Jimmy Garoppolo was not the star 49ers needed him to be
MIAMI GARDENS, Florida
With his former head coach, Bill Belichick, and former mentor, Tom Brady, in attendance at Hard Rock Stadium, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had a chance to break from their shadows and build his own Super Bowl legacy.
The 49ers starter already won two rings serving as Brady’s understudy, but when San Francisco traded for Garoppolo in 2017, the torch that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan needed a quarterback to carry belonged to him.
Sunday was supposed to be the day Garoppolo earned his place next to Joe Montana and Steve Young as the face of a 49ers team that won a Super Bowl.
The stage was set, the 49ers led by a double-digit margin and yet when the curtain fell, Garoppolo had a leading role in a tragedy and not a triumph.
It wasn’t the ill-advised, mind-boggling second-quarter interception that led to a Chiefs field goal that will define Garoppolo’s performance, but there weren’t any notes of greatness to remember it by either. From the outset of his tenure in San Francisco, the 49ers have always said Garoppolo is “one of the guys,” for the way he fits in with his teammates and blends in to the background.
Against a Kansas City team led by star quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, the 49ers needed Garoppolo to be more than an average Joe. Instead, he played the role that became all-too-familiar and way too comfortable.
With a solid, if unspectacular stat line and a handful of nice throws on chunk plays, Garoppolo proved what he’s shown all along. He’s more than capable of leading a balanced 49ers attack, but he’s less likely to be the best player on the field when he’s playing in a big game.
There are other quarterbacks — such as Mahomes — who can pull a rabbit out of a hat in multiple ways, while it seems Garoppolo hasn’t yet figured out how to drop anyone’s jaw.
When the 49ers simply needed Garoppolo to manage the offense, he did it seamlessly in a third-quarter that featured two-scoring drives that allowed San Francisco to take a 10-point lead. But when the Chiefs began to threaten the 49ers’ supremacy midway through the fourth quarter, Garoppolo was not the man to punch his offense out of a corner.
On a critical three-and-out that allowed Kansas City to get the ball back with more than five minutes on the clock, Garoppolo threw two incompletions and a had a pass batted at the line of scrimmage.
When the Chiefs took the lead — in large part thanks to Mahomes’ brilliance and heroics — Garoppolo struggled to move the ball and took a fourth-down sack that popped the balloon containing the 49ers’ Super Bowl hopes.
For fans who followed the 49ers all season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Garoppolo wasn’t the X-factor on Sunday. He had great games and bad games, good games and games that made you shrug your shoulders. He was never the unquestioned star of the 49ers’ offense, like Mahomes has always been on a Kansas City team filled with elite talents.
The formula of Garoppolo merely being “one of the guys” worked for an entire season and the odds are good it will work in the future, too. The 49ers have incredible depth, top-tier talent at critical positions and a head coach who is considered one of the game’s best.
What they don’t have is a star at the quarterback position. On the game’s biggest stage, that hurt.