.
They're at their own 20-yard-line, the two-minute warning is approaching, and the entire season is on the line.
Not Jimmy Garoppolo.
"As a quarterback, those are the moments, the drives, that you live for," Garoppolo said in a video conference Wednesday in advance of their wild-card playoff game against the Cowboys. "You want to have the ball at the end of the game."
Garoppolo wants the ball almost as much as his teammates want him to have it. Bottom lines being what they are in the NFL, Garoppolo will carry with him an overthrow of Emmanuel Sanders and a rough fourth quarter in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.
But the fact is, Garoppolo has often been at his best when the situation is dire. That was the case in a 27-24 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18 that gave the 49ers (10-7) a No. 6 seed in the playoffs and a date with No. 3 Dallas (12-5), champions of the NFC East.
The 49ers trailed the Rams 24-17 and were at their own 12-yard line after a fair catch of a Johnny Hekker punt by Travis Benjamin. Only 1:27 remained on the clock.
Garoppolo got it done with 26 seconds to spare, throwing a 14-yard game-tying touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings on the fifth play of a drive that never made it to third down.
All that was left was for Garoppolo to lead the 49ers to a 69-yard, 12-play drive in overtime that ended in a 24-yard field goal by Robbie Gould, and for Ambry Thomas to deliver an interception to clinch a victory in a game the 49ers trailed 17-0 in the first half.
All with a severe thumb sprain that was taped and numbed by painkillers.
Even for a franchise that boasts Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young, it was impressive stuff and enough to make you wonder why so much of the media and fan base were pushing so hard for Trey Lance to get a head-start on the future.
Garoppolo's limitations aren't a secret. Needs to play in rhythm. Not particularly mobile. Has trouble throwing outside the numbers to the boundary. Uncorks the occasional head-scratching interception.
But Garoppolo is 31-14 as a 49ers starter, and in nine of those games he's brought his team from behind in the fourth quarter.
Coach Kyle Shanahan lauds Garoppolo's penchant for "letting it rip" in big moments, and never was that more evident than a 43-yard pass to Deebo Samuel to the Los Angeles 19-yard line during the game-tying drive.
Garoppolo gave a post-game glimpse of the moment and all that it entailed in terms of processing the defense and knowing the situation.
"They played a shell, I think (Jalen) Ramsey was the cloud and I was doing a high-low with him, trying to get him to bite on George (Kittle)," Garoppolo said. "He took one step to it, I knew I had a window to Deebo and it was pretty tight . . . when you have the guys that we have, those guys are going to make plays for you. That's all I was trying to do, let those guys make plays and be special."
If that sounds confusing, keep in mind Garoppolo processed all that in a split second. It's something he's done often since joining the 49ers after being acquired by trade from New England on Oct. 30 in 2017.
In his 49ers starting debut against the Chicago Bears, Garoppolo led an 86-yard, 14-play drive in a tie game with Gould delivering a game-winning 24-yard field goal at the gun.
Two weeks later, the 49ers and Garoppolo got the ball with 1:07 left and took the offense 48 yards in seven plays for Gould's 45-yard field goal and another game-winner against Tennessee.
When the 49ers went 13-3 in 2019, Garoppolo drove the 49ers for a game-tying field goal against Seattle with one second left by Chase McLaughlin although they lost 24-21 in overtime. A 48-46 road win over New Orleans was made possible by a 63-yard drive in the final 53 seconds, and a nine-play, 60-yard drive against the Rams in the last 1:17 enabled the 49ers to win 34-31.
In that game, Garoppolo twice converted on third-and-16 to set up the winning field goal.
In Week 3 this season against Green Bay, Garoppolo drove the 49ers 75 yards in eight plays, throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Juszczyk for a 28-27 lead with 37 seconds left. The 49ers lost when Aaron Rodgers got the Packers in position for game-ending field goal.
A 95-yard, 12-play drive in Seattle went for naught when Carlos Dunlap batted down Garoppolo's fourth-down pass with Jennings waiting in the end zone on fourth and goal with 22 seconds left.
A 26-23 overtime win over Cincinnati came when Garoppolo led the 49ers to touchdown after the Bengals had scored on the first overtime possession. In a 20-17 loss to Tennessee, the 49ers tied the game with 2:20 left on a 2-yard pass from Garoppolo to Brandon Aiyuk.
Shanahan credits Garoppolo's quick release and ability to avoid sacks when the pass rush is at its most intense.
"If you get sacked, usually the drive is over," Shanahan said. "Jimmy's done a real good job being able to get rid of it."
Juszczyk said Garoppolo had an "aura" about him earlier this season, and it's clear Garoppolo also draws strength from their belief in him when it matters most.
"When crunch time comes, we have guys you can tell want the ball in their hands," Garoppolo said. "That's what it really comes down to."