Right after the Atlanta game ended, my first thought was that I couldn’t believe I’d have to defend Jimmy Garoppolo all week.
I like to be in control in life, and nothing makes you feel less in control than watching football. Oftentimes, you can’t believe what is happening to you, and all you can do is stress eat some more nachos while sitting on your couch.
One day Trey Lance is warming up in OTAs, and you blink, and the next day it’s approaching mid-fall, and you just saw Jimmy G play like he’s Trey Lance — big improvisational shots dripping with power just getting inexcusably dropped by wide-open 2nd stringers.
One day you had Jimmy G never throwing outside the numbers in fall 2021, but his receivers carrying him, and now the clock turned back and around and upside down. You’re seeing a seemingly mobile mirage of a deep dime thrower vanish on the outstretched fingertips of Charlie Worner and Ray-Ray McCloud.
Who the hell is Ray Ray McCloud? You asked yourself that day in March when free agency started to crackle and sizzle. You didn’t think much of it on your way to looking up Charvarius Ward highlights.
But a blur later, where every event felt more surreal than the one previous — Trey Lance sandwiching highlight throws with lowlight picks while Jimmy was throwing on the side field, the Jimmy signing, the monsoon, the draw up the middle, the heartbreaking Denver game, the eff-you rebound on Monday night, and now here you are watching Jimmy creatively throw shovel passes like he’s Patrick Mahomes.
To Christian effing McCaffrey.
There was an absurdity to the last game in Atlanta, feeling as cursed and unbelievable as an episode of the show Atlanta, where you barely have time to process what just happened before the next plot twist brings a new problem in your life.
Jeff Wilson fumbling the ball to a pick-six and Mooney Ward hurting his groin happened so fast that I can’t even remember which happened first, off the top of my head, because time just feels less linear in that weird bad place.
Maybe that’s why Kyle kept bleeding clock on those last few drives, why the offensive linemen kept releasing brain farts that mucked up any trace of a good vibe, why the receivers played like they had a crush on Jimmy and had too many butterflies in their stomach to focus on catching the ball.
All of a sudden, like a mouse taken for a ride inside the tight grasp of a soaring falcon’s claws, I find myself defending Jimmy. I don’t know how I got here, but these three plays were some of the best plays I’ve ever seen Jimmy execute.
Back to back weeks that Jimmy Garoppolo has delivered a great deep ball with pressure in his face— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) October 17, 2022
An encouraging sign going forward pic.twitter.com/0KMTtSyAwC
No lie, this might be one of the best Jimmy Garoppolo throws I've seen him make in a loooong time.— Akash Anavarathan (@akashanav) October 10, 2022
2 free rushers in his face and he drops a dime to Tevin Coleman down the sideline. As Coleman said post-game, ball wasn't supposed to go to him -- but it was a sign of JG's trust. pic.twitter.com/H684PUzTDV
These plays were completely missing from Jimmy’s repertoire last season and in 2019. The decision-making under pressure, the creative improvising, and the zip - holy hell, these throws are pretty enough to befit the man behind them.
A flip has switched inside Jimmy G because he’s showing us something we’ve never seen from him before at this frequency. It seems like he’s taking the step that the 49ers needed him to take, after the lost Super Bowl, going into the NFC Championship game. The only time I really remember him ever showing this kind of flash was the bullshit OPI in the first half of the Super Bowl - that rainbow to George Kittle.
No way is this OPI on George Kittle. This jostling happens 15 times a game. Horrible cal pic.twitter.com/4H4Gq557zZ— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) February 3, 2020
If this Jimmy persists for the rest of the season, then we would get what we needed out of Lance: the deep ball and sideline throws opening up the field. Lance, by the way, was facing similar issues in his limited action - his receivers letting him down with drops.
It’s like Jimmy used his himbo confidence to look himself in the mirror and convince himself he can sidearm a rocket while on the move. Those two throws, if made, are the type of throws that get you out of a 28-14 hole. Those are the kind of plays that a quarterback makes that elevates the entire team and raises the ceiling for a team’s chances in any game.
You watch football. You can tell when a team is dead and when a team is showing signs of life. The Niners' offense didn’t seem dead until very late in the game, and it was remarkable that the mouse was still wriggling.
The Falcons were smashing us on our heads over and over, and Jimmy kept slinging. It was like everybody knew they were going to lose except for them, and instead of calmly accepting their L, they kept running plays with a minute left. I felt like I was losing brain cells watching this team burn so much clock in those last eight minutes, but they were moving the ball and minimizing the defense’s exposure to more turf.
Jimmy was central to that. 3-3 in a weak conference and an even weaker division will keep you alive way longer than you should be. And if your quarterback can make plays like that, you can stay in games you really shouldn’t be in.
And while every plot twist in this Niners season so far has been more absurd than the last, the most absurd thing would be if Jimmy started consistently reaching a new level, playmaking his way past the ceiling we’ve capped him. It’s an opportunity for him to completely re-write his story, much like Andrew Wiggins did going into the NBA playoffs.
As somebody that was beyond excited for Trey Lance this year, the flashes we saw last Sunday is close to what a best-case scenario looks like with Jimmy Garappolo.
Now one of the most elite offensive weapons in the league is joining Deebo, George, and Aiyuk to catch these tried-and-true Jimmy Darts™. Not only is he coming home, not only is he playing for family, not only is he finally on a contending team, not only is he playing for an offensive guru… he’s coming to town right as Jimmy needs him most.
Jimmy has had a stacked offense, and up until now, it was because that was needed for Jimmy to survive. The surplus of talent evened out for the deficit at quarterback - if Deebo didn’t become Deebo last year, there was no way we were beating the Rams, Dallas, and Green Bay down the stretch.
If Raheem Mostert didn’t have 220 yards and four touchdowns in the NFC Championship game, were we really going to the Super Bowl that year? But now that Jimmy really might look like a quarterback who can carry the team rather than the other way around — who can open up the field for everybody else rather than limiting the offense to runs and short-middle-of-the-field throws, the team is pouring gasoline on a finally-burning fire.
Jimmy doesn’t need Christian at this particular moment because he needs to help secure this team’s floor - he needs Christian because this is his best chance to take his ceiling to new heights. This is a 3-3 team, and if the NFC was a smidge better, the calculus completely changes.
You go this hard at this particular moment because all windows in the NFL are perpetual mirages, as Sunday’s guests of honor can tell you. Jim Harbaugh had Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis - but he never had first-team All-Pros at every skill position like Kyle Shanahan has right now.
If Jimmy leaves after this season, there isn’t a nicer Ferrari anywhere else in the league besides maybe Miami. He’s never had a better opportunity in his life to achieve football immortality. The stakes couldn’t be higher. After thinking we saw all that we could, it’s time to finally see what Jimmy’s really got.