In the wake of an NFL post-season weekend that has seen the abrupt cashiering of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, while establishing the NFC West as the citadel of badassery, we turn to Jimmy Garoppolo, eminent sage of The Bay.
Normally not one sought for his incisive clarity in matters of the pro football state, the San Francisco quarterback nevertheless offered a simple observation that was as prescient as any when it comes to comprehending the NFL’s competitiveness.
“You do all this good, bad, indifferent, whatever it is,” he said, “and that whole football game comes down to one play at the end. It’s kinda crazy.”
His only rhetorical shortfall? Modifying the word crazy.
What makes the remark noteworthy is when he said it.
It was not after beating the Packers in 13-10 Saturday in Green Bay, one of three division-round games to end on a walk-off field goal. (And the fourth one, Kansas City over Buffalo, 42-36 in overtime, topped all for majestic mayhem.)
Nor was it said after beating the Cowboys on the road by six the previous week, nor the week before that, after beating the Rams on the road by three.
He said it Dec. 5 in Seattle, when his team’s 30-23 loss allowed to the Seahawks to complete a season sweep with their 17th win in the past 19 in the series between the clubs, despite Seattle entering the game with a seasonal record of 3-8.
For reasons known exactly to no one, the Seahawks own the Niners in the way that the Rams own the Seahawks, who have lost 10 of the past 14 to LA.
Yet the Seahawks this year are not a party to the NFC Championship, which will be contested Sunday at SoFi Stadium in LA between the Rams and 49ers, in part because the 49ers swept the Rams this season to extend their series winning streak to six in a row.
If the reasons behind these divisional developments are clear and explainable to you, please apply for one of several vacancies in NFL front offices, and lead the interview with your explainer. Best wishes.
The play to which Garoppolo referred was not a game-winning field goal but his mistake — a block of his final pass by DE Carlos Dunlap (photo above) that saved the game for Seattle.
The throw, culminating a drive that began at the SF 4-yard line, toward an open receiver in the end zone, came from four yards out with 22 seconds left. A completion would likely have tied the game, or won it with a subsequent two-point conversion.
Instead, the loss dropped the 49ers to a pedestrian 6-6. It did not inspire visions of potential championship greatness among the eyewitnesses at the Loo, many of whom made themselves known to him on that play.
“I’m sure the environment is part of it,” he said. “This is as electric as it gets. At the end there, you couldn’t hear much in the huddle. Guys were reading lips. So I’m sure that plays a role in it.
“They’ve been like this for years now. It starts with Russell Wilson and Coach (Pete) Carroll. That’s just kind of the team that they are. It’s very similar to us in that way, that’s why it’s always such a dogfight between us. We knew what we were getting into, but you just have to be more ready.”
Yes. Be readier than ready. How does that work?
By Saturday, the 49ers apparently were readier than ready to win in the toughest road environment in the NFL, something the Seahawks, with all their success, have yet to do this century.
Sure, it took massive spasms from the Packers’ special teams to open the door. But rampant incompetence is an elevated feature across the NFL this year, spiked by frequent absences of players from practice sand games due to covid protocols.
As a result, minimizing failure is an elevated virtue.
The Packers held the 49ers without an offensive touchdown, yet lost because Garoppolo, who threw for 131 yards, screwed up less than Rodgers. The outcome underscored the NFL bromide that more games are lost than won. Rodgers became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to lose to the same playoff opponent four times.
“We come into Lambeau against the No. 1 seed in the NFC, it’s snowing, MVP quarterback, one of the best receivers playing the game, high-powered offense, and we hold them to 10 points,” San Francisco LB Fred Warner said. “It’s one of those things that we’ll remember forever, for sure. I don’t think everybody kind of knows the gravity of it now, but it’s something we’ll look back on.”
Actually, the gravity was apparent right away.
Two weeks before Saturday, the 49ers were down 17-0 at halftime against the Rams. A loss would have meant coach Kyle Shanahan would have missed the postseason in four of his first five seasons. Now the Niners are a win away from a second Super Bowl appearance in three years. Small margins.
Much of the success was due to the game management of Garoppolo, 30, who was thought of so lightly that Shanahan spent three first-round picks in April to move up to draft Jimmy G’s successor, Trey Lance of North Dakota State, 20 when he was selected.
The QB decisions may still go awry in the future. For now, the Niners are a win away from being NFC champions and playing in the Super Bowl hosted by Rams owner Stan Kroenke in his $5 billion stadium. In the NFL world, sashaying onto the sacred sod of the rival as conference champs can’t get sweeter.
The special-teams freakiness of the win in Green Bay may carry an asterisk for Garoppolo, but it’s an anvil for Rodgers, who sounded post-game as if he had been forced to be vaccinated.
“A little numb, for sure,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to end like this.”
Now Rodgers, 38, and Brady, 44, denied anticipated returns to the Super Bowl, will resume holding their franchises hostage in the off-season, joining Russell Wilson in Seattle.
As to what portends from the wildness of the division-round results for the Seahawks, in the NFL’s most loaded division, they were 3-3. Given how small are roster margins in the NFL, and the randomness that can attend many outcomes, it’s fair to say they weren’t as good as the 12-4 record in 2020, nor as bad as the 7-10 mark in 2021.
Which puts the division tail-enders in the NFL’s great muddled middle, where it seemed as if nearly every team spent at least some time this year.
As Garoppolo said, the Seahawks “are very similar to us.” Except they have Wilson, the main reason they have won 17 of 19 against the Niners.
The primary way out of the muddle of the middle is to be more ready, by keeping the QB who mostly won’t lose a game until he wins.