SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo was one quarter away from possibly winning the Super Bowl MVP before San Francisco’s fourth-quarter collapse handed the title to the Kansas City Chiefs.
That loss back in February set the tone for what has turned out to be a frustrating 2020 for Garoppolo and the 49ers. Garoppolo has been hampered by a pair of ankle injuries that have sidelined him for significant time and struggled to match last season’s production when he was able to play, raising questions about his future in San Francisco.
The 49ers (4-6) head into their bye week on the fringe of the NFC playoff race, which could make the biggest drama down the stretch be how Garoppolo looks heading into the offseason.
“I’m really holding out hope that Jimmy can get back and play some games with us,” coach Kyle Shanahan said this week. “I’m hoping that we can change a little bit of our outcomes. So, when he does come back, and hopefully a few other people are coming back for a reason. But Jimmy did have a real bad ankle injury. It’s very good that he didn’t have to have surgery because that’s what gives him a chance. I think he just got out of his boot and we’re still a little bit of ways from getting there, but that’s what I’m holding out hope for.”
Little has gone right for Garoppolo this season, starting with a shaky performance in a season-opening loss to Arizona. He played well the next week in a blowout win over the Jets, but left at halftime with a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for two games.
He wasn’t healthy when he returned and threw two interceptions before getting pulled at halftime of a lopsided home loss to Miami. Shanahan didn’t ask Garoppolo to do much the next few weeks before he reinjured the ankle in a loss at Seattle that has sidelined him the past two games.
In all, Garoppolo’s numbers are down across the board He is averaging a career-low 7.8 yards per attempt with seven TD passes, five interceptions and a 92.4 passer rating that is down nearly 10 points from last season.
Garoppolo has more completions behind the line of scrimmage than he does at least 10 yards downfield, and he is only 1 for 11 on deep passes at least 20 yards downfield.
This comes one season after Garoppolo was the only quarterback in the NFL to finish in the top five in yards per attempt, completion percentage and touchdown passes, while leading big road wins at New Orleans and Seattle. And there was a strong performance in three first three quarters of the Super Bowl, when he went 17 for 20 for 183 yards and a TD to stake San Francisco to a 20-10 lead.
But a 3-for-11 performance in the fourth quarter, when he threw an interception and missed an open Emmanuel Sanders for a potential go-ahead score, led to a 31-20 loss — and questions about whether he was the franchise quarterback.
The Niners considered making a run at Tom Brady before deciding to stick with Garoppolo. But they could take a look at another quarterback this offseason when former Shanahan pupils Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan could be available in trades, or San Francisco could be in position to draft a QB high, depending on how the stretch run goes.
General manager John Lynch told flagship radio station KNBR last week that he still believes in Garoppolo, while acknowledging the questions will persist. He pointed to San Francisco’s 22-8 record with Garoppolo as the starter compared to the 5-23 mark with other QBs during Shanahan’s tenure.
Shanahan said he expects Garoppolo will be the starter in 2021 and believes there’s still a chance for a late-season playoff run that could end those questions.
“I think we have guys on this team capable of finishing this the right way,” Shanahan said. “We’ve got to do one game at a time, and I hope Jimmy can come back and be a part of that, but to think that we’ve made any decisions on somebody going into the future, this isn’t the case. Jimmy has won a lot of games for us this year. It’s a lot harder to win games when he’s not here and I’m just hoping we can get him back.”