No NFL team has ever beaten Jimmy Garoppolo. Not when he’s a starting quarterback, at least.
Week 16’s victory over the AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars improved the fourth-year passer’s record to 6-0 as a starter, a stretch that covers two 2016 games with the Patriots and this year’s incredible four-game turnaround with the 49ers. He managed to both reward and penalize his former team with the win — the Jags’ loss locked New England into a first-round bye in the playoffs but also made the value of the second-round draft pick they’ll receive after trading their backup QB away worse.
That deal is looking more and more like a bargain each week. The Patriots reportedly fished for multiple first-round picks while dangling the free-agent-to-be Garoppolo on the trade market last offseason. When no one bit, the undefeated passer went to the West Coast for the low, low cost of a 2018 pick in the 35-40 range. It’s the kind of move franchises like the Browns and Cardinalshave to be sick about not making.
Each Garoppolo victory is a major what-if for the quarterback-needy teams that could have easily outbid San Francisco for a player who looks every bit a franchise quarterback through six starts. The 26-year-old has revitalized a barebones roster, riding targets like Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, and George Kittle to a couple of 300-plus yards passing performances. As a result, the 49ers, once 1-10, are now riding the longest active winning streak in the NFL.
So which of Garoppolo’s starts was best? Here’s a breakdown of each stop on his 6-0 career as a starter.
6. 49ers 15, Bears 14
The only start in which Garoppolo failed to find the end zone came in his second appearance for the Niners. The 2017 Chicago Bears are a bad team whose only success came, somehow, against the AFC North. However, their top-10 passing defense was able to slow the young quarterback down in his first start for San Francisco.
But while he couldn’t lead his team to a touchdown, Garoppolo showed off the clutch chops that make him more valuable than any stat line could suggest. After getting the ball at his own 8-yard line trailing by two points, he engineered a 14-play, 86-yard drive that allowed Robbie Gould to kick a game-winning field goal with four seconds left on the clock. The win was just San Francisco’s second of the season.
5. 49ers 26, Texans 16
The 2017 Texans have been a bizarre case study in bad luck, having lost three of their most important players — J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, and Whitney Mercilus — to season-ending injuries well before a sparsely attended home game against San Francisco. Despite those issues, Houston found a way to take a third-quarter lead and threaten to deal Jimmy G his first loss as a starter.
Instead, the pride of Eastern Illinois responded with 10 points on the 49ers’ next two drives — capped off with a 6-yard touchdown strike to Garrett Celek — to shut the door on the Texans and doom them to a third straight loss.
4. Patriots 31, Dolphins 24
Garoppolo finished this game with 232 yards passing and three touchdowns — in fewer than two quarters of play. A sprained AC joint spelled the end of his time as the Patriots’ starter in 2016, but he’d done more than enough to justify New England’s faith in him. His destruction of a Dolphins team that would rebound to qualify for the playoffs was proof he was more than just a backup.
3. Patriots 23, Cardinals 21
The first start of Garoppolo’s career was a modest performance that set up the big expectations he’s now fulfilling in Santa Clara. He threw for 264 yards and a touchdown in 2016’s season opener, racking up 65 total yards — including a clutch 32-yard throw to Danny Amendola on third-and-15 deep in his own territory — in a fourth-quarter drive that gave the Patriots a 23-21 lead late in the game. His composure pushed New England to 1-0 on the year and set the tone for a team that would overcome Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension and win Super Bowl 51.
2. 49ers 25, Titans 23
On an afternoon when the running game accounted for just 51 yards, the Niners needed their quarterback to carry them. The Titans, once 8-4 and atop the AFC South, found themselves as betting underdogs heading into a Week 15 matchup at Levi’s Stadium. Garoppolo proved Vegas right with his second fourth-quarter, two-minute-drill comeback of the season.
Ryan Succop’s 50-yard field goal gave Tennessee a one-point lead with just 67 seconds left, but the San Francisco quarterback rose to the occasion once more. He needed only three plays to push the ball from his own 25 and into field goal range, taking one crack at the end zone before letting Gould kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Garoppolo’s final numbers? 31-of-43 passing for a career-high 381 yards and one touchdown.
1. 49ers 44, Jaguars 33
Jacksonville’s rebound from AFC South bottom feeder to division champion has been built around a suffocating defense whose bulldozing pass rush is anathema to good quarterback play. Only one team had scored more than 27 points against the Jaguars all year before Garoppolo’s Niners carved them up on the ground and through the air. Despite facing the toughest secondary he’s seen in his football career — no team in the league has held opposing passers to a lower rating than the Jags’ 67.5 — he still managed to pass for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a statement win.
While it may have lacked the drama of his three fourth-quarter comebacks, a dominant performance over the league’s best passing defense and a win over a team jockeying for position in the AFC playoffs now stands as the biggest game of Garoppolo’s budding career.