Jimmy Garoppolo, 28, had the first 16-start season of his NFL career in 2019.
The 49ers quarterback is three years ahead of Hall of Famer Steve Young, who did not become San Francisco’s full-time starter until 1992 at 31.
Young, appearing this week at “Letters to 87 Live!” for the Golden Heart Foundation, said he believes Garoppolo showed maturity and development over the course of the season. Young believes Garoppolo has what it takes to lead the 49ers into the Super Bowl.
“He’s been remarkable this year because he’s older, but yet this is his first full season,” said Young, whose thoughts about this year’s team are included in the latest episode of The 49ers Insider Podcast.
Young said the 49ers’ support of the quarterback is similar to when he and Joe Montana before him were playing the position.
“The feeling, the spirit, the coaching, the expertise, the talent, all of it together, he’s got the help,” Young said. “So that, as he’s learning, he can make mistakes and he can say, ‘OK, I’ve learned that one.’ And I like the fact that I don’t see the same one again.”
The 49ers play the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium. The winner advances to Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Feb. 2. Garoppolo and his teammates are “locked in,” he said.
The dominant 49ers’ running game grabbled all the headlines out of their 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. But Young was impressed throughout the season that Garoppolo proved he has the ability to lead crucial late-game drives. Garoppolo was credited with four fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives.
“When they’ve asked him to raise up and go win it, he did it,” Young said. “Those are hard things to do. That just doesn’t happen. When you see it in the NFL and someone is able to do it, you go, once you’ve done it, you can do it again. You can keep doing it.
“I don’t think Jimmy cares whether he throws one or five touchdowns. He really enjoys the fact that everybody’s in to win it, and that’s that same spirit. When your leaders of your team are all in with you and are not about themselves, and yet still talented enough to go win games and be heroes, I feel like we’re in a great spot.”
Young believes the 49ers will win Sunday’s game, but he also cautions about how quickly things can go awry. After all, the 49ers’ season will come down to one 60-minute game and approximately eight to 10 offensive and defensive possessions.
“He’s ready to do great things,” Young said. “If something goes wrong, I don’t think it’ll be Jimmy. I think he’ll do a great job.”
So what can go wrong for the 49ers? Young looks across the field and believes it will take something special from a very special player to prevent the 49ers from advancing.
“If Aaron Rodgers is Superman and he puts his cape on and does something only he can do, and if that happens, we’ll tip our cap and we’ll move on,” Young said. “But that’s the only way we’re losing this ball game.”
SANTA CLARA — Kwon Alexander has gone through more than two weeks of 49ers practice after returning from a pectoral injury earlier than anyone expected.
The linebacker was worn a blue non-contact jersey the entire time since being designated to return from injured reserve.
Alexander finally took it off last week for the divisional-round playoff victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The tackling machine didn’t show up in the stat sheet but was no worse for the wear heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship game against Green Bay at Levi’s Stadium.
Even six days after his first career playoff game, Alexander didn’t want to address how — or if — he felt better, stronger or faster.
“We feel legendary every week,” Alexander said Friday. “We all come to work with no doubts in our body about how we’re going to perform.”
That, more than anything else in his current state, shows his value to this 49ers team. He’ll never say it, but he’s not at full strength. That would be impossible so soon after a major injury many initially thought might end his season.
Alexander’s positivity is palpable in everything he says and how he acts around the team.
“It’s extremely real with Kwon,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said this week. “He’s like that every second, and our guys gravitate to him. I think just the same way fans feel about him, that’s how we feel about him. Kwon is ride or die in everything he does for this football team. He will go out there, he plays that way when he’s healthy, he plays that way when he’s hurt. He talks that way. He lives football. That’s why his football character is one of the highest I’ve been around. That’s just his character as a man, to me, is just that way too.”
The team loves Alexander’s energy, and he appreciates how much they have supported him through a trying first season in Santa Clara. He signed a four-year deal in free agency, but Alexander played in just eight regular-season games due to the aforementioned injury.
“The people in this building are so great,” Alexander said. “They all really care for me. That was a big part of my decision to come, to be around people who care for you. I think really think we can do great things around here.”
The 49ers played great against the Vikings, even though Alexander didn’t have a tangibly productive day.
He didn’t have tackle and missed a few last week against the Vikings, per Pro Football Focus, but he could be felt on film while working as a strongside linebacker. He came out in sub packages, with Dre Greenlaw manning the weak side. The rookie has done that since Alexander got hurt and has fared extremely well.
Shanahan was predictably non-committal about specific roles earlier in the week, but they could well stay the same. Alexander doesn’t seem to care. He’s just happy to be playing with his teammates on such a big stage.
“As long as we keep flying around and making plays, we’re going to be alright,” Alexander said. “That’s for sure.”
SANTA CLARA — Rain or shine, preseason or playoffs, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo consistently is the same person.
It’s not because Garoppolo doesn’t feel the pressure or know how much the game means, it’s just who he is. You simply won’t see him yelling at a coach or at players on the sidelines after a botched play or a turnover.
Instead, Garoppolo will be pumping everyone up for their next opportunity to get on the field. Coach Kyle Shanahan knows how important that is for the mental state of his team as they head into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers.
“I think it’s huge,” Shanahan said this week. “I think that’s why our guys follow him in any instance. If Jimmy’s struggling or if he’s balling, our guys would do anything for Jimmy. That’s how he’s been since the first day he got here when we traded for him from New England.”
Win or lose, Garoppolo seems unflappable. That was the case when he arrived from the New England Patriots in a Halloween 2017 trade, and it still is.
“He got here and we were an 0-9 team, didn’t know much what was going on,” Shanahan said. “They just gravitated to him right away. And I’ve seen nothing change. I’ve only seen it get stronger.”
Backup QB C.J. Beathard has worked closely with Garoppolo since his arrival, and he appreciates Garoppolo’s calm demeanor as the 49ers head into their biggest game of the season.
“Just the way he carries himself all day,” Beathard said. “I think that if you go into it with the mentality that, ‘Oh we have to do extra work this week, we have to do more’ — you want to just keep doing what you’ve been doing. What we’ve been doing is working, staying on top of it.”
Rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel has grown into one of Garoppolo’s preferred playmakers. Only tight end George Kittle had more targets (107) than Samuel (81) in the regular season, but the 24-year-old also led the 49ers with nine drops.
Samuel didn’t hear anything from Garoppolo, though. Garoppolo has never gotten frustrated or lost his cool with the receiver over the inevitable mistakes that come with being a rookie.
Or anyone else, for that matter.
“Jimmy has been the same to me in and out the huddle,” Samuel said. “He’s just really the leader. I never seen Jimmy upset. He’s just an energetic guy because he’s the leader of the offense. Because if you see a quarterback like that, it’s going to rub off on everybody else. So I just feel like he brings great energy to the team. One of the leaders out here.
“I’ve seen a good bit of people just slamming helmets. I’ve never seen Jimmy do that. We come off a quick three and out and you see Jimmy on the sidelines ‘Come on, guys, let’s get ready for the next drive the next play.’ That’s really just a really good boost for the team.”
Approaching this week just as they have in every other this season, the 49ers kept their practice schedule and plan the same as they prepared to host the Packers. Garoppolo’s mentality and behavior followed suit.
“There’s no secret sauce that you can take to win in playoff games.” Beathard said. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. Jimmy’s handled himself really well all week. He’s shown a lot of poise and leadership throughout the week not that he doesn’t very week, but you can just tell.
“He’s the same. It’s not like the playoffs are here he’s changed. He’s the same guy every day.”