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Bob Padecky: Don’t get too excited over 49ers’ wild-card win

Winning, usually, is a great deodorant. Masks the stink of a poorly played game. Covers up the smell of human error. Prevents the immediate impulse to throw season tickets into the fireplace.

Usually. The 49ers beat the Cowboys in the Wild Card game Sunday and, sad to report, winning couldn’t clean up this odor. This was halibut left on the dashboard in the noonday Arizona sun. If San Francisco had any sense of propriety, the players should have taken a sponge bath after the game so they could be reminded all this week by the faint but detectable aroma of a job poorly done.

There’s winning and then there’s escaping. There was The Catch in the 1981 NFC Championship game when Dwight Clark’s grab against the Cowboys launched the Team of the Decade. Sunday it was The Touch, when Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott forgot or panicked or didn’t know that umpire Ramon George had to first touch the downed football for the next play to begin. Instead Prescott handed the ball off to his center which effectively ran out the clock.

Of course there was no guarantee Prescott would have completed a Hail Mary to win the game. Then again, this game, these teams, offered no guarantees except just three.

The Cowboys had the composure of a 3-year-old who just sucked down five donuts. They jumped offsides with the panic someone has trying to flag a cab at midnight in a sketchy neighborhood.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has lifetime job security compared to Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy. The most penalized team in the NFL this season performed to such a low standard. McCarthy stomped and groaned on the sideline. Helpless he felt, which is how he should be feeling about keeping his job.

And then there’s Jimmy Garoppolo, everyone’s favorite thrill ride. Garoppolo is a fun ride all right, as along as you don’t mind Jimmy G’s brakes inexplicably locking up as he and the Niners go into an uncontrollable tail spin.

Most recent case in point: Garoppolo was 11 for 14 for 133 yards in the first half. After an impressive game last week against the Rams, Garoppolo was moving from doubt to certainty as a NFL quarterback. Finally, he was clicking.

In the second half the gremlins once again took control of his body. Garoppolo was 5-for-11 for 39 yards with one interception and two overthrows to wide open receivers. His first half quarterback rating of 106.2 dropped to 67.4 by game’s end.

In the short space of an hour Garoppolo went from looking like his mentor - Tom Brady - to looking like Tom Thumb. It is a reoccurring puzzle. Which Tom will show up? And for how long? Is this THE pass that looks like Garoppolo throwing it to the cheerleaders?

For all his well-wishers - and he has many - this is fast becoming his legacy - Jimmy Garoppolo is just good enough to get a coach fired. He will lift the spirits but he will crush them a minute later. Movie star handsome, a welcoming persona, Garoppolo was The Package in the first half Sunday. In the second half it was Return To Sender.

All of which can be reduced to a footnote next Saturday night if Garoppolo plays like Tom Brady. If the 49ers and their quarterback can go into the Wisconsin freezer and beat the Packers and the man who will be named this season’s MVP - Aaron Rodgers - all sins will be forgiven. Such is the nature of the instant euphoria produced by a NFL playoff victory.

Curious, however, what is at work here. What if the imaginable happens? Garoppolo takes the 49ers to the Super Bowl! He beats Aaron Rodgers. He beats Tom Brady. He beats Patrick Mahomes. Or Josh Allen. Garoppolo doesn’t throw the ball to the cheerleaders. The gremlins are bored and go somewhere else.

What if Garoppolo becomes more than what Trent Dilfer was in 2000 when he quarterbacked the Baltimore

Ravens? Dilfer didn’t have to win the Super Bowl that year. He just couldn’t lose it. That’s what Garoppolo is now. Just didn’t lose it Jimmy G! BUT what if Garoppolo becomes more than the guy who hands the ball off to running back Deebo Samuel?

What if Samuels and the 49ers’ run game works the clock and limits Rodgers’ touches. What if the 49ers’ defense becomes a suffocating replica of that Ray Lewis’ defense in 2000? Niner linebacker Fred Warner has that same kind of talent and influence on the people around him.

What if? These are the playoffs. It’s a one-game season. Dreams are acceptable. Scripts are tossed. Jimmy Garoppolo can be the answer instead of the question. By next Saturday Sunday’s Cowboy game might as well have been played last year. The 49ers will have taken their sponge bath. And they know they can never assume anything.

After all one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL forget Sunday that he had to let a game official touch a downed football before he could. Surprises happen in the playoffs. Who’s to say Jimmy Garoppolo won’t be one of them, throwing the football everytime where he wants? As opposed to where he hoped.

To comment write to bobpadecky@gmail.com.

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