GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- There’s more to Jimmy Garoppolo than meets the eye. Perhaps, there always has been.
How else do you explain how Garoppolo, the much-maligned and likely lame-duck quarterback who is playing with a sprained shoulder and torn ligament in his right thumb, has the 49ers back in the NFC Championship Game after beating the Green Bay Packers 13-10 on Saturday night at Lambeau Field?
“Jimmy G, you can’t say enough about that guy,” George Kittle said after the win. “The s—t he takes. Consistently people try to pull him down and all he does is try to lead this team. He is the sense of calm in the huddle, he is the sense of calm in the storm. He allows us to play football at a high level.”
Playing in freezing temperatures, the 49ers’ offense spun its wheels for most of the night, unable to get traction against the NFC’s top-seeded team.
At the center of the offensive struggles, whether fair or unfair, was Garoppolo. Such is the life of a quarterback of a team in the NFL’s final four.
Garoppolo went 0-for-3 in the first quarter, but all three passes were balls thrown on the money but dropped by Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings, respectively. The 49ers trailed 7-0 late in the first half, but put together a drive that had them in position to tie the game.
That’s when the full Garoppolo experience took over.
Facing first-and-goal from the 19-yard line, Garoppolo had Kittle breaking open in the end zone. But the Packers got pressure and Garoppolo had to duck out of two sacks and was flushed to his right. Kittle broke open for a second time on the play, but Garoppolo didn’t set his feet and lofted a pass that was picked off by Adrian Amos.
For much of the night, that was the story for the 49ers’ offense. They couldn’t string together the plays to break the Teflon seal on the end zone at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay felt like it had control the entire night. They had the lead, an MVP quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and the 49ers’ offense was frozen in place. That was the feeling for those outside the game, but Garoppolo and the 49ers never felt that way. They never flinched.
“There was a calmness,” Garoppolo said after the game in which he finished 11-for-19 for 131 yards and the interception. “A sense of, we are still controlling this. It’s just going to take one drive. You just have to chip away. It was a mature type of game where you had to be patient with it.
“Even when they had the lead, I felt like we were in control of the game, as crazy as that sounds,” Garoppolo continued later. “You could feel it on the sideline. We were waiting on that one play to spark us.”
That big play eventually came in the form of Jordan Willis’ blocked punt which Talanoa Hufanga returned for a game-tying touchdown with 4:41 to play.
After the 49ers’ defense forced a three-and-out, the 49ers huddled around Garoppolo and started a nine-play, 44-yard drive that ended with a Robbie Gould 45-yard game-winning field goal that sent them to the NFC Championship Game.
It’s Garoppolo’s irrational confidence, that inability to see any way in which his team is going to lose, that might be the key ingredient to this improbable deep postseason run. Perhaps it's one of the reasons Garoppolo deserves more credit for where the 2021 49ers find themselves.
No matter the circumstances, the game script, the deficit, the opponent or how he’s playing, Garoppolo merely brushes it off, never wavering in his belief that the 49ers will, eventually, deliver when it matters most.
That irrational confidence might be frustrating for coaches. It has fans heading for the local sanitarium.
But as Garoppolo believes, the 49ers believe. Never blinking. Never doubting. They just keep swinging, as they follow Garoppolo into whatever battle awaits them.
“Honestly, I’m impressed with his demeanor, just as a leader,” Nick Bosa said of Garoppolo. “A lot of people give him crap for whatever. But he is as cool and collected as a quarterback as I have ever had and he’s a perfect guy to lead us to where we need to go.”
Where they need to go is now one step away.
Next Sunday, Garoppolo will lead the 49ers either into Tampa Bay against his former mentor Tom Brady, or back to SoFi for Round 3 against the Los Angeles Rams.
Two years and a lot of twists and turns after Garoppolo had the 49ers 10 minutes away from a Super Bowl title in Miami, he now has them 60 minutes away from a return trip. A potential improbable final chapter in his tenure as the 49ers’ starting quarterback.
After starting out 3-5 and with Trey Lance waiting patiently on the sidelines, no one thought Garoppolo and the 49ers would be here on Jan. 23.
Well, no one except maybe Garoppolo. For the 2021 49ers, that’s all they need.