Kawakami: Put Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers on the shortlist for Super Bowl contenders

It’s not how Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch initially planned this season to go, but I think they’re not at all upset with the increasing results so far.

Really, it was a largely improvisational and meandering 49ers campaign, and who knew these guys could top it like that?

First, Shanahan and Lynch spent over a year planning this season to be Tri Lance’s season. This was not to be. Quick adjustment! They decided a long time ago that Jimmy Garoppolo would be on another team this year, and I don’t think they seriously thought they could acquire Christian McCaffrey until a week before the deal happened. Stop, new plans are necessary!

So Garoppolo is still around and is now playing at the highest level of his career. McCaffrey was acquired a few weeks ago. The 49ers have dealt with a host of injuries. And after Monday’s 38-10 win over Arizona in Mexico City sent the 49ers to a 6-4 and first place in the NFC West (thanks to their head-to-head win over Seattle, also 6-4), this thing has turned out pretty damn good in 49ers way.

Five of the remaining regular season games are at Levi’s Stadium, and the two road games are short trips away (in Seattle on December 15 and in Las Vegas on January 1). They’re 4-0 in the West right now. They’re balanced, they work with McCaffrey on offense, they have Brandon Ayuk (two touchdown receptions Monday), George Kittle (also two TD receivers), Debo Samuel and many other weapons all around. They also have a defense that can take over big games (well, maybe not against bosses).

The 49ers are built for the long game, the toughest games, late season yeah, and yeah, definitely built for the postseason. In many ways, just getting through the early part of the regular season is harder for them than anything else, as we’ve seen in 2017, 2018, and 2020. But the 49ers are just around the corner in December and they’re getting stronger — and everyone in the league knows that.

You could say Monday was a microcosm of the 49ers season and possibly the entire Shanahan-Lynch era, which began in February 2017. The 49ers started slow against the Cardinals, a team that has played them well in recent years, as they fiddled around trying to figure out what to do on offense. They fell behind, stuck to what they believed in and frustrated their fans, then their bravery burst into life and their defense overwhelmed the Cardinals.

The 49ers finished season higher in points, and for the third straight game they beat their opponent in the second half. This time it was 21-0. Overall, their win in Los Angeles over the Rams, dates back to a 54-0 second-half lead for the 49ers.

I’ve said it before, but let’s say it with more emphasis now: What team would you like to take on the 49ers in January? The Eagles are the No. 1 team in the NFC and deserve that spot, but then, there is no fearer postseason team in the conference than the 49ers, who have proven their credibility by going 4-2 in the playoffs under Shanahan, including feuding through Dallas and Green Bay to the game. NFC Championship last season.

And this season? The whole thing required a lot of patience And the aggression. Both. It seems like the offense should be doing this every week, and it sure doesn’t. But Shanahan and Lynch are patient. They have basic principles – they want to run the ball, be effective on offense and rely on a defense that can speed up the pass – and they’re also opportunists in stocking their roster with the right players. They kept Garoppolo as insurance. They made the move for McCaffrey. They’ve done previous moves by Trent Williams, Charvarius Ward, and others.

None of this means the 49ers are poised to win the Super Bowl, of course. They looked a little wobbly this past weekend in victory over the Chargers, and two weeks before that they were demolished by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. But the point is, nothing has happened this season, as Lynch and Shanahan have readjusted and recalibrated their core beliefs, and it has shown that the 49ers should be written off.

They are on a short list of contenders. They fought their way here, and they have a history that is very difficult to eradicate once they get here.

But the key is the midfielder, as always. The 49ers win when the QB plays well; They almost always lose when the QB doesn’t. And Monday, in a nod to Garoppolo’s high level of play this season, Shanahan handed the offense to him in a way that has never been done in this era. Garoppolo threw 21 times in the first inning. The 49ers have only run it seven times in that stretch. The 49ers needed a dynamic passing game — they had receivers to do it — and tonight, Garoppolo was the perfect QB to handle it all.

He threw a pair of TDs in the first half (one to Aiyuk and one to Kittle), and in the second half, the 49ers started the running game, culminating with a Samuel 39-yard TD run, which opened up more room for passing game and Garoppolo, who threw another TD. to Aiyuk and another to Kittle. Garoppolo’s last line: 22-for-29 for 228 yards, a career-high four touchdowns and a 131.9 passer rating.

Perhaps the most important statistic in the 49ers’ three-game winning streak: Garoppolo has thrown six TDs and no interceptions in those games.

In fact, this season in games Garoppolo has played and caught no interceptions, the 49ers are 6-0.

This season in games where Garoppolo has thrown at least one interception, the 49ers are 0-3. (Of course, Lance played in Week 1’s loss against Chicago and started Week 2 against Seattle before breaking his ankle.)

Garoppolo has thrown four interceptions this season. His TD-to-INT ratio is an amazing 15-4. And Garoppolo’s interception rate of 1.5 percent is career low.

Can this QB win a Super Bowl? Garoppolo came close in February 2019, but Mahomes fared better. Garoppolo will never lead an attack off bombs or rush through centre-backs. But Shanahan and Lynch always had a soft spot for Garoppolo, even after they acquired Lance, because Garoppolo leads that team and he can run this offense. And because he wins. This is always kind of important, too. Shanahan and Lynch were right about that. They were right about a lot of things.

(Photo: Jimmy Garoppolo celebrating after one of his four passes: Rob Schumacher/USA Today)

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