Jimmy Garoppolo had good reason for missing Emmanuel Sanders' TD pass

Jimmy Garoppolo had good reason for missing Emmanuel Sanders' TD pass

The 49ers threw five touchdown passes in their thrilling 48-46 road win over the Saints on Sunday. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tossed four of them. The player who was on the receiving end of his second was the gunslinger on the other passing score.

Three offensive plays after wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders caught a 75-yard touchdown -- the longest TD pass of Garoppolo's career -- San Francisco utilized some trickery against New Orleans, as Sanders took a reverse before tossing a 35-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Raheem Mostert. Sanders actually made a great adjustment to avoid the oncoming rush, and this throw was right on the money.

It turns out, though, that Jimmy G didn't see it in the moment, and he had a funny explanation as to why.

"I didn't actually get to see it," Garoppolo admitted with a smile following the victory. "I was 'blocking'".

Don't sell yourself short, Jimmy. Another look at the tape reveals that Garoppolo indeed was "blocking" on the right side of the 49ers' offensive line during the developing play, and even threw a shoulder -- the non-throwing one, of course -- into an oncoming rusher.

[RELATED: 'You're balling': Garcia praises Jimmy G for recent play]

The play probably would have been successful without Garoppolo's blocking, but his additional effort made it that much more impressive. He might not have seen Sanders' great throw in real-time, but hey, that's what replays are for.

Five 49ers to watch vs. Packers: George Kittle takes center stage

Five 49ers to watch vs. Packers: George Kittle takes center stage

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers know it is not going to be as easy as it was in Week 12, when they got off to a hot start and never let the Green Bay Packers into the game.

This time, the teams meet in the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium.

And the 49ers’ 37-8 Week 12 victory of Nov. 24 is a distant memory.

The 49ers and Packers have 14 wins apiece. In order for the 49ers to pick up another to advance to Super Bowl LIV in Miami, they need to get solid performances from a mix of proven veterans, youngsters and players on the rise.

Here are five 49ers to watch in Sunday's title bout:

5. LT Joe Staley

There were no guarantees Joe Staley would ever be back in this situation. But here he is, just one victory from returning to the Super Bowl. And Staley faces one of the most important head-to-head matchups that will determine who wins Sunday.

The Packers went out in free agency and came away with two edge rushers named Smith who have proven to be handfuls for opposing offensive tackles. Preston Smith lines up on one side. Za’Darius Smith is a force on the other side. Za'Darius Smith, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, has stepped in and given the Packers a presence off the edge.

He registered 13.5 sacks on the season, including 1.5 sacks in the Week 12 meeting against the 49ers. That game was one of nine during the regular season in which Staley was not available due to injuries. The veteran left tackle first fractured his lower leg and later had surgery to repair a fractured finger.

Since his return to the lineup, Staley has been playing like his six-time Pro Bowl self. He will have to be on top of his game Sunday to keep Jimmy Garoppolo comfortable in the pocket.

4. FS Jimmie Ward

While Staley, the longest-tenured 49ers player, certainly has invested a lot to continue his quest to return to a Super Bowl, there might not be a player on the team more deserving of playing on the big stage than Jimmie Ward.

Ward has overcome injury after injury after injury. He has overcome position change after position change after position change.

Finally, Ward has remained healthy for most of the season. Finally, he has a stable position. Ward is playing at a high level, and that will have to continue against an all-time great quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers is not a dink-and-dunk quarterback. He will want to push the ball down the field, and that is where Ward will play a significant role, as his job is to limit pass plays that pick up big chunks of yards. Ward must be on top of his game Sunday.

3. CB Emmanuel Moseley

Coach Kyle Shanahan is not saying whether Emmanuel Moseley or Ahkello Witherspoon is going to start at right cornerback. Moseley seems to be the logical choice after replacing a struggling Witherspoon in each of the past two games.

But if the 49ers go with Witherspoon, again, just scroll up one paragraph and insert his name. That’s because nothing really changes whether it’s Moseley or Witherspoon.

The Packers will look to exploit this matchup with Davante Adams. After all, they do not figure to test Pro Bowl performer Richard Sherman on the other side. Sherman typically does not shadow wide receivers. He stays on one side.

Adams is the Packers' most-dangerous threat in the passing game. He caught eight passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns in Green Bay’s 28-23 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round.

The key for the 49ers’ pass defense is getting pressure on the quarterback. The secondary will not be able to hold up all day, so it’s imperative for the 49ers that Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead make Rodgers uncomfortable.

2. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo did not have to do a whole lot for the 49ers to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs.

On Sunday, the 49ers will need him to do more because it is unlikely the 49ers will dominate on the ground as they did against the Vikings.

Few questions remain about Garoppolo, who has taken every meaningful snap for a team that won the NFC West, earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and rolled in the divisional round to get to the NFC Championship Game.

Now, it’s just a matter of producing on the big stage. And there’s only one venue bigger than Sunday’s game.

[RELATED: Sherman brings Hall-of-Fame credentials to 49ers' Super Bowl run]

1. TE George Kittle

All-Pro tight end George Kittle is the 49ers’ best player. And big games like this are all about great players.

Kittle has a huge impact on the game when the 49ers throw the ball. He has a huge impact on the game when the 49ers run the ball. It does not matter to him, though it seems he enjoys blocking as much as he likes piling up yards after the catch.

Kittle had a quiet game in the divisional round against the Minnesota Vikings. He had just three receptions for 16 yards. But his impact in the 49ers’ run game was quite loud. After a mid-week issue with his ankle, Kittle said he is feeling “fabulous.”

The 49ers will likely need Kittle at the top of his game to take advantage of some mismatches. If he produces big plays and yards after the catch, the 49ers likely will be making travel plans Miami.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday)

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 5:30 p.m.

Richard Sherman's Hall-of-Fame credentials key to 49ers' playoff run

Richard Sherman's Hall-of-Fame credentials key to 49ers' playoff run

SANTA CLARA -- It’s tough to get to a Super Bowl, much less win it, without multiple figures bringing Hall ofFame credentials. Not those with the potential to get to Canton, Ohio, but those for whom space already has been cleared for a bust.

The 21st-century New England Patriots, despite their high roster-turnover rate, have ushered nearly a dozen individuals into the Hall or to its doorstep. Cornerback Ty Law was a member of the last class. Mainstays Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive lineman Richard Seymour are sure to follow. Already in are short-termers Randy Moss, Curtis Martin and the late Junior Seau -- all of whom were Hall-worthy vets when they arrived in New England.

There are others sure to be nominated, but you get the picture.

Yet the 49ers, favored over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl LIV, only have one Hall of Famer.

Richard Sherman.

For several of Sherman’s teammates, notably George Kittle and Nick Bosa, it’s too soon to project. And it’s ridiculously early to project coach Kyle Shanahan, who is six days removed from his first playoff game and victory.

Sherman, 31, would have a Hall-ready resume if he retired in the coming weeks.

The cornerback has been named first-team All-Pro three times, second-team All-Pro twice, has more interceptions (35) than any other active player the last decade and last month was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team.

Multiple Pro Bowl selections? Check. Sherman is up to five.

Super Bowl champion? Check.

Multiple Super Bowl appearances? Check.

Comes up with big plays at crucial moments? Routinely.

“People don’t really try him,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday.

There is another factor Sherman adds. His intangibles are as strong as his tangibles. Unlike most great cornerbacks, he’s not a man on an island but at once a galvanizing and unifying force for the entire defense and also the team as a whole.

“Usually, they’re out there, they just want to cover people,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of cornerbacks, adding that Sherman’s impact on his teammates is more like that which comes from great linebackers.

Sherman is in his second year with the 49ers in part because some considered him damaged goods after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured right Achilles tendon in November 2017, and then enduring a less invasive surgery on his left Achilles’ tendon a few months later.

His recovery has been stunning. Because of it, he’s not an aging player-coach unable to summon his A-game, but is a hyperactive playmaker that has been so right, in so many ways, for a young team that doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.

“Sherm is amazing,” Armstead said. “He’s the leader of our team and our defense. Super smart. Extremely talented. It’s been great to have him. He means a lot to me; he’s a mentor and I have a lot of fun playing with him.”

When I asked Saleh the other day what, exactly, Sherman brings to the unit, he didn’t mention interceptions or passes defensed. Didn’t even point out Sherman’s knack for reading offenses.

“Pure gas,” Saleh said.

“Gas” translates to fuel. It’s an element essential to operating a vehicle at maximum capacity. Or, in this case, doing the same to a football team.

Sherman was a vocal leader of those Seattle Seahawks teams that were such fierce rivals of the 49ers. Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense was terrific partly because quarterbacks learned to avoid Sherman – and those that tried him generally came away empty.

[RELATED: 49ers' history brings inspiration no pressure to Jimmy G]

San Francisco’s defense lacks the catchy name, but it has the same intensity, most of which is supplied by Sherman.

When you add Sherman’s entire catalog -- statistics, physical presence, emotional influence and the psychological edge he provides -- his Hall of Fame worthiness is without question.

There may come a time when others wearing the scarlet and gold reach the doorstep of Canton. He’s the only member of this team we know will be waiting.