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The unstoppable Jimmy Garoppolo, and other Week 16 thoughts

Jacksonville Jaguars v San Francisco 49ers

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 24: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers signalsto his team during their NFL game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Levi’s Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)

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Jimmy Garoppolo has been the best player in the NFL over the last month.

It was only a month ago that the 49ers were 1-10 and ranked 31st in everyone’s power rankings. Then they made Garoppolo their starting quarterback, and now they’re on a four-game winning streak. Has any player, ever, been responsible for that kind of turnaround, for a team suddenly turning from bad to good? Not that I’ve ever seen.

The Jaguars have the best defense in the NFL and entered yesterday having won seven of their last eight games, but they were no match for Garoppolo yesterday. He absolutely picked them apart, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another, in a 44-33 win.

Garoppolo was acquired for a second-round draft pick in a surprise deal just before the trade deadline, and that now looks like a bargain for the 49ers. The Patriots may have felt that they had to deal Garoppolo for whatever they can get because he was about to become a free agent and Tom Brady isn’t going anywhere, but there are some general managers kicking themselves right now for not offering a first-round pick for Jimmy G. How much better would the Cardinals look right now with Garoppolo under center?

It’s almost hard to describe now how awful the 49ers were before Garoppolo took over. Most power rankings had them 31st, saved from the very bottom of the league only by the Cleveland Browns. Over the last two seasons, the 49ers are 4-0 with Garoppolo as their starting quarterback and 3-24 with anyone other than Garoppolo as their starting quarterback.

The 49ers have the longest active winning streak in the NFL right now, at four games. I’ve always thought it would be fun if the league had a rule that the team with the longest winning streak when the season ends gets an automatic playoff berth, even with a losing record overall. That would be the 49ers this year, if they win next week, and the rest of the NFL is lucky that’s not the rule. With Jimmy G leading the charge, the 49ers would be a tough team to beat in the playoffs. Instead, they’ll be a tough team to beat in 2018 and beyond.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

Rams running back Todd Gurley had the extraordinarily rare double-triple yesterday. What’s a double-triple, you ask? It’s a football stat I invented (at least I think I did, maybe someone thought of it before me), patterned off the very common triple-double in basketball: If a player has triple figures in two different statistical categories (like passing yards and rushing yards), he has a double-triple.

Gurley had a double-triple yesterday: He gained 118 rushing yards and 158 receiving yards as the Rams beat the Titans and clinched the NFC West. A double-triple is an exceedingly rare achievement in the NFL, and Gurley was the first player this season to record one. You have to be a special, unique player to contribute both as a runner and a receiver the way Gurley did on Sunday.

But Gurley’s special season goes well beyond just what he did yesterday against the Titans. Gurley leads the NFL with 19 touchdowns, 13 rushing and six receiving. Gurley is also leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage, with 2,093. No one else is even within 200 yards of Gurley.

Is all that enough to earn Gurley the MVP award? It’s a close call. You could argue that quarterbacks are so important in today’s NFL that a non-quarterback never deserves the MVP, and I might not disagree with you. If you want to make the case for Tom Brady, I won’t argue.

But this has been a season in which every week a new MVP candidate seems to emerge, only to drop out with an injury or a bad game at a bad time. Gurley has been a steady performer for a division champion, and he’s playing his best football down the stretch. He did something special on Sunday, and he’s done something special all season.

Coaching for his job, Jim Caldwell choked. I believe Caldwell will be let go as coach of the Lions after Sunday’s loss in Cincinnati. Detroit was fighting for its playoff life, Cincinnati had nothing to play for, and yet the Bengals outplayed the Lions. And in the game’s most crucial sequence, Caldwell inexplicably decided not to challenge what could have been a huge completion from Matthew Stafford to Golden Tate. The officials ruled that Tate hadn’t caught the ball, but the replay made it clear that the call was close enough that Caldwell should have given the league office a chance to overturn it. By failing to challenge that call, Caldwell may have cost his team the game, and may have cost himself his job.

Al Riveron has turned instant replay into a mess. When the NFL initially implemented instant replay reviews, the idea was to correct clear officiating mistakes. The idea was that you assumed the call on the field was correct until the replay proved otherwise. The idea was not to look at the play as if you were starting from scratch. But that seems to be what Riveron, the NFL’s fist-year head of officiating, is doing when he reviews replays. How else to explain his decision to overturn a Bills touchdown yesterday? There was not clear and obvious video evidence showing the call on the field was wrong. There was, at best, evidence that the call on the field might have been wrong. But “might” isn’t supposed to cut it. The league needs to spend some time this offseason coming up with a clearer standard for what constitutes enough evidence to overturn the call on the field, because at the moment the man making those decisions doesn’t seem to be clear about that standard. It really says something about the NFL’s rules that jumping into a Salvation Army kettle results in the same penalty as cheap-shotting a defenseless opponent’s brain, yet that’s nowhere near the dumbest rule we’ve all complained about in the last couple weeks.

Jets onside kicked the opening kickoff. I love it. I think more teams eliminated from playoff contention should use high-risk, high-reward strategies like onside kicking, going for it on fourth down and so forth. They’ve got nothing to lose, so why not take some chances and try something creative? The Jets ran an onside kick on the opening kickoff on Sunday against the Chargers, and that’s the kind of play calling I wish we’d see more of at the end of the season from teams that are no longer in contention.

Sean McDermott may have cost his team a playoff berth when he benched Tyrod Taylor. Remember the Bills’ disastrous decision to bench Taylor for Nathan Peterman for Week 11 against the Chargers? That game went so badly that Peterman was benched for Taylor at halftime after throwing five interceptions. Now the Bills and Chargers are both 8-7 heading into Week 17. Depending on how next week goes, that Bills-Chargers game could turn out to be the difference between the Bills making the playoffs and missing the playoffs. What a bonehead move by McDermott.