A poor man’s Tom Brady.
A reputation so conflicted that it carries this binary description of his play: Good Jimmy. Bad Jimmy.
A quarterback who can lead you to a Super Bowl. Or lead you down the path of ruin.
Welcome to Jimmy Garoppolo’s world.
The 49ers quarterback has been a lightning rod for both praise and criticism during his eventful five-year run in San Francisco. And while he’ll never be mistaken for Niners Hall of Famers Joe Montana or Steve Young, say this much for Garoppolo: He is a survivor.
This year’s playoffs might be the perfect example of the dichotomy that is Garoppolo. He hasn’t thrown a single touchdown pass, but thanks to his resourcefulness against the Cowboys in the wild-card round and his perseverance against the top-seeded Packers in the divisional round, the 49ers are within a victory of reaching their second Super Bowl in three years.
And that’s not a bad place to be for any quarterback.
After all, Garoppolo still is in the hunt for a Vince Lombardi Trophy. Dak Prescott and presumptive MVP Aaron Rodgers are out.
The one-time Brady understudy’s arrival in San Francisco in 2017 gave him his shot to carve out his own legacy. It’s nothing close to what Brady has achieved, but he has no complaints.
Garoppolo understands his place in the quarterback hierarchy, and he’s aware of the polarizing opinions about his game — both good and bad. But he does what he must in tuning out the noise and keeping the only important thing front and center: winning.
"Friends, family, they always seem to remind me of those things," Garoppolo said, referring to the praise and criticism from the outside. "I think just knowing yourself and knowing who you are plays a big part of that, because if you get lost in it and start believing some of those things, it could take you down the wrong road."
It’s a good thing Garoppolo pays little heed to what others think, because his regular-season stats — 20 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions — were pedestrian. And he hasn’t been even that good in the playoffs, throwing for 172 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in a 23-17 road win over the Cowboys and completing only 11 passes for 131 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in a 13-10 win over the Packers at frigid Lambeau Field. The 49ers’ only touchdown in last week’s win was a blocked punt returned for a score.
But Garoppolo did lead a late drive to set up kicker Robby Gould for the winning margin in Green Bay. And he did enough to survive his critical interception against the favored Cowboys the week before.
The collective efforts of those around him — including All-Pro receiver Deebo Samuel, who doubles as a terrific running back, and a defense led by Nick Bosa — certainly have not gone unnoticed. Especially by the guy who goes by the name Jimmy G.
"Every postseason that I’ve been paying close attention to over the past years, there’s always somebody who you won’t expect to make the play make the play," he said. "When guys can do that, because you already have your A-players and they need to play like A-players, but when someone else can step up in those key moments . . . that’s what makes for a good team, man. That’s what makes you tough to beat."
Garoppolo will try to make it three straight wins this season against NFC West rival Los Angeles, including the Week 18 comeback that resulted in an overtime win. If the 49ers complete the hat trick, Garoppolo will return to Southern California for Super Bowl LVI two weeks later with a shot at his first Super Bowl title. And a chance at changing the narrative about his reputation.
Then again, Garoppolo really doesn’t care what you or I think about him. The only ones that matter are the ones who wear the 49ers’ uniform.
"As long as these guys in this locker room have faith in me and belief in me," he said, "that’s all I really care about."