With 11 days to go for Super Bowl LIV, the debates have already begun on who will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of this season. The most simple argument revolves around the teams’ most important position — the quarterbacks.
Kansas City’s signal-caller has been flawless in the postseason, posting a line that features 11 touchdowns, zero interceptions and two double-digit comebacks on the path to the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl appearance in over 50 years. His backyard-style throws and off-script plays have turned him into the media’s darling, and he’s earned every bit of it.
On the flip side, 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo has been pristinely executing Kyle Shanahan’s game plan to a tee in the playoffs but hasn’t been posting the gaudy numbers that Mahomes has been over the last two games.
Let’s not get it twisted — Mahomes is the better quarterback, and there’s not a general manager in the NFL that would rather have Garoppolo over the former Texas Tech quarterback — including John Lynch.
But let’s not pretend like Garoppolo’s handicapping the 49ers’ offensive game plan or is forcing Shanahan to run the ball due to his limitations in the passing game.
The 49ers’ starting quarterback is the NFL’s best chameleon. Depending on the opponent and game plan that’s installed, Garoppolo can compete in a shootout with his arm or happily hand the ball off 47 times in an old-fashioned slugfest.
The league’s best offensive play-caller has been setting up the 49ers for success ever since he stepped foot into the building, and that’s been explicit in their performance this season. San Francisco has won scoring 48 points on the road, low-scoring dog fights in inclement weather, or mistake-filled comebacks, and Garoppolo has been the continuous centerpiece throughout it all.
The recency bias in most of these Garoppolo-Mahomes’ debates has become quite evident, as the former’s 6-of-8 performance in the NFC Championship games has created a mirage of Garoppolo’s true capabilities.
This is the same quarterback that led game-winning drives against Pittsburgh and New Orleans while mounting a 17-point comeback against the Cardinals. He’s the NFL’s leader in passer rating when his team’s trailing and has consistently put the team in a position to win games.
Per The Athletic’s David Lombardi, when Garoppolo has thrown more than 35 passing attempts, the 49ers are 5-1, and Garoppolo averages 8.3 yards per attempt on 70 percent completion and has a touchdown to interception ratio of 14:5.
In comparing Mahomes and Garoppolo, the latter outdo the former in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and touchdowns in the regular season, while Mahomes has thrown for more yards and fewer interceptions in two fewer games.
There’s absolutely no evidence and reason to believe that if Garoppolo is asked to carry the 49ers’ offense through the air that he couldn’t. There’s a big difference between not being able to do that and not having to do that.
Through the NFC playoffs, San Francisco has successfully navigated without having to utilize Garoppolo’s arm. In the Super Bowl, they will likely need a complementary performance from the ground game and passing attack — but there should be no doubt in Garoppolo’s abilities to deliver on the biggest stage under the brightest lights.