All season long, Jimmy Garoppolo faced criticism, most of it unwarranted.

As the 49ers racked up the wins, Garoppolo kept on taking arrows. He was seen as the weak link on a team that started 8-0. Even when Garoppolo delivered in the clutch late in the season against the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams, he was bashed for being a game-manager.

One of Garoppolo's loudest critics was ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, who locked horns with 49ers tight end George Kittle Tuesday on "First Take," as the People's Tight End went to bat for QB1.

"That's wild," Kittle said when asked about the belief that the 49ers can't win the Super Bowl with Garoppolo. "You guys can say what you want to say about Jimmy G. I think he has like 25 wins as a starter, a Super Bowl a year after his ACL tear, a fantastic leader. He had a pancake in that Vikings game on the linebacker. That was pretty impressive.

"I'm pretty sure he's also the best quarterback on third down all season last year. He makes plays. He gets guys the ball that need them, and he's a fantastic quarterback. He's the reason we got to the Super Bowl. We don't get there without him. You saw what happened. We went 4-12 without him (in 2018), and we go 13-3 with him (in 2019). He's a pretty damn good quarterback, in my opinion."


Smith then chimed in, saying his doubts about Garoppolo are based on the fact that he believes the quarterback wasn't one of the main reasons the 49ers went to the Super Bowl since the team was so loaded with talent.

Kittle wasn't having it.

"How is that his fault? It's not his fault he's on a really good team with good football players and a great head coach," Kittle said. "He got us to the Super Bowl, so that's what I'm saying. It's not his fault he has Nick Bosa, he has five first-round D-linemen, he has Richard Sherman in the secondary. That's not his fault. He goes out there and he performs week in, week out.

"Like I said, leads the league in third-down percentage. He makes throws. He won us two games versus Arizona. He won us the Rams game at the end of the game. He won a shootout with Drew Brees, who, in my opinion, is one of the best quarterbacks to do it. I mean, he shows up every single week.

"Yeah, guys have bad plays," Kittle continued. "I've had my share of bad plays. His are just viewed more because he's a quarterback. He's the franchise quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, so people see that more. And he deals with it. He doesn't shy away from criticism. He goes in, he had a great conversation after the Super Bowl. He was great with the media. He doesn't shy away.

"He's a leader through and through, and he's the leader of this football team."

After knocking off the rust following his ACL surgery, Garoppolo emerged as a dynamic signal-caller who coach Kyle Shanahan could rely on to make clutch plays to win games.

Garoppolo had the keys taken away from him during the 49ers' first two playoffs games, as Shanahan elected to run it down the throats of the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers to punch his team's ticket to Miami.

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Under the bright lights of Super Bowl LIV, Garoppolo shook off an early interception and played well in the middle part of the game. But with the title on the line, Garoppolo overthrew a wide-open Emmanuel Sanders on what could have been the game-winning touchdown with 1:40 remaining. He was sacked on the ensuing fourth down play and the Chiefs sealed a 31-20 win.

There's no doubt that overthrow and the host of criticism that has been thrown Garoppolo's way will be one of the motivating factors in next season's revenge tour.