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Eight games in to the season, QB Jimmy Garoppolo is hitting his stride for the 49ers

Garoppolo’s outstanding performance on Thursday Night Football brings the 49ers to 8-0.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“Just a game manager.”

“Carried by a solid running game and top defense.”

“Not worth the $137 million contract that the 49ers gave him.”

Before Thursday’s game against the Cardinals, the 49ers were one of two undefeated teams in the NFL, but criticism was flying in from all angles against quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Members of the media were looking at Garoppolo’s numbers in a vacuum, rather than watching the individual games and making 30,000-foot statements about his play.

The former Patriot was seven games into the 2019 campaign, returning from a torn ACL injury and trying to assert himself into Kyle Shanahan’s offense. During the first seven weeks, the 49ers did not need their signal-caller to step up and carry them to victory, but on Thursday, they did.

Oh, did Garoppolo answer the bell.

The face of the 49ers’ franchise delivered what head coach Kyle Shanahan called “his [Garoppolo] best performance yet,” completing 28-of-37 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns. The biggest thing missing from the box score? Turnovers. Garoppolo’s been guilty of inexplicable interceptions each week, but he played a flawless game on Thursday, bringing the 49ers to an 8-0 record.

For any player returning from a major injury, it takes a handful of games to get back into rhythm and to start playing well, and Garoppolo finally seems to be hitting his stride.

One of the best statistics that show Garoppolo’s dominance on Thursday? The 49ers were 11-of-17 on third down, including multiple plays on the final, game-clinching drive, where the 49ers’ quarterback hit tough throws.

Garoppolo’s been the best NFL quarterback on third down this season and was nothing short of that on Thursday, delivering strikes to wideouts Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders, as well as tight end George Kittle on the money down.

The Cardinals tried to load the box tonight and take away the 49ers’ rushing attack, but that could not deter Garoppolo either. The 49ers’ quarterback was 14-of-20 for 152 yards and two touchdowns when the Cardinals put eight or more players in the box.

The former Patriot’s best throw of the evening came to former Bronco receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who caught a beautiful pass on this timing route. These two players have only been practicing together for two weeks, but having the chemistry in sync for this difficult throw. The balls released well before Sanders is out of his break and the ball falls in his lap.

Garoppolo is in rarefied air, joining only four other quarterbacks to win 16 of their first 18 starts in the NFL. With a full season (16 starts) under his belt for the 49ers, how has Garoppolo stacked up against some of the other quarterbacks?

Below are Garoppolo’s statistics over the 16-game sample, as well as where he would have ranked based on 2018 statistics in parentheses.

  • 66.9 percent completion (13th)
  • 4,084 passing yards (11th)
  • 25 touchdowns (13th)
  • 15 interceptions (2nd-most)

As everyone knows, Garoppolo’s interceptions have been ugly this season, but outside of that, his 16-game sample size shows that he’s certainly capable of being one of the better quarterbacks in this league.

With the 49ers’ running game, Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling, and their top-two defense, Garoppolo is the key to unlock a Super Bowl run this season. If he continues to play as he did on Thursday, Garoppolo can turn the 49ers’ Super Bowl hopes into a reality.